I’m reading through Chesterton’s Heretics/Orthodoxy, so I will probably be quoting it a lot in the near future (with references from progressively higher page numbers). The last thing I read by Chesterton was The Man Who Was Thursday, which I enjoyed but didn’t understand. The plot was fairly straightforward, but what he was actually trying to say was beyond me.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to comprehend this book (these books? Not sure if it’s one or two). Chesterton starts chapter three by saying “there is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person” (17). He goes on to explain in a delightful and British way, talking about previously-thought-of-as-uninteresting-but-I’ll-never-say-that-again objects, the traffic light (“signal-box”) and the mailbox (“pillar-box”):

The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose only comes in with what it is called.

How Romantic!

The word “pillar-box” is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is one of the last of the temples. Posting a letter and getting married are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem. But the bold fact is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words (17-18).

Simply Poetic!

Oh to have eyes to see Chesterton’s world! Those eyes might also help me understand The Man Who Was Thursday… if anyone has any insight, please let me know!