In everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender. In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead.
I will speak on a favourite old author and some favourite old books on a favourite old topic in a moment, but if I may, let me digress for just a bit. A persistent cough along with some musty smells in my house have led me to look into the possible causes.
I am told that one potential cause of this is the presence of old books. Now I am not sure what constitutes an “old” book: Are they those that are 50 years old? Or 500 years old? While I do have a lot of books, I suspect most of them are less than 60 or 70 years old. But if mould on books IS the main culprit, that is a big worry indeed.
But let me get back to the subject at hand! One of the older books I do have is by G. K. Chesterton. It is What’s Wrong With the World? and it came out in 1910. My copy of it is dated 1910, so I take it this might be a first edition. It is this volume that I wish to speak to here.
(I do also have a 1909 copy of his Orthodoxy, which first appeared in 1908. So those are some of my older volumes, and I am hoping they are NOT the cause of the mouldy, musty odours in my home. And for what it is worth, I see that I purchased the former volume in San Francisco in 1993, while I bought the latter in Melbourne in 1990.)
Chesterton is of course one of the world’s most quotable authors. There is plenty in this 370-page book that I can quote from, but let me simply share one whole chapter – Chapter 7 (pp. 62-68). It is titled “The Free Family.” Chesterton often spoke about marriage and family, and I have quoted from him on these topics in previous articles.
But this short chapter is another gem from the great author, so I simply offer it here in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
VII. The Free Family
As I have said, I propose to take only one central instance; I will take the institution called the private house or home; the shell and organ of the family. We will consider cosmic and political tendencies simply as they strike that ancient and unique roof. Very few words will suffice for all I have to say about the family itself. I leave alone the speculations about its animal origin and the details of its social reconstruction; I am concerned only with its palpable omnipresence. It is a necessity for mankind; it is (if you like to put it so) a trap for mankind. Only by the hypocritical ignoring of a huge fact can anyone contrive to talk of “free love”; as if love were an episode like lighting a cigarette, or whistling a tune. Suppose whenever a man lit a cigarette, a towering genie arose from the rings of smoke and followed him everywhere as a huge slave. Suppose whenever a man whistled a tune he “drew an angel down” and had to walk about forever with a seraph on a string. These catastrophic images are but faint parallels to the earthquake consequences that Nature has attached to sex; and it is perfectly plain at the beginning that a man cannot be a free lover; he is either a traitor or a tied man. The second element that creates the family is that its consequences, though colossal, are gradual; the cigarette produces a baby giant, the song only an infant seraph. Thence arises the necessity for some prolonged system of co-operation; and thence arises the family in its full educational sense.
It may be said that this institution of the home is the one anarchist institution. That is to say, it is older than law, and stands outside the State. By its nature it is refreshed or corrupted by indefinable forces of custom or kinship.