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)

_____________________

"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.


Friday, July 29, 2011

"I was a great reader of novels until I began to review them, when I naturally left off reading them."

I was a great reader of novels until I began to review them, when I naturally left off reading them. I do not mean to admit that I did them any injustice; I studied and sampled them with the purpose of being strictly fair; but I do not call that `novel reading' in the old enchanting sense. If I read them thoroughly I still read them rapidly; which is quite against my instincts for the mere luxury of reading. When I was a boy and really had a new adventure story, when I was a young man and read my first few detective stories, I did not enjoy precipitation, but actually enjoyed delay. The pleasure was so intense that I was always putting it off. For it is one of the two or three big blunders in modern morality to suppose that the strongest eagerness expresses itself in extravagance. The strongest eagerness always expresses itself in thrift. That is why the French Revolution was French and not English; why the careful peasants have turned the world upside-down, while the careless labourers have cheerfully left it as it was. When a child's soul is in the most starry ecstasy of greed he desires to have his cake, not to eat it. I am English myself, and I have never managed to be thrifty about anything else.

-April 7, 1911, T.P.'s Weekly, "Novel-Reading"

Found in The Spice of Life and Other Essays (collection of essays first published in 1964)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Clapham, like every other earthly city, is built upon a volcano."

Clapham, like every other earthly city, is built upon a volcano. Thousands of people go to and fro in the wilderness of bricks and mortar, earning mean wages, professing a mean religion, wearing a mean attire, thousands of women who have never found any expression for their exaltation or their tragedy but to go on working harder and yet harder at dull and automatic employments, at scolding children or stitching shirts. But out of all these silent ones one suddenly became articulate, and spoke a resonant testimony, and her name was Charlotte Bronte. Spreading around us upon every side to-day like a huge and radiating geometrical figure are the endless branches of the great city. There are times when we are almost stricken crazy, as well we may be, by the multiplicity of those appalling perspectives, the frantic arithmetic of that unthinkable population. But this thought of ours is in truth nothing but a fancy. There are no chains of houses; there are no crowds of men. The colossal diagram of streets and houses is an illusion, the opium dream of a speculative builder. Each of these men is supremely solitary and supremely important to himself. Each of these houses stands in the centre of the world. There is no single house of all those millions which has not seemed to some one at some time the heart of all things and the end of travel.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Perhaps [Shaw's] only pure paradox is this...he has tended to think that because something has satisfied generations of men it must be untrue."

Let it be remembered that I am not discussing in what degree one should allow for tradition; I am saying that men like Shaw do not allow for it at all. If Shaw had found in early life that he was contradicted by Bradshaw's Railway Guide or even by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he would have felt at least that he might be wrong. But if he had found himself contradicted by his father and mother, he would have thought it all the more probable that he was right. If the issue of the last evening paper contradicted him he might be troubled to investigate or explain. That the human tradition of two thousand years contradicted him did not trouble him for an instant. That Marx was not with him was important. That Man was not with him was an irrelevant prehistoric joke. People have talked far too much about the paradoxes of Bernard Shaw. Perhaps his only pure paradox is this almost unconscious one; that he has tended to think that because something has satisfied generations of men it must be untrue.

-George Bernard Shaw (1909)

Monday, July 25, 2011

"This is the essential mark of tyranny: that it is always new."

This is the essential mark of tyranny: that it is always new. Tyranny always enters by the unguarded gate. The tyrant is always shy and unobtrusive. The tyrant is always a traitor. He has always come there on the pretence that he was protecting something which people really wanted protected--religion, or public justice, or patriotic glory. Men staring at the Armada; did not watch the King; so they strengthened the King. Later when they watched the King they unconsciously strengthened the aristocracy. Again, when they attacked the aristocracy, they did not watch the big merchants who were attacking it-- and who wanted watching. All tyrannies are new tyrannies. There are no such things really as old tyrannies; there are hardly any such things as old superstitions.

There is one moral to these evident facts of history. When you look for tyrants, do not look for them among the obvious types that have oppressed men in the past--the king, the priest, or the soldier. If you do, you are merely looking at the Spanish Armada while England is being turned into a despotism behind your back. Monarchy was once a popular organ; yet it was turned against the people. Remember that newspapers are popular organs that may be turned against the people. Whatever the new tyrant is, he will not wear the exact uniform of the old tyrant.

-June 13, 1908, Daily News, "A Theory of Tyrants"

Found in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (collection of essays first published in 1975)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Marriage is a duel to the death, which no man of honour should decline."

"A modern man," said Dr. Cyrus Pym, "must, if he be thoughtful, approach the problem of marriage with some caution. Marriage is a stage -- doubtless a suitable stage -- in the long advance of mankind towards a goal which we cannot as yet conceive; which we are not, perhaps, as yet fitted even to desire. What, gentlemen, is the ethical position of marriage? Have we outlived it?"

"Outlived it?" broke out Moon; "why, nobody's ever survived it! Look at all the people married since Adam and Eve -- and all as dead as mutton."

"This is no doubt an inter-pellation joc'lar in its character," said Dr. Pym frigidly. "I cannot tell what may be Mr. Moon's matured and ethical view of marriage --"

"I can tell," said Michael savagely, out of the gloom. "Marriage is a duel to the death, which no man of honour should decline."

-Manalive (1912)

Friday, July 22, 2011

"At the beginning of our epoch men talked with equal ease about Reform and Repeal. Now everybody talks about reform; but nobody talks about repeal."

At the beginning of our epoch men talked with equal ease about Reform and Repeal. Now everybody talks about reform; but nobody talks about repeal...In those days people talked of a "Repealer" as the most practical of all politicians, the kind of politician that carries a club. Now the Repealer is flung far into the province of an impossible idealism: and the leader of one of our great parties, having said, in a heat of temporary sincerity, that he would repeal an Act, actually had to write to all the papers to assure them that he would only amend it... The note of the age is to suggest that the past may just as well be praised, since it cannot be mended. Men actually in that past have toiled like ants and died like locusts to undo some previous settlement that seemed secure; but we cannot do so much as repeal an Act of Parliament. We entertain the weak-minded notion that what is done can't be undone.

-Eugenics and Other Evils (1922)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"...but when once they were told that democracy was established, they shut their eyes and went to sleep."

GKC quote found via the American Chesterton Society's Facebook page:

Men kept an eye on despotism and they kept an eye on aristocracy; but when once they were told that democracy was established, they shut their eyes and went to sleep.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Knowing nine hundred words is not always more important than knowing what some of them mean."

Knowing nine hundred words is not always more important than knowing what some of them mean.

-Irish Impressions (1919)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"For it was the whole point of the Christian revolution to maintain that in this, good government was as bad as bad."

Rome was regarded as Man, mighty, though fallen, because it was the utmost that Man had done. It was divinely necessary that the Roman Empire should succeed--if only that it might fail. Hence the school of Dante implied the paradox that the Roman soldiers killed Christ, not only by right, but even by divine right. That mere law might fail at its highest test it had to be real law, and not mere military lawlessness. Therefore God worked by Pilate as by Peter. Therefore the mediaeval poet is eager to show that Roman government was simply good government, and not a usurpation. For it was the whole point of the Christian revolution to maintain that in this, good government was as bad as bad. Even good government was not good enough to know God among the thieves. This is not only generally important as involving a colossal change in the conscience; the loss of the whole heathen repose in the complete sufficiency of the city or the state. It made a sort of eternal rule enclosing an eternal rebellion.

-A Short History of England (1917)

Friday, July 15, 2011

H.G. Wells on G.K. Chesterton

H.G. Wells and G.K. Chesterton, despite their immense disagreements on many matters, nevertheless maintained a very close friendship with each other, and here are some quotes by Wells himself (found in Maisie Ward's 1943 biography of GKC) relating to that which I wished to share. :-)

"From first to last [Chesterton] and I were very close friends...I never knew anyone so true to form as G.K.C." [written after Chesterton's death]

"No one ever had enmity for [Chesterton] except some literary men who did not know him." [said to Maisie Ward]

"...nothing would delight me more than a controversy with G.K.C., whom indeed I adore" [to Frances Chesterton]

In a letter to Chesterton himself:

"If after all my Atheology turns out wrong and your Theology right I feel I shall always be able to pass into Heaven (if I want to) as a friend of G.K.C.'s. Bless you."

Finally, H.G. Wells's own account of an incident narrated on this blog before.

"I once saw [Henry] James quarrelling with his brother William James, the psychologist. He had lost his calm; he was terribly unnerved. He appealed to me, to me of all people, to adjudicate on what was and what was not permissible in England. William was arguing about it in an indisputably American accent, with an indecently naked reasonableness. I had come to Rye with a car to fetch William James and his daughter to my home at Sandgate. William had none of Henry's passionate regard for the polish upon the surface of life and he was immensely excited by the fact that in the little Rye inn, which had its garden just over the high brick wall of the garden of Lamb House, G.K. Chesterton was staying. William James had corresponded with our vast contemporary and he sorely wanted to see him. So with a scandalous directness he had put the gardener's ladder against that ripe red wall and clambered up and peeped over!

Henry had caught him at it. It was the sort of thing that isn't done. It was most emphatically the sort of thing that isn't done...Henry instructed the gardener to put away that ladder and William was looking thoroughly naughty about it.

To Henry's manifest relief, I carried William off and in the road just outside the town we ran against the Chestertons who had been for a drive in Romney Marsh; Chesterton was heated and I think rather swollen by the sunshine; he seemed to overhang his one-horse fly; he descended slowly but firmly; he was moist and steamy but cordial; we chatted in the road and William got his coveted impression."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Sword of Surprise

The Sword of Surprise

Sunder me from my bones, O sword of God
Till they stand stark and strange as do the trees;
That I whose heart goes up with the soaring woods
May marvel as much at these.

Sunder me from my blood that in the dark
I hear that red ancestral river run
Like branching buried floods that find the sea
But never see the sun.

Give me miraculous eyes to see my eyes
Those rolling mirrors made alive in me
Terrible crystals more incredible
Than all the things they see

Sunder me from my soul, that I may see
The sins like streaming wounds, the life's brave beat
Till I shall save myself as I would save
A stranger in the street.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Nature is as free as air: art is forced to look probable."

Around "Little Nell," of course, a controversy raged and rages; some implored Dickens not to kill her at the end of the story: some regret that he did not kill her at the beginning. To me the chief interest in this young person lies in the fact that she is an example, and the most celebrated example of what must have been, I think, a personal peculiarity, perhaps, a personal experience of Dickens. There is, of course, no paradox at all in saying that if we find in a good book a wildly impossible character it is very probable indeed that it was copied from a real person. This is one of the commonplaces of good art criticism. For although people talk of the restraints of fact and the freedom of fiction, the case for most artistic purposes is quite the other way. Nature is as free as air: art is forced to look probable. There may be a million things that do happen, and yet only one thing that convinces us is likely to happen. Out of a million possible things there may be only one appropriate thing. I fancy, therefore, that many stiff, unconvincing characters are copied from the wild freak-show of real life.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In one of Stevenson's letters there is a characteristically humorous remark about the appalling impression produced on him in childhood by the beasts with many eyes in the Book of Revelations: "If that was heaven, what in the name of Davy Jones was hell like?" Now in sober truth there is a magnificent idea in these monsters of the Apocalypse. It is, I suppose, the idea that beings really more beautiful or more universal than we are might appear to us frightful and even confused. Especially they might seem to have senses at once more multiplex and more staring; an idea very imaginatively seized in the multitude of eyes. I like those monsters beneath the throne very much. It is when one of them goes wandering in deserts and finds a throne for himself that evil faiths begin, and there is (literally) the devil to pay-to pay in dancing girls or human sacrifice. As long as those misshapen elemental powers are around the throne, remember that the thing that they worship is the likeness of the appearance of a man.

-Alarms and Discursions (1910)

Monday, July 11, 2011

"But when men come face to face with war they are a little more ready for war- and a little less fond of it."

DR. PAUL: What on earth is the matter?

THE COLONEL:The infernal dogs! The damned-

MR. DESMOND [springing]: What do you mean? [looks over his shoulder] "Outrage by Russians on the Dogger Bank. British fishing-smack sunk!" Why, great God, Bartram, it's war! This is horrible!

THE COLONEL: Why I thought, Desmond, that war was a delightful game and Donnybrook-

MR. DESMOND: Don't play the fool. This is serious. I suppose we can avoid war, but-

DR. PAUL: It looks frightfully bad. If they deliberately fired on an English boat, how can we-

THE COLONEL: I thought, Doctor, that war was a crime everywhere and always?

DR. PAUL [furiously]: Oh, this is serious, my man.

THE COLONEL: Yes, and that is more, I think, than your theories were. That war is always jolly is a nice little theory. That war is always wicked is a nice little theory. But when men come face to face with war they are a little more ready for war- and a little less fond of it.

-Time's Abstract and Brief Chronicle (1904-1905)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"If there be such a thing as being too sane for this world, Christ certainly was that."

The ideals of the founder of Christianity may be unsuitable to this world, but that is simply because, as all saints and philosophers have perceived, this world is off its head. It is not so much Christianity that is unworkable, it is humanity that is unworkmanlike. No, I do not blame the bells for being in such a state of excitement. If anything can be called a god why not call that a god which said things which are so simple that nobody could understand them- which were so true that nobody could believe them- which were so generous that nobody could forgive them? If there be such a thing as being too sane for this world, Christ certainly was that.

-Time's Abstract and Brief Chronicle (1904-1905)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese

There (after trifling with beef, mutton, puddings, pies, and so on) I got a Stilton cheese. I was so much moved by my memories that I wrote a sonnet to the cheese. Some critical friends have hinted to me that my sonnet is not strictly new; that it contains "echoes" (as they express it) of some other poem that they have read somewhere. Here, at least, are the lines I wrote:

SONNET TO A STILTON CHEESE

Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I—
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.

Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading 'Household Words',
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

I confess I feel myself as if some literary influence, something that has haunted me, were present in this otherwise original poem; but it is hopeless to disentangle it now.

-A Miscellany of Men (1912)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it."

This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it's elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

"Most of our knowledge is based upon dreams, which we have taken as the most reliable evidence scientifically possible."

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book Peace of Soul (1949) while discussing an extreme form of Freudianism which interprets everything in terms of sex, quoted the following satire that appeared in G.K.'s Weekly. (In another book the Archbishop attributed the satire directly to Chesterton, who wrote a lot of the material in that newspaper, of course.). This quote appears on p. 120 in my edition of Peace of Soul.

I had never come across this satire until tonight, but I found it humorous. :-)

It is now an established fact that all human motive and action is due to Beer; not merely among adults but also among children...

The whole life of a child (of either sex) is actuated by Beer. The first action of which a child is capable is a lusty yell; we have established that this is no less than a cry for Beer, or at any rate for some kind of drink. The next action of the child is to drink. If it does not drink beer it is because its system is not yet capable of drinking beer. But behind the relish of milk is the desire for beer. These we call the primary instincts. The secondary instincts are to be found in the love of popping corks, of yellow-brown colours, of frothy substances (like soup), and so on. The child instinctively calls his father Papa (which represents the popping of the cork), and his mother Mamma (which gives the noise of the liquid being poured into a glass). All the gurgling noises of childhood go to prove the strength of the instinct...

Most of our knowledge is based upon dreams, which we have taken as the most reliable evidence scientifically possible. We know (by means too long and elaborate to tell here) that even very young children dream about beer; nay, more, that they dream about nothing else. When a child dreams of a boat upon a lake, what is it but a symbol of beer? Of a shower of rain, a river, a sea? Everything yellow or brown is beer. Everything frothy or sparkling is beer. Everything in something else is beer (a nut in its shell, for example, is obviously representative of beer in the bottle). Everything issuing from an aperture is beer. Everything that moves is beer, particularly quick-moving, jerky things, which are reminiscent of "hops." In fact, we may say that the child cannot dream of anything but beer. There is no dream possible but beer....

Here is an example. The patient was Miss X. She came to us in great trouble. "My nerves are all gone to pieces," she said. "I want you to help me." Professor Bosh questioned her, and kept her under observation. He discovered that before going to bed she was in the habit of brushing her hair. "The brush was of an amber colour, and was transparent. The patient would raise it slowly to her lips, pause and then proceed to brush her hair. This was quite unconscious. In reply to my questions it transpired that several years before she had been forbidden by the family doctor to drink anything alcoholic. She had been in the habit of taking a glass of ale every night at supper." Professor Bosh explained this to her, and at once convinced her of its truth. She submitted herself to treatment, and was soon perfectly well and strong.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Neil Gaiman on GKC

Neil Gaiman on GKC:

...The first Chesterton book I found there was The Complete Father Brown Stories....Chesterton was important — as important to me in his way as C.S. Lewis had been.

...I was always aware, reading Chesterton, that there was someone writing this who rejoiced in words, who deployed them on the page as an artist deploys his paints upon his palette. Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight.

Father Brown, that prince of humanity and empathy, was a gateway drug into the harder stuff, this being a one-volume collection of three novels: The Napoleon of Notting Hill (my favourite piece of predictive 1984 fiction, and one that hugely informed my own novel Neverwhere), The Man Who Was Thursday (the prototype of all Twentieth Century spy stories, as well as being a Nightmare, and a theological delight), and lastly The Flying Inn (which had some excellent poetry in it, but which struck me, as an eleven-year old, as being oddly small-minded. I suspected that Father Brown would have found it so as well.) Then there were the poems and the essays and the art.

Chesterton and Tolkien and Lewis were, as I’ve said, not the only writers I read between the ages of six and thirteen, but they were the authors I read over and over again; each of them played a part in building me. Without them, I cannot imagine that I would have become a writer, and certainly not a writer of fantastic fiction...

And without those three writers, I would not be here today...

Mythcon 35 Guest of Honor Speech

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

" I have lived many years now under this meteor of a fixed Apocalypse.."

...I raised my eyes, and at the next moment shut them, as at a blow. High in the empty air blazed and streamed a great fire, which burnt and blinded me every time I raised my eyes to it. I have lived many years now under this meteor of a fixed Apocalypse, but I have never survived the feelings of that moment. Men eat and drink, buy and sell, marry, are given in marriage, and all the time there is something in the sky at which they cannot look. They must be very brave.

-"A Crazy Tale" (1896)

[Found in volume XIV of The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton]

Monday, July 4, 2011

"...the cry went forth that freedom is an eagle, whose glory is gazing at the sun."

It would be the worst sort of insincerity, therefore, to conclude even so hazy an outline of so great and majestic a matter as the American democratic experiment, without testifying my belief that to this also the same ultimate test will come. So far as that democracy becomes or remains Catholic and Christian, that democracy will remain democratic. In so far as it does not, it will become wildly and wickedly undemocratic. Its rich will riot with a brutal indifference far beyond the feeble feudalism which retains some shadow of responsibility or at least of patronage. Its wage-slaves will either sink into heathen slavery, or seek relief in theories that are destructive not merely in method but in aim; since they are but the negations of the human appetites of property and personality. Eighteenth-century ideals, formulated in eighteenth-century language, have no longer in themselves the power to hold all those pagan passions back. Even those documents depended upon Deism; their real strength will survive in men who are still Deists; and the men who are still Deists are more than Deists. Men will more and more realise that there is no meaning in democracy if there is no meaning in anything; and that there is no meaning in anything if the universe has not a centre of significance and an authority that is the author of our rights. There is truth in every ancient fable, and there is here even something of it in the fancy that finds the symbol of the Republic in the bird that bore the bolts of Jove. Owls and bats may wander where they will in darkness, and for them as for the sceptics the universe may have no centre; kites and vultures may linger as they like over carrion, and for them as for the plutocrats existence may have no origin and no end; but it was far back in the land of legends, where instincts find their true images, that the cry went forth that freedom is an eagle, whose glory is gazing at the sun.

-What I Saw in America (1922)

"Slang is too sacred...to be used promiscuously. Its use should be led up to reverently for it expresses what the King's English could not."

Slang is too sacred and precious to be used promiscuously. Its use should be led up to reverently for it expresses what the King's English could not

-Quoted in Maisie Ward's biography Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Snobs say they have the right kind of hat; prigs say they have the right kind of head."

...I mean that he proves nothing; he simply gives you all his cocksure, and yet shaky, modern opinions and calls it science. Books are coming out with so-called scientific conclusions- books in which there is actually no scientific argument at all. They simply affirm all the notions that happen to be fashionable in loose "intellectual" clubs, and call them the conclusions of research. But I am no more awed by the flying fashions among prigs than I am by the flying fashions among snobs. Snobs say they have the right kind of hat; prigs say they have the right kind of head. But in both cases I should like some evidence beyond their own habit of staring at themselves in the glass.

-December 12, 1908, Illustrated London News

Friday, July 1, 2011

"When the chord of monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks with a sound like song."

He discovered the fact that all romantics know...that adventures happen on dull days, and not on sunny ones. When the chord of monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks with a sound like song

-The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)