Saturday, July 31, 2010

Homer Nods....

This post is in the form of an "erratum" I happened to note when searching for something about Chesterton in Jaki's works, and I could have easily missed it - except that just two days ago (Thursday July 29) I had posted on the ACS blogg about Chesterton's 88th anniversary of hic conversion - which was July 30, 1922.

Now, the erratum is this, from SLJ's collection of essays:
A past master of paradoxes, Chesterton defined their purpose as a means to awaken the mind. His own personal life provided at least one big paradox which keeps haunting the minds enthralled by his ever-alive massive literary output. The paradox in question is the long delay - almost ten, perhaps as long as twenty years - which it took for him to match his crusade for Catholic orthodoxy of dogma and morals with his becoming a convert to the Catholic Church. He did so on June 30, 1922, the Feast of Corpus Christi. His death, on June 14, 1936, fell on Sunday within the Octave of that most Roman Catholic Feast.
[SLJ, "GKC as RC" in Catholic Essays 93]
So if you have this book you may wish to insert a slip of paper at that page regarding this information. To make this curious slip on SLJ's part even more curious, it turns out that in 1922 the feast of Corpus Christi was Thursday June 15, not June 30, which was a Friday. The other detail about the date of GKC's death is correct, and part of a famous joke about GKC's size, because the Introit of that date speaks of God leading the writer into a "LARGE place". [see Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 651, quoting Psalm 17, the Introit for the Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi]

Am I, perhaps, being too hard on a very minor detail? No; Father Jaki's own academic efforts were always attuned to precision in details. For example, I can simply cite his own brilliant observation on a most ridiculous slip on the part of a Chesterton biographer, who in describing GKC's conversion, at which both Father O'Connor and Father Rice were present, wrote that "Frances waited outside while they heard Chesterton's confession." [SLJ "GKC as RC" in Catholic Essays 107 (emphasis added) quoting A. S. Dale The Outline of Sanity 234. Note, however, that SLJ's footnote on this contains another slip, calling Maisie Ward "Mr. Ward"!] To set the matter clear, Maisie Ward reports what happened:
While G.K. was making his confession to Father O'Connor, Frances and Father Rice went out of the chapel and sat on the yokels' bench in the bar of the inn. She was weeping.
[Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 465]

So - am I being too hard? Well... given my own experience in working with him on a new edition of Science and Creation, I am sure that Father would have readily made the correction in a future edition. Given the huge amount of text from Father Jaki's pen, it seems all too likely there are occasional lapses like this - and most of them trivial. He, like me is human, and liable to err - in this SLJ and GKC always sung in unison the Church's continual warning: to avoid sin we must watch and pray. Moreover, we know that in proofreading another pair of eyes can see far better than our own...

But there is a certain additional richness for us to note here - and it is fittingly noted by Chesterton himself:
To explain this peculiar kind of public value one must understand one of the deepest differences, and perhaps diseases, of our time. It was the mark of the art of the past, especially the art of the Renaissance, that the great man was a man. He was an extraordinary man, but only in the sense of being an ordinary man with something extra. Shakespeare or Rubens went with the plain man as far as the plain man went; they ate and drank, and desired and died as he did. That is what people mean when they say that these gods had feet of clay; their giant boots were heavy with the mire of the earth. That is what people mean when they say that Shakespeare was often coarse; that is what people mean when they say that he was often dull. They mean that a great poet of the elder kind had spaces which were idle and absent-minded; that his sub-consciousness often guided him; that he sprawled; that he was not 'artistic'. It is not only true that Homer sometimes nodded; but nodding was part of the very greatness of Homer. His sleepy nod shakes the stars like the nod of his own Jupiter.
[GKC "They Tell a Story" in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks 49]
Note: this famous phrase "Homer nods" is derived from Horace's Ars Poetica 402.

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