Friday, May 28, 2010

Martin Gardner, R.I.P.

Of your charity, please pray for the soul of Martin Gardner, who died recently. His name and works appear occasionally in Father Jaki's writing - see below for a famous and important example.
--Dr. Thursday

...about one-third of chapter 4 of [G. K. Chesterton's] Orthodoxy, "The Ethics of Elfland," reprinted in 1957 in, of all places, Great Essays in Science, a title in the Pocket Library. A typical first printing of titles in that series was in the tens of thousands, and copies were available not only in all bookshops but also at many newsstands in the 1950s and 1960s. There was Chesterton in the company of Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Henri Fabre, J.R. Oppenheimer, Arthur Stanley Eddington, Alfred North Whitehead, and Bertrand Russell, so many giants in mathematics, physics, and natural history. Chesterton was also in the company of such prominent interpreters of science as John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, and even T. H. and Julian Huxley. In such a company Chesterton needed a special introduction if not plain justification. Martin Gardner, who as associate editor of American Scientist put together that volume, did indeed apologize: "It may come as a shock to many readers," he began his introduction of Chesterton, "to find a selection by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) included here. The rotund British writer was not noted for his knowledge of things scientific.... Yet there are times, as in the following selection, when he startles you with unexpected scientific insights." Worse, Gardner noted in way of final forewarning, the selection came "from, of all places, Orthodoxy, Chesterton's most famous work of Christian apologetics," a work published, Gardner added, perhaps to take some of the sting out of the whole business, "fourteen years before Chesterton became a Catholic." There was, of course, one unquestionable compensation for being exposed to Christian apologetics at its best. It was Chesterton's style "for which the author is justly famous - brilliant, witty, alliterative, dazzling in its metaphors and verbal swordplay, and a joy to read even when you disagree with him."

The re-christening by Gardner of the selection as "The Logic of Elfland" might have prompted Chesterton to some pointed remarks going far beyond a lecture on editorial ethics. In the whole section quoted, and in fact in the entire chapter, the word logic is hardly to be found. Not that there is no logic in it, but it contains much more. Hence Chesterton's choice of the title, "The Ethics of Elfland"...

[SLJ Chesterton a Seer of Science]

1 comment:

Angelo said...

Antonio Colombo has left a comment on my blog in Italian saying that father Jaki had read with great care The Ambidextrous Universe by Gardner and had written many notes on the last two pages of the book.
This is unusual because when father Jaki was interested in a book he would have copied some quotes on a paper, not on the book itself.