Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Chestertons and Humberts

I wouldn't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure there is only one case of an estate agent fathering a giant of English letters. Edward Chesterton, father of Gilbert Keith (G.K.), was that estate agent. He worked for the family firm, which was still trading until very recently as Chestertons. Now, I notice, it is Chesterton Humberts, a name that keeps the literary associations alive, not only via Nabokov's Humbert Humbert but by way of the oddly named Humbert Wolfe, a hugely popular poet in his day (the 1920s). His volume Requiem sold in such prodigious quantities that it is still a fixture on the shelves of charity and second-hand bookshops up and down the land. In a lighter moment, Humbert Wolfe wrote these still sadly apposite lines:
'You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
  thank God! the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do
  unbribed, there's no occasion to.'
Chesterton couldn't have put it better himself.

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