Heretics – Chapter 3: On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small

HereticsI am continuing my journey through G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics.

That ride created for the worlds fair in 1964 then given a world famous song when in was bought by Disney is the essence of how we perceive the world today: it’s a small world after all. The world is small because we made it small.  This was not done but differing modes of transportation but from a mindset.  In reality the world is infinite – every field of study, every culture, every square inch of dirt holds more mystery and wonder than a dozen lifetimes could discover.  The world has been made small by small-minded people who see themselves as large, the world is found to be large by large-minded people who see themselves as small.

Heresy exposed:

Not becoming part of anything – in other words to become a Ronin: traveling the world but not staying to become rooted in anything; to be bored.

Summary of Chapter:

At a certain age usually around the teenage years the phrase “I’m bored” is usually stated at every occasion that centered around the person who made the statement.  I know that I was (and perhaps still am) guilty of that.  The bored person is heliocentric that the whole world must revolve around them, whereas the person who sees the beauty in even the mundane is a poet – in fact not just a poet but a warrior poet. He will see the beauty in every fight and fight for every beauty.

“When Byron divided humanity into the bores and bored, he omitted to notice that the higher qualities exist entirely in the bores, the lower qualities in the bored, among whom he counted himself. The bore, by his starry enthusiasm, his solemn happiness, may, in some sense, have proved himself poetical. The bored has certainly proved himself prosaic. We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass or all the leaves of the trees; but this would not be because of our boldness or gaiety, but because of our lack of boldness and gaiety. The bore would go onward, bold and gay, and find the blades of grass as splendid as the swords of an army. The bore is stronger and more joyous than we are; he is a demigod–nay, he is a god. For it is the gods who do not tire of the iteration of things; to them the nightfall is always new, and the last rose as red as the first.”

Poets (not the modern kind – as they only see the beauty in their own pain, not in the lives and successes of others nor in the wonderfulness of the natural world) command language to possess a portion of the universe.  The universe is not there to be understood alone but to be admired.  Just as someone could list all the techniques and styles of art without taking in the mastery of the image; someone could live in the world and not see it’s beauty.  The second things true poets do is to see the fair in the fierce, the diamond in the dirt, the mystery in the mire.

“Now, the first and fairest thing to say about Rudyard Kipling is that he has borne a brilliant part in thus recovering the lost provinces of poetry. He has not been frightened by that brutal materialistic air which clings only to words; he has pierced through to the romantic, imaginative matter of the things themselves. He has perceived the significance and philosophy of steam and of slang. Steam may be, if you like, a dirty by-product of science. Slang may be, if you like, a dirty by-product of language. But at least he has been among the few who saw the divine parentage of these things, and knew that where there is smoke there is fire–that is, that wherever there is the foulest of things, there also is the purest. Above all, he has had something to say, a definite view of things to utter, and that always means that a man is fearless and faces everything. For the moment we have a view of the universe, we possess it.”

Here is where the heresy takes off. To be not bored one must join the military (wrong – the military is a place where brave souls are but it will not cure boredom).  True bravery, the opposite of boredom, is to defend.  To defend something one must love it: much like the military – they defend our country because they love it (even more than their own lives).  However being militaristic is a place for the bored, the passive, the timid.  It is not the discipline that makes an army/militia great but their bravery.  Look at history more great change has been done by brave men and women than by discipline men and women.  Brave men and women have fought for their freedom, fought for security, and fought for ideas. Disciplined men and women just follow orders – they do not have the opportunity to be brave in the same sense as the Brave men and women of history..

“Now, Mr. Kipling is certainly wrong in his worship of militarism, but his opponents are, generally speaking, quite as wrong as he. The evil of militarism is not that it shows certain men to be fierce and haughty and excessively warlike. The evil of militarism is that it shows most men to be tame and timid and excessively peaceable. The professional soldier gains more and more power as the general courage of a community declines. Thus the Pretorian guard became more and more important in Rome as Rome became more and more luxurious and feeble. The military man gains the civil power in proportion as the civilian loses the military virtues. And as it was in ancient Rome so it is in contemporary Europe. There never was a time when nations were more militarist. There never was a time when men were less brave. […] The fact is that what attracts Mr. Kipling to militarism is not the idea of courage, but the idea of discipline. There was far more courage to the square mile in the Middle Ages, when no king had a standing army, but every man had a bow or sword. But the fascination of the standing army upon Mr. Kipling is not courage, which scarcely interests him, but discipline, which is, when all is said and done, his primary theme. The modern army is not a miracle of courage; it has not enough opportunities, owing to the cowardice of everybody else.”

One of the other aspects of this heresy is to be non-bored one must travel the world.  This is also wrong as one cannot find themselves by running away from themselves, one cannot find the world by running away from the world.

“The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing, an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo. But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men–diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men– hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky. Mr. Kipling, with all his merits, is the globe-trotter; he has not the patience to become part of anything.”

The problem with boredom is in the mindset.  The bored think that being a world traveler and going to exotic places will alleviate them of boredom will give them life – when in fact it causes life not to grow on them.  Character is developed not by being a tourist at life but being a warrior in the midst of life.

“In the heated idleness of youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss. We were inclined to ask, “Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?” But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right. The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive.”

Here is the miracle of education (of any sort) is that it shows the student that there is more to be known.  It ignites a fire of passion in the student – not just answers the problem.  When someone realizes that there are infinite aspects to every small detail in the world they have more wonder than the person who studies a finite slice of large things.

“The truth is that exploration and enlargement make the world smaller. The telegraph and the steamboat make the world smaller. The telescope makes the world smaller; it is only the microscope that makes it larger. Before long the world will be cloven with a war between the telescopists and the microscopists. The first study large things and live in a small world; the second study small things and live in a large world.”

Thoughts:

The true lovers/poets of the world find, discover, and enjoy every small aspect of the world – just as parents marvel in every small movement of their child, just as a lover knows every facial expression of their beloved one; this is how we should view the world. This issue of the small being surrounded by wonder and mystery and the large being assaulted with boredom is what Chesterton’s book Tremendous Trifles is all about: the wonders of what is in a pocket, the wisdom of a cab driver and other things and events that are overlooked by the bored.  In the first chapter of that chosen selection of stories he writes this fairy tale:

“Once upon a time there were two little boys who lived chiefly in the front garden, because their villa was a model one. The front garden was about the same size as the dinner table; it consisted of four strips of gravel, a square of turf with some mysterious pieces of cork standing up in the middle and one flower bed with a row of red daisies. One morning while they were at play in these romantic grounds, a passing individual, probably the milkman, leaned over the railing and engaged them in philosophical conversation. The boys, whom we will call Paul and Peter, were at least sharply interested in his remarks. For the milkman (who was, I need say, a fairy) did his duty in that state of life by offering them in the regulation manner anything that they chose to ask for. And Paul closed with the offer with a business-like abruptness, explaining that he had long wished to be a giant that he might stride across continents and oceans and visit Niagara or the Himalayas in an afternoon dinner stroll. The milkman producing a wand from his breast pocket, waved it in a hurried and perfunctory manner; and in an instant the model villa with its front garden was like a tiny doll’s house at Paul’s colossal feet. He went striding away with his head above the clouds to visit Niagara and the Himalayas. But when he came to the Himalayas, he found they were quite small and silly-looking, like the little cork rockery in the garden; and when he found Niagara it was no bigger than the tap turned on in the bathroom. He wandered round the world for several minutes trying to find something really large and finding everything small, till in sheer boredom he lay down on four or five prairies and fell asleep. Unfortunately his head was just outside the hut of an intellectual backwoodsman who came out of it at that moment with an axe in one hand and a book of Neo-Catholic Philosophy in the other. The man looked at the book and then at the giant, and then at the book again. And in the book it said, “It can be maintained that the evil of pride consists in being out of proportion to the universe.” So the backwoodsman put down his book, took his axe and, working eight hours a day for about a week, cut the giant’s head off; and there was an end of him.

Such is the severe yet salutary history of Paul. But Peter, oddly enough, made exactly the opposite request; he said he had long wished to be a pigmy about half an inch high; and of course he immediately became one. When the transformation was over he found himself in the midst of an immense plain, covered with a tall green jungle and above which, at intervals, rose strange trees each with a head like the sun in symbolic pictures, with gigantic rays of silver and a huge heart of gold. Toward the middle of this prairie stood up a mountain of such romantic and impossible shape, yet of such stony height and dominance, that it looked like some incident of the end of the world. And far away on the faint horizon he could see the line of another forest, taller and yet more mystical, of a terrible crimson colour, like a forest on fire for ever. He set out on his adventures across that coloured plain; and he has not come to the end of it yet.”

Advertisements

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s