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.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life."

...my contempt boils over into bad behaviour when I hear the common suggestion that a birth is avoided because people want to be "free" to go to the cinema or buy a gramophone or a loud-speaker. What makes me want to walk over such people like doormats is that they use the word "free." By every act of that sort they chain themselves to the most servile and mechanical system yet tolerated by men. The cinema is a machine for unrolling certain regular patterns called pictures; expressing the most vulgar millionaires' notion of the taste of the most vulgar millions. The gramophone is a machine for recording such tunes as certain shops and other organisations choose to sell. The wireless is better; but even that is marked by the modern mark of all three; the impotence of the receptive party. The amateur cannot challenge the actor; the householder will find it vain to go and shout into the gramophone; the mob cannot pelt the modern speaker, especially when he is a loud-speaker. It is all a central mechanism giving out to men exactly what their masters think they should have.

Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. They can feel that any amusement he gives (which is often considerable) really comes from him and from them, and from nobody else. He has been born without the intervention of any master or lord. He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation. He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines. When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world. People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life. They are preferring the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things of our dying Capitalist civilisation, to the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilisation. It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.
-The Wells and the Shallows (1935)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Chesterton's Poem "The House of Christmas", read at King's College, Cambridge (2013)



There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult. And as grown-up people hardly ever think of being grateful for the sun and moon and their own souls and bodies, it is easy to excuse the immature for finding it difficult to say thank you for a bag of sweets.

-December 28, 1935, Illustrated London News
H/T to this G.K. Chesterton Facebook page

Friday, December 27, 2013

Al Capone takes Chesterton for a Ride

An interesting anecdote which I had never heard of before, related by Neville Braybrooke, son of Patrick Braybrooke (the latter a cousin and biographer of Chesterton.)
In a short memoir that my father published in 1938 after Chesterton's death, he refers to G.K.'s sense of fun and love of the ridiculous. His high-pitched laughter I can still recall. So, too, can my wife, who lived as a child in a flat in Westminster next to the Chesterton's. Her mother and Mrs. G.K. became close friends. The following story, which has never been published before, occurred in Assisi in the 1920s. Staying at the same hotel as the Chesterton's was a charming American-Italian called Mr. Capone; he had a large comfortable car and offered to drive the English couple to see the local shrines, including the Carceri and La Verna. Only in 1929 did Chesterton discover from a photograph in the newspapers, after the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago, that their nice American friend- "our Mr. Capone" as G.K. called him- was none other than the famous American gangster, Al Capone.
-from the December 21-28 issue of The Tablet, and quoted in the August 1986 issue of The Chesterton Review (p. 400)

Update: Here's a link to the same article online in the archives of The Tablet

In any case, I'm not quite sure how a trip to Assisi would fit chronologically as far Chesterton is concerned, or if there is some confusion (as for Capone I know nothing at all). Perhaps the story is apocryphal, though given the closeness of the source, I hesitate to state that, either. But this was too good of an anecdote for me not to mention it.

"There never was an age so critical about authority.But there never was an age so entirely uncritical about anything without authority."

One of the most curious things we must all have noticed nowadays is that people will not accept a statement if it is made upon authority, but they will accept the same statement if it is made without any authority at all. If you say: "But you know it says in the Bible that palm-trees spread leprosy" (I hasten to add that it doesn't), most modern people will not only doubt it but dismiss it as some old Semitic superstition. But if you say, "Don't you know that palm-trees spread leprosy?" you will meet your most cultivated friends ostentatiously avoiding palm-trees for months afterwards.

If you say, "The Pope tells us that walking on our heels will promote virtue," your hearers will only regard it as another extravagance of a dying asceticism. But if you say, without any authority at all, "Virtue, you know, can be promoted by walking on the heels," you will detect numbers of your fashionable acquaintances making the attempt: those of them, I mean, who are in pursuit of virtue [...] This is owing to the great tyranny of our time, which is the tyranny of suggestion. There never was an age so critical about authority. But there never was an age so entirely uncritical about anything without authority.

-Hearst's International, volume 24 (1913)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Pope Francis quotes GKC

Recently Pope Francis quoted Chesterton, as reported in this link on the Vatican's website (Well, an allusion, as far as I can make out for sure, not a direct quote, but still...):

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/cotidie/2013/en/papa-francesco-cotidie_20131205_words-mad_en.html
Pope Francis then recalled the prophet Isaiah who, in the first Reading (26:1-6) says: “Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord is an everlasting rock”. “The rock is Jesus Christ, the rock is the Lord. Our word is forceful, it bestows life, it continues on, it can tolerate any attack if this word is rooted in Jesus Christ”. However, he said, “a Christian word whose life-giving roots are not grounded in a person, in Jesus Christ, is a Christian word without Christ. And Christian words without Christ deceive, they do harm”.

The Pontiff then quoted the English author G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), when speaking about heresy once said that a heresy is a truth, a word, a truth gone mad. “When Christian words lack Christ, they begin to head down the road of madness”. The prophet Isaiah, he added, clearly describes the nature of this madness. He says: “The Lord is an everlasting rock. For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city” (26:4-5). “The inhabitants of the height. A Christian word without Christ leads to vanity, to self assuredness, to pride, and to power for power’s sake. And the Lord brings these people low”.
Presumably the Pope is making reference is to the third chapter of Orthodoxy:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. For example, Mr. Blatchford attacks Christianity because he is mad on one Christian virtue: the merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity. He has a strange idea that he will make it easier to forgive sins by saying that there are no sins to forgive. Mr. Blatchford is not only an early Christian, he is the only early Christian who ought really to have been eaten by lions. For in his case the pagan accusation is really true: his mercy would mean mere anarchy. He really is the enemy of the human race -- because he is so human. At the other extreme, we may take the acrid realist, who has deliberately killed in himself all human pleasure in happy tales or in the healing of the heart. Torquemada tortured people physically for the sake of moral truth. Zola tortured people morally for the sake of physical truth. But in Torquemada's time there was at least a system that could to some extent make righteousness and peace kiss each other. Now they do not even bow.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

There were three things prefigured and promised by the gifts in the cave of Bethlehem concerning the Child who received them; that He should be crowned like a King: that He should be worshipped like a God; and that He should die like a man. And these things would sound like Eastern flattery, were it not for the third.

-G. K.’s Weekly, December 12th, 1931
quoted in  Quoted in The Man Who Was Orthodox: A Selection from the Uncollected Writings of G.  K. Chesterton, collected by A.L. Maycock (1963)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Thou Shalt Not Kill

I had grown weary of him; of his breath
And hands and features I was sick to death.
Each day I heard the same dull voice and tread;
I did not hate him: but I wished him dead.
And he must with his blank face fill my life -
Then my brain blackened; and I snatched a knife.

But ere I struck, my soul's grey deserts through
A voice cried, 'Know at least what thing you do.'
'This is a common man: knowest thou, O soul,
What this thing is? somewhere where seasons roll
There is some living thing for whom this man
Is as seven heavens girt into a span,
For some one soul you take the world away -
Now know you well your deed and purpose. Slay!'

Then I cast down the knife upon the ground
And saw that mean man for one moment crowned.
I turned and laughed: for there was no one by -
The man that I had sought to slay was I.

-The Wild Knight and Other Poems (1900)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chesterton's first essay published in The Debater, written when he was 16

DRAGONS: A SKETCH

The dragon is certainly the most cosmopolitan of impossibilities. His eccentric figure has walked through the romances of all ages and of all nations. It is a noticeable fact that many races, far separated by oceans and by ages and differing in language, customs, and surroundings, have nevertheless evolved similar creatures in the realm of the imagination. In nearly all legends, Greek, Norse, Celtic, Semetic, Mediaeval, and Japanese, this clay intruder has appeared from the earliest times, and appeared apparently with the sole object of being killed, whether by the lance of St. George, the club of Herakles, the sword of Siegfried, or the arrows of Hiawatha. We have even seen a dragon, together with some other dubious looking quadrupeds, in the arabesques of Mohammedans, who have usually, as the reader doubtless knows, a religious objection founded on the literal interpretation of the Second Commandment, against "making to themselves a graven image" of life in any form. The worthy Moslems had, however, doubtless something to say for themselves, for we will willingly acquit the quadrupeds thus represented from being "the likeness of anything that is in heaven above or in the earth beneath or in the waters under the earth."

As to the traditional exterior of this attractive creature, there are remarkably few discrepancies. The Darwinian theory of physical adaptation to surroundings may have acted to some extent in the fanciful as well as the natural world, and produced local varieties of the dragon suited to local scenery and tradition, but, on the whole, he remains the same when writhing under the red cross of St. Michael in a Gothic stained glass window as when he wriggles blue and complicated on the
golden banner of the celestial empire.

We will not attempt to explain the popularity of this strange conception. We will not undertake to say whether the Dragon is simply an exaggerated serpent, the Python and Hydra of Hellenic myth, or whether his widespread prominence be due to some dim, pre-historic recollection of those dragon-like ptero-dactyles and ichthisauri, who were the placid spectators of the creation of Adam; all these are questions for more abstruse discourses than this our humble contribution.

But whatever its origin, the dragon usually consists of the body of a lizard, the claws of an eagle, the wings of a bat, and a tail ending in that singular broad-arrow formation which seems to be reserved for the tails of dragons and the clothes of convicts. The head of this animal resembles to some extent that of an intoxicated crocodile. I do not mean to so far insult that excellent and respectable class of reptiles as to say that I ever saw a crocodile in an inebriate state. I simply mean that the few crocodiles I have seen were so inexpressibly wooden and dingy in appearance that I can imagine nothing but the cheerful glass that could excite them to the state of leering malignity which is the recognized expression of dragons under all circumstances.

But though we cannot give an explanation of the union of the external peculiarities of the dragon, the spirit and meaning of the conception is obvious. The idea of a huge, hideous, and powerful incarnation of evil, desolating countries and devouring
populations, is a conception that has been an important moral influence in poetical mythology, particularly in that of the earlier and purer Greeks, as is finely expressed in Charles Kingsley's poem-

"Heroes who dare, in the God-given might of their manhood,
Bravely to do and to suffer, and far in the fens and the forests
Smite the devours of men, heaven-hated brood of the giants,
Twy-formed, strange, without like, who obey not the golden-haired rulers;
Vainly rebelling they rage, till they die by the swords of the heroes.


Thus the archaic poet pictured, and thus the legendary hero sought him in the black depths of dark and mystic forests, in twilight fens, and on burning sands, lifting his horrible crest over dismal turrets, or lurking in gloomy caverns heaped with bleached bones.

He has grown more prudent now.

He doesn't see the good of going about as a roaring lion, but seeks what he may devour in a quiet and respectable way, behind many illustrious names and many imposing disguises. Behind the scarlet coat and epaulettes, behind the star and mantle of the garter, behind the ermine tippet and the counsellor's robe, behind, alas, the black coat and white tie, behind many a respectable exterior in public and in private life, we fear that the dragon's flaming eyes and grinning jaws, his tyrannous power, and his infernal cruelty, sometimes lurk.

Reader, when you or I meet him, under whatever disguise, may we face him boldly, and perhaps rescue a few captives from his black cavern; may we bear a brave lance and a spotless shield through the crashing mele'e of life's narrow lists, and may our wearied swords have struck fiercely on the painted crests of Imposture and Injustice when the Dark Herald comes to lead us to the pavilion of the King.

G.K.C.

THE DEBATER.
JOURNAL OF THE JUNIOR DEBATING SOCIETY.
EDITED BY THE SECRETARY.
VOL. I.
MARCH-APRIL, 1891.

LONDON:
PRINTED BY J.W. WAKEHAM, 4, BEDFORD TERRACE, KENSINGTON

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

...the essence of poetry is the fruitfulness of human limitations

-December 20, 1913, Illustrated London News

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Conjurer. [Seriously.] There was little pleasure in her life.

Patricia. There is little, a very little, in everybody's. The question is, what kind? We can't turn life into a pleasure. But we can choose such pleasures as are worthy of us and our immortal souls.

-Magic (1913)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Before the visit was concluded there came to that small house containing so large a man a serious-miened delegation...They had come, their spokesman said between four-syllable coughs, to request Mr. Chesterton to accept the honorary post of under-sheriff for Bucks-Buckinghimashire County. Mr. Chesterton's roll-top torso writhed nervously. He shrank, he said, from honorary appointments of whatever kind. He bore not title to which he did not deliver duty. And would they be so good as to tell him the principle duty of an under-sheriff? The spokesman coughed and defined:

"To suppress riots against His Majesty's peace."

"Quite impossible," chanted Mr. Chesterton, for his speaking voice was a rising rhythm, cadenced and lofty. "It wouldn't do at all." He beamed explanatorily. "If there is ever any riot around here," he added, "I couldn't conscientiously suppress it, for I should be the principle rioter."


John B. Kennedy, June 28, 1936, New York Times
(quoted in Defiant Joy by Kevin Belmonte, pp. 270-271, [2011])

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"A man who says the last word on a subject ought to be killed. He is a murderer; he has slain a topic."

It may, perhaps, be wondered whether one could possibly say a worse thing of anybody than that he has said ‘the last word’ on a subject. A man who says the last word on a subject ought to be killed. He is a murderer; he has slain a topic. The best kind of critic draws attention not to the finality of a thing, but to its infinity. Instead of closing a question, he opens a hundred.

-quoted in Return to Chesterton (by Maisie Ward)

(h/t gkcdaily.blogspot.com)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"...only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticise the state."

There is a real relation between this religion in private and this revolution in public life. Stories none the less heroic for being hackneyed remind us that the [Roman] Republic was founded on a tyrannicide that avenged an insult to a wife; that the Tribunes of the people were re-established after another which avenged an insult to a daughter. The truth is that only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a standard or a status by which to criticise the state. They alone can appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city; the gods of the hearth.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The position we have now reached is this: starting from the State, we try to remedy the failures of all the families, all the nurseries, all the schools, all the workshops, all the secondary institutions that once had some authority of their own. Everything is ultimately brought into the Law Courts. We are trying to stop the leak at the other end.

-March 24, 1923, Illustrated London News (H/T  Hebdomadal Chesterton)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When good citizens have at last settled down peacefully under a law, it generally means that they have found a good way of evading it.

-May 17, 1913, Illustrated London News

Too few have noticed that scandal-mongering is the most popular kind of conversation simply because the most amusing subject in the world is morality

-The Fortnightly Review, volume 80 (1903)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same."

...the man we see every day -- the worker in Mr. Gradgrind's factory, the little clerk in Mr. Gradgrind's office -- he is too mentally worried to believe in freedom. He is kept quiet with revolutionary literature. He is calmed and kept in his place by a constant succession of wild philosophies. He is a Marxian one day, a Nietzscheite the next day, a Superman (probably) the next day; and a slave every day. The only thing that remains after all the philosophies is the factory. The only man who gains by all the philosophies is Gradgrind. It would be worth his while to keep his commercial helotry supplied with sceptical literature. And now I come to think of it, of course, Gradgrind is famous for giving libraries. He shows his sense. All modern books are on his side. As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.

This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed. Whistler used to make many rapid studies of a sitter; it did not matter if he tore up twenty portraits. But it would matter if he looked up twenty times, and each time saw a new person sitting placidly for his portrait. So it does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitless. The question therefore becomes this: How can we keep the artist discontented with his pictures while preventing him from being vitally discontented with his art? How can we make a man always dissatisfied with his work, yet always satisfied with working? How can we make sure that the portrait painter will throw the portrait out of window instead of taking the natural and more human course of throwing the sitter out of window?

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Monday, December 9, 2013

RUBBISH

This title, however true, is not a mere explosion of my literary modesty. It refers, not solely to the article itself, but also to a superb pile of wood, straw, tar, paper and every random substance which is erected in a field just beyond the end of my garden. It is, as you may guess, a Coronation bonfire; but we remote rustics have to write our articles months, so to speak, before the actual Coronation, and the pile is at present, unfinished and indeed deficient. I have ransacked house and garden for some time to find rubbish to assist the conflagration; and my eye has suddenly fallen on a pile of fine old quarterlies, works on agnosticism, etc. These I am carrying across to the bonfire. Do not fancy that when I speak of rubbish, I mean only the things that I dislike. I mean a particular kind of vagueness and verbiage which must be cut away and cleared before a man can deal with his real adversaries. I do not call Socialism rubbish; I call it a very powerful, plausible and dangerous drug. I do not call Imperialism rubbish; I call it poison. But I do call ‘true Imperialism’ rubbish and ‘true Socialism’ rubbish, for they amount to nothing more than a mild Pharisaism about one’s own marvellous merit in loving one’s country or being sorry for the poor. Nor would I treat as rubbish anything, however alien or fantastic, which had a positive significance of any sort. I would not throw into my bonfire the Crown of France or the Koran or the Lord’s Day Observance Act or the Stuart tartan. I should not see mere rubbish in things that meant something, even if we cannot now decipher what it was, as in obscure and perhaps frightful figures and legends that crumble on Assyrian bas-reliefs in Bloomsbury, or in that ring of rock that stands over Salisbury Plain like stones in the crown of some primordial king of giants. Nor again would I class as rubbish (in this sense) those other examples in which we can decipher the statements and see that they are untrue; as in the case of the Monument in Fish Street or the scientific works of Mr Haeckel.

But I mean things that never meant anything; I mean the statesmanlike pronouncements, the wide outlooks and the well-considered conclusions; I mean whole shelves of Hansard and whole stacks of the Higher Thought Review; all the leading articles that oscillate faintly between two unimportant opinions; all the public speakers who are ‘far from saying’ this or ‘the last to say’ that; all the servile compromises justified by ‘evolution’; all the things that ‘every thoughtful man’ is supposed to think; all the things ‘modern ideas’ are supposed somehow or other to involve; all the owlishly stupid ‘rebukes’ and ‘severe comments’ uttered by judges and statesmen in utterly artificial wrath against utterly insignificant things; all the streams of sentimentalism poured out when you turn the tap, in defence of the dirtiest convenience or the dullest hack politics; all the consciousness of the solemnity of the responsibility, all the realization of the reality of the tendency; in short, all that grows in that wilderness of pride and folly, where pomposity grows like tall grass and polysyllables crawl about like caterpillars...

But I must break off; because I have to carry all my modern problem novels and books of philosophy and high-class quarterly magazines across to the bonfire beyond the end of my garden.

-Daily News, June 24th, 1911
Quoted in The Man Who Was Orthodox" A Selection from the Uncollected Writings of G. K. Chesterton, collected by A.L. Maycock (1963

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Just wanted to link to a wonderful review of Orthodoxy which I happened to come across, and enjoyed greatly. :-)

"A Tribute to G.K. Chesterton"

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"...I would not exclude a story solely because it was true."

Tales of heroes are a part of religious education; they are meant to teach us that we have souls. But the inquiries of the historians into the eccentricities of every epoch are merely a part of political education; they are meant to teach us to avoid certain perils or solve certain problems in the complexity of practical affairs. It is the first duty of a boy to admire the glory of Trafalgar. It is the first duty of a grown man to question its utility. It is one question whether it was a good thing as an episode in the struggle between Pitt and the French Revolution. It is quite another matter that it was certainly a good thing in that immortal struggle between the son of man and all the unclean spirits of sloth and cowardice and despair. For the wisdom of man alters with every age; his prudence has to fit perpetually shifting shapes of inconvenience or dilemma. But his folly is immortal: a fire stolen from heaven.

Now, the little histories that we learnt as children were partly meant simply as inspiring stories. They largely consisted of tales like Alfred and the cakes or Eleanor and the poisoned wound. They ought to have consisted entirely of them. Little children ought to learn nothing but legends; they are the beginnings of all sound morals and manners. I would not be severe on the point: I would not exclude a story solely because it was true. But the essential on which I should insist would be, not that the tale must be true, but that the tale must be fine.

-October 8, 1910, Illustrated London News
(H/T Hebdomadal Chesterton)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"My Experiences with Santa Claus"

What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.

I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea.

Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill

-excerpted from an article in Black and White written in 1903 called "My Experiences with Santa Claus", and reprinted in the London Tablet in 1974 

H/T to the St. Louis Chesterton Society

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Orson Welles remarks on GKC

Well, this is my 1,000th post for this blog. It seems as if I should do something special, but I don't know what. Oh, well. :-)

Anyway, something that I apparently do not have included on this blog (except in part on my list of GKC's influence) is the remarks made by Orson Welles prior to his 1938 radio dramatization of Chesterton's novel  The Man Who Was Thursday (made a few weeks before his famous radio dramatization of The War of the Worlds.) In addition to writing the adaptation,Welles played the role of the protagonist Gabriel Syme in the broadcast.

Here is his remarks:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

G.K.C., Gilbert Keith Chesterton, great, greatly articulate Roman convert and liberal, has been dead now for two years. For a unique brand of common sense enthusiasm, for a singular gift of paradox, for a deep reverence and a high wit, and most of all for a free and shamelessly beautiful English prose, he will never be forgotten.

"It must be wonderful to be famous."

According to the story, that is what the young lady said to the fat man, the fabulously fat, the fantastic, the famous fat man when he took her to lunch at a fashionable restaurant, and everybody turned and stared.

"Tell me," she said, "Do people always recognize you? Does everybody always know who you are?"

"Well, my dear," said Mr. Chesterton, "If they don't, they ask."

Mr. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday is a little like that. Roughly speaking, it's about anarchists. It was written, remember, in the boom of bomb-throwing in those radical irresponsible days of the Nihilists. And roughly speaking, it's a mystery story. It can be guaranteed that you will never, never guess the solution until you get to the end. It is even feared that you may not guess it then. You may never guess what The Man Who Was Thursday is about, but definitely, if you don't, you'll ask.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Only at very slight moments, passing moments, has there been anything resembling a really independent scepticism. The sceptics themselves have always turned something else into a sacred object, into a superstition, and when that thing was examined it was always found to be far narrower than the older traditions that had been rejected.

-The Superstitions of the Sceptic (1925)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"The smallest street is too human for any human being to realise.".

People say that the country is more poetical [than the town]. It is not true. The town would immediately strike us as far more poetical if we happened to know anything at all about the town. If we applied to human traces the same vivid imagination which we apply to the traces of beasts or birds we should find not only the street, but any chance inch of the street, far more romantic than a glade. We say (when in a country lane): "Here is a nest," and we immediately begin to wonder about the bird who made it. But we do not say: "Here is a railing," and then immediately begin to wonder about the man who made it. We regard such things as railings as coming by a kind of fate, quite unlike the almost individual influence which we recognise in the growths of the countryside. We regard eggs as personal creations and mole-hills as personal creations. Such things as railings are the only things that we think impersonal, because they are the only things that are really made by persons. This is the difficulty of the town: that personality is so compressed and packed into it that we cannot realise its presence. The smallest street is too human for any human being to realise.

-Chesterton's Introduction to Literary London by Elsie M. Lang (1906)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A philosopher cannot talk about any single thing, down to a pumpkin, without showing whether he is wise or foolish; but he can easily talk about everything without anyone having any views about him, beyond gloomy suspicions.

-G. F. Watts (1904)

Friday, November 22, 2013

The meanest man is immortal and the mightiest movement is temporal, not to say temporary.

-Blackfriars, January, 1923
 Quoted in The Man Who Was Orthodox: A Selection from the Uncollected Writings of G. K. Chesterton, collected by A.L. Maycock (1963)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The best way to destroy a utopia is to establish it.

-quoted in Gilbert Keith Chesterton by Maisie Ward (1943)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Playing with children is a glorious thing; but the journalist in question has never understood why it was considered a soothing or idyllic one. It reminds him, not of watering little budding flowers, but of wrestling for hours with gigantic angels and devils. Moral problems of the most monstrous complexity besiege him incessantly. He has to decide before the awful eyes of innocence, whether, when a sister has knocked down a brother's bricks, in revenge for the brother having taken two sweets out of his turn, it is endurable that the brother should retaliate by scribbling on the sister's picture book, and whether such conduct does not justify the sister in blowing out the brother's unlawfully lighted match.

-A Miscellany of Men (1912)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mr. Zangwill, criticizing very kindly a quiet little comedy about devils which I happened to write, once remarked that I was trying to put the clock back in philosophy; though he was so generous as to add that I was putting the clock forward in drama. Since then, and down to recent days, I have heard a great deal about the impossibility of putting back the clock, especially to the Middle Ages- or, as such critics would call them, the Dark Ages. It strikes me as highly quaint that people should be so fond of this figure of speech for fantastic and impossible reaction, especially just now. For they are now regularly performing, twice a year, a mere trick with time, the second half of which does invariably consist of putting back the clock.

-April 26, 1919, Illustrated London News 

Incidentally, here is a link to the "quiet little comedy about devils" referenced above.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The world has always been asking questions; and the only difference between us and our more orthodox ancestors is that they occasionally got some answers.

-November 1, 1913, Illustrated London News

Monday, October 28, 2013

"...audacious reconciliation is a mark not of frivolity but of extreme seriousness."

...audacious reconciliation is a mark not of frivolity but of extreme seriousness. A man who deals in harmonies, who only matches stars with angels or lambs with spring flowers, he indeed may be frivolous; for he is taking one mood at a time, and perhaps forgetting each mood as it passes. But a man who ventures to combine an angel and an octopus must have some serious view of the universe. The man who should write a dialogue between two early Christians might be a mere writer of dialogues. But a man who should write a dialogue between an early Christian and the Missing Link would have to be a philosopher. The more widely different the types talked of, the more serious and universal must be the philosophy which talks of them. The mark of the light and thoughtless writer is the harmony of his subject matter; the mark of the thoughtful writer is its apparent diversity. The most flippant lyric poet might write a pretty poem about lambs; but it requires something bolder and graver than a poet, it requires an ecstatic prophet, to talk about the lion lying down with the lamb.

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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

For my part I do feel very strongly about the frivolity and irresponsibility of the press. It seems impossible to exaggerate the evil that can be done by a corrupt and unscrupulous press. If drink directly ruins the family, it only indirectly ruins the nation. But bad journalism does directly ruin the nation, considered as a nation; it acts on the corporate national will and sways the common national decision. It may force a decision in a few hours that will be an incurable calamity for hundreds of years. It may drive a whole civilization to defeat, to slavery, to bankruptcy, to universal famine.

-Fancies Versus Fads (1923)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hobbies

A hobby is not a holiday. It is not merely a momentary relaxation necessary to the renewal of work; and in this respect it must be sharply distinguished from much that is called sport. A good game is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as a hobby; and many go golfing or shooting grouse because this is a concentrated form of recreation; just as what our contemporaries find in whisky is a concentrated form of what our fathers found diffused in beer. If half a day is to take a man out of himself, or make a new man of him, it is better done by some sharp competitive excitement like sport. But a hobby is not half a day but half a life-time. It would be truer to accuse the hobbyist of living a double life. And hobbies [...] have a character that runs parallel to practical professional effort, and is not merely a reaction from it. It is not merely taking exercise; it is doing work. It is not merely exercising the body instead of the mind, an excellent but now largely a recognised thing. It is exercising the rest of the mind; now an almost neglected thing.

-Autobiography (1936)

Monday, October 21, 2013

"A nation that has nothing but its amusements will not be amused for very long."

Thus, the Canterbury Pilgrimage [of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales] takes on a very symbolic social character, and is indeed the progress which emerged out of the medieval into the modern world. All modern critics can take pleasure in the almost modern realism of the portraiture; in the variety of the types and the vigour of the quarrels. But the modern problem is more and more the problem of keeping the company together at all; and the company was kept together because it was going to Canterbury. It will be another business, if the variety of companions discovers a variety of aims....For the moment, this division of heart is masked by a certain heartiness, in the modern pursuit of mere games and pleasure; but you cannot make a complete social system out of games and pleasures. You cannot, in some dark hour of peril, ask thousands to die for the Derby, or even to be taxed to death for the International Golf Championship. A nation that has nothing but its amusements will not be amused for very long. Moreover, the amusements are at least as narrow as the devotions and dedications....There are many forces making for a superficial sameness in modern life; far too many. There is standardization and the stunts of journalism and the various forms of conscription and coercion rather peculiar to our time....There are many modern forces, commercial or scientific, tending to make men look or talk the same. But the Clerk and the Miller did not look and talk the same. They had nothing in common but their purpose; but they had a purpose. It is very puzzling to look at the real society around us at this moment, and consider whether it has a purpose. For the present, at least, their is no Canterbury in sight for the Canterbury Pilgrims. The coloured cavalcade is halted somewhere in the suburbs and suffering the bewilderment dating from that day, when sectarians and journalists and jerry-builders between them decided that every man should live in the same villa and every man in a different universe.

-Chaucer (1932)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults."

We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults. The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one's life. But anyone who shrinks from this is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being. The pessimist of the ordinary type, the pessimist who thinks he would be better dead, is blasted with the crime of Iscariot. Spiritually speaking, we should be justified in punishing him with death. Only, out of polite deference to his own philosophy, we punish him with life.

-"What is Right With the World", T.P.'s Weekly (1910)
The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (collection of essays published posthumously in 1975) 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

One of the greatest dangers of our time is that the name and power of philanthropy may be given to what are only the private tastes and whims of the genteel.

-September 7, 1907, Illustrated London News

Monday, September 16, 2013

...In his volume called Problems and Persons... [Wilfrid Ward] answers a very fashionable fallacy in a very characteristic fashion. In reply to an aggressive writer who urged that as science advances doctrine alters, he points out that in actual history it is exactly the doctrine that does not alter, and the science that does. When the progressive and advanced person says that the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, let us say, has been abandoned, it is truly answered that the only parts of it that have really been abandoned are those which seemed at the time to be progressive and advanced. The parts found most intangible and most imperishable are really the parts that belong to revelation and religious authority.

-"Wilfrid Ward"
The Dublin Review, Vol. CLIX, No. 314-315, July/October, 1916.
...that proverb that says: "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,"...is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin.

-The Thing (1929)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Alexander Solzhenitsyn and GKC

At the moment, I am reading Race with the Devil, the autobiography of Joseph Pearce just recently released. Joseph Pearce, of course, has written a wonderful biography on Chesterton (Wisdom and Innocence) that I would highly recommend, but his own autobiography and story of conversion is a great story in its own right and inspiring testimony to God's grace. Indeed, I have been looking forward to reading this book for some time, and thus far I have not been disappointed. 

All of that is simply a preface to the following excerpt I just came across, which is directly relevant to this blog, and so I wanted to share (as well as encourage you to get his book!)

...in 1998, as I travelled to Russia at his invitation to interview [Alexander Solzhenitsyn], I had no idea why he should have granted me an exclusive interview when he had shunned the advances of western writers much more accomplished and better known. He had a reputation as being reclusive and also of being suspicious of journalists and biographers in general, and western journalists and biographers in particular. I was, therefore, mystified by his acceptance of my wishful letter requesting an interview. When I had written it,  I had only one published biography to my name. Why on earth would he say "yes" to me when he had said "no" to everyone else. As I pondered this question, it seemed that there was only one likely answer. In my letter I had announced my desire to correct the failure of previous biographies [...] to pay due attention to Solzhenitsyn's religious beliefs. Perhaps Solzhenitsyn had agreed with my critical assessment and perhaps he shared my desire that a biography be published that emphasized the spiritual dimension of his life and work. Although this seemed the only logical explanation for Solzhenitsyn's surprising acceptance of my request for an interview, it didn't explain why he should think me capable of writing such a book. Perhaps, I thought, Solzhenitsyn knew and admired G.K. Chesterton, the subject of my first, and at that time only, biography, which I had of course mentioned in my letter. Perhaps Solzhenitsyn had thought that anyone who had written a biography of Chesterton was qualified to write sensibly and seriously on religious matters. Perhaps "Chesterton" was the magic word that earned me the interview. This suspicion was confirmed upon my arrival when Solzhenityn's wife showed me a dozen or so volumes of the Ignatius Press edition of Chesterton's Collected Works. Clearly, Solzhenitsyn not only knew Chesterton's works but was an avid collector of them!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

"The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present."

The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living. Without some such contrast or comparison, without some such shifting of the point of view, we should see nothing whatever of our social surroundings. We should take them for granted, as the only possible social surroundings. We should be as unconscious of them as we are, for the most part, of the hair growing on our heads or the air passing through our lungs. It is the variety of the human story that brings out sharply the last turn that the road has taken, and it is the view under the arch of the gateway which tells us that we are entering a town.

-June 18, 1932, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Words are sometimes more important than deeds."

In many ethical societies and ethical discussions which I have attended it was asserted, or rather assumed, that deeds were important and words were not. I even remember some modern moralists' pressing upon me a book called "Creed and Deed," in which I believe the importance of the latter was contrasted with the unimportance of the former. The same view prevails very largely about all collections of words in comparison with action. I pass over the not uninteresting preliminary fact that words are deeds. The case is much stronger than that. People talk as if reasons and explanations were not important; as a matter of fact they are the only thing that is important. From a man's deeds you can only discover what he does; you must listen to his words to discover what he means. When he acts you will only learn what he has succeeded in doing. But when he speaks you will have learnt what he was trying to do. If I have to make a selection between Creed and Deed (I should prefer them both) I should certainly select Creed.

...What impresses us is not a man's actions, but his avowed reasons for his actions. Words are sometimes more important than deeds. If a man in a crowd says to us, with polite expression, "Let me pass," we do not mind his passing. If he says, "Let me pass, because I am a fine handsome fellow of manifest high breeding, while you are clearly from your appearance a somewhat distasteful cad," then the practical action, which was in the first case harmless, becomes in the second case insupportable. The first request is one to be granted at the first flash; the second is one to be resisted to the last drop of the blood. Yet in both cases the ultimate external action is the same.

-February 2, 1907, Illustrated London News

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The governing class does not care for anything except one thing, which has many names, but by the common people is quaintly called Money.

-February 28, 1914, Daily Herald

We are not divided now into those who know and those who do not know. We are divided now into those who care and those who do not care

-December 20, 1918, New Witness

[Both quotes found in Gilbert Magazine, July/August 2013]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Chesterton Will Be a Saint

Not every saint is a mystic. Not every mystic is a saint. And not every 300-pound, cigar-smoking journalist is both a saint and a mystic. But I’m quite sure at least one of them is. And I’m not alone in that opinion. 

Father Wild’s book is especially well-timed. I was recently taken to task by a reviewer because I had suggested in my book The Complete Thinker that G.K. Chesterton is a mystic. And so it is convenient to have suddenly at my disposal an entire book written in defense of that one statement. But the book is well-timed for another reason. Father Wild not only argues quite convincingly that Chesterton is a mystic, but by the end of the book he also makes the case that Chesterton is a saint. Things appear to be heating up in that regard, too. And Father Wild is not just blowing holy smoke. He knows what the Church requires for sainthood. He is the postulator in the cause for Catherine de Houck Dougherty, who, incidentally, was also a mystic....

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I have become a pilgrim to cure myself of being an exile.

-Manalive (1912)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"...our current archbishop Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio encourages us in our aspiration to see the initiation of the cause of Chesterton to the altars. He has given his approval to the text of a private prayer to that purpose."

-From a letter written by an Argentinian ambassador, on March 10, 2013 (Three days later Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis)

For more information, you can watch the recorded video of the August 2013 Virtual Society Meeting [for the American Chesterton Society], where this is mentioned.

http://new.livestream.com/amchestertonsoc/august2013/videos/26533599

Also, a good post:

"Saint" G.K. Chesterton? Cause Moves Forward

Monday, August 5, 2013

Scripture says that one star differeth from another in glory, and the same conception applies to noses. To insist that one type of face is ugly because it differs from that of the Venus of Milo is to look at it entirely in a misleading light. It is strange that we should resent people differing from ourselves; we should resent much more violently their resembling ourselves. This principle has made a sufficient hash of literary criticism, in which it is always the custom to complain of the lack of sound logic in a fairy tale, and the entire absence of true oratorical power in a three-act farce. But to call another man's face ugly because it powerfully expresses another man's soul is like complaining that a cabbage has not two legs. If we did so, the only course for the cabbage would be to point out with severity, but with some show of truth, that we were not a beautiful green all over.

-The Defendant (1901)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"How in blazes do you know all these horrors?" cried Flambeau.

The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.

"Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose," he said. "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest."

"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.

"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."

-The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Dale Ahlquist on the news mentioned yesterday on this blog (i.e., of the beginning of the process being started which hopefully will open the cause for G.K. Chesterton's canonization.)

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151514334647301&set=vb.127651102300&type=2&theater#

Friday, August 2, 2013

Some rather exciting news (to put it mildly) reported at the annual conference of the American Chesterton Society last night...
 

Martin Thompson says that Bishop Peter Doyle 'has given me permission to report that the Bishop of Northampton is sympathetic to our wishes and is seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.'"

[Source]

Now just waiting for more details. :-)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

There are two equal and eternal ways of looking at this twilight world of ours: we may see it as the twilight of evening or the twilight of morning; we may think of anything, down to a fallen acorn, as a descendant or as an ancestor. There are times when we are almost crushed, not so much with the load of the evil as with the load of the goodness of humanity, when we feel that we are nothing but the inheritors of a humiliating splendour. But there are other times when everything seems primitive, when the ancient stars are only sparks blown from a boy's bonfire, when the whole earth seems so young and experimental that even the white hair of the aged, in the fine biblical phrase, is like almond-trees that blossom, like the white hawthorn grown in May. That it is good for a man to realize that he is 'the heir of all the ages' is pretty commonly admitted; it is a less popular but equally important point that it is good for him sometimes to realize that he is not only an ancestor, but an ancestor of primal antiquity; it is good for him to wonder whether he is not a hero, and to experience ennobling doubts as to whether he is not a solar myth.

-The Defendant (1901)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

There is no such thing as fighting on the winning side: one fights to find out which is the winning side.

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

..no man of the world believes all he sees in the newspapers; and no journalist believes a quarter of it.

-The Appetite of Tyranny (1915)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Many writers who do not believe in Christianity praise clerical diplomacy with extraordinary passion. They say it is no wonder that a system was accepted as divine when managed with so much sagacity and cunning. I do believe in Christianity, and my impression is that a system must be divine which has survived so much insane mismanagement.

-October 6, 1906, Illustrated London News

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The greatest miracle is the fact that politicians are tolerated.
 

-December 22, 1906, Illustrated London News

H/T to this G.K. Chesterton Facebook page

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The disease called aphasia, in which people begin by saying tea when they mean coffee, commonly ends in their silence. Silence of this stiff sort is the chief mark of the powerful parts of modern society. They all seem to be straining to keep things in rather than to let things out… Even the newspaper editors and proprietors are more despotic and dangerous by what they do not utter than by what they do. We have all heard the expression ‘golden silence’. The expression ‘brazen silence’ is the only adequate phrase for our editors. If we wake out of this throttled, gaping, wordless nightmare, we must awake with a yell.

-A Miscellany of Men (1912)


H/T to a poster on this G.K. Chesterton Facebook page 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.

-The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Our grounds for gratitude are really far greater than our powers of being grateful."

Our grounds for gratitude are really far greater than our powers of being grateful. It is in the mood of a noble sort of humility, and even a noble sort of fear, that new things are really made. We adorn things most when we love them most. And we love them most when we have nearly lost them.

-January 3, 1920, Illustrated London News

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

...progress should be something else besides a continual parricide

-The Defendant (1901)

Monday, July 22, 2013

What has most harmed modern government, including what we call representative government, is a certain quality that is seldom mentioned, though I think I have mentioned it, for I think it very serious. It is the loss of the old ideal which associated a love of liberty with a scorn of luxury. The first and best of the democratic idealists were always definite on this point. They demanded that a republican senator should show a republican simplicity. It was that which was to distinguish the senator from the courtier...
 
-The Glass Walking Stick (collection of essays published posthumously in 1955)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Now, Mr. Kipling is certainly wrong in his worship of militarism, but his opponents are, generally speaking, quite as wrong as he. The evil of militarism is not that it shows certain men to be fierce and haughty and excessively warlike. The evil of militarism is that it shows most men to be tame and timid and excessively peaceable. The professional soldier gains more and more power as the general courage of a community declines. Thus the Pretorian guard became more and more important in Rome as Rome became more and more luxurious and feeble. The military man gains the civil power in proportion as the civilian loses the military virtues. And as it was in ancient Rome so it is in contemporary Europe. There never was a time when nations were more militarist. There never was a time when men were less brave. All ages and all epics have sung of arms and the man; but we have effected simultaneously the deterioration of the man and the fantastic perfection of the arms. Militarism demonstrated the decadence of Rome, and it demonstrates the decadence of Prussia.

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"...a sentimentalist is simply a man who has feelings and does not trouble to invent a new way of expressing them."

The philanthropist can never forget classes and callings. He says, with a modest swagger, 'I have invited twenty-five factory hands to tea.' If he said 'I have invited twenty-five chartered accountants to tea,' everyone would see the humour of so simple a classification. But this is what we have done with this lumberland of foolish writing [penny dreadfuls]: we have probed, as if it were some monstrous new disease, what is, in fact, nothing but the foolish and valiant heart of man. Ordinary men will always be sentimentalists: for a sentimentalist is simply a man who has feelings and does not trouble to invent a new way of expressing them. These common and current publications have nothing essentially evil about them. They express the sanguine and heroic truisms on which civilization is built; for it is clear that unless civilization is built on truisms, it is not built at all. Clearly, there could be no safety for a society in which the remark by the Chief Justice that murder was wrong was regarded as an original and dazzling epigram.

-The Defendant (1901)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"...things must be loved first and improved afterwards."

At first sight it would seem that the pessimist encourages improvement. But in reality it is a singular truth that the era in which pessimism has been cried from the house-tops is also that in which almost all reform has stagnated and fallen into decay. The reason of this is not difficult to discover. No man ever did, and no man ever can, create or desire to make a bad thing good or an ugly thing beautiful. There must be some germ of good to be loved, some fragment of beauty to be admired. The mother washes and decks out the dirty or careless child, but no one can ask her to wash and deck out a goblin with a heart like hell. No one can kill the fatted calf for Mephistopheles. The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears that things are not good enough to be worth improving....things must be loved first and improved afterwards.

-The Defendant (1901)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The whole people can make bad mistakes; but so can all the separate people, by whatever process you select them. Select the smallest and most instructed coterie on earth, and, left to itself, it will exhibit every vice that could be exhibited by the vastest of human mobs....There is one perfectly certain rule, which, when understood, disposes of all these anti-democratic arguments. Whenever the uneducated men are mad, the educated men are madder....Take any crime alleged of any crowd, and you will find the most cultured men of the age shaken like reeds by the same passions...There has never been a case in which the democracy was wrong when the aristocracy was not wrong too. There was a somewhat famous occasion when the democracy was very wrong indeed; when the mob cried first "Hosanna!" and then "Crucify!" But in that instance, again, there was not a shade of difference between the learned scribes and the world-travelled warriors, the sublime priest of Jehovah and the master of the eagles of Rome. Or, rather, there was a difference. The difference is that the princes and priests had never cried "Hosanna!" at all.

-July 12, 1913, Illustrated London News

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"On the contrary, stumbling on that rock of scandal is the first step."

Above all, would not such a new reader of the New Testament stumble over something that would startle him much more than it startles us? I have here more than once attempted the rather impossible task of reversing time and the historic method; and in fancy looking forward to the facts, instead of backward through the memories. So I have imagined the monster that man might have seemed at first to the mere nature around him. We should have a worse shock if we really imagined the nature of Christ named for the first time. What should we feel at the first whisper of a certain suggestion about a certain man? Certainly it is not for us to blame anybody who should find that first wild whisper merely impious and insane. On the contrary, stumbling on that rock of scandal is the first step. Stark staring incredulity is a far more loyal tribute to that truth than a modernist metaphysic that would make it out merely a matter of degree. It were better to rend our robes with a great cry against blasphemy, like Caiaphas in the judgement, or to lay hold of the man as a maniac possessed of devils like the kinsmen and the crowd, rather than to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of so catastrophic a claim. There is more of the wisdom that is one with surprise in any simple person, full of the sensitiveness of simplicity, who should expect the grass to wither and the birds to drop dead out of the air, when a strolling carpenter's apprentice said calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder: 'Before Abraham was, I am.'

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Perhaps it would be best to say very emphatically (with a blow on the table), 'There is an Is.' That is as much monkish credulity as St. Thomas asks of us at the start."

Without pretending to span within such limits the essential Thomist idea, I may be allowed to throw out a sort of rough version of the fundamental question, which I think I have known myself, consciously or unconsciously since my childhood. When a child looks out of the nursery window and sees anything, say the green lawn of the garden, what does he actually know; or does he know anything? There are all sorts of nursery games of negative philosophy played round this question. A brilliant Victorian scientist delighted in declaring that the child does not see any grass at all; but only a sort of green mist reflected in a tiny mirror of the human eye. This piece of rationalism has always struck me as almost insanely irrational. If he is not sure of the existence of the grass, which he sees through the glass of a window, how on earth can he be sure of the existence of the retina, which he sees through the glass of a microscope? If sight deceives, why can it not go on deceiving? Men of another school answer that grass is a mere green impression on the mind; and that he can be sure of nothing except the mind. They declare that he can only be conscious of his own consciousness; which happens to be the one thing that we know the child is not conscious of at all. In that sense, it would be far truer to say that there is grass and no child, than to say that there is a conscious child but no grass. St. Thomas Aquinas, suddenly intervening in this nursery quarrel, says emphatically that the child is aware of Ens. Long before he knows that grass is grass, or self is self, he knows that something is something. Perhaps it would be best to say very emphatically (with a blow on the table), "There is an Is." That is as much monkish credulity as St. Thomas asks of us at the start. Very few unbelievers start by asking us to believe so little. And yet, upon this sharp pin-point of reality, he rears by long logical processes that have never really been successfully overthrown, the whole cosmic system of Christendom.

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

Sorry...

I apologize for having been quite scarce as of late...I hope to start posting again regularly now.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"We're all really dependent in nearly everything, and we all make a fuss about being independent in something."

We're all really dependent in nearly everything, and we all make a fuss about being independent in something.

-The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

You can find all the new ideas in the old books; only there you will find them balanced, kept in their place, and sometimes contradicted and overcome by other and better ideas. The great writers did not neglect a fad because they had not thought of it, but because they had thought of it and of all the answers to it as well.

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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"...politicians have no politics."

I had great joy out of the hearty humours of old Asquith, the late Lord Oxford; [Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1908 to 1916] and though our conversations were light and even flippant, he was one who rose gloriously to flippancy. Once when he appeared in Court dress, on some superbly important occasion, an uncontrollable impulse of impertinence led me to ask whether the Court sword would really come out of its sheath. “Oh, yes,” he said, shaking a shaggily frowning head at me, “Do not provoke me.” But he also had about the fundamentals of politics and ethics this curious quality of vagueness, which I have found so often in men holding high responsibilities. He did not mind answering a silly question about a sword; but if it had been a sensible question about a super-tax, he would have adopted, however genially, a fencing sort of swordsmanship. He would have faintly felt that he was being heckled, and almost been disposed to ask for notice of that question. I have a difficulty in not darkening the fine shade that I intended; he was very public, as public men go; but they all seem to become hazier as they mount higher. It is the young and unknown who have decisive doctrines and sharply declared intentions. I once expressed it by saying, I think with some truth, that politicians have no politics.

-Autobiography (1936)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

...the worst part of pain or calamity [is] the fact of the abnormal thing becoming the normal, disaster becoming a routine. We can all endure catastrophe as long as it is catastrophic; it is maddening the moment it is orderly.

-The Speaker, September 9, 1905 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Impartiality

The refusal of the jurors in the Thaw trial to come to an agreement is certainly a somewhat amusing sequel to the frenzied and even fantastic caution with which they were selected. Jurymen were set aside for reasons which seem to have only the very wildest relation to the case—reasons which we cannot conceive as giving any human being a real bias. It may be questioned whether the exaggerated theory of impartiality in an arbiter or juryman may not be carried so far as to be more unjust than partiality itself. What people call impartiality may simply mean indifference, and what people call partiality may simply mean mental activity. It is sometimes made an objection, for instance, to a juror that he has formed some primâ-facie opinion upon a case: if he can be forced under sharp questioning to admit that he has formed such an opinion, he is regarded as manifestly unfit to conduct the inquiry. Surely this is unsound. If his bias is one of interest, of class, or creed, or notorious propaganda, then that fact certainly proves that he is not an impartial arbiter. But the mere fact that he did form some temporary impression from the first facts as far as he knew them—this does not prove that he is not an impartial arbiter—it only proves that he is not a cold-blooded fool.

If we walk down the street, taking all the jurymen who have not formed opinions and leaving all the jurymen who have formed opinions, it seems highly probable that we shall only succeed in taking all the stupid jurymen and leaving all the thoughtful ones. Provided that the opinion formed is really of this airy and abstract kind, provided that it has no suggestion of settled motive or prejudice, we might well regard it not merely as a promise of capacity, but literally as a promise of justice. The man who took the trouble to deduce from the police reports would probably be the man who would take the trouble to deduce further and different things from the evidence. The man who had the sense to form an opinion would be the man who would have the sense to alter it.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Monday, June 10, 2013

"The fact that they often do stretch words in order to cover cases is the whole foundation of having any fixed laws or free institutions at all."

But I ask the reader to remember always that I am talking of words, not as they are used in talk or novels, but as they will be used, and have been used, in warrants and certificates, and Acts of Parliament. ... But it is by no means always to the interest of governments or officials to hang the right man. The fact that they often do stretch words in order to cover cases is the whole foundation of having any fixed laws or free institutions at all....And the vaguer the charge is the less they will be able to disprove it.

-Eugenics and Other Evils (1922)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What a strange world in which a man cannot remain unique even by taking the trouble to go mad.

-The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed: a passage which some have considered as a prophecy of modern journalism.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"...the practical result of our bureaucracy is something very near to anarchy."

...the modern notion of universal official organisation is a physical impossibility, and almost a contradiction in terms.....There are only a certain number of officials to go round; and, if we insist of using some of their energies for small and senseless objects, there will obviously be less for large and serious objects. If one of the officials is engaged in preventing people from buying chocolates after half-past eight, he has the less attention to give to people who send poisoned chocolates to other people whom they have the misfortune to dislike. If a policeman is engaged in preventing a man from standing treat to an old friend in a public-house, he cannot at the same moment be preventing another man from stabbing an old enemy in another public-house. The common sense of this consideration was as obvious as daylight to our fathers, and was embodied in the old legal tag of "De minimis non curat lex." [Latin for the law does not concern itself with trifles]. But that maxim has certainly been entirely reversed and repudiated in modern social legislation. Our officials are so much occupied in controlling diet and details of medical theory, and disputed points of decorum in the arts, that such a trifle as a corpse on a doorstep or an assassination a few yards from a lamp-post appears almost in the nature of an irritating and unexpected addition to their daily toils. They cannot be expected to concentrate on anything so barbaric and elementary. "De maximis non curat lex."

It is therefore the very opposite of the truth to say that the police fail through lack of organisation. It is much nearer the truth to say that they fail because society is being far too much organized. A scheme of official control which is too ambitious for human life has broken down, and broken down exactly where we need it most. Instead of law being a strong cord to bind what it is really possible to bind, it has become a thin net to cover what it is quite impossible to cover. It is the nature of a net so stretched to break everywhere; and the practical result of our bureaucracy is something very near to anarchy.

-April 1, 1922, Illustrated London News

Monday, June 3, 2013

Comforts that were rare among our forefathers are now multiplied in factories and handed out wholesale; and indeed, nobody nowadays, so long as he is content to go without air, space, quiet, decency and good manners, need be without anything whatever that he wants; or at least a reasonably cheap imitation of it.

Commonwealth (1933)

"It is when it comes to being broadminded that they are most narrow..."

We often lament that the world is divided into sects, all with different narrow ideas. The real trouble is that they all have different broad ideas. It is when it comes to being broadminded that they are most narrow, or at any rate most different. It is their generalisations that cut across each other... A modern agnostic thinks he is broadminded when he says that all religions or revelations, Catholic or Protestant, savage or civilised, are alike mere myths and guesses at what man can never know. But I think that is a narrow negation, sprung from special spiritual conditions in Upper Tooting. My idea of broadmindedness is to sympathise with so many of these separate spiritual atmospheres as possible; to respect or love the Buddhists of Tibet or the agnostics of Tooting for their many real virtues and capacities, but to have a philosophy which explains each of them in turn and does not merely generalise from one of them. This I have found in the Catholic philosophy; but that is not the question here, except in so far as there is, I think, just this difference: that the largeness of the other schemes is an unreal largeness of generalisation, whereas the largeness of our scheme is a real largeness of experience.

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

Sunday, June 2, 2013

There are only two kinds of social structure conceivable-- personal government and impersonal government. If my anarchic friends will not have rules--they will have rulers. Preferring personal government, with its tact and flexibility, is called Royalism. Preferring impersonal government, with its dogmas and definitions, is called Republicanism. Objecting broadmindedly both to kings and creeds is called Bosh; at least, I know no more philosophic word for it. You can be guided by the shrewdness or presence of mind of one ruler, or by the equality and ascertained justice of one rule; but you must have one or the other, or you are not a nation, but a nasty mess.

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"The rich are always modern; it is their business."

The real power of the English aristocrats has lain in exactly the opposite of tradition. The simple key to the power of our upper classes is this: that they have always kept carefully on the side of what is called Progress. They have always been up to date, and this comes quite easy to an aristocracy. For the aristocracy are the supreme instances of that frame of mind of which we spoke just now. Novelty is to them a luxury verging on a necessity. They, above all, are so bored with the past and with the present, that they gape, with a horrible hunger, for the future.

But whatever else the great lords forgot they never forgot that it was their business to stand for the new things, for whatever was being most talked about among university dons or fussy financiers. Thus they were on the side of the Reformation against the Church, of the Whigs against the Stuarts, of the Baconian science against the old philosophy, of the manufacturing system against the operatives, and (to-day) of the increased power of the State against the old-fashioned individualists. In short, the rich are always modern; it is their business.

 -What's Wrong With the World (1910)

(H/T to this Facebook page )

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"The Poets are those who rise above the people by understanding them...The Prigs rise above the people by refusing to understand them..."

Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of people in this world. The first kind of people are People; they are the largest and probably the most valuable class.  We owe to this class the chairs we sit down on, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in; and, indeed (when we come to think of it), we probably belong to this class ourselves. The second class may be called for convenience the Poets; they are often a nuisance to their families, but, generally speaking, a blessing to mankind.  The third class is that of the Professors or Intellectuals; sometimes described as the thoughtful people; and these are a blight and a desolation both to their families and also to mankind.  Of course, the classification sometimes overlaps, like all classification.  Some good people are almost poets and some bad poets are almost professors.  But the division follows lines of real psychological cleavage.  I do not offer it lightly. It has been the fruit of more than eighteen minutes of earnest reflection and research.

The class called People (to which you and I, with no little pride, attach ourselves) has certain casual, yet profound, assumptions, which are called “commonplaces,” as that children are charming, or that twilight is sad and sentimental, or that one man fighting three is a fine sight.  Now, these feelings are not crude; they are not even simple.  The charm of children is very subtle; it is even complex, to the extent of being almost contradictory. It is, at its very plainest, mingled of a regard for hilarity and a regard for helplessness.  The sentiment of twilight, in the vulgarest drawing-room song or the coarsest pair of sweethearts, is, so far as it goes, a subtle sentiment.  It is strangely balanced between pain and pleasure; it might also be called pleasure tempting pain. The plunge of impatient chivalry by which we all admire a man fighting odds is not at all easy to define separately, it means many things, pity, dramatic surprise, a desire for justice, a delight in experiment and the indeterminate.  The ideas of the mob are really very subtle ideas; but the mob does not express them subtly. In fact, it does not express them at all, except on those occasions (now only too rare) when it indulges in insurrection and massacre.

Now, this accounts for the otherwise unreasonable fact of the existence of Poets.  Poets are those who share these popular sentiments, but can so express them that they prove themselves the strange and delicate things that they really are.  Poets draw out the shy refinement of the rabble...The Poets carry the popular sentiments to a keener and more splendid pitch; but let it always be remembered that it is the popular sentiments that they are carrying. No man ever wrote any good poetry to show that childhood was shocking, or that twilight was gay and farcical, or that a man was contemptible because he had crossed his single sword with three. The people who maintain this are the Professors, or Prigs.

The Poets are those who rise above the people by understanding them. Of course, most of the Poets wrote in prose — Rabelais, for instance, and Dickens.  The Prigs rise above the people by refusing to understand them: by saying that all their dim, strange preferences are prejudices and superstitions. The Prigs make the people feel stupid; the Poets make the people feel wiser than they could have imagined that they were. There are many weird elements in this situation.  The oddest of all perhaps is the fate of the two factors in practical politics. The Poets who embrace and admire the people are often pelted with stones and crucified.  The Prigs who despise the people are often loaded with lands and crowned.  In the House of Commons, for instance, there are quite a number of prigs, but comparatively few poets. There are no People there at all.

By poets, as I have said, I do not mean people who write poetry, or indeed people who write anything.  I mean such people as, having culture and imagination, use them to understand and share the feelings of their fellows; as against those who use them to rise to what they call a higher plane.  Crudely, the poet differs from the mob by his sensibility; the professor differs from the mob by his insensibility.  He has not sufficient finesse and sensitiveness to sympathise with the mob. His only notion is coarsely to contradict it, to cut across it, in accordance with some egotistical plan of his own; to tell himself that, whatever the ignorant say, they are probably wrong. He forgets that ignorance often has the exquisite intuitions of innocence.

-Alarms and Discursions (1910)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"But this advantage the mystic morality must always have--it is always jollier."

Much has been said, and said truly, of the monkish morbidity, of the hysteria which has often gone with the visions of hermits or nuns. But let us never forget that this visionary religion is, in one sense, necessarily more wholesome than our modern and reasonable morality. It is more wholesome for this reason, that it can contemplate the idea of success or triumph in the hopeless fight towards the ethical ideal, in what Stevenson called, with his usual startling felicity, "the lost fight of virtue." A modern morality, on the other hand, can only point with absolute conviction to the horrors that follow breaches of law; its only certainty is a certainty of ill. It can only point to imperfection. It has no perfection to point to. But the monk meditating upon Christ or Buddha has in his mind an image of perfect health, a thing of clear colours and clean air. He may contemplate this ideal wholeness and happiness far more than he ought; he may contemplate it to the neglect or exclusion of essential things; he may contemplate it until he has become a dreamer or a driveller; but still it is wholeness and happiness that he is contemplating. He may even go mad; but he is going mad for the love of sanity. But the modern student of ethics, even if he remains sane, remains sane from an insane dread of insanity.

The anchorite rolling on the stones in a frenzy of submission is a healthier person fundamentally than many a sober man in a silk hat who is walking down Cheapside. For many such are good only through a withering knowledge of evil. I am not at this moment claiming for the devotee anything more than this primary advantage, that though he may be making himself personally weak and miserable, he is still fixing his thoughts largely on gigantic strength and happiness, on a strength that has no limits, and a happiness that has no end. Doubtless there are other objections which can be urged without unreason against the influence of gods and visions in morality, whether in the cell or street. But this advantage the mystic morality must always have--it is always jollier. A young man may keep himself from vice by continually thinking of disease. He may keep himself from it also by continually thinking of the Virgin Mary. There may be question about which method is the more reasonable, or even about which is the more efficient. But surely there can be no question about which is the more wholesome.

I remember a pamphlet by that able and sincere secularist, Mr. G. W. Foote, which contained a phrase sharply symbolizing and dividing these two methods. The pamphlet was called Beer and Bible, those two very noble things, all the nobler for a conjunction which Mr. Foote, in his stern old Puritan way, seemed to think sardonic, but which I confess to thinking appropriate and charming. I have not the work by me, but I remember that Mr. Foote dismissed very contemptuously any attempts to deal with the problem of strong drink by religious offices or intercessions, and said that a picture of a drunkard's liver would be more efficacious in the matter of temperance than any prayer or praise. In that picturesque expression, it seems to me, is perfectly embodied the incurable morbidity of modern ethics. In that temple the lights are low, the crowds kneel, the solemn anthems are uplifted. But that upon the altar to which all men kneel is no longer the perfect flesh, the body and substance of the perfect man; it is still flesh, but it is diseased. It is the drunkard's liver of the New Testament that is marred for us, which which we take in remembrance of him.

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"...in all that welter of inconsistent and incompatible heresies, the one and only really unpardonable heresy was orthodoxy."

I began to examine more exactly the general Christian theology which many execrated and few examined. I soon found that it did in fact correspond to many of these experiences of life; that even its paradoxes corresponded to the paradoxes of life. Long afterwards Father Waggett (to mention another very able man of the old Anglo-Catholic group), once said to me, as we stood on the Mount of Olives in view of Gethsemane and Aceldama, “Well, anyhow, it must be obvious to anybody that the doctrine of the Fall is the only cheerful view of human life.” It is indeed obvious to me; but the thought passed over me at the moment, that a very large proportion of that old world of sceptical sects and cliques, to which I had once belonged, would find it a much more puzzling paradox than the paradoxes of Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. I will not develop the argument here, which I have so often developed elsewhere; I merely mention it to suggest my general sense, even at this stage, that the old theological theory seemed more or less to fit into experience, while the new and negative theories did not fit into anything, least of all into each other. It was about this time that I had published some studies on contemporary writers, such as Kipling and Shaw and Wells; and feeling that each of them erred through an ultimate or religious error, I gave the book the title of Heretics. It was reviewed by Mr. G. S. Street, the very delightful essayist, who casually used the expression that he was not going to bother about his theology until I had really stated mine. With all the solemnity of youth, I accepted this as a challenge; and wrote an outline of my own reasons for believing that the Christian theory, as summarised in the Apostles’ Creed, would be found to be a better criticism of life than any of those that I had criticised. I called it Orthodoxy, but even at the time I was very much dissatisfied with the title. It sounded a thinnish sort of thing to be defending through thick and thin. Even then I fancy I had a dim foreshadowing that I should have to find some better name for it before I died. As it was, the only interesting effect of the title, or the book, that I ever heard of, occurred on the frontiers of Russia. There I believe the Censor, under the old Russian regime, destroyed the book without reading it. From its being called Orthodoxy, he naturally inferred that it must be a book on the Greek Church. And from its being a book on the Greek Church, he naturally inferred that it must be an attack on it.

But there did remain one rather vague virtue about the title, from my point of view; that it was provocative. And it is an exact test of that extraordinary modern society that it really was provocative. I had begun to discover that, in all that welter of inconsistent and incompatible heresies, the one and only really unpardonable heresy was orthodoxy. A serious defence of orthodoxy was far more startling to the English critic than a serious attack on orthodoxy was to the Russian censor. And through this experience I learned two very interesting things, which serve to divide all this part of my life into two distinct periods. Very nearly everybody, in the ordinary literary and journalistic world, began by taking it for granted that my faith in the Christian creed was a pose or a paradox. The more cynical supposed that it was only a stunt. The more generous and loyal warmly maintained that it was only a joke. It was not until long afterwards that the full horror of the truth burst upon them; the disgraceful truth that I really thought the thing was true. And I have found, as I say, that this represents a real transition or border-line in the life of the apologists. Critics were almost entirely complimentary to what they were pleased to call my brilliant paradoxes; until they discovered that I really meant what I said. Since then they have been more combative; and I do not blame them.

-Autobiography (1936)

Friday, May 24, 2013

One reviewer pointed out that Chesterton [in his book on Dickens] had said that every postcard Dickens wrote was a work of art; but Dickens died on June 9th, 1870 and the first British postcard was issued on October 1st, 1870. [Chesterton responded:] "A wonderful instance of Dickens's never-varying propensity to keep ahead of his age."

-Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Maisie Ward (1943)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"...the ordinary man in the street when he says that there is no poetry in a pig or a post-office is, in fact, merely intoxicated with literary style."

Some time ago Mr C. F. G. Masterman led a vigorous attack upon my timid and humble optimism, and declared in effect that when I maintained a poetry in all things it was I who supplied it. I wish I could claim that I had ever supplied poetry to anything; it seems to me that I am at the very best a humdrum scientific student noting it down. The sentimentalists, the sons of a passionate delusion, are those who do not think everything poetical. For they are wholly under the influence of words, of the vague current phraseology, which thinks `castle' a poetical word and 'Post-office' an unpoetical word, which thinks `knight' a poetical word and `policeman' an unpoetical word, which thinks `eagle' a poetical ward and `pig' an unpoetical word. I do not say that there is not truth in this as a matter of literature; I do not say that in pure technical style there is not a difference between eagles and pigs. All I wish to point out is that the ordinary man in the street when he says that there is no poetry in a pig or a post-office is, in fact, merely intoxicated with literary style. He is not looking at the thing itself; if he did that he would see that it was not only poetical, but obviously and glaringly poetical. He thinks a railway-signal, let us say, must be prosaic, because the word sounds funny, and there is no rhyme in it. But if he looked straight and square at what a railway-signal is, he would realise that it was, to take a casual case, a red fire or light kindled to keep people from death, as poetical a thing as the spear of Britomart or the lamp of Aladdin. It is, in short, the man who thinks ordinary things common who is really the man living in an unreal world.

But of all the examples of this general fact that have recently been called to my notice, there is none more peculiar and interesting than that of the family name of Smith, in which we have a splendid example of the fact that the poetry of common things is a mere fact, while the commonplace character of common things is a mere delusion. For, if we look at the name Smith in a casual and impressionable way, remembering how we commonly hear it, what is commonly said about it, we think of it as something funny and trivial; we think of pictures in Punch, of jokes in comic songs, of all the cheapness and modernity which seem to centre round a Mr Smith. But, if we look at the plain word itself, we suddenly behold a poem. It is the name of a great rugged and primeval craft, a trade that is in the bones of every great epic of antiquity, a trade on which the `arma virumque' have everlastingly depended, and which they have repeatedly acclaimed. It is a craft so poetical that even the babies of village yokels stand and stare into the cavern of its creative violence, with a dim sense that the dancing sparks and the deafening blows are in some way wonderful, as the shops of the village cobbler and the village baker are not wonderful. The mystery of flame, the mystery of metals, the fight between the hardest of earthly things and the weirdest of earthly elements, the defeat of the unconquerable iron by its only conqueror, the brute calm of Nature, the passionate cunning of man, the origin of a thousand sciences and arts, the ploughing of fields, the hewing of wood, the arraying of armies, and the whole beginning of arms, these things are written with brevity indeed, but with perfect clearness, on the visiting card of Mr Smith. The Smiths are a house of arrogant antiquity, of prehistoric simplicity. It would not be at all remarkable if a certain contemptuous carriage of the head, a certain curl of the lip, marked people whose name was Smith. Yet novelists, when they wish to describe a hero as strong and romantic, persistently call him Vernon Aylmer, which means nothing, or Bertrand Vallance, which means nothing; while all the time it is in their power to give him the sacred name of Smith, this name made of iron and fire. From the very beginnings of history and fable this clan has gone forth to battle; their trophies are in every hand, their name is everywhere; they are older than the nations, and their sign is the Hammer of Thor.

-The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (collection of essays published posthumously in 1975)