All Things Considered
_All Things Considered_ (1908) is one of Chesterton's many collections of brief essays on... well, all sorts of things, as the title indicates. His first book of prose, _The Defendant_ (please see my review), consisted of a series of apologias of things considered unpopular by general opinion, such as skeletons, china shepherdesses, ugly things, humility, baby-worship, and detective stories. The tendency to cover a vast, irregular area was there from the beginning. _All Things Considered_ is perhaps even more expansive, and while it is not restricted to the apologia as a genre, it features Chesterton's defense of common sense in a society that has, generally speaking, ceased to make sense at all.
The collection gathers 35 essays. If you look at the table of contents for the free Kindle edition, you will see only 25 titles listed. Do not despair. The free Kindle edition includes _All Things Considered_ in its entirety. By mistake, some titles have been omitted from the table of contents, but as you read the book you will find all of the titles except for one: "Demagogues and Mystagogues," which should appear where that long line is, right after the essay "Wine When It Is Red." The essay is included, only the title has been omitted.
In the opening essay, titled "The Case for the Ephemeral," GKC declares his intention thus: "if all goes well this book will be unintelligible gibberish. For it is mostly concerned with attacking attitudes which are in their nature accidental and incapable of enduring. Brief as is the career of such a book as this, it may last just twenty minutes longer than most of the philosophies that it attacks. In the end it will not matter to us whether we wrote well or ill; whether we fought with flails or reeds. It will matter to us greatly on what side we fought." One hundred and eleven years later, _All Things Considered_ remains relevant; if some of the names or issues Chesterton discusses do not sound familiar to us, that is because they have been forgotten. Many of the philosophies Chesterton attacked at the beginning of the twentieth century turned out to be nothing but fads.
The difficulty of reviewing a Chesterton miscellany is that one does not know where to begin. Cockney jokes, feminism, Zola, martyrdom, anonymity, spiritualism, phonetic spelling, teetotalism, fairy tales, Tom Jones, the literary representations of Joan of Arc, and Christmas are only a handful of the topics discussed in this book. Because of their broad scope, Chesterton's miscellanies tend to be favored by those readers of GKC who do not share his religious/philosophical views. As I mentioned in my review of _The Innocence of Father Brown_, a colleague once told me, before expressing his preference for Chesterton's miscellanies, that he could "take or leave Chesterton's Catholicism." If he chose to "leave" it, I wonder what was left. I fail to see how _All Things Considered_ is any less Catholic than _Orthodoxy_. True, Catholicism itself is not the main subject of the miscellanies, as it is of _Orthodoxy_ and _The Everlasting Man_, but as Chesterton himself pointed out, it is impossible for a Catholic to write, or to do anything, without showing that he/she is a Catholic. This does not mean that only Catholics will enjoy Chesterton. As a matter of fact, innumerable readers of all religious and political convictions have enjoyed him and continue to do so.
The best thing when reviewing Chesterton is to let him speak for himself. Let me share, as I did in my reviews of _The Defendant_ and _Varied Types_, some of the passages from this book that caught my attention. I include the titles of the essays from which the quotations come.
On the wrong view that man is always a despot to woman: "Even if the man is the head of the house, he knows he is the figurehead" (Cockneys and Their Jokes).
On books that promise to teach readers how to be successful: "There are only two ways [...] of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation" (The Fallacy of Success).
On daily inconveniences, such as being unable to open a drawer: "An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered" (On Running After One's Hat).
On the way capital cities reflect the philosophy of their inhabitants: "London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation" (An Essay on Two Cities).
On men and women in regards to power: "Of the two sexes the woman is in the more powerful position. For the average woman is at the head of something with which she can do as she likes; the average man has to obey orders and do nothing else. [...] The woman's world is a small one, perhaps, but she can alter it" (Woman).
On seeing and believing: "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed: a passage which some have considered as a prophecy of modern journalism" (Spiritualism).
On the conditions for happiness in fairy tales: "We are in this fairyland on sufferance; it is not for us to quarrel with the conditions under which we enjoy this wild vision of the world. The vetoes are indeed extraordinary, but then so are the concessions" (Fairy Tales). Elsewhere, in _Orthodoxy_ if I'm not mistaken, Chesterton observes that far from wondering why she has to be home before midnight, Cinderella should be thankful that she gets to go out at all.
On the wrong notion that in order to be moral a book should include no immoral acts: "Telling the truth about the terrible struggle of the human soul is surely a very elementary part of the ethics of honesty. If the characters are not wicked, the book is" (Tom Jones and Morality).
A few essays did not speak to me particularly, most notably "The Vote and the House," "Oxford From Without," "Edward VII and Scotland," "Thoughts Around Koepenick," "Anonymity and Further Counsels," and "The 'Eatanswill Gazette.'" Even in these, however, I found something to underline. As Jorge Luis Borges observed, one will always find a "happy thought" in a Chesterton piece. Most of the time, you'll find more than one.
Chesterton followed this miscellany with many more. My next one will be _Tremendous Trifles_, which appeared the year after _All Things Considered_.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the book!