Shadow of a Shade

The cover of this book describes the late Joseph Sobran as “one of the greatest essayists of the twentieth century” and notes that he has often been compared with G.K. Chesterton and H.L. Mencken.  As a lifelong admirer of Mencken and his work, I must say that I find the comparison an unfair one—unfair to Joe Sobran, that is.  Great as Mencken could be at what he did best (and that was a lot), he simply cannot compare with Sobran in intellectual depth and wisdom, although he is certainly a match for him in style (however different) and in wit.  In respect of Chesterton, however, I think the comparison overgenerous to Sobran.  It is true that, page for page, MJS (as he was known at National Review in the days when I worked there) was indeed the equal of GKC.  Nevertheless, he simply cannot begin to match the great Englishmen in versatility, breadth, and sheer bulk of achievement.  Chesterton, of course, was more than one of the greatest essayists of the 20th century; he was also a prolific and accomplished  poet, playwright, short-story writer, novelist, journalist and columnist, biographer, autobiographer, apologist, and travel writer, whose corpus must number at least a score of books.  (I counted as high as 16, but the G.K. Chesterton Society in Toronto can supply you with the exact number.)  Sobran, on the other hand, had published a single volume of essays, hundreds...

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