The Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton (Excursus 3)

“The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.”

This insight has come to me before in a slightly different form. Recent reading I have done has made me wonder not so much at the beauty of the world (the fact of a nose, as Chesterton might put it) but in our ability to appreciate that beauty. It is just as easily conceivable to me that humanity should have no aesthetic at all, that we should look on the mountains or the stars or the face of a lovely woman and feel absolutely no sense of joy intrinsic in the beholding. That we have been given the ability to appreciate the mountains, to imbibe of their grandeur and experience delight simply by seeing them, is more beautiful to me than any particular beauty that may be enjoyed.

From there, I certainly agree with Chesterton that the very fact of the nose is more comical than the amusing nose. That we have legs is more fantastic than any place those legs may carry us. That we have hands is more spectacular than any monument those hands can build. But before that, the very fact that Chesterton can be heartbroken by the beauty of it is itself more beautiful still.

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