I’ve been having a bit of a problem about G K Chesterton.
He was a great English writer around the turn of the 20th century. He is probably best known for his Father Brown mysteries. But he was more of what we think of as a public intellectual. He wrote about a great many things. And he influenced generations of writers. As diverse a collection as C S Lewis, Marshall McLuhan, and Neil Gaiman were all profoundly influenced by him.
I tend to think of him as a conservative thinker. But at this point, that phrase — “conservative thinker” — seems mostly a contradiction. But there was a time when this was not necessarily the case. It is, after all, possible to respect tradition and yet be open to change. I don’t think he was incorrect when he wrote, “He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative” — although I’m aware that a lot of conservatives think this without cause. Chesterton, however, was a close friend of George Bernard Shaw. The two of them apparently had wide ranging discussions during which they rarely agreed. I’m sure they disagreed about religion (Shaw was an atheist of my variety and Chesterton was a Christian) and politics (Shaw was a socialist and Chesterton wasn’t even keen on democracy).
But my problem has nothing to do with Chesterton’s beliefs. He is a highly quotable guy. In fact, in my copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Chesterton appears on three pages with 30 different quotations. But the following one attributed to him in the pilot episode of Ripping Yarns is not there:
It is hard to nail down the quote, because even the director in this skit (Terry Jones) isn’t consistent. But I assume that this is the quote, “The follies of men’s youth are in retrospect glorious compared to the follies of old age.” It’s a great quote. I want to use it. But I think that it wasn’t Chesterton. And even in the skit, Michael Palin says, “I think it was…” So maybe they just figured that Chesterton had the kind of intellectual oomph they were looking for.
But I can’t seem to find the quotation anywhere except by people who got it from Ripping Yarns. Is it possible that Palin and Jones wrote it? The sentiment sounds eternal — like it is found somewhere in the Old Testament. At the same time, the sentence structure is lovely. But I don’t like feeling ignorant on this point. So if anyone knows anything, please let me know.