In this age, when, as Chesterton observed, the Christian is expected to praise every creed but his own, the American is also expected to praise every country but his own. Indeed, he is now led to believe he has no right to his country or rather it belongs to everyone but himself.
“Above me in the twilight was the huge black hulk of the driver, and his broad, blank back was as mysterious as the back of Death in Watts’ picture. I felt that I was growing too fantastic, and I sought to speak of ordinary things. I called out to the driver in French,“Where are you taking me?” and it is a literal and solemn fact that he answered me in the same language without turning around, “To the end of the world.”
I did not answer. I let him drag the vehicle up dark, steep ways, until I saw lights under a low roof of little trees and two children, one oddly beautiful, playing at ball. Then we found ourselves filling up the strict main street of a tiny hamlet, and across the wall of its inn was written in large letters, LE BOUT DU MONDE—the end of the world.
The driver and I sat down outside that inn without a word, as if all ceremonies were natural and understood in that ultimate place. I ordered bread for both of us, and red wine, that was good but had no name. On the other side of the road was a little plain church with a cross on top of it and a cock on top of the cross. This seemed to me a very good end of the world; if the story of the world ended here it ended well. Then I wondered whether I myself should really be content to end here, where most certainly there were the best things of Christendom—a church and children’s games and decent soil and a tavern for men to talk with men. But as I thought a singular doubt and desire grew slowly in me, and at last I started up.
“Are you not satisfied?” asked my companion. “No,” I said, “I am not satisfied even at the end of the world.”
Then, after a silence, I said, “Because you see there are two ends of the world. And this is the wrong end of the world; at least the wrong one for me. This is the French end of the world. I want the other end of the world. Drive me to the other end of the world.”
“The other end of the world?” he asked. “Where is that?”
“It is in Walham Green,” I whispered hoarsely. “You see it on the London omnibuses. ‘World’s End and Walham Green.’ Oh, I know how good this is; I love your vineyards and your free peasantry, but I want the English end of the world. I love you like a brother, but I want an English cabman, who will be funny and ask me what his fare ‘is.’ Your bugles stir my blood, but I want to see a London policeman. Take, oh, take me to see a London policeman.”
He stood quite dark and still against the end of the sunset, and I could not tell whether he understood or not. I got back into his carriage.
“You will understand,” I said, “if ever you are an exile even for pleasure. The child to his mother, the man to his country, as a countryman of yours once said. But since, perhaps, it is rather too long a drive to the English end of the world, we may as well drive back to Besançon.”
Only as the stars came out among those immortal hills I wept for Walham Green.”
– G. K. Chesterton, The End of The World, Tremendous Trifles, 1909
image source: George Frederic Watts, The Court of Death, wikimedia commons