Odd Couple

At Fordham last night the Crossroads Cultural Center presented a sort of multi-genre …performance? Lecture? on Chesterton and T.S. Eliot.  The Communion and Liberation Choir, directed by Christopher Vath, sang, and then Fr. Ian Boyd, president of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture, and Dermot Quinn, a history professor from Seton Hall, talked back and forth a bit about Chesterton and Eliot.

And afterwards– this was really extraordinary– the Storm Theater troupe, directed by Peter Dobbins, gave a dramatic reading of the Choruses from Eliot’s pageant-play The Rock.

What the discussion mostly came down to was the degree to which the two men managed to be utterly different in mood and approach, while utterly similar in theology and in their criticism of their surrounding culture.  Chesterton emerged as the Thomist of the two, while Eliot was the Augustinian. 

But in addition to this difference– which one sees all the time in Christian history between people whose emphases differ, but who are not permitted to call each other heretics– was the difference in their attitude towards home. 

“You were talking,” said Fr. Boyd at one point to Professor Quinn, “about Eliot as someone who’d left home…I don’t think that Chesterton was altogether happy with people who leave home, unless it’s to return there.  There’s a wraith-like quality to people who have no roots.”

And Eliot, in his search for tradition and permanence, left his roots. 

I sympathize.  I also am attracted to what Professor Quinn called the “mysterious pleasures of the monarchy,” but to be a proper conservative you have to take the world as it is, democracy and all.  If I were a real monarchist, here and now, in Manhattan, I would be a revolutionary, and that would never do.  The irony would be too rich; I would get a stomach-ache.

It would be interesting to compare Eliot and Hawthorne.  It would of course be easier to do this if I’d read more than the tinyest but of Eliot (I must’ve read some…right?  Not just seen Cats?)  Both deliciously reactionary, they came to different conclusions about whether or not it is permissable, or possible, to leave home.  Hawthorne brought Hester Prynne back from Old England to New England; you can try to escape your roots and context, but it won’t work; you’ve got to die in Boston.  Eliot did not bring himself back to Missouri.


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