A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here, citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

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"The Speaker" Articles

A book I published containing 112 pieces Chesterton wrote for the newspaper "The Speaker" at the beginning of his career.

They are also available for free electronically on another blog of mine here, if you wish to read them that way.




Saturday, February 24, 2018

THE ALMIGHTY STICK
"Daily News", October 23, 1909





The sun and wind, which however sublime are never happy except together, have filled all the heavens and the earth with an unreasonable happiness. The wind shakes the trees and breaks the clouds only that the sunlight may be splendidly shattered upon the shards and edges of them; the sunshine in its turn seems only to follow the wind and set on fire all that the wind has flung to it. This golden tempest rides all heaven like a horse; I hear the trumpets of a happy invasion; and an echo of that great phrase of Christ about heaven, that the violent take it by storm. Up in the little wood where I stand the wind breaks a branch here and there; and as I am in the same mood as the wind and rather heavier, I break a bough of a tree by leaning against it. Picking it up, I notice that it is by a coincidence rather more than a yard long and as straight as a spear shaft; with the lopping of a twig or two it would make a magnificent walking stick. On such a skylarking morning the schoolboy is on top in every man; and I begin, as a mere matter of habit, to whittle and trim it with a pocket knife. And the sun and the wind and the stick and the knife seemed like four brothers, since they were all four strong and ancient and simple, and had always been necessary to man. For there is a normal and enduring life of man, which, if not always happy, is at least always alive; and all the things which remind us of this down to the jack-knives and common cudgels, have always remained romantic, even although they are unquestionably ugly. I hacked the stick about and made it uglier and uglier as the great sun strengthened and the great wind rose and raved.

****

The stick I had broken off was a splendid stick of its kind; the type and symbol of all sticks. And the stick is very symbolic; it is the sceptre of man; the wooden pillar of his house. It is a piece of our ancient civilization especially in this; that it is a universal thing, and has many functions. It is sometimes a crutch, sometimes a club, sometimes a balancing pole, sometimes a mere toy to twiddle in the fingers. Sometimes it is used for holding a man up, and sometimes for knocking him down. On this blue and beneficent morning, when the wind is full of youth and hope and purity, one thinks, of course, more instinctively of knocking a man down. I think musingly of the large landlords in the neighbourhood, of the great international bankers, and the great American millionaires. How insufficient is the phrase that any stick is good enough to beat a dog with. Any stick is good enough to beat anybody with- an Emperor or a perfect gentleman. Beating a dog, though a necessary is even a distressing occupation, whereas beating a perfect gentleman would be pure and stainless rapture. With this stick in my hand a hero could belabour ogres and dragons and all the monsters of the earth.

All little boys, it may be noticed, like to possess a stick more almost than any other object, and in this, as in most things, little boys are very subtle sages. The stick is an abstraction; it is the straight line of Euclid; it is the primary principle of rigidity and direction. The stick is the backbone of the other structures; of the gun, the umbrella, the telescope, the spade, and the spear. Now the child, wishing for liberty and variety, wisely avoids realism, and clings to abstraction. If you have a telescope you cannot (without a violent effort) think it is an umbrella. It were idle to look through a spade to find any of the emotions of a telescope. But if you have the plan bar or rod that is the rudimentary shape of all of them you can (if you are young enough) feel as if you possessed them all, and could take each of them in turn off its hook. A stick is a whole tool-box and a whole armoury. Nay, a stick is sometimes a stable. You can call it a horse and bestride it, and ride along country roads with the most mettlesome leaps and caracoles. I propose to do so in a few minutes.

****

It is not only the stick that has this universal quality; it belongs to all the plain implements and practical substances of a comparatively simple society. The old thing can be used for all sorts of purposes; the modern scientific thing can only, as a rule, be used for one. Suppose in your wanderings through waste places, you come (let us say) to a considerable coil of rope. It is delightful to let the imagination loose on the number of things that you could do with a common rope. You could tow a boat or lasso a horse; you could play cat's cradle or pick oakum; you could construct a rope ladder for an eloping heiress or cord her boxes for a travelling maiden aunt; you could learn to tie a bow, or you could hang yourself. Far otherwise if, instead of finding a rope in the waste, you found a telephone. You can telephone with a telephone; you cannot do anything else with it. The tears come into my eyes as I think of the ironical agony of your position, left alone with a complete telephonic apparatus and nobody to telephone to. It is the same with any other historic human expedient, as, for instance, a knife or a horn. You can do so many things with a knife; cut your pencil, cut your cheese, cut your throat. Now if you buy one of those ingenious little pencil-sharpeners that you screw on to the top of a pencil, you will find its functions restricted. Let us concede (solely for the sake of argument) that with one of these pencil-sharpeners you can sharpen a pencil. The gloomy fact remains that to cut cheese with it would be problematical; and to cut one's throat with it really out of the sphere of practical politics. It is so with the other instance. Wine, ink, and gunpowder (perhaps the three most influential of European compositions) can all be carried in a horn, but I never heard of anybody carrying wine or gunpowder in a fountain-pen. Primitive man was an all-rounded man; and all his tools were all-round tools. We moderns are mad on specialism; and our very tools have a mad look about them.

****

As are the elemental human instruments, so also are the elemental human ideas. The home, for instance, is partly an inn for rest, and partly a school for education, and partly, again, a temple for the dedication of human souls to some unifying duties of life. Religion, again, has been to humanity not merely a servant, but a maid-of-all work; a cosmic theory; a code of conduct; a system of artistic symbols; a fountain of fascinating tales. And the modern substitutes have all the insane specialisms and general inadequacy of the telescope and the telephone. The modern world offers me a cosmic theory which cannot be used as a religion, and a school which cannot be used as a home.

I am just about to bestride the stick and ride happily home on it; when it occurs to me that this is but a common end for that child of the forest on such a day of gale and glory. This noble staff deserves some wilder destiny than to be the hobby-horse of an aged journalist. This stick ought at least to be a broomstick; it ought to whirl with a witch across heaven amid the scudding clouds and flying leaves. And since it seems strongly to object to the idea of taking me with it, why, it shall even go alone. On such a morning I do not desire sticks, but rather splendid and irrevocable actions. I swing it twice and it leaves my hand like a flying wheel; it hurtles and flashes in the sunlight far across the fall of the countryside. Who knows but that, guided by the saints, it may stoop upon and strike some wealthy Justice of the Peace out for his morning ride. I have flung away that emperor of all the sticks of the earth; what a sacrifice, but (as Cyrano says) what a gesture! Perhaps you do not feel the fulness of my heroic loss; I will waste no more words in converting so unsympathetic a person. I pick up my real walking stick which is lying beside me and walk back to my house, where I have twenty-three others.

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