"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

More of Chesterton on voting

With primary season going into full swing, it seems time to let Chesterton speak on the topic of voting once again.  This particular passage comes from his last novel, The Return of Don Quixote.  The backstory is thus.  Michael Herne is a librarian and historian who orignally studied the ancient Hitties, but has recently decided to focus on the Middle Ages.  So fascinated is he by this historical era that he decided to dress in medieval fashion permanently and create a little band of followers who seek to restore the habits and ideals of the late Middle Ages.  At the same time, political machinations involving big industry and socialist agitators are swirling around.  Then election day arrives.

In the great General Election, which had been produced by the big menace of Braintree and his new Syndicalism, and which had led up to the launching of the movement in opposition to it, it was reported that Mr. Michael Herne had gone into a polling-booth to record his vote; and had remained there for three-quarters of an hour, mysteriously occupied or possibly engaged in prayer.  He had apparently never given a vote before; it not being a Palaeo-Hittite habit; but when it had been elaborately explained to him that he had only to make a cross on the piece of paper opposite the name of his favourite candidate, he seemed quite charmed and enchanted with the idea.  By this time, of course, his Palaeo-Hittite period had long become prehistoric and stratified in the past; and his later medieval enthusiasm devoured his days and nights.  Nevertheless he could apparently spare a somewhat abnormal time for the modern and rather mechanical process of voting; when he might have been engaged in drawing the long bow or tilting at a Saracen’s head.  Archer and his other colleagues became a little impatient, and not a little mystified, by his mysterious immersion in the ballot box; they kicked their legs restlessly outside and eventually went inside, to see his tall and motionless back still immovable in its separate cell, as of a modern confessional.  They were at last goaded to the gross indelicacy of disturbing the Citizen when alone with his Duty, by going up behind him and pulling his coat-tails.  As this had no particular effect, they committed the anarchical and anti-democratic outrage of actually looking over his shoulder.  They found that he had set out on the little shelf, as on a table, all the illumination paints (presumably borrowed from Miss Ashley), paints of gold and silver and all the colours of the rainbow.  With these he was engaged in doing his democratic duty with almost a painful care and patience.  He had been told to make a cross and he was making a cross.  He was doing it as it would have been done by a monk in the Dark Ages; that is in very gay and glorified colours.  The cross was of gold, in one corner of it were three blue birds, in another corner were three red fishes, in another plants, in another planets and so on; it seemed to be planned upon the scheme of the Canticle of the Creature of St. Francis of Assisi.  He was very much surprised to be told that this was not required by the provisions of the Ballot Act; but he controlled himself and only gave a faint sigh, when informed by the officials of the polling station that his vote was cancelled, because he had “spoilt” a ballot paper.


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