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1. Introduction In Defence Of Everything Else
THE only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge.
Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel. When some time ago I
published a series of hasty but sincere papers, under the name of "Heretics,"
several critics for whose intellect I have a warm respect (I may mention specially
Mr. G.S.Street) said that it was all very well for me to tell everybody to affirm his
cosmic theory, but that I had carefully avoided supporting my precepts with
example. "I will begin to worry about my philosophy," said Mr. Street, "when Mr.
Chesterton has given us his." It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to
a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation. But after
all, though Mr. Street has inspired and created this book, he need not read it. If
he does read it, he will find that in its pages I have attempted in a vague and
personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to
state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my
philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.
I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman
who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the
impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however,
that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it
away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a
general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by
signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the
Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he
looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of
folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with
sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake
was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him
for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the
fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of
coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering
South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be
more glorious than to brace one's self up to discover New South Wales and then
realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales. This at
least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the
main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the
world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-
legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us
at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being
our own town?
To show that a faith or a philosophy is true from every standpoint would be
too big an undertaking even for a much bigger book than this; it is necessary to
follow one path of argument; and this is the path that I here propose to follow. I