Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (chapter 1): The Discovery of Brighton Pavilion

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Here begins our voyage of discovery through Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Chesterton begins with his reasons for writing the book:

“The only possible excuse for this book is that it is answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.”

His earlier book, Heretics, had criticised various contemporaries, who, in return, had challenged him to give account of his own philosophy. Taking up the challenge, Chesterton goes on to describe his philosophical journey as like the man who set out to sail the southern seas in search of new isles, and ultimately winds up landing in Brighton:

“There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. . . His mistake was really a most enviable mistake . . . What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? . . . What could be more glorious than to brace one’s self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales.”

He follows up immediately with the main question of the book:

“This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it.”

He returns to his own philosophical journey and search for truth:

“I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. . . I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it.”

And so it begins. Chesterton’s aim is not to provide a sophisticated philosophy or apologetic. He simply describes his discovery of the world, and what he finds is that all of Christendom stands at his back.

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