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Don’t Look A Winged Horse In The Mouth

More today  from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and the amazing chapter 4: The Ethics of Elfland. A longer section today, but you can do it. I know you can.

Here we have a sharp and hilarious critique of the Romantic poets, another goad to gratitude, and much more, all found in a fine nest of wizardly wordings.

 Remember, however, that to be breakable is not the same as to be
   perishable. Strike a glass, and it will not endure an instant; simply
   do not strike it, and it will endure a thousand years. Such, it seemed,
   was the joy of man, either in elfland or on earth; the happiness
   depended on NOT DOING SOMETHING which you could at any moment do and
   which, very often, it was not obvious why you should not do. Now, the
   point here is that to ME this did not seem unjust. If the miller's
   third son said to the fairy, "Explain why I must not stand on my head
   in the fairy palace," the other might fairly reply, "Well, if it comes
   to that, explain the fairy palace." If Cinderella says, "How is it that
   I must leave the ball at twelve?" her godmother might answer, "How is
   it that you are going there till twelve?" If I leave a man in my will
   ten talking elephants and a hundred winged horses, he cannot complain
   if the conditions partake of the slight eccentricity of the gift. He
   must not look a winged horse in the mouth. And it seemed to me that
   existence was itself so very eccentric a legacy that I could not
   complain of not understanding the limitations of the vision when I did
   not understand the vision they limited. The frame was no stranger than
   the picture. The veto might well be as wild as the vision; it might be
   as startling as the sun, as elusive as the waters, as fantastic and
   terrible as the towering trees.

   For this reason (we may call it the fairy godmother philosophy) I never
   could join the young men of my time in feeling what they called the
   general sentiment of REVOLT. I should have resisted, let us hope, any
   rules that were evil, and with these and their definition I shall deal
   in another chapter. But I did not feel disposed to resist any rule
   merely because it was mysterious. Estates are sometimes held by foolish
   forms, the breaking of a stick or the payment of a peppercorn: I was
   willing to hold the huge estate of earth and heaven by any such feudal
   fantasy. It could not well be wilder than the fact that I was allowed
   to hold it at all. At this stage I give only one ethical instance to
   show my meaning. I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising
   generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so
   odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make
   love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons
   in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion's) a vulgar
   anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as
   seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was
   like complaining that I had only been born once. It was incommensurate
   with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not
   an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A
   man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at
   once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man
   plucking five pears in mere absence of mind. The aesthetes touched the
   last insane limits of language in their eulogy on lovely things. The
   thistledown made them weep; a burnished beetle brought them to their
   knees. Yet their emotion never impressed me for an instant, for this
   reason, that it never occurred to them to pay for their pleasure in any
   sort of symbolic sacrifice. Men (I felt) might fast forty days for the
   sake of hearing a blackbird sing. Men might go through fire to find a
   cowslip. Yet these lovers of beauty could not even keep sober for the
   blackbird. They would not go through common Christian marriage by way
   of recompense to the cowslip. Surely one might pay for extraordinary
   joy in ordinary morals. Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued
   because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can
   pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.

via: CCEL.org
Image above from The Guardian

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