In Our Time

Chesterfield and Chesterton

Much of life may come down to a choice between the respective views of Lord Chesterfield, who urged his son always to excel at whatever he did, and G.K. Chesterton, who once wrote that, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

The issue, of course, is what the “thing” in question is.  If it is a mere amusement, like social dancing or karaoke or hobby painting or Sunday-afternoon poetizing or weekend shooting, Chesterton was right.  If, on the other hand, it’s professional ballet, or operatic singing, or painting on commission or writing for pay, or military marksmanship, Chesterfield was.  A further issue is whether that thing is worth doing on a “serious” or professional basis: ball-playing, for example, or bowling, or swimming, or tennis, or golf, or any other sport, the essence of which is, or should be, the sheer joy of the thing itself rather than whatever tangible result may come of it.  Chesterton also wrote,

I entertain a private suspicion that physical sports were much more really effective and beneficent when they were not taken quite so seriously.  One of the first essentials of sport being healthy is that it should be delightful; it is rapidly becoming a false religion with austerities and prostrations.

He failed to add that it was also in the process of becoming a major industry, whose tangible...

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