Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Most of you know this already, but I am a Chesterton nerd. I've tried to be reserved in my mania, and have stifled my obsession to some degree for the sake of wider discussions. But I've been outed. Not only did I take it to another level by asking for a subscription to Gilbert! for Christmas, but when my first issue came I could hide no longer, for there on page 16 I found my own picture. (As part of a review of the panel I took part in at a conference in Niagara Falls last November).

So, the denial is over. I'm a nerd. But I am not a trekkie-nerd, just a hobbyist. The difference, or so I like to tell myself, is huge. I may actually try to become something of a sholarly speicalist. But one does this by reading one's subject within the grand scope of scholarship, not by only reading one's subject. And in the process one must be able to look critically at one's subject. This I can do.

But this is not the place to defend myself. This is the place of confession: I am a nerd.

Sure, I made this known already when I attended the conference of the American Chesterton Society in Minneapolis a couple years back. But even then I went and I laid low. Didn't make much of it. Tried to feel like the coolest guy in the room.

And then I took it to another level when I wrote my Master's thesis on Chesterton's Thursday, and my school flew out the president of the American Chesterton Society to hear my defense. But even then, I was able to introduce him at his public lecture (as is Chestertonian tradition) by poking fun at him and calling him the biggest Chesterton nerd in the room.

But let's face it. I've joined those ranks. And there is no sense in being ashamed. So let's go the whole way with it. Thus, full disclosure:

On our trip to England last spring, my wife and I stopped at Beaconsfield and Oxford and visited Chesterton's former home, looked in vain for the cemetary where he is buried, went to his former church, and perused much of his memorabilia. What follows are some of the pictures.
At Oxford we met Stratford Caldecott, who is setting up a museum of sorts there. And we got to see Chesterton's glasses . . .

. . . and his briefcase . . .

. . . and the typewriter on which he wrote The Everlasting Man.

At Beaconsfield we found his first tombstone hanging on the side of his former church, St. Terese's. (His grave has been given a fresh tombstone, but we couldn't find it).

This is me inside the Catholic church where Chesterton worshipped.

Here I am outside of Chesterton's house in Beaconsfield: "Top Meadow".

Instead of street numbers, all the houses on this streat have names. We looked up and down the street for awhile until realizing that the name was a clue: The house stood at the top of the meadow.

And just to leave no room for doubt, here is the most incriminating and potentially embarassing shot of all: Me wearing Chesterton's hat. For me this experience was very surreal, believe it or not.

Anyway, I fully intend to explore Chesterton more in my life, and there is plenty more to the adventure I'm sure, both as a hobby and a scholarly pursuit. I will continue to try not to narrow myself or become uncritical, and to keep from being a "trekkie". But at the same time, hey, you gotta own it.

To conclude, then, let me leave you with a couple quotes found from within the pages of my first Gilbert! magazine:

In the Illustrated London News of 1925, Chesterton wrote: "If I say I am quite sure a man is wrong to be a Christian Scientist, I am simply a believer---a believer in my own beliefs. But if I say I cannot conceive how a man can become a Christian Scientist, I am a bigot."

In 1917 in the same paper he wrote: "If we are to make any attempt to tolerate all men, we must give up all attempts to tolerate all opinions."

And, more comically, from the cover of this, the "food" issue: "Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."

So, there you have it. Laugh away. Just don't make the mistake of failing to take Chesterton seriously.


Tony Tanti said...

Way to embrace it Jon, we all already knew anyway.

I think being such a big Colts fan is way more nerdy.

Colin Toffelmire said...

There are many worse things to be a nerd about, I wouldn't fuss too much.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

Good grief. You wore his hat! Amazing.

His typewriter!

You could obviously run circles around me in your knowledge of Chesterton, but I'm a pretty big fan too.

All this self-awareness and half-apologizing for your obsession: you've got to let it go. Let your love of Chesterton be simple and clear.

jon said...

ha, yeah. just coming to grips with it. i kind of left gkc a few times in my life, onto other things, but he just keeps coming back! might as well face it . . .

forrest said...

You are amazing. I feel amazing, after reading this.

Thanks for not simply residing in a corner, but for settling in one, and inviting us all over. And for telling us why it is so great to be there.

Tony Tanti said...

I nominate that last comment from forrest as the best blog comment I've ever seen.