Sunday, August 12, 2007

Chesterton on Hobbies

I read G. K. Chesterton's autobiography a few weeks ago and was struck by, among other things (it is Chesterton after all), his comments early in the book on hobbies.

Chesterton talks about his father, who was known outside the home as a reliable, ordinary businessmen but wh was at home a man of many talents and loads of hobbies. ("It was a very good first lesson in what is also the last lesson of life; that in everything that matters, the inside is much larger than the outside.") This leads him to talk about hobbies:

"A hobby is not a holiday. It is not merely a momentary relaxation
necessary to the renewal of work; and in this respect it must be sharply
distinguished from much that is called sport....It is not merely taking
exercise; it is doing work. It is not merely exercising the body instead of the
mind, an excellent but now largely a recognised thing. It is exercising the rest of the mind; now an almost neglected thing."

[emphasis in that last sentence mine]

The outside world limits us; our hobbies expand us. Our hobbies let us use the rest of our mind, the parts that our job usually doesn't, that the world--perhaps especially the modern world--doesn't care if we have or not.

Chesterton also says that seeing his father at work on his hobbies, and especially on Chesterton's beloved toy theater, made a great difference in his life--not least that he learned to love seeing human hands engaged in doing and making. If the father had been only a businessman, he would have seemed smaller in his son's eyes.

"And this experience has made me profoundly sceptical of all the modern talk
about the necessary dullness of domesticity; and the degrading drudgery that
only has to make puddings and pies. Only to make things! There is no greater
thing to be said of God Himself than that He makes things."

And being Chesterton, of course he has more to say and it is interesting. The next few pages move into buying things versus making them, how children play, moral/moralizing literature and adult cynicism, wondrous reality and imaginative play, and a great deal more. This is the second chapter of the autobiography and quite the best one in it; read it for yourself if you have the chance. Some craftster types might like another line: "I wish we did not have to fritter away on frivolous things, like lectures and literature, the time we might have given to serious, solid and constructive work like cutting out cardboard figures and pasting coloured tinsel upon them." I've loved books and stories too much to quite agree, but I'm on board with the general point; considering Chesterton was himself a great reader, I don't think he'd have wholly given up literature for his cardboard figures, although I can't say for the production of literature.

Anyhow, can there be any doubt that if Chesterton were writing today he'd have something to say about this news item on a new surgical technique which "whittles" thumbs down to better fit i-Phones and other handheld devices. We do not fit the machines that are supposed to serve us, so we alter ourselves to fit the machine, rather than altering the machine. It's like women who, rather than having clothes made to fit their bodies, agonize year after year, trying to make their bodies fit the clothes. Or worse, and more precisely, the women we read about a year or so ago who were having surgery on their toes so they could wear fashionable pointy-toed high heels. Oh what a brave new world we are making.

Update: The news item I linked above is apparently false. I was not familiar with the source and was taken in. My apologies. However, as the other examples I mentioned are true, I believe my larger point stands.

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