Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, better known by his initials as G. K. Chesterton, was an English essayist, novelist, poet, journalist, and author of literary and social criticism. Chesterton was a somewhat contentious man, writing on many subjects about which he had strong feelings, but always with charm, wit, and generosity. In 1925 he published The Everlasting Man, which incorporated many ideas suggested in his earlier works. It reflects his own spiritual journey, which had brought him to a conversion to Roman Catholicism in the summer of 1922.
The Everlasting Man attempts to describe the historical development of humanity and the place of Christianity within that history. It was occasioned by H. G. Wells’s The Outline of History (1920), which describes human history as a development from savagery to civilization by progress and improvement in a uniform way. In Wells’s view, man must adapt himself to his changing environment in order to achieve this progress.
Chesterton acknowledged Wells’s originality and courage, accepted the work as a useful accumulation of facts, and found it interesting, yet as an outline of history he found it wanting. It failed primarily because its proportions were wrong; everything seemed too even. Chesterton insisted that in human history certain events and developments are simply more important than others. Chesterton’s review of the work in The Times contains the germ of ideas he would develop more fully in The Everlasting Man. To say that Christ stands side by side with similar religious leaders, that myths of Christianity can be equated with myths of earlier religions, is a serious error, according to Chesterton. He sees Christianity as unique.
The Everlasting Man is composed of two parts. The first part, prefaced by an introduction detailing the plan of the work, is titled “The Creature Called Man,” while the second part bears the title “The Man Called Christ.” A conclusion summarizes the two parts, and two appendices follow. In the first appendix, Chesterton discusses his admittedly superficial commentary on prehistoric man. He wishes the reader to know that he is aware of current anthropological investigations but that he has made no attempt to use it. He had intended not a study of early humanity but simply the creation of a “landscape” against which to make his point. The second appendix discusses authority and accuracy and indicates that his criticisms of popular fallacies should not be misread as attacks on serious scientific work, which he acknowledges to be valuable. Chesterton states that he has no pretensions of specialization in the area and claims only the right of the amateur to use what he chooses of expert research. His own purpose in using such research is to clarify his own understanding of the history and development of the human race.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 36
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