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)



Friday, March 21, 2014

Despite being gone for Lent, I did wish to make a blog post simply to include a GKC essay. I am unaware of it elsewhere on the Internet, but I wished to share it with a friend, so I typed it up for my friend and, in the process, I decided to include it here as well.

"A Charge of Irreverence", written in 1906
(from Lunacy and Letters, collection of GKC essays published in 1958)




Sometimes it seems possible that we may live to see men (that is, some men) divided upon aesthetics and questions of taste as bitterly as upon questions of faith or of carpets; that mobs may rise to destroy some fashion in bonnets; and that bands of armed rioters may rush down the street shouting "Dados, Dados!" and burning enormous heaps of Early Victorian furniture. I do not think that it will come to this, because aesthetics do not tend like morals to create the quality of sudden valour. But it has already come to this: that there are many people, far too many people in the modern world, who really entertain, touching matters of mere taste, the same temper of vigilance, of violence, and of certain pent-up and permanent exasperation which it is natural for men to feel upon very combative questions of right and wrong. Many moderns, in short, do treat taste as if it were a matter of morality. I can only hope that they do not treat morality as a matter of taste. Many of these people have been writing me letters lately, very indignant letters, in connection with an article in defence of Noise which I wrote some little time ago. It is highly typical of the truth in question- the substitution of aesthetic for ethical quarrels- that my correspondents were more annoyed about this subject than about any other. I have constantly defended things which many readers really think wrong; things such as Christianity, Patriotism, and Eating Meat. But I never received so many hearty denunciations, designed to make me writhe and regard myself as a really wicked fellow, as I have received in connection with the subject of Noise, which has nothing to do with wickedness or goodness at all, a liking for loud sounds being a thing exactly parallel to a liking for bright colours- which idle taste I also entertain. One correspondent, indeed, did introduce into the question a criticism which verged on morality. He rebuked me for making game of my own death-bed. I do not know how to reply to him except by making game of it. It is the only use to which I can at present put that important piece of family furniture.

In the name of reverence and of everything else we must get rid of this notion. It is absolutely useless and absurd to tell a man that he must not joke about sacred subjects. It is useless and absurd for a simple reason; because there are no subjects that are not sacred subjects. Every instant of human life is awful, every step, every stirring of a finger, is full of an importance so huge and even so horrible that a man might go mad if he thought of it. If it is wrong to joke about one's death-bed it is wrong to joke about the veal and ham pie which, if pursued with much devotion, may very likely have a great deal to do with bringing one to that death-bed. If it is wrong to joke about a dying man it is wrong to joke about any man. For every man is a dying man; a man dying slow or fast. In short, if we say that we must not jest about solemn subjects, what we really mean or ought to mean is that we must not jest at all. And that is what some of the old Puritan ascetics (for whom I for one have a vast respect and admiration) did mean. They did mean and they did say that one should not joke at all; that life was too uniformly serious to be joked about. That seems to me to be one of the two reasonable and possible positions; that life is too uniformly serious to be joked about. There is one other possible position and that I adopt; I say that life is too uniformly serious not to be joked about.

Of course there is a sane distinction in the matter, though my fiery correspondent neither perceives nor observes it. I think that we may jest on any subject. But I do not think that we may jest on any occasion. It is really irreverent to speak frivolously at those particular moments at which the seriousness of the matter is being specially and fiercely felt. We joke about death-beds, but not at death-beds. We play the fool on the subject of the Church; we do not play the fool in the church. This is because such special times are dedicated by human instinct to the brief but direct consideration of the fact that life is serious. Life is serious all the time; but living cannot be serious all the time. That is the whole human use and meaning of a church: that we enter a small building in order to see for the first time the universe outside. A church acts precisely as a camera obscura. It tightens up our varied experiences and makes them our pictures. By making life small it makes it serious. All men tend to take seriously the low arches and the little lamps. All men tend to take frivolously, to take recklessly, to take with entire levity, the terrible universe outside, the infinite heavens and the stars. The physical universe is at once shapeless and slippery; it eludes our grasp; it is all over the place; it is everywhere and nowhere. Nature is too large to be taken seriously.

There is perhaps only one other fact of moral experience to be borne in mind in the matter. In one sense, as has been said above, everything is intense and solemn; but in a more everyday sense there are some things which we may be permitted to call frivolous. Such matters are neckties, trousers, cigars, lawn tennis, golf, fireworks, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biology, and so on. If you wish to be frequently solemn, if you have a continually flowing spring of superfluous solemnity, I beseech you put your solemnity into these things. In these things solemnity will do no harm. Observe and imitate the admirable Scotch nation. They joke about their religion; but they never joke about their golf. You cannot be too solemn about golf to be a good golfer; you can be a great deal too solemn about Christianity to be a good Christian. You may safely put into your neckties solemnity, and nothing but solemnity, because neckties are not the whole of your life- at least, I hope not. But in anything that does cover the whole of your life- in your philosophy and your religion- you must have mirth. If you do not have mirth you will certainly have madness.

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