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 30, 2014

December 8, 1906, Illustrated London News

I am sorry to see that there is a sort of universal assumption in most of the newspapers that the gentleman who threw gold to the gutter-children and the men in the street recently was doing something entirely indefensible and absurd. When he interpreted charity as the duty of throwing money about the street, he did something which I, for one, have been hoping for some time. I will not go so far as to say that he was quite right; but I certainly think he was much more right than all the scientific philanthropists and charity organisers who disapprove of him. It is all very well to say that political economists point out that casual charity does harm. Political economists (if it comes to that) also point out that organised charity does harm. Political economists (in their present state of mind) are quite capable of pointing out that eating and drinking do harm- and, indeed, when one comes to think of it, eating and drinking certainly do. One talks of throwing money into the sea. One talks of flinging wealth into the bottomless pit. One talks of pouring good wine down the sink. But at least, in all these cases of throwing something into an abyss, the thing, when once it is in the abyss, can do no harm. Money cannot bribe the sea; nor can wine intoxicate the wastepipe. but we do something much darker and more reckless when we fling wine or food into that more fearful abyss which is inside ourselves.

Why should I worry because I do not know whether I am doing good or harm when I give a meal to a beggar? I do not know whether I am doing good or harm when I give a meal to myself. Food such as we eat in civilised times and with civilised digestions, food, in this sense, contains the seed of death almost as much as the seeds of life. Do not tell me that I do not know what happens to the half-crown that I give to that recognised tramp, Weary Willy. I do not know what happens to the ham sandwich that I give to that hungry outcast, G.K. Chesterton. I do not want to know. I know that in one sense we are all pouring gifts into a bottomless universe, a universe that uses the gifts in its own way and in a complexity beyond our control or even our imagination.

Undoubtedly in the matter of beggars and charity I know that I do not know- I do not know what use will ultimately be made of the present in money that I give to a poor man. But no more do I know what use will be made of any other present that I give to any other man. To give any present worthy calling a present is to give power; to give power is to give liberty; to give liberty is to give potential sin. If I give the most decorous and pious present, it passes beyond my power merely because I have given it. If I give a  man a Bible, he may read it in order to justify polygamy. Many men have read the Bible (the Mormons, for instance) only to justify polygamy. If I give a man a cup of cocoa (which I feel sure I should never do), he might gain from that cup of cocoa exactly the amount of nourishment and vigour which he needed to commit a murder. Many men, I feel sure (though I have no statistics to hand) have committed murder under the immediate invigoration of cocoa. If I give a man a church he may hold a Black Mass in it. If I give a man an altar (which seems improbable) he may use it for human sacrifice. And if this is the logic even of those cases in which the gift itself is something commonly accounted blameless or correct, the case is overwhelmingly strong as regards the ordinary gifts that people of the world give to each other. If it is possible that money or drink can be misused by our social inferiors, it is quite certain that books and clothes and furniture and works of art can be misused and are misused by our equals.

Here is the peculiar meanness of the objection to casual charity. We are not allowed to assume that money is a good thing for those who have not got it in the same approximate and general sense in which we assume that big salaries or titles or pictures or invitations are good things for the people who have not got them. We are told that it is our duty to consider whether the little almsgiving will make the beggar more drunken or more idle. But we are never told that it is our duty to consider whether helping such-and-such a gentleman to a good salary will make him more drunken or more idle. It is not our duty to ask ourselves whether giving a lady pearls will make her more vain. It is not our duty to ask ourselves whether giving a pedant books will make him more pedantic. We are not expected to calculate by an elaborate psychology whether giving a gorgeous wedding present to a fashionable couple will leave them ethically better or worse than they are. In all these cases we, being commonsense people, claim the right to say, "How they use the thing is their affair; I am justified in assuming that, for ordinary purposes, books are a benefit, and pretty jewels are a benefit, and a good salary is a benefit. " But the only case in which we are not allowed to argue thus is exactly the case of giving money to the very poor. That is to say, the only case where we are not allowed to treat money as being some sort of good in itself is the one case where we really know that it is wanted.

We do not know that even a sincere lady really wants pearls. But we do know, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, that even a humbugging beggar really wants money. Our ignorance about what will happen to the money is simply a part of our ignorance of what will happen to anything, of our ignorance of the whole world in which we live. What is really vile is this: that the ignorance which is never invoked when we are satisfying all the frivolous needs of the frivolous is always suddenly and violently invoked when we are, for once in a way, satisfying the palpable needs of the needy. I do not wish to pursue this aspect of the question; it becomes too serious for such a place as this. But once, when the one great human crime of human history was being committed, the crime which blotted the sun out of heaven, the spirit which had most reason to complain said of those criminals, "They know not what they do." It is indeed true that we know not what we do. We were permitted to urge that excuse when we were doing a crime. Are we really not allowed to urge it when we are doing a kindness?

Therefore, I have a sympathy with the mad philanthropist. I know that when he threw his money about in the street, all the institutions of the modern world told him that he was doing more harm than good. But then, I know also that every one of those institutions would have told him that he was doing more harm than good if he had given the money to any of the other institutions. There is a reasonable attack to be made on promiscuous charity. But there is exactly the same reasonable attack to be made on organised charity. I know myself of the case of a vague-minded millionaire who came to two of the greatest public men of our time and asked them how he could do good with his money. The first, after long consideration of all the issues, I have no doubt in the most philanthropic spirit, advised him to stick to it. The other, after taking a month to consider the matter, wrote to him to say that he had thought of one way in which the man could do no harm with his gold, and that was to coat the dome of St. Paul's with it.

When there is as much hopelessness and helplessness as this even about systematic charity, it is quite absurd to point out as something special the hopelessness and helplessness of individual charity. I have some sympathy with the man who wanted to plaster the dome of St. Paul's with gold. But I have much more sympathy with Mr. Yates, the mad philanthropist of recent days, who wants to fulfil the old legend and pave the streets of London with gold. That his gifts caused envy, disorder, and even disappointment, is probably true. So does the absence of any such gifts cause envy, disorder, and disappointment. I do not seriously defend this method in its entirety. But I do say that it will be in this individual way that charity will really be reformed. Nothing will be done until we have realised that charity is not giving rewards to the deserving, but happiness to the unhappy.

As things stand we have only a choice between giving money to men whom we know nothing about and giving money to institutions that we know nothing about. Of course we may know of an institution that it is, in the formal and futile sense, respectable, that it is solvent, that it is not run by a swindler with his trunks packed and labelled "Venezuela"; but that is not what we want to know about a charity. We do not want to know about a charity merely that it is cautious and solid like a bank. We want to know about a charity that it is to be trusted not only with men's bodies but with men's souls. We want to know of a charity that it is human, comprehending, sympathetic with free men, magnanimous. In short, queerly enough, we want to know of a charity that it is charitable. and this, as a rule, we do not know. These are the things that drive the thinking man back upon a momentary sympathy with the methods of the gentleman who was described in the newspapers as the "mad millionaire." Subsequent inquiry discovered, I think, that he was not a millionaire. And still further and more profound inquiry will, I think, discover that he was not so very mad.

There is one note on a mere matter of fact which may be added to this rambling discussion. I do not know whether there are any methods by which one can test whether the recipient of alms is genuine. But I am quite certain that the method commonly adopted, especially by charitable ladies, is utter bosh. You will constantly hear a starving man classed as a fraud because the moment he has got his money he "goes into a public house." This precious test is constantly adopted to prove that a hungry man is a humbug. Nobody seems to have the common intelligence to recall the fact that going into a public-house is exactly what he would do if he were not a humbug but a hungry man. He goes there first of all because it is the only place that has the sense to sell large hunks of bread-and-cheese for a few pence. And if he does go also for some stimulant he does exactly what any sane Bishop or Chief Justice would also do if he had really become faint for want of food. I add this merely as a detail, but an urgent one. Whatever test of beggars you would employ, do not employ this imbecile test, universal among modern  philanthropists.

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