Currently Reading & Quote: The Secret of Father Brown

This is a very long multi-paragraph quote so I’m going to place it after I’ve said my piece instead of before as per the normal. This quote really seems to encapsulate Father Brown. It is very personal and shows how Father Brown views humanity in the same way that God does. Not as a collective lump to be categorized and labeled into groups, but as individuals and people to be known and loved. I guess I think this section is relevant is because it expresses how the Creator of the Universe itself feels about me and about you. Until we have a proper understanding of how God views us, we are going to have some seriously twisted views of God Himself. There are a lot of implications from that that carry over into how we act and feel in real life, but that’s getting a bit off topic.

So without further ado, here’s the passage:

The interviewing instinct awoke, tactful but tense. If he did try to draw Father Brown, as if he were a tooth, it was done with the most dexterous and painless American dentistry.

They were sitting in a sort of partly unroofed outer court of the house, such as often forms the entrance to Spanish houses. It was dusk turning to dark; and as all that mountain air sharpens suddenly after sunset, a small stove stood on the flagstones, glowing with red eyes like a goblin, and painting a red pattern on the pavement; but scarcely a ray of it reached the lower bricks of the great bare, brown brick wall that went soaring up above them into the deep blue night. Flambeau’s big broad-shouldered figure and great moustaches, like sabres, could be traced dimly in the twilight, as he moved about, drawing dark wine from a great cask and handing it round. In his shadow, the priest looked very shrunken and small, as if huddled over the stove; but the American visitor leaned forward elegantly with his elbow on his knee and his fine pointed features in the full light; his eyes shone with inquisitive intelligence.

“I can assure you, sir,” he was saying, “we consider your achievement in the matter of the Moonshine Murder the most remarkable triumph in the history of detective science.”

Father Brown murmured something; some might have imagined that the murmur was a little like a moan.

“We are well acquainted,” went on the stranger firmly, “with the alleged achievements of Dupin and others; and with those of Lecoq, Sherlock Holmes, Nicholas Carter, and other imaginative incarnations of the craft. But we observe there is in many ways, a marked difference between your own method of approach and that of these other thinkers, whether fictitious or actual. Some have spec’lated, sir, as to whether the difference of method may perhaps involve rather the absence of method.”

Father Brown was silent; then he started a little, almost as if he had been nodding over the stove, and said: “I beg your pardon. Yes. . .. Absence of method. . . . Absence of mind, too, I’m afraid.”

“I should say of strictly tabulated scientific method,” went on the inquirer. “Edgar Poe throws off several little essays in a conversational form, explaining Dupin’s method, with its fine links of logic. Dr. Watson had to listen to some pretty exact expositions of Holmes’s method with its observation of material details. But nobody seems to have got on to any full account of your method, Father Brown, and I was informed you declined the offer to give a series of lectures in the States on the matter.”

“Yes,” said the priest, frowning at the stove; “I declined.”

“Your refusal gave rise to a remarkable lot of interesting talk,” remarked Chace. “I may say that some of our people are saying your science can’t be expounded, because it’s something more than just natural science. They say your secret’s not to be divulged, as being occult in its character.”

“Being what?” asked Father Brown, rather sharply.

“Why, kind of esoteric,” replied the other. “I can tell you, people got considerably worked up about Gallup’s murder, and Stein’s murder, and then old man Merton’s murder, and now Judge Gwynne’s murder, and a double murder by Dalmon, who was well known in the States. And there were you, on the spot every time, slap in the middle of it; telling everybody how it was done and never telling anybody how you knew. So some people got to think you knew without looking, so to speak. And Carlotta Brownson gave a lecture on Thought-Forms with illustrations from these cases of yours. The Second Sight Sisterhood of Indianapolis — —”

Father Brown, was still staring at the stove; then he said quite loud yet as if hardly aware that anyone heard him: “Oh, I say. This will never do.”

“I don’t exactly know how it’s to be helped,” said Mr. Chace humorously. “The Second Sight Sisterhood want a lot of holding down. The only way I can think of stopping it is for you to tell us the secret after all.”

Father Brown groaned. He put his head on his hands and remained a moment, as if full of a silent convulsion of thought. Then he lifted his head and said in a dull voice:

“Very well. I must tell the secret.”

His eyes rolled darkly over the whole darkling scene, from the red eyes of the little stove to the stark expanse of the ancient wall, over which were standing out, more and more brightly, the strong stars of the south.

“The secret is,” he said; and then stopped as if unable to go on. Then he began again and said:

“You see, it was I who killed all those people.”

“What?” repeated the other, in a small voice out of a vast silence.

“You see, I had murdered them all myself,” explained Father Brown patiently. “So, of course, I knew how it was done.”

Grandison Chace had risen to his great height like a man lifted to the ceiling by a sort of slow explosion. Staring down at the other he repeated his incredulous question.

“I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully,” went on Father Brown, “I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”

Chace gradually released a sort of broken sigh.

“You frightened me all right,” he said. “For the minute I really did think you meant you were the murderer. Just for the minute I kind of saw it splashed over all the papers in the States: ‘Saintly Sleuth Exposed as Killer: Hundred Crimes of Father Brown.’ Why, of course, if it’s just a figure of speech and means you tried to reconstruct the psychogy—”

Father Brown rapped sharply on the stove with the short pipe he was about to fill; one of his very rare spasms of annoyance contracted his face.

“No, no, no,” he said, almost angrily; “I don’t mean just a figure of speech. This is what comes of trying to talk about deep things. . . . What’s the good of words . . .? If you try to talk about a truth that’s merely moral, people always think it’s merely metaphorical. A real live man with two legs once said to me: ‘I only believe in the Holy Ghost in a spiritual sense.’ Naturally, I said: ‘In what other sense could you believe it?’ And then he thought I meant he needn’t believe in anything except evolution, or ethical fellowship, or some bilge. . . . I mean that I really did see myself, and my real self, committing the murders. I didn’t actually kill the men by material means; but that’s not the point. Any brick or bit of machinery might have killed them by material means. I mean that I thought and thought about how a man might come to be like that, until I realized that I really was like that, in everything except actual final consent to the action. It was once suggested to me by a friend of mine, as a sort of religious exercise. I believe he got it from Pope Leo XIII, who was always rather a hero of mine.”

“I’m afraid,” said the American, in tones that were still doubtful, and keeping his eye on the priest rather as if he were a wild animal, “that you’d have to explain a lot to me before I knew what you were talking about. The science of detection — —”

Father Brown snapped his fingers with the same animated annoyance. “That’s it,” he cried; “that’s just where we part company. Science is a grand thing when you can get it; in its real sense one of the grandest words in the world. But what do these men mean, nine times out of ten, when they use it nowadays? When they say detection is a science? When they say criminology is a science? They mean getting outside a man and studying him as if he were a gigantic insect: in what they would call a dry impartial light, in what I should call a dead and dehumanized light. They mean getting a long way off him, as if he were a distant prehistoric monster; staring at the shape of his ‘criminal skull’ as if it were a sort of eerie growth, like the horn on a rhinoceros’s nose. When the scientist talks about a type, he never means himself, but always his neighbour; probably his poorer neighbour. I don’t deny the dry light may sometimes do good; though in one sense it’s the very reverse of science. So far from being knowledge, it’s actually suppression of what we know. It’s treating a friend as a stranger, and pretending that something familiar is really remote and mysterious. It’s like saying that a man has a proboscis between the eyes, or that he falls down in a fit of insensibility once every twenty-four hours. Well, what you call ‘the secret’ is exactly the opposite. I don’t try to get outside the man. I try to get inside the murderer. . . . Indeed it’s much more than that, don’t you see? I am inside a man. I am always inside a man, moving his arms and legs; but I wait till I know I am inside a murderer, thinking his thoughts, wrestling with his passions; till I have bent myself into the posture of his hunched and peering hatred; till I see the world with his bloodshot and squinting eyes, looking between the blinkers of his half-witted concentration; looking up the short and sharp perspective of a straight road to a pool of blood. Till I am really a murderer.”

31 thoughts on “Currently Reading & Quote: The Secret of Father Brown

    1. I remember you mentioning that’s how you’ve thought of him before. While I disagree, I know that feeling you can have for a character that most others don’t.

      It makes me wonder, is it Father Brown, or Chesterton? Have you read any other of Chesterton’s works?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve read a bunch of his other stuff that I’ve liked. Among his fiction I’d recommend The Man Who Was Thursday. His attitude though is typical, at least I think it’s typical, of a lot of High Church or Catholic writing of the time. Like you get in T. S. Eliot or Walker Percy. These are all interesting writers but I don’t buy into their world view.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I am a HUGE Chesterton fan. I think I may have all of his books. I have The Father Brown Omnibus. I also like his Paradoxes of Mr. Pond. His Ball and the Cross is good, also.

    I guess he can be a little heavy handed with Catholicism and he could be pejorative toward American Protestantism, but that’s OK. It’s not all the time, and I think he simply saw things his way and no other.

    He and George Bernard Shaw used to banter back and forth quite a bit in letters to newspapers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I’ve noticed little things like what you mention. They are small enough to gloss over or put up with, so it has never been anything that’s concerned me.

      I’ve often wondered how people back then felt when doing something like that public back and forth. How do you totally believe in what you are saying but without making it personal against the other person?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think that Shaw and Chesterton liked each other as well as respected each other. They were able to roll with each other’s punches. I wonder if anyone has put their letters in book form. That would be fun reading.

        An aside, did you change the man on your avatar? He looks different.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the Father Brown stories. Each story is like a perfectly executed conjuring trick. I always saw the philosophising and preachiness as being just so much window-dressing, until I read Chesterton’s other attempts at detective stories (e.g. The Man Who Knew To Much and The Paradoxes of Mr Pond). The Father Brown stories are so much better because they try to establish what makes people do evil things. The stories really would be just conjuring tricks otherwise. I think this is true of his other work as well – ie, without a moral perspective, they tend towards whimsy.

    And I’d totally agree that Chesterton had a flair for making the mundane seem exotic – albeit with the unintended irony that the England depicted in the Father Brown stories seems very exotic to us now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am hoping to get a good taste of Chesterton over the coming years as he’s another author I have the ‘complete world’s of.
      It is so nice when they’re all collected into one volume.

      Like

  3. I got the ebook omnibus of the Father Brown stories a few years back – either on the Internet Archive or Gutenberg. The formatting was excellent (not always the case, I’m afraid).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You probably got that impression because I’m alternating between Chesterton and the Brontes, so I’m only reading one of Chesterton’s every 2-3 months.

      I think after “Secret” there is 1 or 2 more Father Brown collections? Then it’s on to Chesterton’s other stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

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