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In Defense of the Smith Family

I’m a little behind in my podcast listening, and I just played the September 17 show…

Tom and Ray were joking with Mr. Lancelot Smith (late of the Alkali Flats) about the contrast between the perceived level of excitement of his first and last names. To my mind, Lancelot Smith is a beautifully well-balanced name–at least to those who sense more than mere ubiquity in the most noble of the English trade names. In defense of all the Smiths out there (who understand, no doubt, the romance and import of their name better than the Tappe®t brothers), I offer the following reflection upon the poetry of names from G. K. Chesteron:

I remember a long time ago a sensible sub-editor coming up to me with a book in his hand, called “Mr. Smith,” or “The Smith Family,” or some such thing. He said, “Well, you won’t get any of your damned mysticism out of this,” or words to that effect. I am happy to say that I undeceived him; but the victory was too obvious and easy. In most cases the name is unpoetical, although the fact is poetical. In the case of Smith, the name is so poetical that it must be an arduous and heroic matter for the man to live up to it. The name of Smith is the name of the one trade that even kings respected, it could claim half the glory of that arma virumque which all epics acclaimed. The spirit of the smithy is so close to the spirit of song that it has mixed in a million poems, and every blacksmith is a harmonious blacksmith. Even the village children feel that in some dim way the smith is poetic, as the grocer and the cobbler are not poetic, when they feast on the dancing sparks and deafening blows in the cavern of that creative violence. The brute repose of Nature, the passionate cunning of man, the strongest of earthly metals, the wierdest of earthly elements, the unconquerable iron subdued by its only conqueror, the wheel and the ploughshare, the sword and the steam-hammer, the arraying of armies and the whole legend of arms, all these things are written, briefly indeed, but quite legibly, on the visiting-card of Mr. Smith. Yet our novelists call their hero “Aylmer Valence,” which means nothing, or “Vernon Raymond,” which means nothing, when it is in their power to give him this sacred name of Smith—this name made of iron and flame. It would be very natural if a certain hauteur, a certain carriage of the head, a certaincurl of the lip, distinguished every one whose name is Smith. Perhaps it does; I trust so. Whoever else are parvenus, the Smiths are not parvenus. From the darkest dawn of history this clan has gone forth to battle; its trophies are on every hand; its name is everywhere; it is older than the nations, and its sign is the Hammer of Thor.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2011-03-30). Heretics (pp. 13-14). Kindle Edition.

Smith is Schmidt in German (a common surname in German, derived from blacksmith or metal worker).


After writing the above, I recalled a scene I saw many years ago in Lifeboat (1944), a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. In the scene, Willy (Walter Slazak), a rescued survivor in a rowboat who, unbeknownst to the other American survivors, is the German captain of the U-Boat which torpedoed their vessel, tells Gus Smith (William Bendix), an injured American seaman, to change his surname back to his patrimonial Schmidt, before killing him. It’s a Hitchcock film worth seeing.

<font color=“red” face="times>Lifeboat, Part 9

Cain. Tubal Cain.

Thanks Gimpy! I appreciate that. I have a good humor about it. We managed to get on topic about the desert and its effect . :slight_smile: