Monday, February 22, 2010

Chesterton, Conrad, and HG Wells

It may be all Chesterton, all the time, for a bit. Everything I am reading from Chesterton on War and Peace is setting me back on my heels.
They are compassionate to it [humanity} doubtless, as one may be compassionate to the most revolting animal. But their dislike of it appears to be general and fundamental. Chesterton "Humanitarian Hate," 1908
Chesterton had this argument with Wells many times over the years, and it is perhaps testament to his obvious goodwill that Wells did not cut off the friendship. Joseph Conrad, perhaps because he was blunter, did not fare so well.
Perhaps in a last effort to sustain their friendship, Conrad dedicated his 1907 The Secret Agent to Wells...In early 1918 Conrad would explain to Hugh Walpole that his final quarrel with Wells had centered on their differing views of humanity, and that he had told Wells: "The difference between us, Wells, is fundamental. You don't care for humanity but think they are to be improved. I love humanity but know they are not."
Thus liberalism from its beginnings, though the meaning of the word has gradually changed.


LordSomber said...

A variation of the "loves humanity but hates people" meme.

Paul Gordon said...

Redundant, I know, but...

"I love mankind; it's people I can't stand."
~Linus van Pelt ("Peanuts" ;-)


Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for the wonderful quote from Conrad. I have long admired him for exactly the qualities reflected in the quote: he is always absolutely honest in his appraisal of human behavior, but, underlying this, there is always a deep compassion for human beings as individuals trying to get through life.

If I may, here is one of my favorite quotes from Conrad: "The eye of man can't follow nor the mind of man conceive the crooked ways of another man's thoughts; these naive perversities of reasoning, inspired by the desperation of self-love, kept up by preposterous hopes, arriving at astonishing, at incredible conclusions." (This is from Lord Jim, the Blackwood's Magazine text.)

This statement is brutally honest, but, when Conrad makes these kinds of statements, you don't sense (at least I don't) that he exempts himself from their application. It also reflects why he would not (unlike Wells) be a believer in utopian, "liberal" projects. (I agree with you that the word "liberal" (as applied today) has lost its original meaning.)

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