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)



Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Don't take a fence down until you know why it was put up".

Actually, the post title is not a direct quote of Chesterton, but a paraphrase of his words (attributed to GKC by John F. Kennedy). Here is the passage JFK was paraphrasing:
_____________________

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. We might even say that he is seeing things in a nightmare. This principle applies to a thousand things, to trifles as well as true institutions, to convention as well as to conviction. It was exactly the sort of person, like Joan of Arc, who did know why women wore skirts, who was most justified in not wearing one; it was exactly the sort of person, like St. Francis, who did sympathise with the feast and the fireside, who was most entitled to become a beggar on the open road. And when, in the general emancipation of modern society, the Duchess says she does not see why she shouldn't play leapfrog, or the Dean declares that he sees no valid canonical reason why he should not stand on his head, we may say to these persons with patient benevolence: "Defer, therefore, the operation you contemplate until you have realised by ripe reflection what principle or prejudice you are violating. Then play leapfrog and stand on your head and the Lord be with you."

-The Thing: Why I am a Catholic (1929)

"Courtesy is a mystical thing; it may be defined as a spontaneous worship"

Courtesy is a mystical thing; it may be defined as a spontaneous worship. Politeness is, indeed, even more fantastically reverential than religion itself, for it treats a landlady's parlour as the religionist treats a temple. To him all houses are holy, and whenever or wherever it be found, the covered place demands the uncovered head. Politeness is thus a thing mysterious and elemental, going down to the foundations of the world. Since no man can express how surprising and terrifying and beautiful is every object upon which we gaze, on the day when we all become truly primitive we shall all become extravagantly polite; we shall take off our hats to the sparrows, and apologise for treading on the daisies. Politeness of this kind is simply imagination. That is the inevitable result of realising that things are there. Here, as in so many other cases, we see the singular dullness of all those sections of society who call themselves unconventional. They imagine that unconventionality is a mark of being artistic or imaginative. It is, of course, a mark of being especially prosaic and limited. For the great conventions are, as their name grammatically implies, simply the great agreements, and agreement is essential to all art, and to all ceremony, and, indeed, to everything, except mere rowdy competition and free fights. If a man is ceremonious he is conventional, and if he is poetical he is ceremonious.

[From an essay that was originally published in the Daily News on July 18, 1902]

-The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (1975)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"The real objection to murder, aesthetically speaking, is that it is uneconomical."

Economy is essentially imaginative because it is a realisation of the value of everything. The real objection to murder, aesthetically speaking, is that it is uneconomical. It is a failure in efficiency (I want to write that word down and look at it) to waste a whole man in order to procure a momentary emotion which is often disappointing. And the real objection to waste is that all waste is a kind of murder, a merely negative and destructive thing, the obliteration of something which we can neither value nor understand. We slay an uncle because we do not realise the strange dumb poetry of an uncle; we fling away a penny because we cannot realise the gorgeous possibilities of a penny. I have murdered many pennies, many trusting halfcrowns, in my life. For let it be clearly understood that I do not maintain for a moment that this poetry of economy is an easy thing for any of us to keep up. We tend to forget the poetry of pennies just as we tend to forget the poetry of skies and woods and great buildings, because we see them so often....

... But to throw away a penny is sheer lack of imagination; it means that the giver cannot realise even the meaning of a penny. It means that he forgets the first and most thrilling of all the lessons of the universe,the lessons of every seed and germ, the lesson of the infinite and terrible power that may be found in small things.....

....My bosom friend the Pessimist and I were standing outside a small toy shop, glueing our noses to the glass, when the long silence was broken by my remarking on the beauty of a solid stick of blue chalk, which was offered for sale (in some tempest of generosity) for a halfpenny.

`Have you considered,' I asked, `all that this stick of blue chalk means? For a halfpenny I am possessed of it. I go home at night under the stars, between dark walls and through mazy streets. I shall be free to write upon those walls beautiful or stern sentiments, arraigning the powers of the earth, and write them in the very colour of heaven. At home I may beguile the evening in a thousand innocent sports, designing barbaric patterns upon the new table-cloth, drawing dreamy and ideal landscapes upon the note-paper, decorating my own person in the manner of our British predecessors, sketching strange and ideal adventures for strange and ideal characters. And all this blue river of dreams is loosened by a halfpenny.'

The Pessimist replied, in his sad, stern way, `Drivel. It is only the blue chalk you buy for a halfpenny. You do not buy the stars for a halfpenny; you do not buy the streets for a halfpenny; you do not buy your dreams or your love of drawing or your tastes and imaginations for a halfpenny.'

`True,' I replied. `The stars and the dreams and myself are cheaper than chalk: for I bought them for nothing.'

He burst into tears and became immediately convinced of the basis of true religion. For our very word for God means Economy: is not improvidence the opposite of Providence?

[From an article originally published in The Speaker, on March 29, 1902]

-The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (1975)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilization, what there is particularly immortal about yours?

"Pardon me, pardon me, President," said Barker, warmly; "my sympathies are with no nation. You misunderstand, I think, the modern intellect. We do not disapprove of the fire and extravagance of such commonwealths as yours only to become more extravagant on a larger scale. We do not condemn Nicaragua because we think Britain ought to be more Nicaraguan. We do not discourage small nationalities because we wish large nationalities to have all their smallness, all their uniformity of outlook, all their exaggeration of spirit. If I differ with the greatest respect from your Nicaraguan enthusiasm, it is not because a nation or ten nations were against you; it is because civilization was against you. We moderns believe in a great cosmopolitan civilization, one which shall include all the talents of all the absorbed peoples..."

"The Senor will forgive me," said the President. "May I ask the Senor how, under ordinary circumstances, he catches a wild horse?"

"I never catch a wild horse," replied Barker, with dignity.

"Precisely," said the other; "and there ends your absorption of the talents. That is what I complain of your cosmopolitanism. When you say you want all peoples to unite, you really mean that you want all peoples to unite to learn the tricks of your people. If the Bedouin Arab does not know how to read, some English missionary or schoolmaster must be sent to teach him to read, but no one ever says, 'This schoolmaster does not know how to ride on a camel; let us pay a Bedouin to teach him.' You say your civilization will include all talents. Will it? Do you really mean to say that at the moment when the Esquimaux has learnt to vote for a County Council, you will have learnt to spear a walrus? I recur to the example I gave. In Nicaragua we had a way of catching wild horses...by lassoing the fore-feet-which was supposed to be the best in South America. If you are going to include all the talents, go and do it. If not, permit me to say, what I have always said, that something went from the world when Nicaragua was civilized."

"Something, perhaps," replied Barker, "but that something a mere barbarian dexterity. I do not know that I could chip flints as well as a primeval man, but I know that civilization can make these knives which are better, and I trust to civilization."

"You have good authority," answered the Nicaraguan. "Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilization, what there is particularly immortal about yours?"

-The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

Monday, April 26, 2010

"What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey."

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

-Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject..."

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person. Nothing is more keenly required than a defence of bores. When Byron divided humanity into the bores and bored, he omitted to notice that the higher qualities exist entirely in the bores, the lower qualities in the bored, among whom he counted himself. The bore, by his starry enthusiasm, his solemn happiness, may, in some sense, have proved himself poetical. The bored has certainly proved himself prosaic.

We might, no doubt, find it a nuisance to count all the blades of grass or all the leaves of the trees; but this would not be because of our boldness or gaiety, but because of our lack of boldness and gaiety. The bore would go onward, bold and [happy], and find the blades of grass as splendid as the swords of an army. The bore is stronger and more joyous than we are; he is a demigod--nay, he is a god. For it is the gods who do not tire of the iteration of things; to them the nightfall is always new, and the last rose as red as the first.

The sense that everything is poetical is a thing solid and absolute; it is not a mere matter of phraseology or persuasion. It is not merely true, it is ascertainable. Men may be challenged to deny it; men may be challenged to mention anything that is not a matter of poetry...

...A great many people talk as if this claim of ours, that all things are poetical, were a mere literary ingenuity, a play on words. Precisely the contrary is true. It is the idea that some things are not poetical which is literary, which is a mere product of words. The word "signal-box" is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose only comes in with what it is called. The word "pillar-box" is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is one of the last of the temples. Posting a letter and getting married are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box prosaic, because there is no rhyme to it. We think a pillar-box unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem. But the bold fact is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words. If you think the name of "Smith" prosaic, it is not because you are practical and sensible; it is because you are too much affected with literary refinements. The name shouts poetry at you. If you think of it otherwise, it is because you are steeped and sodden with verbal reminiscences, because you remember everything in Punch or Comic Cuts about Mr. Smith being drunk or Mr. Smith being henpecked. All these things were given to you poetical. It is only by a long and elaborate process of literary effort that you have made them prosaic.

-Heretics (1905)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of pleasure"

The great and abiding truth for which the Bronte cycle of fiction stands is a certain most important truth about the enduring spirit of youth, the truth of the near kinship between terror and joy. The Bronte heroine, dingily dressed, badly educated, hampered by a humiliating inexperience, a kind of ugly innocence, is yet, by the very fact of her solitude and her gaucherie, full of the greatest delight that is possible to a human being, the delight of expectation, the delight of an ardent and flamboyant ignorance. She serves to show how futile it is of humanity to suppose that pleasure can be attained chiefly by putting on evening dress every evening, and having a box at the theatre every first night. It is not the man of pleasure who has pleasure; it is not the man of the world who appreciates the world. The man who has learnt to do all conventional things perfectly has at the same time learnt to do them prosaically. It is the awkward man, whose evening dress does not fit him, whose gloves will not go on, whose compliments will not come off, who is really full of the ancient ecstasies of youth. He is frightened enough of society actually to enjoy his triumphs. He has that element of fear which is one of the eternal ingredients of joy. This spirit is the central spirit of the Bronte novel. It is the epic of the exhilaration of the shy man. As such it is of incalculable value in our time, of which the curse is that it does not take joy reverently because it does not take it fearfully. The shabby and inconspicuous governess of Charlotte Bronte, with the small outlook and the small creed, had more commerce with the awful and elemental forces which drive the world than a legion of lawless minor poets. She approached the universe with real simplicity, and, consequently, with real fear and delight. She was, so to speak, shy before the multitude of the stars, and in this she had possessed herself of the only force which can prevent enjoyment being as black and barren as routine. The faculty of being shy is the first and the most delicate of the powers of enjoyment. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of pleasure

-Twelve Types (1902)

Friday, April 23, 2010

"...it can only find its heroic expression in both becoming slaves."

Most human beings start with certain facts of psychology to which the rest of life must be somewhat related. For instance, every man falls in love; and no man falls into free love. When he falls into that he calls it lust, and is always ashamed of it even when he boasts of it. That there is some connection between a love and a vow nearly every human being knows before he is eighteen. That there is a solid and instinctive connection between the idea of sexual ecstasy and the idea of some sort of almost suicidal constancy, this I say is simply the first fact in one's own psychology; boys and girls know it almost before they know their own language. How far it can be trusted, how it can best be dealt with, all that is another matter. But lovers lust after constancy more than after happiness; if you are in any sense prepared to give them what they ask, then what they ask, beyond all question, is an oath of final fidelity. Lovers may be lunatics; lovers may be children; lovers may be unfit for citizenship and outside human argument; you can take up that position if you will. But lovers do not only desire love; they desire marriage. The root of legal monogamy does not lie (as Shaw and his friends are for ever drearily asserting) in the fact that the man is a mere tyrant and the woman a mere slave. It lies in the fact that if their love for each other is the noblest and freest love conceivable, it can only find its heroic expression in both becoming slaves. I only mention this matter here as a matter which most of us do not need to be taught; for it was the first lesson of life. In after years we may make up what code or compromise about sex we like; but we all know that constancy, jealousy, and the personal pledge are natural and inevitable in sex; we do not feel any surprise when we see them either in a murder or in a valentine.

-George Bernard Shaw (1909)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"..he did not love Christianity but Christ."

[St. Francis] was, to the last agonies of asceticism, a Troubadour. He was a Lover. He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation. A lover of men is very nearly the opposite of a philanthropist; indeed the pedantry of the Greek word carries something like a satire on itself. A philanthropist may be said to love anthropoids. But as St. Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. Say, if you think so, that he was a lunatic loving an imaginary person; but an imaginary person, not an imaginary idea.

-St. Francis of Assissi (1923)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"They do not shake religion; rather religion seems to shake them"

Of course the real truth is that science has introduced no new principle into the matter at all. A man can be a Christian to the end of the world, for the simple reason that a man could have been an Atheist from the beginning of it. The materialism of things is on the face of things; it does not require any science to find it out. A man who has lived and loved falls down dead and the worms eat him. That is Materialism if you like. That is Atheism if you like. If mankind has believed in spite of that, it can believe in spite of anything. But why our human lot is made any more hopeless because we know the names of all the worms who eat him, or the names of all the parts of him that they eat, is to a thoughtful mind somewhat difficult to discover. My chief objection to these semi-scientific revolutionists is that they are not at all revolutionary. They are the party of platitude. They do not shake religion: rather religion seems to shake them. They can only answer the great paradox by repeating the truism.

-=All Things Considered (1908)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"...one of the strangest spectacles in the world- a mob of hermits."

For this idea, this modern idea that sanctity is identical with secrecy, there is one thing at least to be said. It is for all practical purposes an entirely new idea; it was unknown to all the ages in which the idea of sanctity really flourished. The record of the great spiritual movements of mankind is dead against the idea that spirituality is a private matter. The most awful secret of every man's soul, its most lonely and individual need, its most primal and psychological relationship, the thing called worship, the communication between the soul and the last reality—this most private matter is the most public spectacle in the world. Anyone who chooses to walk into a large church on Sunday morning may see a hundred men each alone with his Maker. He stands, in truth, in the presence of one of the strangest spectacles in the world—a mob of hermits. And in thus definitely espousing publicity by making public the most internal mystery, Christianity acts in accordance with its earliest origins and its terrible beginning. It was surely by no accident that the spectacle which darkened the sun at noonday was set upon a hill. The martyrdoms of the early Christians were public not only by the caprice of the oppressor, but by the whole desire and conception of the victims.

The mere grammatical meaning of the word 'martyr' breaks into pieces at a blow the whole notion of the privacy of goodness. The Christian martyrdoms were more than demonstrations: they were advertisements. In our day the new theory of spiritual delicacy would desire to alter all this. It would permit Christ to be crucified if it was necessary to His Divine nature, but it would ask in the name of good taste why He could not be crucified in a private room. It would declare that the act of a martyr in being torn in pieces by lions was vulgar and sensational, though, of course, it would have no objection to being torn in pieces by a lion in one's own parlour before a circle of really intimate friends.

-The Defendant (1901)

Monday, April 19, 2010

"I for one have found that nearly all things not evil are better in experience than in theory"

Cynics often speak of the disillusioning effects of experience, but I for one have found that nearly all things not evil are better in experience than in theory. Take, for example, the innovation which I have of late introduced into my domestic life; he is a four-legged innovation in the shape of an Aberdeen terrier. I have always imagined myself to be a lover of all animals, because I have never met any animal that I definitely disliked. Most people draw the line somewhere. Lord Roberts disliked cats; the best woman I know objects to spiders; a Theosophist I know protects, but detests, mice; and many leading humanitarians have an objection to human beings.

-"Dogs"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"...he is so plain that even scholars can understand him."

[Dicken's] power, then, lay in the fact that he expressed with an energy and brilliancy quite uncommon the things close to the common mind. But with this mere phrase, the common mind, we collide with a current error. Commonness and the common mind are now generally spoken of as meaning in some manner inferiority and the inferior mind; the mind of the mere mob. But the common mind means the mind of all the artists and heroes; or else it would not be common. Plato had the common mind; Dante had the common mind; or that mind was not common. Commonness means the quality common to the saint and the sinner, to the philosopher and the fool; and it was this that Dickens grasped and developed. In everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears death, that likes sunlight; that thing enjoys Dickens....And when I say that everybody understands Dickens I do not mean that he is suited to the untaught intelligence. I mean that he is so plain that even scholars can understand him.

Charles Dickens (1906)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Existence has been praised and absolved by a chorus of pessimists."

One after another almost every one of the phenomena of the universe has been declared to be alone capable of making life worth living. Books, love, business, religion, alcohol, abstract truth, private emotion, money, simplicity, mysticism, hard work, a life close to nature, a life close to Belgrave Square are every one of them passionately maintained by somebody to be so good that they redeem the evil of an otherwise indefensible world. Thus, while the world is almost always condemned in summary, it is always justified, and indeed extolled, in detail after detail.

Existence has been praised and absolved by a chorus of pessimists. The work of giving thanks to Heaven is, as it were, divided ingeniously among them. Schopenhauer is told off as a kind of librarian in the House of God, to sing the praises of the austere pleasures of the mind. Carlyle, as steward, undertakes the working department and eulogises a life of labour in the fields. Omar Khayyam is established in the cellar, and swears that it is the only room in the house. Even the blackest of pessimistic artists enjoys his art. At the precise moment that he has written some shameless and terrible indictment of Creation, his one pang of joy in the achievement joins the universal chorus of gratitude, with the scent of the wild flower and the song of the bird.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"I can believe in the impossible, but not the improbable"

"Well,' said Tarrant, `it's refreshing to find a priest so sceptical of the supernatural as all that.'

`Not at all,' replied the priest calmly; `it's not the supernatural part I doubt. It's the natural part. I'm exactly in the position of the man who said, `I can believe the impossible, but not the improbable.'`

`That's what you call a paradox, isn't it?' asked the other.

`It's what I call common sense, properly understood,' replied Father Brown. 'It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don't understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing--room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it's only incredible. But I'm much more certain it didn't happen than that Parnell's ghost didn't appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand. So it is with that tale of the curse. It isn't the legend that I disbelieve--it's the history.'

-

The Incredulity of Father Brown (1926)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"I calculated that I must have commited at least fifty-three murders..."

Some time ago, seated at ease upon a summer evening and taking a serene review of an indefensibly fortunate and happy life, I calculated that I must have committed at least fifty-three murders, and been concerned with hiding about half a hundred corpses for the purpose of the concealment of crimes; hanging one corpse on a hat-peg, bundling another into a postman's bag, decapitating a third and providing it with somebody else's head, and so on through quite a large number of innocent artifices of the kind. It is true that I have enacted most of these atrocities on paper; and I strongly recommend the young student, except in extreme cases, to give expression to his criminal impulses in this form; and not run the risk of spoiling a beautiful and well-proportioned idea by bringing it down to the plane of brute material experiment, where it too often suffers the unforseen imperfections and disappointments of this fallen world, and brings with it various unwelcome and unworthy social and legal consequences...This being my strict principle, from which I have never wavered, there has been nothing to cut short the rich accumulation of imaginative corpses; and, as I say, I have already accumulated a good many. My name achieved a certain notoriety as that of a writer of these murderous short stories, commonly called detective stories; certain publishers and magazines have come to count on me for such trifles; and are still kind enough, from time to time, to write to me ordering a new batch of corpses; generally in consignments of eight at a time.


Autobiography (1936)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"...all the baseless dogmatism about science forbidding men to believe in miracles..."

The rest is all cant and repetition and arguing in a circle; all the baseless dogmatism about science forbidding men to believe in miracles; as if science could forbid men to believe in something which science does not profess to investigate. Science is the study of the admitted laws of existence; it cannot prove a universal negative about whether those laws could ever be suspended by something admittedly above them. It is as if we were to say that a lawyer was so deeply learned in the American Constitution that he knew there could never be a revolution in America. Or it is as if a man were to say he was so close a student of the text of Hamlet that he was authorised to deny that an actor had dropped the skull and bolted when the theatre caught fire. The constitution follows a certain course, so long as it is there to follow it; the play follows a certain course, so long as it is being played; the visible order of nature follows a certain course if there is nothing behind it to stop it. But that fact throws no sort of light on whether there is anything behind it to stop it. That is a question of philosophy or metaphysics and not of material science.

-The Thing (1929)