All things considered

Akshat Jiwan Sharma, Fri Feb 13 2015

All things considered is a collection of essays by GK Chesterton on a variety of topics. Before this I had only read him in the prefaces he wrote for some of Charles Dickens' books. And I remembered a few quotes from "The man who was Thursday" that I read in Deus Ex. But more or less I was (and still am) unfamiliar with his work . So I was not sure what to expect or where to start with All Things Considered. The essays are unrelated so I picked one which looked a bit inviting "The fallacy of success" :

The fallacy of success is a critique on the self help books that were around during his time. The author makes his stand clear from the first line itself calling them "sincerely and solemnly... the silliest among men". His argument being that these so called success books teach nothing about how to succeed but only manage to convey to the reader such useless facts like "Games are won by winners" . First he questions what success actually means. For him "A millionaire has succeeded in being a millionaire and a donkey has succeeded in being a donkey". I must admit that I nodded in approval because I found his reasoning quite solid. Then he assumes that even if by success these writers meant "money and fame" they have failed to convey anything useful because to succeed in any occupation there are only two ways "By doing very good work. Or by cheating" both of them requiring no further explanation. He comes to the conclusion that all these books teach are viler passions of "avarice and pride" and only succeed in making people "snobbish". He ends by saying that temperance is a virtue and that while it may not help a man to become rich but it will help him gain self respect. All in all this essay made a good first impression on me and I decided to read other ones.

The line of reasoning in the Fallacy of success is continued with the Worship of the wealthy. In this essay he critiques the manner in which journalists flatter and praise the wealthy people. He commences by saying that flattery is nothing new. In the olden days people used to flatter kings and other rich men by saying that he was "the wisest, tallest, bravest and most benevolent in all mankind". This way of flattery, he says, was not as bad because the rich man probably knew it to be false but was still pleased. But in modern (with respect to the authors time) journalism the flattery is more "subtle". They create a sense of "mysticism and awe" around a rich man not by directly examining his actions but by talking about his tastes and his philosophy. In another method the journalists flatter the people by applying phrases like "simple,modest and quiet" to isolated instances and then attempt to pass them to the reader as the rich man's lifelong virtues. And he comes to the conclusion that these words which are supposed to be best things about a human being are being used to fill up a page. Like this sentence "Put the honourable umbrella in the honourable umbrella stand".

In "Running After Ones Hat" he takes a romantic view of the flood in London. "I feel an almost savage envy on hearing that London has been flooded in my absence, while I am in the mere country." He goes on to imagine how London must now look like Venice with people going around town in boats. These opening lines are but an excuse for a philosophical exercise by the author. Once more the author starts with a (gentle) criticism, this time of the people who are overly sentimental about things. It is easy to to mistake the author's words for lack of concern. After all we are talking about a flood and the author,who is not even there, is comparing it to things like "toothache". Well initially I was a bit offended too but I read the whole essay and I came to the conclusion that author's words are not a sign of his indifference but rather of an eternal optimism. And he wishes to pass on that optimism to troubled people of London who are struggling with a natural disaster. As he puts in his brilliant words:-

"An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. The water that girdled the houses and shops of London must, if anything, have only increased their previous witchery and wonder. For as the Roman Catholic priest in the story said: "Wine is good with everything except water," and on a similar principle, water is good with everything except wine."

On running after one's hat is a very thoughtful essay and it is easily my favorite in the book.

I felt that most of the thoughts in all things considered are very applicable in our times. The author talks about political issues, moral issues, ethical issues, legal issues and issues related to education and literature. He talks about how people are easily offended and how there is immense value in fairy tales. In between he comes up with quips like these:

"I am not quite sure about the facts, but I quite understand the argument."

"England is most easily understood as the country of amateurs"

"There is the French monumental style, which consists in erecting very pompous statues, very well done. There is the German monumental style, which consists in erecting very pompous statues, badly done. And there is the English monumental method, the great English way with statues, which consists in not erecting them at all."

that keep the reader thoroughly entertained even when he is talking about subjects that might otherwise be dry. All in all if you are looking for some light reading on a bus ride or while having coffee consider reading all things considered.

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