“I don’t deny,” he said, “that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say that at certain strange epochs it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.” ~G.K. Chesterton, from Manalive
Several years ago, I, with my Sacramental Spouse, and our two parish priests, made a trip from London to Beaconsfield to visit the final resting place of the Catholic writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton (b. 1874- d. 1936). This type of trip to Beaconsfield is somewhat like a pilgrimage for those who hold a debt of gratitude to the Prince of Gratitude.* It is a way to say a hello, and to say a prayer for (or to?) Innocent Smith (G.K.C.) at the Catholic cemetery where he rests.
After the cemetery visit, we drove past Top Meadow, the Chesterton’s (last) home in Beaconsfield. At the time, I did not know that the house across the street from Top Meadow, named Overroads, had also been owned by Gilbert and Frances Chesterton. It was their first home in Beaconsfield. In the largely residential neighborhood in which these homes are situated, one sees old homes set back from the street, partially hidden by tall green hedges. One could almost envision Innocent (Gilbert) jumping over the hedge of Top Meadow, embarking on a mission to meet his Mary Gray (Frances); re-courting his own wife as if in a perpetual youth.
Our final stop in Beaconsfield was at Chesterton’s parish church, St. Teresa’s. At St. Teresa’s we ran into the head of the Beaconsfield area Chesterton society, who kindly gave us an impromptu tour of the church; noting aspects of it that were significant to our mutual friend and long deceased (though still alive!) Catholic ancestor, G.K.C. But, on to the matter at hand.
Recently, Overroads was put up for sale, and the potential new owners had slated it for demolition (Top Meadow is listed with England’s National Heritage List, and is under protection from demolition or gross changes). There ensued an international cry by Chesterton devotees against the destruction of Overroads; and thankfully, the Beaconsfield building board rejected the proposed plan. However, Overroads remains at risk: it needs to be listed as a historically significant property to avoid a future demolition (details are noted in video, below).
Happily, for a moment, an appreciation of culture and history has prevailed.
Art, Beauty, and literature give an incalculable amount of good to the word. So, the fact that a beautiful old house, wherein a famous English writer did dwell and create works of art, is saved, is much cause for happiness.
The following interview (link) with the current owner of Top Meadow, Ken Sladen, details the ongoing struggle to save Overroads. I think you will find it interesting:
My only (somewhat) complaint about the video is that they did not tour the interior of the house; though I understand, and do respect the fact, that, currently, it is a private home. In the future, I would love to see Chesterton’s study where Manalive was written; however, for now, I will post a picture of him at his desk (above) where he might have written the following:
“If Innocent is happy, it is because he is innocent. If he can defy the conventions, it is just because he can keep the commandments. It is just because he does not want to kill but to excite to life that a pistol is still as exciting to him as it is to a schoolboy. It is just because he does not want to steal, because he does not covet his neighbour’s goods, that he has captured the trick (oh, how we all long for it!), the trick of coveting his own goods. It is just because he does not want to commit adultery that he achieves the romance of sex; it is just because he loves one wife that he has a hundred honeymoons.”
In Manalive, Innocent (Gilbert) spoke of loving one spot; loving a home:
“I mean that God bade me love one spot and serve it, and do all things however wild in praise of it, so that this one spot might be a witness against all the infinities and the sophistries, that Paradise is somewhere and not anywhere, is something and not anything.”
The ethos of Innocent (G.K.C.) is summed up in this, from Manalive:
“His principle can be quite simply stated: he refuses to die while he is still alive. He seeks to remind himself, by every electric shock to the intellect, that he is still a man alive, walking on two legs about the world. For this reason he fires bullets at his best friends; for this reason he arranges ladders and collapsible chimneys to steal his own property; for this reason he goes plodding around a whole planet to get back to his own home; and for this reason he has been in the habit of taking the woman whom he loved with a permanent loyalty, and leaving her about (so to speak) at schools, boarding-houses, and places of business, so that he might recover her again and again with a raid and a romantic elopement. He seriously sought by a perpetual recapture of his bride to keep alive the sense of her perpetual value, and the perils that should be run for her sake.”
So, today, those who love Chesterton breathe a sigh of relief; and hope that, one day, his home, Overroads, along with his entire legacy, will receive the recognition they deserve.
In the meantime, I do recommend a visit to the beautiful English town of Beaconsfield where Innocent once walked and lived.
May you have a good day.
*Chesterton and gratitude:
“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”—G. K. Chesterton
“[T]he chief idea of my life … is the idea of taking things with gratitude, and not taking things for granted.” ~ G.K.C., Autobiography (1936)
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”—G. K. Chesterton
Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two? ~G.K.C.
You say grace before meals.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink. ~G.K.C
~Image (top): G.K. Chesterton, source