A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here , citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

[George] Marlin is gathering the writings of Chesterton. "After the death of Dorothy Collins," he says, "I was the first person allowed to see his papers. They were in his attic in his house outside London. I found plays and poems nobody knew existed. There were condolence letters to his widow from Churchill and T.S. Eliot. I even sat in the chair that belonged to Dickens. It had been given to Chesterton by [Dicken's] daughter after his death.
-New York Magazine, July 26, 1993

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"True artistic symbolism exists in order to provide another alphabet .."

We need a much clearer conception of the real value and function of mysticism. It is not mysticism to explain a puzzle: to say that a green cross means evolution and a blue triangle means orthodoxy. This sort of allegorical art is a mere cryptogram which ceases to exist when it is explained. Whatever a mystic may be, he is surely not only a person who destroys mystery.

The real function of symbolism is much deeper and much more practical. We are surrounded in this world by huge and anonymous forces: as they rush by us we throw a name at them-love, death, destiny, remembrance-but the things themselves are infinitely vaster and more varied than the names. True artistic symbolism exists in order to provide another alphabet for the direct interpretation of these infinite anarchic things than the alphabet of language. It is not that a sea at sunset "represents" sorrow, but that a sea at sunset represents a great deal of the truth which is missed by the word "sorrow." So it is with Mr. Downing's Shakespeare allegory. It is not that Shakespeare is a mere philosopher: it is that philosophy is one way of describing certain unutterable things, and Shakespeare is another. Caliban, says Mr. Downing, "represents the mob." The truth is that Caliban represents an old, dark, and lawless element in things, an element which has no name except Caliban, and of which the mob is one of the hundred incarnations. So far from it being true that Caliban symbolises the mob in the street, it would be far truer to say that the mob in the street symbolises Caliban.
-May 11, 1901, The Speaker

"Religion does not consist in looking upon the world as an order, but in looking upon it as an act."

The earlier and more practical truth-the truth of religions-is that a tree is a miracle, an inexplicable explosion of divine life, and that no conceivable number of precisely similar trees go any way towards explaining it or turning the miracle into a law. If we saw a gentleman going to church every Sunday in a top hat and yellow dressinggown, our curiosity would not be allayed by his explaining that he had done the same thing regularly for the last twenty years. Nor can we excuse the eccentric conduct of the sun in rising in the east merely on the ground of habit and advanced years. What Mr. Dadson does not realise is that religion has nothing at all to do with the laws of nature, because it deals only with the primary wonder of the existence of anything which is entirely untouched by the monotonous manner in which anything when created chooses to behave. ... Religion does not consist in looking upon the world as an order, but in looking upon it as an act. For the purposes of Mr. Dadson's natural philosophy, it is quite right and proper to say that evolution made the world. But it is precisely as if a schoolmaster who had just been hit on the foot with a cricket ball were to ask who rolled the missile and were to receive the answer that revolution rolled it. The degree of gaiety which would be aroused in him by that reply would be about equal to the amount that I experience from the former explanation considered in the light, not of physical, but of mental science. Mr. Dadson is content with a mechanical explanation of the world, and he supposes that all myths and religions were meant to explain how rational the universe was. It does not occur to him that they may have been meant to express how irrational it was, to reach past all the minor phenomena that obey law to that supreme and splendid law which is a lawless thing.
-July 27, 1901, The Speaker

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Primarily, we must, in studying anything so widespread as printed matter, get rid of one fundamental error in our use of the words good and bad. We speak of a knife that is blunt as a bad knife or a paint-box that yields hard and weak colour as a bad paint-box. For practical purposes this is right enough. Compared with other objects of the same class these things are bad. But for all that the word bad is a misnomer; for bad things are things that hurt us, not things that please us insufficiently. A blunt knife is not bad, unless it cuts us, and then, for the matter of that, it is not so bad as a sharp knife would be. A paint-box is not bad, unless we eat the paints, and even the most exquisite greens and purples may be discordant if mingled internally. A common knife is good because however hard it may be to carve a joint with it, it would be much harder to carve it with an umbrella. A common paint-box is good, because however hard it may be to extract paint out of it, it would be much harder to extract it out of a lump of red sandstone. These things, however rude, are inventions. The most forbearing British father would complain if he were asked to carve the joint with one of the primitive flint-knives of the British Museum. But in their cases in the British Museum we respect them as if they were the relics of a saint.
 -June 8, 1901,  The Speaker

Friday, October 17, 2014

"A thing will be imposed on everybody before it has been explained to anybody."

Education seems to be getting into a tangle; which is largely a tangle of red tape. It is a confusion between the attempt to keep the strings of it very tight and to throw the threads of it very far. Education is treated as a settlement; and yet, at the same time, education is treated as an experiment. It is imposed on everybody as a platitude; and yet it is free to take the most fantastic forms of paradox. First a politician tells us that all children must go to school; and then a professor tells us that all schools must be conducted in the tops of trees. At least, that is the sort of thing the professor tells us. And the situation becomes alarming when the professor is supported by the politician and even by the policeman. Of course, there is no objection to the professor teaching his own family at the top of a tree; or even to his hopping back to them with a worm in his mouth. But when this is connected up with a compulsory system for the whole State it is very different. It is very different if they put a professor to twitter in every tree, or a worm to wriggle in every child. It is then more than an experiment; it may be called an experience. It seems likely that even if the worm does not turn, the child will. A thing will be imposed on everybody before it has been explained to anybody. The professor will be altogether too early a bird, and will catch the worm and give it to us before we are half awake.
-June 12, 1920, Illustrated London News

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The aristocrat is very seldom a man who objects to novelties. The aristocrat is generally a man who longs for novelties, and runs after novelties, and dies of inanition, so to speak, if he cannot get enough novelties. We should not expect to find a Cubist picture in a cottage, or some new kind of Vorticist dancing on a village green. A novelty is a luxury, and is found with all the other examples of the latest luxuries. Hence a profession of faith in progress is almost universal in plutocracy.
-June 26, 1920, Illustrated London News

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"...that is the peculiarity of our own time, which has a positive bias against the populace."

But ours is specially the time when a man can advertise his wares not as a universality, but as what the tradesmen call "a specialty." We all know this, for instance, about modern art. Michelangelo and Whistler were both fine artists; but one is obviously public, the other obviously private, or rather, not obvious at all. Michelangelo's frescoes are doubtless finer than the popular judgment, but they are plainly meant to strike the popular judgment. Whistler's pictures seem often meant to escape the popular judgment; they even seem meant to escape the popular admiration. They are elusive, fugitive; they fly even from praise. Doubtless many artists in Michelangelo's day declared themselves to be great artists, although they were unsuccessful. But they did not declare themselves great artists because they were unsuccessful: that is the peculiarity of our own time, which has a positive bias against the populace.
-January 25, 1908, Illustrated London News

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pope St. John Paul II commentiong on GKC's words.

I found the following passage in the book "Be Not Afraid!": Pope John Paul II Speaks Out on his Life, his Beliefs and his Inspiring Vision for Humanity, Andre Frossard and Pope John Paul II, (1982- emphasis mine).

I include it on this blog for it's reference to Chesterton, but since it is a wonderful reflection by Pope St. John Paul II in its own right, I have quoted it at greater length than I normally would have.

(Incidentally, for an instance of John Paul 2 quoting GKC in a general audience, go here
Since the notorious 'Families, I hate you' uttered by a man who cultivated his faults with as much care as a gardener cultivates his roses, one or two generations of moralists have made demoralizing assertions which fail to stand up to Chesterton's robust and serene assertion: 'The family is a cell of resistance to oppression.' This aspect of the family does not seem to be very clearly perceived by the theorists. I asked the Holy Father what he thought about this.

"Chesterton's words are beautiful. Beautiful and true. Moreover, they are shrewd- and demanding. For the family to be, as he asserts, 'a cell of resistance to oppression', it must be a community of great maturity and depth. When I say, 'it must,' I mean that a moral obligation subsists. To speak of the family as a 'cell of resistance to oppression' is to indicate it's moral value and at the same time to define its proper structure- and in the last analysis to rely upon the spiritual maturity of the persons involved. When this is missing, the man or the woman is liable to see in their indissoluble union only a a constraint to be broken.

The family- much more than any other social community- has an essentially personal structure. Each of its members has his own importance, not owing to any given function, or to the resources he procures or anything else, but simply because he exists, because he is a 'person', because he is 'this particular person'. That is why the family, more than any other form of human contract, deserves the magnificent description of a 'communion of persons', which indicates the depth and intensity of the mutual relations, as well as the depth and strength of the resulting interpersonal ties. If in a family (supposing that it is morally mature) each member, and therefore each individual, has his own importance, this cannot create a climate of individualism- nothing is less characteristic of a family that develops healthily. The fact that man has an existence 'for himself' obliges him to live also 'for others', as we read in the beautiful words of Gaudium et Spes: 'Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.' Thus the 'communion of persons' is much more than a bond between people; it signifies existence, life, action based on the principle of reciprocal giving- the reciprocal gift of humanity.

In a family, every being is important because of what he is, because he exists. The gift of humanity from each to each is, so to speak, the starting point in the family, and also its duty. The more each member of a family knows how to live for others, the clearer it is that for this family that member is important because he exists and because of what he is. Even when it cannot be said that 'he knows how to live for others', the fact remains that he belongs to the family and that he counts because he exists, he counts for what he is, even though in that case he is causing suffering- which itself demonstrates this truth. It is less obvious in communities which take a more 'neutral' stance, which are less sensitive to the human person. Some years ago I wrote a little treatise on the family as a 'communion of persons', largely inspired by the passage in Gaudium et Spes which I have just quoted."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

More John Paul I on GKC

I just came across a book of writings by Pope John Paul I. It is called A Passionate Adventure; Living the Catholic Faith Today. I should note I only have access to the Google books preview feature.) In any case, I came across a few places in which he refers to Chesterton (from homilies given before he became Pope), so I have included them below.

First, from this homily:

"Not Convention, but Conviction"
Homily to the Riveneto Convention of Communion and Liberation
May 31, 1976

There was a little island- Chesterton wrote- and the children used to go there to play ball. They played serenely and securely, because the playing field was completely surrounded by a high wall. One day some important people approached the little island and said: "knock down that wall: don't you see that it limits you and takes away your space? Away with it, more air, more liberty." They were listened to, the wall was thrown down. But now, if you go to the island, you find the children unhappy; there is no longer the same security as before; every so often a ball falls into the sea, and they waste time fishing it out; sometimes the waves carry it away. "Away with the Pope," some people say, "he limits you! More air, more liberty!" Sometimes they are listened to, but the consequences are under our eyes: without the Pope we lack a sure reference point, they slip in others to act like the Pope, and great insecurity, doubt, and confusion are the result.

The story he references, with some variations, can be found in the last chapter of GKC's book Orthodoxy, called "Authority and the Adventurer", which you can read online here:


Then, from this homily:

 "Death and Eternal Life"
Homily for All Souls Day
November 2, 1976

 Luther has said: human nature is corrupt, it can produce only sin. Goodness consists of the fact that God covers these sins with a mantle of mercy. The Marxists say: man, taken individually, is egotistical and wicked. He will become good and happy if he is placed in a collective regime that achieves economic prosperity for everyone. It has been noted, however, that in a period of great prosperity, juvenile delinquency increases, while religious life prospers when the vow and the spirit of poverty are practiced in earnest. 

The truth lies in between the two hypotheses: we all experience in ourselves moments of goodness and moments of wickedness; we are like a watch that has all of its wheels, but needs a mainspring that will make it move. The mainspring is the grace of God: if we do not resist it, our spiritual wheels will work and produce good. Naturally, these are mysterious things; we hold them through faith, we do not know exactly how they work, they do not lend themselves to verification. Should we be surprised? "There is nothing," Pascal wrote, "about which we know everything." And Chesterton: "How could physical science prove that man is not depraved? You do not cut a man open to find his sins. You do not boil him until he gives forth the unmistakable green fumes of depravity. How could physical science find any traces of a moral fall?...Did [the scientist] expect to find a fossil Eve with an fossil apple inside her? Did he suppose that the ages would have spared for him a complete skeleton of Adam...attached to a slightly faded fig leaf?" [2]


[2] G.K. Chesterton, "Science and Religion," in All Things Considered [1908; reprint Philadelphia: Dufour Editions, 1969, pp. 124-25.- Trans].

BTW, here is a link to the essay "Science and Religion" which was quoted:


Finally, from this homily:

"Light in Our Darkness"
Homily for the Feast of St. Lucy
December 13, 1977

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, after the doubts and uncertainties of his youth, became first a fervent Anglican, then, by meditating and conversing with faithful Anglicans and studying, crossed over to the Catholic Church. He declared: "A church that wants to have authority must possess absolutely clear ideas when it comes to the great moral questions...it must say a yes or a no: but the Protestant churches are completely lost in the face of such moral questions...clarity and resolve before the powerful questions of modern life- I find them only in the Catholic Church; therefore I became Catholic." [5]


[5] G.K. Chesterton to the Washington News Service, [1923. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the original English text.- Trans].

Also, speaking of John Paul I, as I've mentioned on this blog before, he once wrote a "letter" to Chesterton (as a literary form, of course, as GKC had been dead for decades when the "letter" was written). You can read it here:


Friday, September 19, 2014

An extraordinary idea has arisen that the best critic of religious institutions is the man who talks coldly about Religion. Nobody supposes that the best critic of music is the man who talks coldly about music. Within reasonable bounds, the more excited the musician is about music, the more he is likely to be right about it. Nobody thinks a man a correct judge of poetry because he looks down on poems. But there is an idea that a man is a correct judge of religion because he looks down on religions. Now folklore and primitive faiths, and all such things are of the nature of music and poetry in this respect- that the actual language and symbols they employ require not only an understanding, they require what the Bible very finely calls an understanding heart. You must be a little moved in your emotions even to understand them at all; you must have a heart in order to make head or tail of them. Consequently, whenever I hear on these occasions that beliefs are being discussed scientifically and calmly, I know that they are being discussed wrong. Even a false religion is too genuine a thing to be discussed calmly.
-October 17, 1908, Illustrated London News

Saturday, September 13, 2014

On 15 July 1903 Lady Anne Ritchie, the eldest daughter of Thackeray, wrote to Chesterton to say that she was 'much interested' by his book [on Robert Browning], 'which recalls dear Mr Browning so vividly to me', indeed 'instantaneously more vividly than my remembrances of him'.
-G.K. Chesterton: A Biography, Ian Ker (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Terry Pratchett on GKC

Some excerpts from a recent interview with Terry Pratchett in the New York Times Book Review

(H/T All Manner of Thing )
Sell us on your favorite overlooked or underappreciated writer. 

G. K. Chesterton. These days recognized — that is if he is recognized at all — as the man who wrote the Father Brown stories. My grandmother actually knew him quite well and pointed out that she herself lived on Chesterton Green in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, here in the U.K. And the man was so well venerated that on one memorable occasion, he was late in sending a piece to The Strand Magazine and a railway train actually waited at the local station until Mr. Chesterton had finished writing his piece. When she told me that, I thought, Blimey, now that is celebrity.

[...] If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? And the prime minister? 

Well, it would have to be "The Man Who Was Thursday." It’s a damn good read that I believe should be read by everyone in politics.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited? 

Mark Twain, G. K. Chesterton and Neil Gaiman, because he’s a mate who knows how to order the most excellent sushi.