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)

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"The Speaker" Articles

A book I published containing 112 pieces Chesterton wrote for the newspaper "The Speaker" at the beginning of his career.

They are also available for free electronically on another blog of mine here, if you wish to read them that way.




Monday, May 31, 2010

"Dickens deserved to be killed for not killing LIttle Nell quick enough..."

[Just a quote from a Chesterton novel that I found funny. lol.]

"You can't really mean, Mr. Braintree," remonstrated the lady,
"that you want great men to be killed."

"Well, I think there's something in the idea," said Braintree.
"Tennyson deserved to be killed for writing the May-Queen,
and Browning deserved to be killed for rhyming 'promise'
and 'from mice,' and Carlyle deserved to be killed for being Carlyle;
and Herbert Spencer deserved to be killed for writing 'The Man
versus the State'; and Dickens deserved to be killed for not
killing Little Nell quick enough....

-The Return of Don Quixote (1927)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"...I believe the gutters would be simply running with the blood of philanthropists."

Of all this anger, good or bad, Dickens is the voice of an accusing energy. When, in "The Christmas Carol," Scrooge refers to the surplus population, the Spirit tells him, very justly, not to speak till he knows what the surplus is and where it is. The implication is severe but sound. When a group of superciliously benevolent economists look down into the abyss for the surplus population, assuredly there is only one answer that should be given to them; and that is to say, "If there is a surplus, you are a surplus." And if anyone were ever cut off, they would be. If the barricades went up in our streets and the poor became masters, I think the priests would escape, I fear the gentlemen would; but I believe the gutters would be simply running with the blood of philanthropists.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

"Modern intelligence won't accept anything on authority. But it will accept anything without authority"

"There isn't any," said Fisher. "That's the secret." After reflecting a moment, he added:"...You've got to understand one of the tricks of the modern mind, a tendency that most people obey without noticing it. In the village or suburb outside there's an inn with the sign of St. George and the Dragon. Now suppose I went about telling everybody that this was only a corruption of King George and the Dragoon. Scores of people would believe it, without any inquiry, from a vague feeling that it's probable because it's prosaic. It turns something romantic and legendary into something recent and ordinary. And that somehow makes it sound rational, though it is unsupported by reason. Of course some people would have the sense to remember having seen St. George in old Italian pictures and French romances, but a good many wouldn't think about it at all. They would just swallow the skepticism because it was skepticism. Modern intelligence won't accept anything on authority. But it will accept anything without authority. That's exactly what has happened here..."

-The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders...."

[Since today would be GKC's 136th birthday, I have decided to include the opening of his autobiography, which includes the greatest opening line to a book I have ever seen].

Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little church of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge. I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian.

Nevertheless, the great Waterworks Tower was destined to play its part in my life, as I shall narrate on a subsequent page; but that story is connected with my own experiences, whereas my birth (as I have said) is an incident which I accept, like some poor ignorant peasant, only because it has been handed down to me by oral tradition. And before we come to any of my own experiences, it will be well to devote this brief chapter to a few of the other facts of my family and environment which I hold equally precariously on mere hearsay evidence. Of course what many call hearsay evidence, or what I call human evidence, might be questioned in theory, as in the Baconian controversy or a good deal of the Higher Criticism. The story of my birth might be untrue. I might be the long-lost heir of The Holy Roman Empire, or an infant left by ruffians from Limehouse on a door-step in Kensington, to develop in later life a hideous criminal heredity. Some of the sceptical methods applied to the world's origin might be applied to my origin, and a grave and earnest enquirer come to the conclusion that I was never born at all. But I prefer to believe that common sense is something that my readers and I have in common; and that they will have patience with a dull summary of the facts.

-Autobiography (1936)

Friday, May 28, 2010

"The decision has all that daring appeal to dogma which is the essence of revolution."

Only to those who disapprove of all war I would add this reminder. Their only conceivable meaning is that they disapprove of bodily violence. In that case they are bound to disapprove of government as much as of war. Surely there is something quite repulsively mean in saying that force must not be used against a conqueror from abroad,but force may be used against a poor, tired tramp who steals chickens. A Quaker has no right to be a soldier; but neither has he any right to be a magistrate. It is not only war that is an appeal to violence. Peace is an appeal to violence. The order and decency of our streets, the ease of exchange, and the fulfillment of contracts all repose ultimately upon the readiness of the community to fight for them, either against something without or against something within. Each city is a city in arms. As you and I and the rest of the respectable Londoners walk down the street we are all clinking with invisible weapons. We have taken the essential responsibly which is involved in war in merely being citizens of a State; we have declared war in favour of certain practices which we approve and against certain practices which we disapprove. It is a dreadful responsibility to declare that burglars shall be hurt because we think them harmful. It is a dreadful responsibility; but we have taken it. The decision has all that daring appeal to dogma which is the essence of revolution. The State itself is a coup d'état.

-October 20, 1906, Illustrated London News

"Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity"

There is no class of vulgar publications about which there is, to my mind, more utterly ridiculous exaggeration and misconception than the current boys' literature of the lowest stratum. This class of composition has presumably always existed, and must exist. It has no more claim to be good literature than the daily conversation of its readers to be fine oratory, or the lodging-houses and tenements they inhabit to be sublime architecture. But people must have conversation, they must have houses, and they must have stories. The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personæ, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac. In the East the professional story-teller goes from village to village with a small carpet; and I wish sincerely that anyone had the moral courage to spread that carpet and sit on it in Ludgate Circus. But it is not probable that all the tales of the carpet-bearer are little gems of original artistic workmanship. Literature and fiction are two entirely different things. Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity. A work of art can hardly be too short, for its climax is its merit. A story can never be too long, for its conclusion is merely to be deplored, like the last halfpenny or the last pipelight. And so, while the increase of the artistic conscience tends in more ambitious works to brevity and impressionism, voluminous industry still marks the producer of the true romantic trash. There was no end to the ballads of Robin Hood; there is no end to the volumes about Dick Deadshot and the Avenging Nine. These two heroes are deliberately conceived as immortal.

-The Defendant (1901)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"....all without exception work on the principle that it is possible to assume what it is not possible to believe."

Now, it is worthy of remark that is the only working philosophy. Of nearly all other philosophies it is strictly true that their followers work in spite of them, or do not work at all. No sceptics work sceptically; no fatalists work fatalistically; all without exception work on the principle that it is possible to assume what it is not possible to believe. No materialist who thinks his mind was made up for him, by mud and blood and heredity, has any hesitation in making up his mind. No sceptic who believes that truth is subjective has any hesitation about treating it as objective.

-St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox (1933)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"The Devil is a gentleman..."

The Aristocrat (1912)

The Devil is a gentleman, and asks you down to stay
At his little place at What'sitsname (it isn't far away).
They say the sport is splendid; there is always something new,
And fairy scenes, and fearful feats that none but he can do;
He can shoot the feathered cherubs if they fly on the estate,
Or fish for Father Neptune with the mermaids for a bait;
He scaled amid the staggering stars that precipice, the sky,
And blew his trumpet above heaven, and got by mastery
The starry crown of God Himself, and shoved it on the shelf;
But the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn't brag himself.

O blind your eyes and break your heart and hack your hand away,
And lose your love and shave your head; but do not go to stay
At the little place in What'sitsname where folks are rich and clever;
The golden and the goodly house, where things grow worse for ever;
There are things you need not know of, though you live and die in vain,
There are souls more sick of pleasure than you are sick of pain;
There is a game of April Fool that's played behind its door,
Where the fool remains for ever and the April comes no more,
Where the splendour of the daylight grows drearier than the dark,
And life droops like a vulture that once was such a lark:
And that is the Blue Devil that once was the Blue Bird;
For the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn't keep his word.

"...they hated it because it was a truism which seemed in some danger of coming true."

The Liberalism which Dickens and nearly all of his contemporaries professed had begun in the American and the French Revolutions. Almost all modern English criticism upon those revolutions has been vitiated by the assumption that those revolutions burst upon a world which was unprepared for their ideas—a world ignorant of the possibility of such ideas. Somewhat the same mistake is made by those who suggest that Christianity was adopted by a world incapable of criticising it; whereas obviously it was adopted by a world that was tired of criticising everything. The vital mistake that is made about the French Revolution is merely this—that everyone talks about it as the introduction of a new idea. It was not the introduction of a new idea; there are no new ideas. Or if there are new ideas, they would not cause the least irritation if they were introduced into political society; because the world having never got used to them there would be no mass of men ready to fight for them at a moment’s notice. That which was irritating about the French Revolution was this—that it was not the introduction of a new ideal, but the practical fulfilment of an old one. From the time of the first fairy tales men had always believed ideally in equality; they had always thought that something ought to be done, if anything could be done, to redress the balance between Cinderella and the ugly sisters. The irritating thing about the French was not that they said this ought to be done; everybody said that. The irritating thing about the French was that they did it. They proposed to carry out into a positive scheme what had been the vision of humanity; and humanity was naturally annoyed. The kings of Europe did not make war upon the Revolution because it was a blasphemy, but because it was a copy-book maxim which had been just too accurately copied. It was a platitude which they had always held in theory unexpectedly put into practice. The tyrants did not hate democracy because it was a paradox; they hated it because it was a truism which seemed in some danger of coming true.

-Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens (1911)

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Logic of Elfland

[A *much* longer passage today than usual, needless to say, but a very good one; it is part of an even longer passage from Orthodoxy which was included in Martin Gardner's book Great Essays in Science, under the title "The Logic of Elfland"]
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It might be stated this way. There are certain sequences or developments (cases of one thing following another), which are, in the true sense of the word, reasonable. They are, in the true sense of the word, necessary. Such are mathematical and merely logical sequences. We in fairyland (who are the most reasonable of all creatures) admit that reason and that necessity. For instance, if the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters. There is no getting out of it. Haeckel may talk as much fatalism about that fact as he pleases: it really must be. If Jack is the son of a miller, a miller is the father of Jack. Cold reason decrees it from her awful throne: and we in fairyland submit. If the three brothers all ride horses, there are six animals and eighteen legs involved: that is true rationalism, and fairyland is full of it. But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened -- dawn and death and so on -- as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. These men in spectacles spoke much of a man named Newton, who was hit by an apple, and who discovered a law. But they could not be got to see the distinction between a true law, a law of reason, and the mere fact of apples falling. If the apple hit Newton's nose, Newton's nose hit the apple. That is a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike. We have always in our fairy tales kept this sharp distinction between the science of mental relations, in which there really are laws, and the science of physical facts, in which there are no laws, but only weird repetitions. We believe in bodily miracles, but not in mental impossibilities. We believe that a Bean-stalk climbed up to Heaven; but that does not at all confuse our convictions on the philosophical question of how many beans make five.

Here is the peculiar perfection of tone and truth in the nursery tales. The man of science says, "Cut the stalk, and the apple will fall"; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the other. The witch in the fairy tale says, "Blow the horn, and the ogre's castle will fall"; but she does not say it as if it were something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause. Doubtless she has given the advice to many champions, and has seen many castles fall, but she does not lose either her wonder or her reason. She does not muddle her head until it imagines a necessary mental connection between a horn and a falling tower. But the scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary mental connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple reaching the ground. They do really talk as if they had found not only a set of marvellous facts, but a truth connecting those facts. They do talk as if the connection of two strange things physically connected them philosophically. They feel that because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing. Two black riddles make a white answer.

In fairyland we avoid the word "law"; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it. Thus they will call some interesting conjecture about how forgotten folks pronounced the alphabet, Grimm's Law. But Grimm's Law is far less intellectual than Grimm's Fairy Tales. The tales are, at any rate, certainly tales; while the law is not a law. A law implies that we know the nature of the generalisation and enactment; not merely that we have noticed some of the effects. If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince. As ideas, the egg and the chicken are further off from each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears. Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the "Laws of Nature." When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a "law," for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it. We risk the remote possibility of a miracle as we do that of a poisoned pancake or a world-destroying comet. We leave it out of account, not because it is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility, but because it is a miracle, and therefore an exception. All the terms used in the science books, "law," "necessity," "order," "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.

I deny altogether that this is fantastic or even mystical. We may have some mysticism later on; but this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic. It is the only way I can express in words my clear and definite perception that one thing is quite distinct from another; that there is no logical connection between flying and laying eggs. It is the man who talks about "a law" that he has never seen who is the mystic. Nay, the ordinary scientific man is strictly a sentimentalist. He is a sentimentalist in this essential sense, that he is soaked and swept away by mere associations. He has so often seen birds fly and lay eggs that he feels as if there must be some dreamy, tender connection between the two ideas, whereas there is none. A forlorn lover might be unable to dissociate the moon from lost love; so the materialist is unable to dissociate the moon from the tide. In both cases there is no connection, except that one has seen them together. A sentimentalist might shed tears at the smell of apple-blossom, because, by a dark association of his own, it reminded him of his boyhood. So the materialist professor (though he conceals his tears) is yet a sentimentalist, because, by a dark association of his own, apple-blossoms remind him of apples. But the cool rationalist from fairyland does not see why, in the abstract, the apple tree should not grow crimson tulips; it sometimes does in his country.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Update [9/11/15]

Just discovered a very interesting comment on another blog by somebody who distinguishes what GKC is saying in this passage from those like Hume, which I think it very helpful to include here:

Gyan, it's interesting you mention Chesterton's Ethics in Elfland. I don't think he would say that we cannot genuinely know anything about the laws of nature, or that we do not know why they exist just by virtue of them being repetitions. He was more concerned with the tendency of modern scientists to believe that they'd explained a given natural phenomenon (really explained it, in terms of its metaphysical nature) merely by an inductive experiment or observation. He would say they've only "described" it, rather than given any true insight into why it is the way it is. Basically, you have scientists treating contingent events as logically necessary; i.e. they couldn't have been any other way. Hence his example of rivers running with wine or whatever rather than water (it's been a while since I've read it, admittedly).

Chesterton of course had a deep respect for Thomistic philosophy (I believe he refers to it as the "Everlasting Philosophy" somewhere), so I'd suspect he'd tend to fall in line with Aquinas (granted, he may very well have been mistaken, or misunderstood Aquinas' position on the matter). For this reason, I'd be careful in ascribing to him the first view you outline.
 

[Source]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chesterton discussed in Ernest Hemingway story

A couple of passages from Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Three-Day Blow" (In Our Time) (1925) mentioning Chesterton
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"I'd like to meet Chesterton," Bill said.

"I wish he was here now," Nick said. "We'd take him fishing to the `Voix tomorrow."

"I wonder if he'd like to go fishing," Bill said.

"Sure," said Nick. "He must be about the best guy there is. Do you remember `Flying Inn'?"
If an angel out of heaven
Gives you something else to drink,
Thank him for his kind intentions;
Go and pour them down the sink.
"That's right," said Nick. "I guess he's a better guy than Walpole."

"Oh, he's a better guy, all right," Bill said.

"But Walpole's a better writer."

"I don't know," Nick said. "Chesterton's a classic."

"Walpole's a classic, too," Bill insisted.

"I wish we had them both here," Nick said. "We'd take them both fishing to the `Voix tomorrow."

Later in the same story:

"Now let's drink to Chesterton."

"And Walpole," Nick interposed.

Nick poured out the liquor. Bill poured in the water. They looked at each other.

They felt very fine.

"Gentlemen," Bill said, "I give you Chesterton and Walpole."

"Exactly, gentlemen," Nick said.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"There is a real sin in being as bad as your society; but it is not the same sin as that of being deliberately worse than your society."

Men can confess separately and privately or generally and publicly. But no ordinary men ought to be asked to confess separately and publicly. It is very hard for a private man to make a public admission. Jones, Brown, and Robinson can all say in church, with complete sincerity, that they are miserable sinners. They are. They know it. But it is quite another matter to ask Jones to say all by himself (his fine tenor voice ringing in the rafters) that he is a miserable sinner, while Brown and Robinson sit grinning at him. This principle may seem a mere piece of selfishness and vanity; yet, in truth, it rests on a very fair basis. To say that Jones has put sand in the sugar without mentioning that in the whole of that Empire or civilization there is no sugar without sand, is an unfair way of stating the case of Jones. It is true, but it is, in the strictest sense, a lie. It is as if we heard a man accused of being short one leg, and then only discovered long afterwards that the accuser was a centipede. There is a real sin in being as bad as your society; but it is not the same sin as that of being deliberately worse than your society. If Jones is convicted of a crime he has no claim to be excused of it; but he has a claim to a bare statement touching whether his crime is as common as being cross or as rare as boiling one's mother in oil.

-March 14, 1908, Illustrated London News

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms"

Couage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. 'He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,' is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide -- or a drill-book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier, surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

"You should not look a gift universe in the mouth"

A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, "How can you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter." Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth.

-"Notebook"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Soldiers have many faults, but they have one redeeming merit; they are never worshippers of force."

Soldiers have many faults, but they have one redeeming merit; they are never worshippers of force. Soldiers more than any other men are taught severely and systematically that might is not right. The fact is obvious. The might is in the hundred men who obey. The right (or what is held to be right) is in the one man who commands them. They learn to obey symbols, arbitrary things, stripes on an arm, buttons on a coat, a title, a flag. These may be artificial things; they may be unreasonable things; they may, if you will, be wicked things; but they are weak things. They are not Force, and they do not look like Force. They are parts of an idea: of the idea of discipline; if you will, of the idea of tyranny; but still an idea. No soldier could possibly say that his own bayonets were his authority. No soldier could possibly say that he came in the name of his own bayonets. It would be as absurd as if a postman said that he came inside his bag...the soldier is always, by the nature of things, loyal to something. And as long as one is loyal to something one can never be a worshipper of mere force. For mere force, violence in the abstract, is the enemy of anything we love. To love anything is to see it at once under lowering skies of danger. Loyalty implies loyalty in misfortune; and when a soldier has accepted any nation's uniform he has already accepted its defeat.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Friday, May 14, 2010

"If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly."

[Robert Louis] Stevenson's experiments in these things [i.e., wood engraving and writing music, which he was not very good at] arose from a splendid scorn for that most false and contemptible of maxims, the statement that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Stevenson was one of the few modern philosophers who realized the essential truth that a thing is good in its quality, and not only in its perfection. If music and wood engraving are really good things they must be good even to the disciple and the fool. If an invention is marvellous and beneficient, it must be worth beholding even partially and through a glass darkly. If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly.

-Ocotber 18, 1901, London Daily News

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gandhi and Chesterton

"In 1909 Gandhi read an article by Chesterton on Indian nationalism in the Illustrated London News....Gandhi was thunderstruck by the article. He immediately translated it into Gujariti, and on the basis of it he wrote his book, Hind Swaraj, his own first formulation of a specifically 'Indian' solution to his country's problems. Thus you might argue, not quite absurdly, that India owed its independence, or at least the manner in which it came, to an article thrown off by Chesterton in half-an-hour in a Fleet Street pub."

-G.K. Chesterton: A Centennary Appraisal (ed. John Sullivan), "Chesterton the Edwardian", P.N. Furbank (1974)

"So we shouted at each other and shook the room; because metaphysics is the only thoroughly emotional thing"

On the day that I met the strange cabman I had been lunching in a little restaurant in Soho in company with three or four of my best friends. My best friends are all either bottomless sceptics or quite uncontrollable believers, so our discussion at luncheon turned upon the most ultimate and terrible ideas. And the whole argument worked out ultimately to this: that the question is whether a man can be certain of anything at all. I think he can be certain, for if (as I said to my friend, furiously brandishing an empty bottle) it is impossible intellectually to entertain certainty, what is this certainty which it is impossible to entertain? If I have never experienced such a thing as certainty I cannot even say that a thing is not certain. Similarly, if I have never experienced such a thing as green I cannot even say that my nose is not green. It may be as green as possible for all I know, if I have really no experience of greenness. So we shouted at each other and shook the room; because metaphysics is the only thoroughly emotional thing. And the difference between us was very deep, because it was a difference as to the object of the whole thing called broad-mindedness or the opening of the intellect. For my friend said that he opened his intellect as the sun opens the fans of a palm tree, opening for opening's sake, opening infinitely for ever. But I said that I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid. I was doing it at the moment. And as I truly pointed out, it would look uncommonly silly if I went on opening my mouth infinitely, for ever and ever.

-Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quotes from Pope Benedict referring to GKC

"G.K. Chesterton was often blessed with the gift of a striking turn of phrase. He certainly hit upon a decisve aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas when he observed that, if the great doctor were to be given a name in the style of the Carmelite Order ('...of the Child Jesus,' 'Of the Mother of God,' etc.), he would have to be called Thomas a Creatore, 'Thomas of the Creator.'"

-Pope Benedict XVI, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall.


"What stayed with her, however, was that now she continually found Christ in everyday life, in people and things. Thus, she came to understand Chesterton when he described men and women who, signed with Christ's Cross, cheerfully walk through darkness."

-Pope Benedict XVI, Coworkers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year


"...I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically. I'd also say it's necessary for my ministry. A writer once said that angels can fly because they don't take themselves too seriously. Maybe we could also fly a bit if we didn't think we were so important."

-From an interview given by Pope Benedict to the German media in 2006 [Source]

See here for the source of the quotation that Pope Benedict referred to

UPDATE: Another instance of Pope Benedict quoting Chesterton:

"Without conversion, however, we cannot come to Jesus, nor arrive at the gospel. There is a paradoxical saying of Chesterton's that expresses this circumstance exactly: "A saint can be recognised by the fact that he knows himself to be a sinner."

-The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches, "Meditation on the Priesthood" (p. 272)

"Her good work was interrupted, partly by a new interest in the creed of Zoroaster, and partly by a savage blow from an umbrella.

Readers of Mr. Bernard Shaw and other modern writers may be interested to know that the Superman has been found. I found him; he lives in South Croydon. My success will be a great blow to Mr. Shaw, who has been following quite a false scent, and is now looking for the creature in Blackpool; and as for Mr. Wells's notion of generating him out of gases in a private laboratory I always thought it doomed to failure. I assure Mr. Wells that the Superman at Croydon was born in the ordinary way, though he himself, of course, is anything but ordinary.

Nor are his parents unworthy of the wonderful being whom they have given to the world. The name of Lady Hypatia Smythe-Brown (now Lady Hypatia Hagg) will never be forgotten in the East End, where she did such splendid social work. Her constant cry of "Save the children!" referred to the cruel neglect of children's eyesight involved in allowing them to play with crudely painted toys. She quoted unanswerable statistics to prove that children allowed to look at violet and vermillion often suffered from failing eyesight in their extreme old age; and it was owing to her ceaseless crusade that the pestilence of the Monkey-on-the-Stick was almost swept from Hoxton. The devoted worker would tramp the streets untiringly, taking away the toys from all the poor children, who were often moved to tears by her kindness. Her good work was interrupted, partly by a new interest in the creed of Zoroaster, and partly by a savage blow from an umbrella. It was inflicted by a dissolute Irish apple-woman, who, on returning from some orgy to her ill-kept apartment, found Lady Hypatia in the bedroom taking down some oleograph, which, to say the least of it, could not really elevate the mind. At this the ignorant and partly intoxicated Celt dealt the social reformer a severe blow, adding to it an absurd accusation of theft. The lady's exquisitely balanced mind received a shock; and it was during a short mental illness that she married Dr. Hagg.

Of Dr. Hagg himself I hope there is no need to speak. Anyone even slightly acquainted with those daring experiments in Neo-Individualist Eugenics, which are now the one absorbing interest of the English democracy, must know his name and often commend it to the personal protection of an impersonal power. Early in life he brought to bear that ruthless insight into the history of religions that he gained in boyhood as an electrical engineer. Later he became one of our greatest geologists; and achieved that bold and bright outlook upon the future of Socialism which only geology can give. At first there seems something like a rift, a faint, but perceptible, fissure, between his views and those of his aristocratic wife. For she was in favour (to use her own powerful epigram) of protecting the poor against themselves; while he declared pitilessly, in a new and striking metaphor, that the weakest must go to the wall. Eventually, however, the married pair perceived an essential union in the unmistakably modern character of both their views; and in this enlightening and comprehensive expression their souls found peace. The result is that this union of the two highest types of our civilisation, the fashionable lady and all but vulgar medical man, has been blessed by the birth of the Superman, that being whom all the labourers in Battersea are so eagerly expecting night and day.

-Alarms and Discursions (1910)

"If he objects to my treating of life riotously, I reply that life is a riot."

To sum up the whole matter very simply, if Mr. McCabe asks me why I import frivolity into a discussion of the nature of man, I answer, because frivolity is a part of the nature of man. If he asks me why I introduce what he calls paradoxes into a philosophical problem, I answer, because all philosophical problems tend to become paradoxical. If he objects to my treating of life riotously, I reply that life is a riot. And I say that the Universe as I see it, at any rate, is very much more like the fireworks at the Crystal Palace than it is like his own philosophy. About the whole cosmos there is a tense and secret festivity--like preparations for Guy Fawkes' day. Eternity is the eve of something. I never look up at the stars without feeling that they are the fires of a schoolboy's rocket, fixed in their everlasting fall.

-Heretics (1905)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"In each of those orbs there is a new stystem of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea."

The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.

-The Defendant (1901)

"Their final blunder was indeed, inevitable; if not from the beginning of the world, at least from the beginning of the argument."

It really does seem that a certain old habit has so gone out of fashion as to leave men like me almost alone with it: a mind that moves to the ultimate and inevitable conclusion of any argument, or train of thought, rather more rapidly than is common with many people in many ways cleverer than I am. I can at least vaguely see where people will find themselves if they go on reasoning; though I admit they often escape, with great dexterity, by suddenly ceasing to reason.

A worthy though wealthy Capitalist, compelled to argue in favour of men doing more work for less wages, said to me: "They ought to regard themselves as servants of the public, and not merely of the company." I quite naturally answered; "You mean to say you are a Socialist, and think they should be public servants paid by the public authority." I was quite startled at the start this gave him. He nearly jumped out of his skin with horror, merely because I had seen the next step in his own argument, and supposed that he saw it too. In the same way a Socialist, in the days of the great Clarion campaign of Determinism, said: "It is abominable of the parsons to abuse human beings for what is only due to their heredity and environment." I replied, equally innocently: "If you are really going to leave off abusing people, I suppose you are going to leave off calling them abominable." The Socialist recoiled like the Capitalist, with the same start and stagger as of one leaping back from a precipice. Yet it seemed to me quite obvious that that particular path led to that particular precipice. Now, neither of these men was a fool; I should have been a fool in comparison, in dealing with many of their affairs....But they were quite incapable of seeing where their own line of argument was leading them....

...I attribute [my own skill to] having argued with old-fashioned atheists and studied old-fashioned theologians. Even if the atheists were determinists, their determinism was in every since determined. That is, it began at the beginning and endured to the end. Even if the theologians were Calvinists, they had in the same sense the gift of final perseverance. Their final blunder was, indeed, inevitable; if not from the beginning of the world, at least from the beginning of the argument. They also had the power of passing rapidly from the beginning of the argument to the end of the argument. And if it ended in an extravagant extreme, that was at least better than breaking down in the middle or not having the courage to begin at the beginning. It is this latter weakness which most often appears in the general discussions of today. Recent speculation seems to be entirely a sort of guessing or groping; a progress of which even the next step is doubtful and therefore daring. It does not look straight down a long perspective to a visible end. In short, it has all the character of people living in a London fog.

-June 21, 1930, Illustrated London News

Monday, May 10, 2010

"We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour."

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour. Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless terrors of nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as the rain. He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts. That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one's duty towards humanity, but one's duty towards one's neighbour. The duty towards humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable. That duty may be a hobby; it may even be a dissipation. We may work in the East End because we are peculiarly fitted to work in the East End, or because we think we are; we may fight for the cause of international peace because we are very fond of fighting. The most monstrous martyrdom, the most repulsive experience, may be the result of choice or a kind of taste....But we have to love our neighbour because he is there-- a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us. Precisely because he may be anybody he is everybody. He is a symbol because he is an accident.

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"There is no reason why this creature (new, as I fancy, to art), the living skeleton, should not become the essential symbol of life."

The importance of the human skeleton is very great, and the horror with which it is commonly regarded is somewhat mysterious....It is a singular thing altogether, this horror of the architecture of things. One would think it would be most unwise in a man to be afraid of a skeleton, since Nature has set curious and quite insuperable obstacles to his running away from it.

One ground exists for this terror: a strange idea has infected humanity that the skeleton is typical of death. A man might as well say that a factory chimney was typical of bankruptcy. The factory may be left naked after ruin, the skeleton may be left naked after bodily dissolution; but both of them have had a lively and workmanlike life of their own, all the pulleys creaking, all the wheels turning, in the House of Livelihood as in the House of Life. There is no reason why this creature (new, as I fancy, to art), the living skeleton, should not become the essential symbol of life.

The truth is that man's horror of the skeleton is not horror of death at all. It is man's eccentric glory that he has not, generally speaking, any objection to being dead, but has a very serious objection to being undignified.

-The Defendant (1901)

"...I have the same difficulty in admitting the right.....to see good in all religions and nothing but evil in mine."

The rather one-sided truce of good taste, touching all religious matters, which prevailed until a short time ago, has now given place to a rather one-sided war. But the truce can still be invoked, as such terrorism of taste generally is invoked, against the minority. We all know the dear old Conservative colonel who swears himself red in the face that he is not going to talk politics, but that damning to hell all those bloody blasted Socialists is not politics. We all have a kindly feeling for the dear old lady, living at Bath or Cheltenham, who would not dream of talking uncharitably about anybody, but who does certainly think the Dissenters are too dreadful or that Irish servants are really impossible. It is in the spirit of these two very admirable persons that the controversy is now conducted in the Press on behalf of a Progressive Faith and a Broad and Brotherly Religion. So long as the writer employs vast and universal gestures of fellowship and hospitality to all those who are ready to abandon their religious beliefs, he is allowed to be as rude as he likes to all those who venture to retain them. The Dean of St. Paul's permits himself genially to call the Catholic Church a treacherous and bloody corporation; Mr. H. G. Wells is allowed to compare the Blessed Trinity to an undignified dance; the Bishop of Birmingham to compare the Blessed Sacrament to a barbarous blood-feast. It is felt that phrases like these cannot ruffle that human peace and harmony which all such humanitarians desire; there is nothing in these expressions that could possibly interfere with brotherhood and the sympathy that is the bond of society. We may be sure of this, for we have the word of the writers themselves that their whole aim is to generate an atmosphere of liberality and love. If, therefore, any unlucky interruption mars the harmony of the occasion, if it is really impossible for these fraternal festivities to pass off without some silly disturbance, or somebody making a scene, it is obvious that the blame must lie with a few irritable and irritating individuals, who cannot accept these descriptions of the Trinity and the Sacrament and the Church as soothing their feelings or satisfying their ideas.

It is explained very clearly in all such statements that they are accepted by all intelligent people except those who do not accept them. But as I myself, in my political experience, have ventured to doubt the right of the Tory colonel to curse his political opponents and say it is not politics, or of the lady to love everybody and loathe Irishmen, I have the same difficulty in admitting the right of the most liberal and large-minded Christian to see good in all religions and nothing but evil in mine. But I know that to publish replies to this effect, particularly direct replies given in real controversy, will be regarded by many as a provocation and an impertinence.

-The Thing (1929)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"When once Christ had risen, it was inevitable that Aristotle should rise again."

Third, in the theology of St. Thomas, it is proved by the tremendous truth that supports all that theology; or any other Christian theology. There really was a new reason for regarding the senses, and the sensations of the body, and the experiences of the common man, with a reverence at which great Aristotle would have stared, and no man in the ancient world could have begun to understand. The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead. It had hung upon a gibbet. It had risen from a tomb. It was no longer possible for the soul to despise the senses, which had been the organs of something that was more than man. Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it. The senses had truly become sanctified; as they are blessed one by one at a Catholic baptism. "Seeing is believing" was no longer the platitude of a mere idiot, or common individual, as in Plato's world; it was mixed up with real conditions of real belief. Those revolving mirrors that send messages to the brain of man, that light that breaks upon the brain, these had truly revealed to God himself the path to Bethany or the light on the high rock of Jerusalem. These ears that resound with common noises had reported also to the secret knowledge of God the noise of the crowd that strewed palms and the crowd that cried for Crucifixion. After the Incarnation had become the idea that is central in our civilisation, it was inevitable that there should be a return to materialism, in the sense of the serious value of matter and the making of the body. When once Christ had risen, it was inevitable that Aristotle should rise again.

-St. Thomas Aquinas (1933)

Friday, May 7, 2010

"There is only one very timid sort of man that is not afraid of women."

The chaos of habits that always goes with males when left entirely to themselves has only one honorable cure; and that is the strict discipline of a monastery. Anyone who has seen our unhappy young idealists in East End Settlements losing their collars in the wash and living on tinned salmon will fully understand why it was decided by the wisdom of St. Bernard or St. Benedict, that if men were to live without women, they must not live without rules. Something of the same sort of artificial exactitude, of course, is obtained in an army; and an army also has to be in many ways monastic; only that it has celibacy without chastity. But these things do not apply to normal married men. These have a quite sufficient restraint on their instinctive anarchy in the savage common-sense of the other sex. There is only one very timid sort of man that is not afraid of women.

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

"'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying...It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"

To one who loves his fatherland, for instance, our boasted indifference to the ethics of a national war is mere mysterious gibberism. It is like telling a man that a boy has committed murder, but that he need not mind because it is only his son. Here clearly the word 'love' is used unmeaningly. It is the essence of love to be sensitive, it is a part of its doom; and anyone who objects to the one must certainly get rid of the other. This sensitiveness, rising sometimes to an almost morbid sensitiveness, was the mark of all great lovers like Dante and all great patriots like Chatham. 'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.' No doubt if a decent man's mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.

-The Defendant (1901)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"...it makes nothing but dust and nonsense of comparitive religion"

Right in the middle of all these things stands up an enormous exception. It is quite unlike anything else. It is a thing final like the trump of doom, though it is also a piece of good news; or news that seems too good to be true. It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. It declares that really and even recently, or right in the middle of historic times, there did walk into the world this original invisible being; about whom the thinkers make theories and the mythologists hand down myths; the Man Who Made the World. That such a higher personality exists behind all things had indeed always been implied by all the best thinkers, as well as by all the most beautiful legends. But nothing of this sort had ever been implied in any of them. It is simply false to say that the other sages and heroes had claimed to be that mysterious master and maker, of whom the world had dreamed and disputed. Not one of them had ever claimed to be anything of the sort. Not one of their sects or schools had even claimed that they had claimed to be anything of the sort. The most that any religious prophet had said was that he was the true servant of such a being. The most that any visionary had ever said was that men might catch glimpses of the glory of that spiritual being; or much more often of lesser spiritual beings. The most that any primitive myth had even suggested was that the Creator was present at the Creation. But that the Creator was present at scenes a little subsequent to the supper-parties of Horace, and talked with tax-collectors and government officials in the detailed daily life of the Roman Empire, and that this fact continued to be firmly asserted by the whole of that great civilisation for more than a thousand years-- that is something utterly unlike anything else in nature. It is the one great startling statement that man has made since he spoke his first articulate word, instead of barking like a dog. Its unique character can be used as an argument against it as well as for it. It would be easy to concentrate on it as a case of isolated insanity; but it makes nothing but dust and nonsense of comparative religion.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"It is the best of all impossible worlds."

But when all is said, as I have remarked before, the chief fountain in Dickens of what I have called cheerfulness, and some prefer to call optimism, is something deeper than a verbal philosophy. It is, after all, an incomparable hunger and pleasure for the vitality and the variety, for the infinite eccentricity of existence. And this word "eccentricity" brings us, perhaps, nearer to the matter than any other. It is, perhaps, the strongest mark of the divinity of man that he talks of this world as "a strange world," though he has seen no other. We feel that all there is is eccentric, though we do not know what is the centre. This sentiment of the grotesqueness of the universe ran through Dickens's brain and body like the mad blood of the elves. He saw all his streets in fantastic perspectives, he saw all his cockney villas as top heavy and wild, he saw every man's nose twice as big as it was, and very man's eyes like saucers. And this was the basis of his gaiety -- the only real basis of any philosophical gaiety. This world is not to be justified as it is justified by the mechanical optimists; it is not to be justified as the best of all possible worlds. Its merit is not that it is orderly and explicable; its merit is that it is wild and utterly unexplained. Its merit is precisely that none of us could have conceived such a thing, that we should have rejected the bare idea of it as miracle and unreason. It is the best of all impossible worlds.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"If once men are under original sin, how splendid they all are!"

The whole of life becomes so very jolly and livable when once we have believed in original sin. If we believe (as some, I am told, do to-day) that every man is born innocent- then I can only say that to such a believer every man must appear a devil. The words of the wildest pessimist, of the wildest diabolist, seem hardly equal to expressing the vastness of that inventive villainy. By what abominable cleverness, by what hateful wit, did that sinless child contrive to twist himself into such a terror as an ordinary man? But if we realise all ordinary men to be at one ordinary disadvantage, how simple all their struggles become! The ordinary man can be considerate towards the ordinary man as one private soldier is towards another engaged against the same enemy. If once men are under original sin, how splendid they all are!

-January 27, 1906, Illustrated London News

"...the exquisite excitement and inestimable privilege of assisiting, more or less unconsciously, in the rebuilding of St. Damiens Church"

Francis sprang up and went. To go and do something was one of the driving demands of his nature; probably he had gone and done it before he had at all thoroughly thought out what he had done. In any case what he had done was something very decisive and immediately very disastrous for his singular social career. In the coarse conventional language of the uncomprehending world, he stole. From his own enthusiastic point of view, he extended to his venerable father Peter Bernadone the exquisite excitement and inestimable privilege of assisting, more or less unconsciously, in the rebuilding of St. Damiens Church.

-St. Francis of Assissi (1923)

Monday, May 3, 2010

"The aim of life is appreciation..."

The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.

-Autobiography (1936)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"What irritates the normal or rational American is not that he would think Americans blamable, but that he should think himself blameless."

For instance, an Englishman, as a European, has a right to complain of the bumptious and purse-proud swagger of some Yankee globe-trotters in Europe. Only he ought to preface his protest by admitting that the same sort of complaint was made about Englishmen in Europe in the days when England had the same mercantile supremacy and the same materialistic mood. After he has said that, he can say anything; he can pursue the vulgar and offensive American with fire and sword of satire and derision and denunciation, and probably find most sensible and responsible Americans agreeing with him. What irritates the normal or rational American is not that he would think Americans blamable, but that he should think himself blameless. I believe this to be a very vital principle of the peace and friendship of nations.

-Sidelights (1932)