Don’t ask me where or how or when (I don’t quite recall), but I came across this charming letter written by G. K. Chesterton to his then-fiancée Frances Blogg. In it, he explains all the particulars of how they met, as well as his first impressions of the woman to whom he would be married for thirty-five years, until his death in 1936. That, coupled with the wit and fire we would expect from Chesterton, makes it well-worth a read.
The letter begins with Chesterton’s reckoning of all of the “property” he has to offer Frances should they get married:
1st. A Straw Hat. The oldest part of this admirable relic shows traces of pure Norman work. The vandalism of Cromwell’s soldiers has left us little of the original hat-band.
2nd. A Walking Stick, very knobby and heavy: admirably fitted to break the head of any denizen of Suffolk who denies that you are the noblest of ladies, but of no other manifest use.
3rd. A copy of Walt Whitman’s poems, once nearly given to Salter, but quite forgotten. It has his name in it still with an affectionate inscription from his sincere friend Gilbert Chesterton. I wonder if he will ever have it.
4th. A number of letters from a young lady, containing everything good and generous and loyal and holy and wise that isn’t in Walt Whitman’s poems.
5th. An unwieldy sort of a pocket knife, the blades mostly having an edge of a more varied and picturesque outline than is provided by the prosaic cutler. The chief element however is a thing “to take stones out of a horse’s hoof.” What a beautiful sensation of security it gives one to reflect that if one should ever have money enough to buy a horse and should happen to buy one and the horse should happen to have stone in his hoof–that one is ready; one stands prepared, with a defiant smile!
6th. Passing from the last miracle of practical foresight, we come to a box of matches. Every now and then I strike one of these, because fire is beautiful and burns your fingers. Some people think this waste of matches: the same people who object to the building of Cathedrals.
7th. About three pounds in gold and silver, the remains of one of Mr. Unwin’s bursts of affection: those explosions of spontaneous love for myself, which, such is the perfect order and harmony of his mind, occur at startingly exact intervals of time.
8th. A book of Children’s Rhymes, in manuscript, called the “Weather Book” about 3/4 finished, and destined for Mr. Nutt. I have been working at it fairly steadily, which I think jolly creditable under the circumstances. One can’t put anything interesting in it. They’ll understand those things when they grow up.
9th. A tennis racket–nay, start not. It is a part of the new regime, and the only new and neat-looking thing in the Museum. We’ll soon mellow it–like the straw hat. My brother and I are teaching each other lawn tennis.
10th. A soul, hitherto idle and omnivorous but now happy enough to be ashamed of itself.
11th. A body, equally idle and quite equally omnivorous, absorbing tea, coffee, claret, sea-water, and swimming. I think, the sea being a convenient size.
12th. A Heart–mislaid somewhere. And that is about all the property of which an inventory can be made at present. After all, my tastes are stoically simple. A straw hat, a stick, a box of matches, and some of his own poetry. What more does man require?
After a lengthy section in which he describes a misadventure in an odd town called Felixstowe (he called it “the City of a Fearful Folk”), Chesterton imagines his and Frances’s future house thus:
When we set up a house, darling (honeysuckle porch, yew clipt hedge, bees, poetry and eight shillings a week), I think you will have to do the shopping. Particularly at Felixstowe. There was a great and glorious man who said, “Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities.” That I think would be a splendid motto to write (in letters of brown gold) over the porch of our hypothetical home. There will be a sofa for you, for example, but no chairs, for I prefer the floor. There will be a select store of chocolate-creams (to make you do the Carp with) and the rest will be bread and water. We will each retain a suit of evening dress for great occasions, and at other times clothe ourselves in the skins of wild beasts (how pretty you would look) which would fit your taste in furs and be economical.
Later in the letter, he takes a turn for the metaphysical:
You say you want to talk to me about death: my views about death are bright, brisk, and entertaining. When Azrael takes a soul it may be to other and brighter worlds: like those whither you and I go together. The transformation called Death may be something as beautiful and dazzling as the transformation called Love.
Finally, with his typical humility, Chesterton talks about the reactions of Frances’s family to the idea of them marrying . . .
Your mother would certainly have worried if you had been engaged to the Archangel Michael (who, indeed, is bearing his disappointment very well): how much more when you are engaged to an aimless, tactless, reckless, unbrushed, strange-hatted, opinionated scarecrow who has suddenly walked into the vacant place.
. . . and then ends with this most lovely of lines:
Here ends my previous existence. Take it: it led me to you.
You can find the full letter here.