Sunday, January 25, 2009

St. Paul, Fighting and Friendship

This blogg has gotten quiet, a bit of a surprise for a Chestertonian blogg. Did someone stick his tongue to a lamppost? (hee hee) Well, since today (though Sunday, a name of power and awe) is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, I thought I might drop in here and provoke some comments by dredging up a bit of GKC's story from his days as a student at St. Paul. it's got a lovely fight in it, sort of like the strange warfare we read of "on the way to Damascus". Ever notice how we stick things into even well-known Bible stories? There aren't three kings, Veronica isn't on the way of the cross - and there's no horse mentioned when St. Paul is knocked off his h... - uh - when he encounters the Lord. In the same way, we might find it hard to imagine our loveable GKC as a young pugilist! Please read on, and comment at will...

Boyhood is a most complex and incomprehensible thing. Even when one has been through it, one does not understand what it was. A man can never quite understand a boy, even when he has been the boy. There grows all over what was once the child a sort of prickly protection like hair; a callousness, a carelessness, a curious combination of random and quite objectless energy with a readiness to accept conventions. I have blindly begun a lark which involved carrying on literally like a lunatic; and known all the time that I did not know why I was doing it. When I first met my best friend in the playground, I fought with him wildly for three-quarters of an hour; not scientifically and certainly not vindictively (I had never seen him before and I have been very fond of him ever since) but by a sort of inexhaustible and insatiable impulse, rushing hither and thither about the field and rolling over and over in the mud. And all the time I believe that both our minds were entirely mild and reasonable; and when we desisted from sheer exhaustion, and he happened to quote Dickens or the Bab Ballads, or something I had read, we plunged into a friendly discussion on literature which has gone on, intermittently, from that day to this. There is no explaining these things; if those who have done them cannot explain them. But since then I have seen boys in many countries and even of many colours; Egyptian boys in the bazaars of Cairo or mulatto boys in the slums of New York. And I have found that by some primordial law they all tend to three things; to going about in threes; to having no apparent object in going about at all; and, almost invariably speaking, to suddenly attacking each other and equally suddenly desisting from the attack.

Some may still question my calling this conduct conventional; from a general impression that two bankers or business partners do not commonly roll each other head-over-heels for fun, or in a spirit of pure friendship. It might be retorted that two business partners are not always by any means such pure friends. But in any case, it is true to call the thing a convention in more than the verbal sense of a collision. And it is exactly this convention that really separates the schoolboy from the child. When I went to St. Paul's School, in Hammersmith, there really was a sort of convention of independence; which was in a certain degree a false independence; because it was a false maturity. Here we must remember once more the fallacy about "pretending" in childhood. The child does not really pretend to be a Red Indian; any more than Shelley pretended to be a cloud or Tennyson to be a brook. The point can be tested by offering a political pamphlet to the cloud, a peerage to the brook, or a penny for sweets to the Red Bull of the Prairies. But the boy really is pretending to be a man; or even a man of the world; which would seem a far more horrific metamorphosis. Schoolboys in my time could be blasted with the horrible revelation of having a sister, or even a Christian name. And the deadly nature of this blow really consisted in the fact that it cracked the whole convention of our lives; the convention that each of us was on his own; an independent gentleman living on private means. The secret that each of us did in fact possess a family, and parents who paid for our support, was conventionally ignored and only revealed in moments of maddened revenge. But the point is that there was already a faint touch of corruption in this convention; precisely because it was more serious and less frank than the tarradiddles of infancy. We had begun to be what no children are - snobs. Children disinfect all their dramatic impersonations by saying "Let us pretend." We schoolboys never said "Let us pretend"; we only pretended.
[GKC Autobiography CW16:61-63]


Old Fashioned Liberal said...

Snif snif...I never had a friend like that. I think I am getting younger.

Old Fashioned Liberal said...

I think I know why the little boys go about in threes. They do it for their own protection. If there are two boys, the stronger one will always defeat the weaker one, but if there are three, one of them will always have sympathies with whoever happens to be the underdog at the moment (Chesterton has an essay on this, I think) and thus there will be a balance of power that protects them to some degree from each other. Also, if there are only two boys, they may begin to get into a deep discussion about their feelings, something that they are naturally uncomfortable with. Three is too many for that sort of thing, so it also protects them from their own feelings.