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.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"If the characters are not wicked, the book is."

The truth is that all these things mark a certain change in the general view of morals; not, I think, a change for the better. We have grown to associate morality in a book with a kind of optimism and prettiness; according to us, a moral book is a book about moral people. But the old idea was almost exactly the opposite; a moral book was a book about immoral people. A moral book was full of pictures like Hogarth's "Gin Lane" or "Stages of Cruelty," or it recorded, like the popular broadsheet, "God's dreadful judgment" against some blasphemer or murderer. There is a philosophical reason for this change. The homeless scepticism of our time has reached a subconscious feeling that morality is somehow merely a matter of human taste—an accident of psychology. And if goodness only exists in certain human minds, a man wishing to praise goodness will naturally exaggerate the amount of it that there is in human minds or the number of human minds in which it is supreme. Every confession that man is vicious is a confession that virtue is visionary. Every book which admits that evil is real is felt in some vague way to be admitting that good is unreal. The modern instinct is that if the heart of man is evil, there is nothing that remains good. But the older feeling was that if the heart of man was ever so evil, there was something that remained good—goodness remained good. An actual avenging virtue existed outside the human race; to that men rose, or from that men fell away. Therefore, of course, this law itself was as much demonstrated in the breach as in the observance. If Tom Jones violated morality, so much the worse for Tom Jones. Fielding did not feel, as a melancholy modern would have done, that every sin of Tom Jones was in some way breaking the spell, or we may even say destroying the fiction of morality. Men spoke of the sinner breaking the law; but it was rather the law that broke him. And what modern people call the foulness and freedom of Fielding is generally the severity and moral stringency of Fielding. He would not have thought that he was serving morality at all if he had written a book all about nice people. Fielding would have considered Mr. Ian Maclaren extremely immoral; and there is something to be said for that view. Telling the truth about the terrible struggle of the human soul is surely a very elementary part of the ethics of honesty. If the characters are not wicked, the book is.

This older and firmer conception of right as existing outside human weakness and without reference to human error can be felt in the very lightest and loosest of the works of old English literature. It is commonly unmeaning enough to call Shakspere a great moralist; but in this particular way Shakspere is a very typical moralist. Whenever he alludes to right and wrong it is always with this old implication. Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Sneak preview from upcoming Manalive movie:

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Joking is undignified; that is why it is so good for one's soul."

Humour is meant, in a literal sense, to make game of man; that is, to dethrone him from his official dignity and hunt him like game. It is meant to remind us human beings that we have things about us as ungainly and ludicrous as the nose of the elephant or the neck of the giraffe. If laughter does not touch a sort of fundamental folly, it does not do its duty in bringing us back to an enormous and original simplicity. Nothing has been worse than the modern notion that a clever man can make a joke without taking part in it; without sharing in the general absurdity that such a situation creates. It is unpardonable conceit not to laugh at your own jokes. Joking is undignified; that is why it is so good for one's soul. Do not fancy you can be a detached wit and avoid being a buffoon; you cannot. If you are the Court Jester you must be the Court Fool.

-Alarms and Discursions (1910)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dedications to GKC by Dean Koontz and Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman

First, today is GKC's 137th birthday! :-)

Today while at Wal-Mart, I came across another Dean Koontz novel that began with a quote from Chesterton, specifically from GKC's book The Superstition of Divorce. (This is the fourth such Koontz novel I have encountered beginning with a GKC quote). The Koontz novel is "The Dead Town" in his Frankenstein series, and the GKC quote was:

"Man can always be blind to a thing so long as it is big enough. It is so difficult to see the world in which we live."

However, this time the novel was also *dedicated* to GKC as well, so I have reproduced the dedication below:

"To the memory of Gilbert K. Chesterton, who presented wisdom and hard truths in a most appealing package, changing countless lives with kindness and a smile."

It reminds me of another novel that was dedicated to GKC which I do not myself possess, but have heard of. The novel Good Omens, co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett has the following dedication:

"The authors would like to join the demon Crowley in dedicating this book to the memory of G.K. Chesterton, a man who knew what was going on."

(Admittedly it is ironic, given that Chesterton was such a strong Christian, to see the reference to "the demon Crowley", but.... From what I understand, Crowley is one of the characters in the novel; however, I know nothing more, so I can't really comment)

Friday, May 27, 2011

"It's terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hung today."

The men whom the people ought to choose to represent them are too busy to take the jobs. But the politician is waiting for it. He's the pestilence of modern times. What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them. The villagers who met under the village tree could also hang their politicians to the tree. It's terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hung today.

[Chesterton, as quoted in an interview that appeared in The Cleveland Press in 1921]

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Henry and William James visit Chesterton...and Belloc. lol.

...here we are halted at the moment when Mr. Henry James heard of our arrival in Rye and proceeded (after exactly the correct interval) to pay his call in state.

Needless to say, it was a very stately call of state; and James seemed to fill worthily the formal frock-coat of those far-off days...He brought his brother William with him, the famous American philosopher; and though William James was breezier than his brother when you knew him, there was something finally ceremonial about this idea of the whole family on the march. We talked about the best literature of the day; James a little tactfully, myself a little nervously. I found he was more strict than I had imagined about the rules of artistic arrangement; he deplored rather than depreciated Bernard Shaw, because plays like Getting Married were practically formless. He said something complimentary about something of mine; but represented himself as respectfully wondering how I wrote all I did. I suspected him of meaning why rather than how. We then proceeded to consider gravely the work of Hugh Walpole, with many delicate degrees of appreciation and doubt; when I heard from the front-garden a loud bellowing noise resembling that of an impatient foghorn. I knew, however, that it was not a fog-horn; because it was roaring out, "Gilbert! Gilbert!" and was like only one voice in the world...

I knew it was Belloc, probably shouting for bacon and beer; but even I had no notion of the form or guise under which he would present himself.

I had every reason to believe that he was a hundred miles away in France. And so, apparently, he had been; walking with a friend of his in the Foreign Office, a co-religionist of one of the old Catholic families; and by some miscalculation they had found themselves in the middle of their travels entirely without money. Belloc is legitimately proud of having on occasion lived, and being able to live, the life of the poor. One of the Ballades of the Eye-Witness, which was never published, described tramping abroad in this fashion:

To sleep and smell the incense of the tar,
To wake and watch Italian dawns aglow
And underneath the branch a single star,
Good Lord, how little wealthy people know.

In this spirit they started to get home practically without money. Their clothes collapsed and they managed to get into some workmen's slops. They had no razors and could not afford a shave. They must have saved their last penny to recross the sea; and then they started walking from Dover to Rye; where they knew their nearest friend for the moment resided. They arrived, roaring for food and drink and derisively accusing each other of having secretly washed, in violation of an implied contract between tramps. In this fashion they burst in upon the balanced tea-cup and tentative sentence of Mr. Henry James.

Henry James had a name for being subtle; but I think that situation was too subtle for him. I doubt to this day whether he, of all men, did not miss the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part. He had left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the traditions of lineage and locality, the life that had been lived beneath old portraits in oak-panelled rooms. And there, on the other side of the tea-table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure. And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.

-Autobiography (1936)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Coincidences are spiritual puns"

[OK, the title of this post is not the exact quote, but since that seems to be how it is usually quoted, I put it in the title. The actual quote is found below.]

All literary style, especially national style, is made up of such coincidences; which are a spiritual sort of puns. That is why style is untranslatable; because it is possible to render the meaning, but not the double meaning.

-Irish Impressions (1919)

Monday, May 23, 2011

"There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one's grandmother"

We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one's grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past. He cares as little for what will be as for what has been; he cares only for what ought to be.

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"He can shake his sword at the dragon, even if it is everything; even if the empty heavens over his head are only the huge arch of its open jaws."

It was the prime philosophic principle of Christianity that this divorce in the divine act of making (such as severs the poet from the poem or the mother from the new-born child) was the true description of the act whereby the absolute energy made the world. According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it. I will discuss the truth of this theorem later. Here I have only to point out with what a startling smoothness it passed the dilemma we have discussed in this chapter. In this way at least one could be both happy and indignant without degrading one's self to be either a pessimist or an optimist. On this system one could fight all the forces of existence without deserting the flag of existence. One could be at peace with the universe and yet be at war with the world. St. George could still fight the dragon, however big the monster bulked in the cosmos, though he were bigger than the mighty cities or bigger than the everlasting hills. If he were as big as the world he could yet be killed in the name of the world. St. George had not to consider any obvious odds or proportions in the scale of things, but only the original secret of their design. He can shake his sword at the dragon, even if it is everything; even if the empty heavens over his head are only the huge arch of its open jaws.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"...half one's letters answer themselves if you can only refrain from the fleshly appetite of answering them."

"If you ask Auntie," said Diana quietly, "she'll only be for doing nothing at all. Her only idea is to hush things up or to let things slide. That just suits her."

"Yes," replied Michael Moon; "and, as it happens, it just suits all of us. You are impatient with your elders, Miss Duke; but when you are as old yourself you will know what Napoleon knew-- that half one's letters answer themselves if you can only refrain from the fleshly appetite of answering them."

-Manalive (1912)

Friday, May 20, 2011

"A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test."

[Found on this GKC page on Facebook]

Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out. The latter is what we commonly call culture and enlightenment today. But man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else's; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he never heard of, thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test.

-The Common Man (collection of essays first published in 1950)

"From time to time, as we all know, a sect appears in our midst announcing that the world will very soon come to an end."

From time to time, as we all know, a sect appears in our midst announcing that the world will very soon come to an end. Generally, by some slight confusion or miscalculation, it is the sect that comes to an end.

-September 24, 1927, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Circumstances break men's bones; it has never been shown that they break men's optimism."

There are numberless points upon which Dickens is spiritually at one with the poor, that is, with the great mass of mankind. But there is no point in which he is more perfectly at one with them than in showing that there is no kind of connection between a man being unhappy and a man being pessimistic. Sorrow and pessimism are indeed, in a sense, opposite things, since sorrow is founded on the value of something, and pessimism upon the value of nothing. And in practice we find that those poets or political leaders who come from the people, and whose experiences have really been searching and cruel, are the most sanguine people in the world. These men out of the old agony are always optimists; they are sometimes offensive optimists. A man like Robert Burns, whose father (like Dickens's father) goes bankrupt, whose whole life is a struggle against miserable external powers and internal weaknesses yet more miserable -- a man whose life begins grey and ends black -- Burns does not merely sing about the goodness of life, he positively rants and cants about it. Rousseau, whom all his friends and acquaintances treated almost as badly as he treated them -- Rousseau does not grow merely eloquent, he grows gushing and sentimental, about the inherent goodness of human nature. Charles Dickens, who was most miserable at the receptive age when most people are most happy, is afterwards happy when all men weep. Circumstances break men's bones; it has never been shown that they break men's optimism. These great popular leaders do all kinds of desperate things under the immediate scourge of tragedy. They become drunkards; they become demagogues; they become morphomaniacs. They never become pessimists. Most unquestionably there are ragged and unhappy men whom we could easily understand being pessimists. But as a matter of fact they are not pessimists. Most unquestionably there are whole dim hordes of humanity whom we should promptly pardon if they cursed God. But they don't. The pessimists are aristocrats like Byron; the men who curse God are aristocrats like Swinburne. But when those who starve and suffer speak for a moment, they do not profess merely an optimism, they profess a cheap optimism; they are too poor to afford a dear one. They cannot indulge in any detailed or merely logical defence of life; that would be to delay the enjoyment of it. These higher optimists, of whom Dickens was one, do not approve of the universe; they do not even admire the universe; they fall in love with it. They embrace life too close to criticise or even to see it. Existence to such men has the wild beauty of a woman, and those love her with most intensity who love her with least cause.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Friday, May 13, 2011

BBC Documentary on GKC's "Father Brown"

The BBC did a half-hour documentary on GKC's "Father Brown" stories (since 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Innocence of Father Brown, the first collection of Father Brown stories.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b010xzzf/

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Can I call a distinguished biologist a donkey, when he is quite certain that my classification is incorrect?"

How far am I justified in arguing with a person much more learned than myself? Or if you dislike this egoism, how far are you justified in arguing with a person much more learned that yourself- supposing that such a person could exist? At what point may I come to the conclusion that a man who has certainly read more books than I, has, neverthless, read them wrong? The problem must often cross the path of ordinary men who are sagacious rather than learned; for very few of us are learned, whereas all of us are frightfully sagacious. Can I call an eminent orthinologist an owl, when he assures me that his bodily structure renders this untenable? Can I call a distinguished biologist a donkey, when he is quite certain that my classification is incorrect?

As a first guide in this matter, I should like to offer one suggestion. I think that you and I are quite justified in disagreeing with doctors, however extraordinary in their erudition, if they violate ordinary reason in their line of argument. If they cannot even reason upon their facts, I think we are justified in doubting even their facts. Suppose a man says to me, "I know more than you do about the Tragic Drama of Athens." I reply: "Yes, you do know more than I; you could not well know less." But suppose he goes on to instruct me, and says: "You see Euripides left ten plays, and Sophocles left four plays, and that makes seventeen plays." Then I think I am justified in breaking in and saying: "You are a horribly learned man, no doubt; but, as you obviously can't count, I don't see why I should feel certain that you can do anything else." Suppose a man says: "You know nothing about Danish churches: let me tell you that every Danish church is balanced on the tip of its spire." I then reply: "I know nothing about Danish churches, except that they aren't like that." The intellectual principle is a very simple one; and yet it will, I think, be found to be of interest, and even of utility, in the life of to-day.

-October 31, 1908, Illustrated London News

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

George Bernard Shaw's review of GKC's first play Magic

George Bernard Shaw, himself a famous playwright, of course, in a review (which appeared in the May 13, 1916 edition of the New Statesman) of Julius West's G.K. Chesterton: A Critical Study, in which Shaw describes his thoughts on Chesterton's play Magic (You can read Magic at this link.)

I agree very heartily with Mr. West as to Mr. Chesterton's success in his single essay as a playwright. I shirk the theatre so lazily that I have lost the right to call myself a playgoer; but circumstances led to my seeing Magic performed several times, and I enjoyed it more and more every time. Mr. Chesterton was born with not only brains enough to see something more in the world than sexual intrigue, but with all the essential tricks of the stage at his fingers' ends; and it was delightful to find that the characters which seem so fantastic and even ragdolly (stage characters are usually waxdolly) in his romances became credible and solid behind the footlights, just the opposite of what his critics expected. The test is a searching one; an exposure to it of many moving and popular scenes in novels would reveal the fact that they are physically impossible and morally absurd. Mr Chesterton is in the English tradition of Shakespeare and Fielding and Scott and Dickens, in which you must grip your character so masterfully that you can play with it in the most extravagant fashion...The Duke in Magic is much better than Micawber or Mrs. Wilfer, neither of whom can bear the footlights because, like piping bullfinches, they have only one tune, whilst the Duke sets everything in the universe to his ridiculous music. That is the Shakespearian touch. Is it grateful to ask for more?

Monday, May 9, 2011

"We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world."

Chesterton, in response to a newspaper suggestion that the Church ought to "move with the times":

The Cities of the Plain might have remarked that the heavens above them did not altogether fit in with their own high civilisation and social habits. They would be right. Oddly enough, however, when symmetry was eventually restored, it was not the heavens that had been obliged to adapt themselves....

The Church cannot move with the times; simply because the times are not moving. The Church can only stick in the mud with the times, and rot and stink with the times. In the economic and social world, as such, there is no activity except that sort of automatic activiity that is called decay; the withering of the high flowers of freedom and their decomposition into the aboriginal soil of slavery. In that way the world stands much at the same stage as it did at the beginning of the Dark Ages. And the Church has the same task as it had at the beginning of the Dark Ages; to save all the light and liberty that can be saved, to resist the downward drag of the world, and to wait for better days. So much a real Church would certainly do; but a real Church might be able to do more. It might make its Dark Ages something more than a seed-time; it might make them the very reverse of dark. It might present its more human ideal in such abrupt and attractive a contrast to the inhuman trend of the time, as to inspire men suddenly for one of the moral revolutions of history; so that men now living shall not taste of death until they have seen justice return.

We do not want, as the newspapers say, a Church that will move with the world. We want a Church that will move the world. We want one that will move it away from many of the things towards which it is now moving; for instance, the Servile State. It is by that test that history will really judge of any Church, whether it is the real Church or no.

A reply found in the New Witness, quoted in Maisie Ward's biography Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1943)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"The moment a thing has been...called impossible, something sporting in the soul of man...takes the bet and resolves to bring the thing about"

That is the blunder of the cynics when they say that idealists do not succeed. Idealists, consistent idealists, succeed much better than anybody else, because no man can be at ease in the presence of his own negelcted ideal. Men are always fidgeting and shifting a little nearer to the high seat where the fanatic sits. When once a man has been called an impracticable visionary, he is practically bound to be a success. The moment a thing has been definitely called impossible, something sporting in the soul of man immediately takes the bet and resolves to bring the thing about.

-June 29, 1912, Illustrated London News

[I remember coming across this quote, at least the part in the title, a while back on another Chesterton site, though at the moment I cannot remember which one so as to give credit, but...]

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"The blackest of lies is the lie that is entirely a truth."

Lord Roseberry, I think, once offered the paradoxical suggestion that newspapers should consist of news. He proposed to exclude all comment, moral, political, and (I hope) financial. It may be doubted whether the journals under his Lordship's review would be disarmed by so simple a reform. Newspapers have been known before now to indulge in methods even more direct than comment. The comment at the worst can only be fallacious; the news can be false. Or even if it is not false, it may be so selected as to give a totally false picture of the place or topic under dispute. Selection is the fine art of falsity. Tennyson put it very feebly and inadequately when he said that the blackest of lies is the lie that is half a truth. The blackest of lies is the lie that is entirely a truth. Once give me the right to pick out anything and I shall not need to invent anything. If in my History of the World, published some centuries hence, I am allowed to mark the nineteenth century only by the names of Mr. Whitaker Wright and Jack the Ripper, I will promise to add no further comment. If I am free to report this planet to the Man in the Moon as being inhabited by scorpions and South African millionaires, I will undertake to leave the facts to speak for themselves. I will undertake to create a false impression solely by facts. I shall not ask to say what I choose, so long as I can choose what I choose. So long as I am not asked to tell the truth, I will cheerfully undertake not to tell any lies.

-November 6, 1909, Illustrated London News

Friday, May 6, 2011

"To put the matter in one metaphor, the sexes are two stubborn pieces of iron; if they are to be welded together, it must be while they are red-hot."

Very few people ever state properly the strong argument in favour of marrying for love or against marrying for money. The argument is not that all lovers are heroes and heroines, nor is it that all dukes are profligates or all millionaires cads. The argument is this, that the differences between a man and a woman are at the best so obstinate and exasperating that they practically cannot be got over unless there is an atmosphere of exaggerated tenderness and mutual interest. To put the matter in one metaphor, the sexes are two stubborn pieces of iron; if they are to be welded together, it must be while they are red-hot. Every woman has to find out that her husband is a selfish beast, because every man is a selfish beast by the standard of a woman. But let her find out the beast while they are both still in the story of "Beauty and the Beast". Every man has to find out that his wife is cross--that is to say, sensitive to the point of madness: for every woman is mad by the masculine standard. But let him find out that she is mad while her madness is more worth considering than anyone else's sanity.

-The Common Man (collection originally published in 1950)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"But wit is a sword; it is meant to make people feel the point as well as see it."

The wit of Mark Twain was avowedly and utterly of the extravagant order. It had that quality of mad logic carried further and further into the void, a quality in which many strange civilizations are at one. It is a system of extremes, and all extremes meet in it; thus houses piled one on top of the other idea is the ideal of a flat in New York and of a pagoda in Pekin. Mark Twain was a master of this mad lucidity. He was a wit rather than a humorist; but I do not mean by this (as so many modern people will certainly fancy) that he was something less than a humorist. Possibly, I think, he was something more than a humorist. Humour, a subtle relish for the small incongruities of society is a thing that exists in many somewhat low society types, in many snobs and in some sneaks. Like the sense of music, it is exquisite and ethereal; but , like the sense of music, it can exist (somehow or other) in utter blackguards or even in utter blockheads; just as one often meets a fool who can really play the fiddle, so one often meets a fool who can really play the fool. But wit is a more manly excercise than fiddling or fooling; wit requires an intelllectual athleticism, because it is akin to logic. A wit must have something of the same running, working, and staying power as a mathematician or a metaphysician. Moreover, wit is a fighting thing and a working thing. A man may enjoy humour all by himself; he may see a joke when no one else sees it; he may see the point and avoid it. But wit is a sword; it is meant to make people feel the point as well as see it. All honest people saw the point of Mark Twain's wit. Not a few dishonest people felt it.

-A Handful of Authors (collection first published in 1953)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"He is something far more convincing, far more comforting, far more religiously significant than an optimist: he is a happy man."

Now the supreme value of Browning as an optimist lies in this that we have been examining, that beyond all his conclusions, and deeper than all his arguments, he was passionately interested in and in love with existence. If the heavens had fallen, and all the waters of the earth run with blood, he would still have been interested in existence, if possible a little more so. He is a great poet of human joy for precisely the reason of which Mr. Santayana complains: that his happiness is primal, and beyond the reach of philosophy.

This happiness he finds, as every man must find happiness, in his own way. He does not find the great part of his joy in those matters in which most poets find felicity. He finds much of it in those matters in which most poets find ugliness and vulgarity. He is to a considerable extent the poet of towns. "Do you care for nature much?" a friend of his asked him. "Yes, a great deal," he said, "but for human beings a great deal more." Nature, with its splendid and soothing sanity, has the power of convincing most poets of the essential worthiness of things. There are few poets who, if they escaped from the rowdiest waggonette of trippers, could not be quieted again and exalted by dropping into a small wayside field. The speciality of Browning is rather that he would have been quieted and exalted by the waggonette.

To Browning, probably the beginning and end of all optimism was to be found in the faces in the street. To him they were all the masks of a deity, the heads of a hundred-headed Indian god of nature. Each one of them looked towards some quarter of the heavens, not looked upon by any other eyes. Each one of them wore some expression, some blend of eternal joy and eternal sorrow, not to be found in any other countenance. The sense of the absolute sanctity of human difference was the deepest of all his senses. He was hungrily interested in all human things, but it would have been quite impossible to have said of him that he loved humanity. He did not love humanity but men. His sense of the difference between one man and another would have made the thought of melting them into a lump called humanity simply loathsome and prosaic. It would have been to him like playing four hundred beautiful airs at once. The mixture would not combine all, it would lose all. Browning believed that to every man that ever lived upon this earth had been given a definite and peculiar confidence of God. Each one of us was engaged on secret service; each one of us had a peculiar message; each one of us was the founder of a religion. Of that religion our thoughts, our faces, our bodies, our hats, our boots, our tastes, our virtues, and even our vices, were more or less fragmentary and inadequate expressions.

-Robert Browning (1903)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"We believe that you can have too much of a good thing -- a blasphemous belief, which at one blow wrecks all the heavens that men have hoped for."

To every man alive, one must hope, it has in some manner happened that he has talked with his more fascinating friends round a table on some night when all the numerous personalities unfolded themselves like great tropical flowers. All fell into their parts as in some delightful impromptu play. Every man was more himself than he had ever been in this vale of tears. Every man was a beautiful caricature of himself. The man who has known such nights will understand the exaggerations of "Pickwick." The man who has not known such nights will not enjoy "Pickwick" nor (I imagine) heaven. For, as I have said, Dickens is, in this matter, close to popular religion, which is the ultimate and reliable religion. He conceives an endless joy; he conceives creatures as permanent as Puck or Pan -- creatures whose will to live æons upon æons cannot satisfy. He is not come, as a writer, that his creatures may copy life and copy its narrowness; he is come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. It is absurd indeed that Christians should be called the enemies of life because they wish life to last for ever; it is more absurd still to call the old comic writers dull because they wished their unchanging characters to last for ever. Both popular religion, with its endless joys, and the old comic story, with its endless jokes, have in our time faded together. We are too weak to desire that undying vigour. We believe that you can have too much of a good thing -- a blasphemous belief, which at one blow wrecks all the heavens that men have hoped for. The grand old defiers of God were not afraid of an eternity of torment. We have come to be afraid of an eternity of joy. It is not my business here to take sides in this division between those who like life and long novels and those who like death and short stories; my only business is to point out that those who see in Dickens's unchanging characters and recurring catch-words a mere stiffness and lack of living movement miss the point and nature of his work. His tradition is another tradition altogether; his aim is another aim altogether to those of the modern novelists who trace the alchemy of experience and the autumn tints of character. He is there, like the common people of all ages, to make deities; he is there, as I have said, to exaggerate life in the direction of life. The spirit he at bottom celebrates is that of two friends drinking wine together and talking through the night. But for him they are two deathless friends talking through an endless night and pouring wine from an inexhaustible bottle.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. quoting GKC

‎Without dependence on God our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night. Unless his spirit pervades our lives, we find only what G.K. Chesterton called "cures that don't cure, blessings that don't bless, and solutions that don't solve."

-Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love (1963)

"Even where his view was not the highest truth, it was always a refreshing and beneficent heresy."

Thus it was with Carlyle: he startled men by attacking not arguments but assumptions. He simply brushed aside all the matters which the men of the nineteenth century held to be incontrovertible, and appealed directly to the very different class of matters which they knew to be true. He induced men to study less the truth of their reasoning, and more the truth of the assumptions upon which they reasoned. Even where his view was not the highest truth, it was always a refreshing and beneficent heresy. He denied every one of the postulates upon which the age of reason based itself. He denied the theory of progress which assumed that we must be better off than the people of the twelfth century. Whether we were better than the people of the twelfth century according to him depended entirely upon whether we chose or deserved to be.

He denied every type and species of prop or association or support which threw the responsibility upon civilisation or society, or anything but the individual conscience. He has often been called a prophet. The real ground of the truth of this phrase is often neglected. Since the last era of purely religious literature, the era of English Puritanism, there has been no writer in whose eyes the soul stood so much alone.

Carlyle was, as we have suggested, a mystic, and mysticism was with him, as with all its genuine professors, only a transcendent form of common-sense. Mysticism and common-sense alike consist in a sense of the dominance of certain truths and tendencies which cannot be formally demonstrated or even formally named. Mysticism and common-sense are alike appeals to realities that we all know to be real, but which have no place in argument except as postulates

-Twelve Types (1902)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"...a new kind of bigotry"

I notice with some amusement, both in America and English literature, the rise of a new kind of bigotry. Bigotry does not consist in a man being convinced he is right; that is not bigotry, but sanity. Bigotry consists in a man being convinced that another man must be wrong in everything, because he is wrong in a particular belief; that he must be wrong, even in thinking that he honestly believes he is right.

-The Common Man (collection published in 1950)