The Early Journalism of G.K. Chesterton and Charles Masterman: Literature, democracy and Christianity.

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Government and International Affairs


This research centres on a strand of liberal journalism in the early years of the twentieth century that drew a tight link between democracy, Christianity, and literary culture. At its forefront was G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) and C.F.G. Masterman (1873-1927), regular columnists in the organs of popular and to some extent intellectual liberalism, as well as in Christian journals such as The Christian Commonwealth and The Pilot. Their contributions to The Daily News, the Liberal daily with the highest circulation, will be a prominent feature of the research. The research intends to draw out the basis of their liberal beliefs in their early association with the Christian Social Union, as well as their heavy engagement with narratives of Englishness in the wake of imperial expansion, on the one hand, and urbanisation, on the other. It seeks to highlight the cosmic reach of democracy in Chesterton's writings, especially, and his increasing sense of the limitations of organised liberalism as an instrument of democratic change. While Masterman was more heavily involved with the Liberal Party, becoming an MP in 1906 and a Cabinet minister in 1908, his early writings were also animated by an ideal of inclusivity, cultural as well as political. This was most evident in the literary reviews and essays of the two men; both turned against the recent, fin de siècle movement to embrace literary and artistic currents that were unifying rather than divisive, popular rather than elitist, and rooted in optimism rather than pessimism about the nature of human life. They were particularly concerned to turn the literature of early and mid-Victorian England to democratic advantage, pitting it against the realism of Ibsen and Zola and the pessimism of Schopenhauer in philosophy to name but two of their targets. The research will emphasise the distinctiveness of this strand of early-twentieth century Liberalism against that which was rooted in evolutionary rationalism; it will also emphasise the distinctiveness of the Liberal journalism of Chesterton and Masterman against the avant-garde stream associated with Henry Massingham, in particular.

The first aim of the research is to draw together the substantial contribution of G.K. Chesterton to the leading liberal daily, The Daily News from 1901-1913 in one, four-volume edition. This will be annotated throughout and will contain an introductory essay providing a critical framework for understanding his role as a liberal journalist. It will provide a key resource for studying political thought and spiritual belief in England in the years leading up to the First World War.

A second aim is to write two refereed articles comparing Chesterton's journalism with the work of his friend Charles Masterman before 1914. The first will compare their use of the literary essay as a vehicle for promoting their political and religious ideals. The second will consider their wider role as proselytisers for Christianity against secularism on the one hand and religious pluralism on the other in organs such as The Christian Commonwealth, The Pilot, The Nation, The Echo, as well as the Daily News. It will highlight the implications for liberalism of this engagement.
A third aim is to disseminate the research to relevant user groups interested in Chesterton, Liberal history, and the enhancement of democratic rights in the United Kingdom, particularly centred on England.

Julia Stapleton is the sole researcher. The research will mainly be carried out in Durham, with research trips to the Newspaper Library at Colindale and to Birmingham University Library, where Masterman's papers are deposited. In the preparation of the edition of Chesterton's Daily News columns, the methodology used will be that of textual compilation and exegesis. In preparing the two journal articles, comparative analysis will be undertaken of the role, beliefs and agendas of Chesterton and Masterman as journalists in a shared Liberal milieu.

Planned Impact

The main potential users of this research beyond academia are readers of the works of Chesterton and other twentieth-century writers who defended Christianity in a context of increasing religious pluralism and scepticism, on the one hand, and philosophical pessimism, on the other. This readership includes those who admire the depth and originality of Chesterton's thought and his insights into the effects of spiritual malaise on politics and culture, without sharing his religion. Chesterton's latter-day audience is worldwide in its spread. It is kept abreast of Chesterton publishing through the communications of Ignatius Press, Gilbert Magazine, Seven ( Marion E. Wade Centre, Wheaton College), The Chesterton Review, and a network of private emails and blogs, as well as frequent gatherings across the world.

This general readership will benefit from the availability of a major new edition of Chesterton's writings that could not be easily accessed otherwise. Chesterton's contributions to the Daily News contain some of his finest writing, and the proposed edition will provide his readers with a much better impression than hitherto of the range of his concerns and the interest and unity of his thought in its formative phase. Through the columns themselves and the editorial apparatus, general readers will be better equipped to understand the challenges to personal and political liberty in the twenty-first century, and to assess the value of Chesterton's contribution to the debate on this front.

The work will be brought to the attention of readers through short articles placed in each of the above journals during 2012.
The edition itself will form a permanent repository that will impact upon generations of readers after publication in late 2011.
Another potential user would be the Liberal History Group which is affiliated to the Liberal Democrats and is interested in all aspects of the history of British liberalism. While its Journal of Liberal History is committed to scholarly research, it draws its readers (and contributors) from a broad community of liberal activists.

This group would be targeted as a potential beneficiary of the wider remit of the research in the writings of Masterman as well as Chesterton. It would draw the attention of the group to the richness of the contribution to liberal thought from developments in the early twentieth-century and the engagement of liberal writers on a variety of fronts, literary, cultural and political. This would enable the group to realise its primary aim of recovering all aspects of the Liberal past as key to maintaining the depth and integrity of Liberalism in the present.

An article will be placed in the Journal of Liberal History to maximise impact, appearing in 2012. It would form part of a permanent record with which interested individuals in the Liberal History group could engage in the future.

Further potential user-groups are those which are committed to increased political representation for England. The Campaign for an English Parliament, especially, is concerned to work with academic researchers to increase England's profile as a locus of attachment and democratic rights, both historically and in the present.

Members of the CEP would benefit by enhanced awareness of the legacy of earlier movements of thought. While they frequently draw on Chesterton's much-quoted poem, The Secret People, I would bring to their attention the wider context of Chesterton's writing, in combination with that of his friends and associates. This would enrich their understanding of the influences that have shaped English identity.

The research would be communicated via an article placed on the CEP website and a request to attend one of their conferences. I would also publicise the material on related websites such as Opendemocracy and Ourkingdom. The benefits would be realised during 2012 with the placing of articles, and afterwards through the sites' archiving facilities.
Description This project has focused primarily on a mass of hitherto neglected essays by G.K. Chesterton when he wrote for the leading Liberal daily newspaper, The Daily News, 1901-1913. It brings together in one edition some 750 items comprising his regular Saturday columns from 1903 and earlier essays; his literary reviews throughout the period; his contributions to the correspondence pages; and the correspondence that his work elicited in turn. The edition includes thirteen unsigned essays that he wrote at the outset of his association with the newspaper.

The project has recovered significant new aspects of Chesterton's writing and its Edwardian context. These include the high level of general knowledge he could assume in his readership, as the extensive annotation to the essays makes clear. The edition also emphasises the extent to which he revised his work in the minority of essays he republished at the time, as is evident in the textual variants.

The edition provides new evidence of the depth of Chesterton's belief in democracy interpreted in both cultural and political terms. His cultural sense of democracy is most apparent in his literary reviews, especially those which targeted writers, poets and artists associated with the Decadence. Against the scepticism, pessimism and detachment from ordinary life that marked the work of Swinburne, Wilde, John Davidson, Whistler, Edgar Saltus and others, he championed popular beliefs, sentiments, and emotions. He praised writers such as Walt Whitman, Dickens and Charlotte Bronte for their greater sensitivity in this regard. His political sense of democracy is evident in his increasing distance from Liberalism for what he regarded as its complicity in a new form of tyranny. His concerns centred especially on Liberal legislation such as the Prevention of Crime Act (1908), the Children's Act (1908), the National Insurance Act (1911), the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1912), and the Mental Deficiency Act (1913). The keen interest he took in attitudes towards punishment is especially highlighted in the edition. A staunch Christian commitment underpinned all his writing for the newspaper; this was coupled with an increasing insistence on the need for revolution in England, a revolution fuelled by patriotism. Much of his cultural and political critique took the form of allegory, a literary device that produced some of his most imaginative writing.

Charles Masterman's literary and political essays for the Daily News and other Liberal journals in this period have provided a useful point of contrast and comparison with those of Chesterton. Much more entrenched within Anglo-Catholicism in this period than Chesterton, Masterman nevertheless shared Chesterton's faith in democracy as the great transformative instrument of spiritual as well as political change in Britain. Both Masterman and Chesterton wrestled with the legacy of 'liberal values' as bequeathed by the intelligentsia of nineteenth-century Britain. William Lubenow has recently shown that liberalism became closely tied to secularism and an antipathy towards democracy in literary circles following the downfall of the confessional state after 1828. But the essays included in this study emphasise that this movement did not pass unchallenged.
Exploitation Route G.K. Chesterton is best known to the public as the creator of Father Brown, one of the central figures in the genre of modern detective fiction. However, Chesterton was also a leading journalist and some of his best writing in this respect was for the leading Liberal daily, the Daily News, between 1901 until his resignation in 1913. The keen sense of mystery and wonder and the importance of faith and reason that informs the Father Brown stories provide the leitmotif of these articles too. At the same time they are given a strong political twist in response to what Chesterton regarded as the growth of tyranny in Edwardian Britain.

Readers of Chesterton will find in these articles many essays that have not been republished previously and which have been made accessible by extensive annotation. The notes identify his copious literary and biblical references and give details of the personalities and events, both historical and contemporary, at the core of the texts. The essays are of both a literary and political nature and are linked by a concern to champion democracy against elites. Chesterton conceives democracy in two senses: first, the tastes and beliefs of ordinary people and second, their right to self-government. He defended democracy against the background of the fin de siècle, the movement that asserted the detachment of art and literature from society and (conventional) morals; also the growth simultaneously of the party machine and state-sponsored social reform.

For the lay reader, the essays provide much that is of relevance to contemporary debates. Foremost among these is the conflict between secularism and Christianity. Chesterton's Daily News essays frequently target rationalists such as Robert Blatchford and John McCabe, materialists such as John Davidson, and humanitarian thinkers such as Henry Salt and H.N. Brailsford. He assailed these writers especially for denying human freedom and moral responsibility. However, his Christianity was closely intertwined with Liberalism in these years, and he frequently sided with secularists on issues such as state education, the blasphemy laws, and the Coronation Oath.

The debates in which Chesterton engaged in his Daily News essays have other contemporary resonances. Among these is the status of England as a nation. Chesterton emphasised the distinctiveness of the English, albeit a people whose identity had been obscured by empire and the oppression of other nations within the United Kingdom, Ireland especially. Many of his contributions took issue with imperialist writers and politicians, Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Chamberlain in particular, for corrupting patriotism. The essays emphasise the intensity of Chesterton's English patriotism, but also his defence of the patriotic principle more generally.

The wider inclusion of Charles Masterman in the project highlights the vibrant High Church tradition of cultural and political critique that was a feature of Chesterton's early ambience. General readers will find interest in this aspect of the project in the light of the Ordinariate recently established by Pope Benedict for Anglo-Catholics seeking to join the Roman Catholic Church.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy