Monday, February 27

The Pilgrimage Home

On this day in 1901, English author, journalist, and wit G.K. Chesterton wrote a rather obscure short story that would ultimately define his work as a popular philosopher. It was about a man who traveled around the world in an effort to find his true home—only to end up precisely where he began.

Thomas Smythe had been born, brought up, married, and made the father of a family in a little white farmhouse by a river. The river enclosed it on three sides like a castle—on the fourth side there were stables and beyond that a kitchen garden and beyond that an orchard and beyond that a low wall and beyond that a road and beyond that a wood and beyond that slopes meeting the sky—but Smythe had known nothing beyond what he could see from his house. Its walls were the world to him and its roof the sky. Indeed, in his latter years he hardly ever went outside his door. And as he grew lazy, he grew restless; angry with himself and everyone. He found himself in some strange way weary of every moment and hungry for the next.

His heart had grown stale and bitter towards the wife and children whom he saw every day. His home had become drab and wearisome to him. Yet there was a fragment of a memory that yet remained of happier days when the thatch of his home burned with gold as though angels inhabited the place. Even so, he remembered it as one who remembers a dream. One calamitous day, his mind snapped under the weight of the contradiction—the contradiction between his fond remembrances of the past and his drab circumstances in the present. He presently announced that he was setting out to find his home—that fine white farmhouse by the river. Though his beloved wife and children tried to make him see that he was already there, he could not be persuaded. His delusion was complete.

Thomas Smythe then set out on an epic journey. He crossed hill and vale, mountain and plain, stream and ocean, meadow and desert. Like a transmigrating soul, he lived a series of existences but he never diverged from the line that girdled the world. At long last though, he crested a hill and suddenly felt as if he had crossed the border into elfland. With his head a belfry of new passions, assailed with confounding memories, he came at last to the end of the world. He had arrived at the little white farmhouse by the river—he had arrived at home. His heart leapt for joy as he saw his wife run to meet him in the lane. The prodigal had returned.

The story struck a chord with Chesterton’s readers for a thousand different reasons—it was a powerfully told parable of the universal human experience, it was a poignant prose poem of everyman’s heart longing, and it was a stern rebuke to the vagabond spirit that drags all the Cains, the Esaus, and the Lots eastward away from Eden. But they probably loved it most of all because it was their own story—the testimony of their own, as yet incomplete, pilgrimage home.


Matthew Stout said...

Speaking of Going Somewhere, please see the world traveler at I'm making friends with Cal Beisner and Rick Philips down here at Knox Seminary. I'm driving a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle named "Virgil." Currently studying under care of the Covenant Presbytery RPCUS and looking at a school of hard Knox Theological. Licensed insurance adjsuter by the state of Florida, I have just finished adjusting 80 claims from Hurricane Wilma and I am gearing up for hopefully another nasty storm season. I just have to be willing to go where the wind blows, which has never been difficult for me. I love you Dr. Grant, and I praise the Lord every time I remember you. Steadily moving forward. MLS

Joshua Clark said...

Dr. Grant,

Where I can I find this story? Is it in the Collected Works by Ignatius Press? You're not kidding when you say it's obscure! Google, Google Print, Amazon Search Inside the Book... nothing seems to be able to turn up any results.

Josh Clark

NorWoodMan said...

Isn't this the essay, "Homesick At Home"? If so, I think it can be obtained from Ignatius Press

Chesterton; Volume 14

All the best!


Josh Carmichael said...

Besides the feelings of both delight at his final discovery of home and also conviction about my own restlessness at times, a passage of Scripture also comes to mind: "There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? . . . Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart,for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25; 9:7-10). Plus I must mention the blessing of "the olive shoots around my table" (Ps. 128:3). As one now sojourning in one place in the midst of other sojournings (all within the scope of an even greater pilgrimage), I am comforted by the happy ending to this pilgrim's tale, and by my own family's commitment to sojourn with me.

gileskirk said...

Thanks Norwoodman for tracking down the Ignatius volume. My version is in two different collections of GKC's poems, stories, and essays that have been out of print, alas, for many years. I have been collecting early editions of Chesterton for almost two decades now.