The GK Chesterton Library: Tremendous Treasures of the Imagination
G.K. Chesterton is a hero for his time — and for ours.
A man of deep Christian faith, Chesterton could show (not just tell!) what it meant to glory in the goodness of God. He was a deep and insightful thinker who challenged assumptions and overturned bad reasoning wherever he found it — and he was also a gracious man who maintained friendships even with the men he most vehemently debated. A master of paradox and a lover of wordplay, he reveled in the written word and has left a treasure-trove of books, stories, apologetics, and poetry for us today — novels like The Man Who Was Thursday, the Father Brown stories, defenses of the faith like Orthodoxy, insightful collections like Tremendous Trifles, poetry like The Ballad of the White Horse.
We need him today: his commitment to Christ; his insight into the ways that popular culture deceives us; his clear and vivid defenses of the faith; his joyfulness in all things; his example of fearlessness combined with graciousness.
With all this in mind, I was delighted to find that my friend, the poet and academic Malcolm Guite is one of the Trustees of the GK Chesterton Library, which has in its keeping many wonderful treasures of Chestertoniana (including his own book collection, and his marvelous toy theater).
What a delight, to realize that GKC’s visual imagination was as rich and deep as his writerly imagination! And to actually touch things that had belonged to the great man — to try on his hat, to hold the piece of chalk from the Vale of the White Horse — seemed an even more marvelous experience.
And what a great thing to realize that these treasures are in good hands – maintained by people who share Chesterton’s deep Christian faith, who appreciate the value of his legacy to the world, who recognize the need for imagination and joy, and who are committed to encouraging excellent Chestertonian scholarship. The Trustees have worked with dedication, over many years, to make sure that these materials are preserved, that the collection remains together and in England, and that the collection will be made available for viewing and scholarly study.
Then, this past summer, thanks to Malcolm’s gracious introduction of me, as a CS Lewis / Inklings scholar, I was able to see the treasures for myself. This experience was a gift for which I am deeply grateful, as the collection is not open to the public at present (but see more details below!), and access to it is highly restricted, due to the fragile nature of the materials.
I saw the original paper figures GKC made for his toy theater – dragons and warriors, caricatures and creatures of all sorts, the beautiful and the humorously grotesque… I sat in the great man’s chair, held his walking-stick, put on his hat, looked through his pince-nez, all in a transport of delight — for all these things helped me see fully and completely that GKC was a real man, a living man — not just a name on a book — and thus was (and is) far more wonderful than I could have imagined.
Here is good news: the treasures will be made available for scholars and the public to see: the collection will soon be housed in the new Library of the Oxford Oratory. If you want to help that happen faster, you can donate to the Oxford Oratory’s building fund here.
Why does GK Chesterton matter? I’ll close with words from the Library:
…the quality of clarity and joy which we find in almost every page of Chesterton’s writing, intangible though it may be in terms of a practical impact on society, is a most precious legacy: the secret of lasting happiness, the responsibility of freedom, and the joyful duty of thanksgiving and praise.
I encourage readers to support the good work of the Chesterton Library! To learn more about the Chesterton Library and its good work in promoting Chestertonian scholarship, you can find them on the web here (where you can donate to help preserve the collection) and on Facebook here.