Great progress is best measured, I think, in the splendour of small and easy things combining to make the good available to all.
Apple's iPad is a small and easy thing. Apple's iBooks is a small and easy program. Put them together and you are able to get, as I discovered during Christmas, more than 7,000 pages of G.K. Chesterton for a mere $1.99.
Yes, that is correct. $1.99. For less than the price of a medium cup of coffee, and in a matter of mere seconds, all who truly love the English language can literally hold in their hands 400-plus collected works by the great G.K.
From Heretics to Orthodoxy, from the Crimes of England to the Innocence of Father Brown, The Club of Queer Trades and the magisterial essay on Dickens, it's all there and, of course, all good.
Granted there are those who will say, as my daughter did in an effort to tone down my whooping, that they wouldn't care to read one page of G.K. Chesterton for free. It is common for human beings to be careless with their freedom. Yet Chesterton is the one English writer we should read to truly understand how to safeguard it.
Born in the spring of 1874, dead in June of 1936, Chesterton's life spanned the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The argument was made by George Orwell among others that he didn't actually live in either age but existed in the medieval garden of his own profound imagination.
There's truth in that but what it leaves out is Chesterton's capacity to look over the top of the garden wall and see, truly see, what was happening to the world beyond. That isn't meant to suggest he was some sort of Nostradamus of Notting Hill. Chesterton did not prognosticate. He pierced the present to show the ordinary commonalities of past and future.
He is famous, of course, for having said that the proof of original sin is the front page of the daily newspaper. He once won a newspaper essay contest by answering the question "what's wrong with the world?" with the phrase: "I am."
The great temptation for Chestertonians discussing Chesterton is to lapse into quoting, almost self-parodically, the overwhelming wealth of quotations he left behind. It's an easy lapse because he wrote in a perfected aphoristic style that gave him the comic air of a man walking through a door balancing a bowl of milk and then backing out the window carrying a cat. There is a magical sense of simultaneous coming and going with the whole proposal having changed at some mystical middle point.
The problem with simply quoting Chesterton is that it leaves the impression among those who wouldn't care if they'd never heard about him with the impression that he was some kind of British Borscht Belter spinning out one liners just for the yuks.
In fact, he was a thinker and writer of enormous depth and breadth—from the book on Aquinas to the essay on the pleasures of lying in bed—who took supremely seriously the human need to engage with the small and easy things that comprise the good.
Small and easy things, that is, such as laughter itself. Or an iPad, iBooks, and 7,000 pages of Chesterton for only $1.99. Now there is a measurement of progress.