Thus it comes to pass that in the midst of a time resounding with pagan voices old and new, he stands for an unflinching idealism. It is the mark of pagans that they are children of Nature, boasting that Nature is their mother: they are solemnised by that still and unresponsive maternity, or driven into rebellion by discovering that the so-called mother is but a harsh stepmother after all. Mr. Chesterton loves Nature, because Christianity has revealed to him that she is but his sister, child of the same Father. “We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”
It follows that two worlds are his, as is the case with all true idealists. The modern reversion to paganism is founded on the fundamental error that Christianity is alien to Nature, setting up against her freedom the repellent ideal of asceticism, and frowning upon her beauty with the scowl of the harsh moralist. For Mr. Chesterton the bleakness is all on the side of the pagans, and the beauty with the idealists. They do not look askance at the green earth at all. They gaze upon it with steady eyes, until they are actually looking through it, and discovering the radiance of heaven there, and the sublime brightness of the Eternal Life. The pagan virtues, such as justice and temperance, are painfully reasonable and often sad. The Christian virtues are faith, hope, and charity—each more unreasonable than the last, from the point of view of mere mundane common sense; but they are gay as childhood, and hold the secret of perennial youth and unfading beauty, in a world which upon any other terms than these is hastening to decay.
THE HOUND OF HEAVEN
In bringing to a close these studies of the long battle between paganism and idealism,—between the life which is lived under the attraction of this world and which seeks its satisfaction there, and that wistful life of the spirit which has far thoughts and cannot settle down to the green and homely earth,—it is natural that we should look for some literary work which will describe the decisive issue of the whole conflict. Such a work is Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven, which is certainly one of the most remarkable poems that have been published in England for many years.
To estimate its full significance it is necessary in a few words to recapitulate the course of thought which has been followed in the preceding chapters. We began with the ancient Greeks, and distinguished the high idealism of their religious conceptions from the paganism into which these declined. The sense of the sacredness of beauty, forced upon the Greek spirit by the earth itself, was a high idealism, without which no conception of life or of the universe can be anything but a maimed and incomplete expression of their meaning. Yet, for lack of some sufficiently