From The Chattanooga News, Wednesday evening, February 4, 1931 - pages 1 and 12
Gilbert K. Chesteron, the great English man of letters, is as fascinating in real life as he is in his writings. One is simply swallowed alive by his wonderful personality.
He is an enormous person physically, towering, it would seem, more than six feet, and probably topping the scales above the 200 mark. There is nothing about his whole make-up to indicate smallness.
One is impressed, above everything else, with the perfect English gentleman that he is, from the first handshake on. His merry chuckles now and then, with his brilliant epigrams, make everything about him seem to pale.
He says with a chuckle that he thinks prohibition immoral and un-Christian, and then argues that this is true because Mohammed was a prohibitionist and Jesus wasn't, and that folk ought to be able to decide on their own diet and take care of their own health.
Mr. Chesterton agrees with the writers of "I Take My Stand," which he had just finished reading when called on for an interview Wednesday morning. He is also reading "John Brown's Body." He agrees in the main with the young southerners and thinks the returning to the farms is the great solution of the industrial situation with which the world is faced today.
This typical English gentleman looked like some old English character in a novel as he stepped from the elevator of the Read House into the modern atmosphere of the lobby Wednesday morning. His hair was long and combed straight back and tinged with gray, as were his bushy mustache and heavy eyebrows.
Carrying in one hand a stick and in the other his typical English small black felt hat, turned up on either side, somewhat on the lines of the modern "whoopee" chapeaux worn by the modern American college lad, he wears around his shoulders a long English cape from which hangs a shorter one, perhaps the same kind worn by Sir Walter Raleigh when he met Queen Elizabeth back in the sixteenth century. He wore a morning suit, and on his nose almost a minuature pair of tight "pinching" glasses, rimmed with gold, that somewhat detracted from his kindly gray eyes, but added to the quaintness of his make-up.
He sat on one of the overstuffed lounges in the lobby, drew a cigarette from a package and before he had placed it to his lips there was a porter standing by with a lighted match. It seemed as though a fine old Meerschaum pipe that had turned brown with age would better have suited the picture.
"Do you object if I smoke, or will you have a cigarette?" inquired the courtly gentleman, and who could refuse a cigarette from the pack of G. K. Chesterton?
"It is great fun to be stranded in your interesting and historic city - much better than being stranded in some place - we'll say, like Pittsburgh," he comented, climaxing his sentence with a hearty laugh. "I have just been reading 'I Take My Stand,' by those interesting young southern writers, and I agree with it in the main," he added.
He advocates the following of the plow rather than the steam engine, which he says "is already broken down." "It is industrialism that is old-fashioned and broken down more than ruralism."
Out in the middle west Mr. Chesterton said he found all sorts of "ordinary business men talking quite openly" on just such an idea. "These men," he added, with his characteristic chuckle, "were not of the old southern stock or members of the Klu-Klux Klan. There are business men in Chicago and New York who are saying very much the same thing. I'll take my stand back to the simple life again. If the manufacturers are saying that naturally the agricultural traditionists should say it."
He then drifted into a discussion of "John Brown's Body" by Benet, describing it as an irregular sort of epic, dealing with the war between the north and the south, assuming an ordinary northern point of view, but at the same time a respectful attitude toward Jefferson Davis. He referred to the allegorical ending which depicts John Brown's body living in the machines and skyscrapers of the north. "But even the poet does not think John Brown's body looks nice in the wheels and skyscrapers and was somewhat pro-north," continued Mr. Chesterton. "He does not say whether it is good or bad but only says the condition is here.
"It is John Brown's soul that lies moldering in the grave, and not his body which goes marching on more and more in the northern centers, blocking up the streets in New York and Chicago with motor-cars."
"This industrial situation is not an easy matter to adjust," Mr. Chesterton remarked. "England has allowed itself to become practically entirely industrial. We have allowed our agriculture to go to seed." He said England was a good example of how unwise it is to get away from the natural fundamental things in life.
"We said we were going to be the workshop of the world and we were not going to bother about food. We felt that we could get food anywhere with the biggest navy in the world and so we went ahead making machines and trusting in machines.
"Suddenly one fine day a new machine was invented called the airplane which really altered the whole importance of the navies in the world," he continued.
England refused to heed the advice of sage leaders who urged that it cling to the old English villages and country life, - the most English things of all - and drifted even further away than America, argued Mr. Chesterton.
The industrial situation has deadlocked the world and one can only wait and see what will be the outcome, Mr. Chesterton believes. He also thinks there will always be one form or the other of the dole, in countries where there is desperation and distress, otherwise heaps of people would be lying around dead in the streets. America has all kinds of organized charitable agencies distributing aid and is improvising all kinds of means of avoiding the ultimate outcome, in the opinion of Mr. Chesterton.
The people were happy back in the days of the Roman empire, he commented, when the emperor scattered grain every day. "The masses were happy if they had their bread and circuses. Things are not much different today."
The whole conversation was woven around the one idea of the masses returning to the country and throwing more stress on agriculture and less stress on industry. This might be the solution of the present-day conditions is his belief.
Mr. Chesterton is in this country making a study of the American people and conditions for leading newspapers and journals of England. His wife was taken ill on the train while passing through Chattanooga several days ago and he has been detained here since. He was very complimentary of Erlanger hospital, where Mrs. Chesterton is a patient, declaring that the services had been splendid and the attendants wonderfully kind to Mrs. Chesterton.
Accompanying them is Mr. Chesterton's charming secretary, Miss Collins, who makes all of his appointments and otherwise atends to his business affairs.
Mr. Chesterton bowed good-bye as he brought the interview to a close, stating that he was going to the hospital to see Mrs. Chesterton, adding that her condition was much improved.
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