New York: Sheed and Ward, 1936. First edition. Octavo, original red cloth, original dust jacket. Gentle creasing to the edges of the dust jacket. About-fine. Item #339
"I DID NOT REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT I MEANT BY LIBERTY, UNTIL I HEARD IT CALLED BY THE NEW NAME OF HUMAN DIGNITY. IT WAS A NEW NAME TO ME; THOUGH IT WAS PART OF A CREED NEARLY TWO THOUSAND YEARS OLD" First American edition of G. K. Chesterton's Autobiography, completed just before his death in June, 1936; this copy resplendent in the original, gold-and-white, Sheed and Ward dust jacket. Although he did not convert until 1922, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a commanding presence in the Catholic Literary Revival of the twentieth-century. Chesterton's steady output of books, covering a vast range of subjects and genres, created a body of work demonstrating a universal mind despite the fact that "throughout his life, his views on religion, politics, and most public issues had set him among a very small minority in his native land. And yet there were few literary figures of his day more widely admired, indeed beloved." (Robert Ellsberg, All Saints). As T. S. Eliot noted in an obituary "it is not, I think, for any piece of writing in particular that Chesterton is of importance, but for the place that he occupied, the position that he represented, during the better part of a generation." Chesterton's booming personality, coupled with his sheer physical bulk, lent a pervasive Christian exuberance to his work: "And in a sense Chesterton, more than any twentieth-century writer, preserved over the course of his whole life a kind of extended child's delight in the world as the true stance of a Christian toward creation." (Robert Royal, A Deeper Vision). Chesterton exerted an out-sized, formative influence on a diverse group of writers including Robert Hugh Benson, Ronald Knox, Eric Gill, Evelyn Waugh, C. S Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Graham Greene, E. F. Schumacher and many, many others.
Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward were the logical publishers to issue Chesterton's epitaph. Chesterton had first published The Queen of the Seven Swords with Sheed and Ward in 1926 and the relationship continued with The Judgement of Dr. Johnson (1927), The Thing (1929), Sidelights (1932), Christendom in Dublin (1932), The Well and the Shadows (1935), and several others after his death. The posthumous biographies published by the firm included two important tributes by Maisie Ward: Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1943) and Return to Chesterton (1952). "Looking back on it all, Chesterton humbly offers that he 'could never do anything more useful than writing.' Even though he does not think much of his work, he does not regret what he has written: 'I hardly know of a word I would alter.' Barely mentioned is the poet, but the whole book is a poem. What is mentioned, however, is the detective, and it is very clear that Chesterton has laid out his life as a detective story. 'It begins with a mysterious figure in a toy theatre, the man with the golden key. It ends with a divine figure, the God with the golden key, who unlocks the mystery to everything.'" (Dale Ahlquist). This American edition, published in the same year as the first British edition, included ten illustrated plates, "of which four do not appear in the English edition." (Sullivan). Menendez, The Road to Rome, 491. Sullivan, G. K. Chesterton: A Bibliography, 101. A bright copy in a crisp, clean dust jacket.