14 June 2011

A whistling sentinel...

When I heard Patrick Leigh Fermor had died, one of the first thoughts that struck me was to wonder who takes his place. If Paddy had been the greatest living Englishman, as I've long maintained, sometimes drunkenly, who now can lay claim to that title?

Seventy-five years ago tomorrow, T.H. White, yet to become the author of the twentieth century's supreme reworking of the tale of Arthur, clearly had a similar thought, and addressed his pupils to tell them his conclusion.

Boys, he said, 'G.K. Chesterton died yesterday. P.G. Wodehouse is now the greatest living master of the English language.'

I like that.

It's been three quarters of a century since Gilbert died, and he keeps delighting people and changing lives. Terry Pratchett was surely right to say that small doses of Chesterton, taken regularly, are good for the soul -- and how I wish he could take his own advice now -- but great gulps of the Wild Knight of Battersea can transform us.

Just speaking for myself, I think I'd like semi-colons a lot less were it not for Gilbert, and I'd almost certainly not be a practicing Catholic -- or even the most lukewarm of theists -- were it not for him. Even now, whenever I revisit him, I return refreshed and thinking anew, always remembering that when you get down to it where faith is involved,
'It is not a question of Theology,
It is a question of whether, placed as a sentinel of an unknown watch, you will whistle or not.'
It's worth reading what Mark Shea has to say about him, as well as Sean Dailey, who points out that were GKC to be added to the canon of the saints amongst whom is surely already rejoicing, today would almost certainly be his feast day.

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