St. George could still fight the dragon…

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first
idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child
is his first clear idea of the possible defeat
of bogey. The baby has known the dragon
intimately ever since he had an imagination.
What the fairy tale provides for him is a St.
George to kill the dragon.”
― G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles The Red Angel

“I have little doubt that when St. George had
killed the dragon he was heartily afraid of
the princess.”
― G.K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age in Literature (1913)

Like St. George, we come back to fight the dragons of life another day….

This particular blog post is being written on that premise.  It was supposed to be written on April 23 – St. George’s Day in the United Kingdom – a day that still means something to a great many Englishman (despite recent demographic changes), and meant something to G. K. Chesterton.  But why?  Why is (and was) St. George so important to the English?  And why did Chesterton mention him prominently in at least 4 separate works?

St. George seems to stand for something that was (and is being revived once more through recent campaigns) foundational to  the national character  of England- a knight who saves a princess, who does so fighting the battles of life in a particular English way.  As Chesterton says of him in The Englishman:

St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon’s meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn’t give him beans.

Hopefully, that bacon and those beans were part of a proper fry up…

Knowing Chesterton’s enjoyment of food, they surely must have been.  But back to St. George and saving princesses (who no doubt ate beans and bacon with great delicacy)….

St. George just doesn’t save a princess, according to the same legend, by saving her and defeating the dragon, he restores life-giving water to the town held hostage. In gratitude, the town converts to Christianity. It occurs that in that gratitude must lie why he is represented by means of the Cross on the national flag.  St. George stands for the defense of the lives, both spiritually and physically, of the English against great odds. And in that gratitude, he also shares an affection with the heart of an Englishman in much the same way the Irish love St. Patrick and the Scots love St. Andrew.  All three in the symbol of crosses are represented on the present day Union flag.   By the time Chesterton is born in Kensington in 1874, the Union Jack had been flying as the official flag of the United Kingdom for 73 years.  So when Chesterton writes The Flying Inn in 1914 and includes the poem The Englishman it almost seems to be a call to remember a very much needed, affectionate and steel-hearted, patriotism of St. George in order to face what is ahead of his fellow citizens….

The Englishman

by G.K.Chesterton

St George he was for England,
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail,
It isn’t safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.
St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon’s meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn’t give him beans.
St George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn’t safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.

The theme of defeating an impossible something against an insignificant you is something that sticks with you, like plain and simple oatmeal through an impossible day.  Its a simple and unwavering strength to get the task ahead done when all others fail.  St. George has stuck in the imagination, like simple daily oatmeal, and made a stalwart people of England face and win aggressions that felled larger lands than theirs.

St. George had not to consider any obvious odds or proportions in the scale of things, but only the original secret of their design. He can shake his sword at the dragon, even if it is everything; even if the empty heavens over his head are only the huge arch of its open jaws.

“According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage managers, who had since made a great mess of it. I will discuss the truth of this theorem later. Here I have only to point out with what a startling smoothness it passed the dilemma we have discussed in this chapter. In this way at least one could be both happy and indignant without degrading one’s self to be either a pessimist or an optimist. On this system one could fight all the forces of existence without deserting the flag of existence. One could be at peace with the universe and yet be at war with the world. St. George could still fight the dragon, however big the monster bulked in the cosmos, though he were bigger than the mighty cities or bigger than the everlasting hills. If he were as big as the
world he could yet be killed in the name of the world. St. George had not to consider any obvious odds or proportions in the scale of things, but only the original secret of their design. He can shake his sword at the dragon, even if it is everything; even if the empty heavens over his head are only the huge arch of its open jaws.”

from The Flag of the World, Orthodoxy 

St. George and his impossible fight against a legendary dragon to save a princess may in our modern age seem a silly trifle.  But to Chesterton it was a tremendous trifle that kept coming back to mind like some nagging hope of personal patriotism that never lets you give up in any impossible circumstance, even if the circumstance is such a little thing to others but such a big thing to you or I.  In his essay What I Found In My Pocket that is exactly what St George and his cross still do: provide the mundane strength to see a daily thing through like its a million momentous battles being fought in the lives of common everyday citizens.

“The first thing I came upon consisted of piles and heaps of Battersea tram tickets. There were enough to equip a paper chase. They shook down in showers like confetti. Primarily, of course, they touched my patriotic emotions, and brought tears to my eyes; also they provided me with the printed matter I required, for I found on the back of them some short but striking little scientific essays about some kind of pill. Comparatively speaking, in my then destitution, those tickets might be regarded as a small but
well-chosen scientific library. Should my railway journey continue (which seemed likely at the time) for a few months longer, I could imagine myself throwing myself into the controversial aspects of the pill, composing
replies and rejoinders pro and con upon the data furnished to me. But after all it was the symbolic quality of the tickets that moved me most. For as certainly as the cross of St. George means English patriotism, those scraps of paper meant all that municipal patriotism which is now, perhaps, the greatest hope of England.”

from What I Found In My Pocket, Tremendous Trifles

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