Excerpt from “The Manic” by G. K Chesterton Orthodoxy (1909)
“It is true that some speak lightly and loosely of insanity as in itself attractive. But a moment’s thought will show that if disease is beautiful, it is generally some one else’s disease. A blind man may be picturesque; but it requires two eyes to see the picture. And similarly even the wildest poetry of insanity can only be enjoyed by the sane. To the insane man his insanity is quite prosaic, because it is quite true.
“A man who thinks himself a chicken is to himself as ordinary as a chicken. A man who thinks he is a bit of glass is to himself as dull as a bit of glass. It is the homogeneity of his mind which makes him dull, and which makes him mad. It is only because we see the irony of his idea that we think him even amusing; it is only because he does not see the irony of his idea that he is put in Hanwell (Asylum) at all.
“In short, oddities only strike ordinary people. Oddities do not strike odd people. That is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dullness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the center is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous.
“There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man’s mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between laurels in your hair and straws in it. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do.”
“Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea and make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything is a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”