My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first essay of G.K. Chesterton’s I remember reading is On Lying in Bed, which begins, “Lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if only one had a coloured pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling.” Ever since, my mental image of Chesterton has included a figure lying under covers armed with a pencil, doodling on a low, sloped ceiling. I’ve finally found it again, then, the collection containing that essay the drew me in.
The title itself, Tremendous Trifles, introduces us to the sort of paradox Chesterton loved. He isn’t being flip; he really does talk about daily trifles, but finds tremendous significance in them. Read the first essay, a fable of two boys, Paul and Peter. One grows to giant proportions and finds once great things pedestrian. He looms above waterfalls and mountains, and all their majesty is lost. The other shrinks to a tiny size and the very grass under his feet becomes a jungle.
Chesterton strives for the second perspective, to find great things in what looks very little. He writes, in another essay, “I suppose every one must have reflected how primeval and how poetical are the things that one carries in one’s pocket; the pocket-knife, for instance, the type of all human tools, the infant of the sword. Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.”
And so you find essays with such titles as “The Advantages of Having One Leg”; “A Tragedy of Twopence”; “A Cab Ride Across Country”; and “A Piece of Chalk”.
The essays lag at times, chiefly when he writes about contemporary political figures and issues of his day. But you don’t regret having read even those essays, if only because of Chesterton’s winsome style. And even if you don’t find the subject of any given essay particularly interesting, perhaps you may find yourself inspired to look about you in a different way.