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)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mumford and Sons

I admittedly know very little about music, so, naturally, I don't know anything of this band, but I came across an interview that included the following, which I wanted to share:


Any favorite authors or poets that may or may not have influenced your writing?

M: I’m really enjoying G.K Chesterton at the moment, still.

I actually thought of him the first time I heard your record, because the way in which he talks about ‘exhortation’ between friends in Orthodoxy.

M: Well, I really want to get into Orthodoxy but right now I want to read these three chapters my brother recommended from Everlasting Man. Because I love classical History and I love medieval History, and have studied it a bit he kind of goes through that stuff, and then comes through to the more modern era [....]

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chesterton refererred to by Winston Churchilll

Winston Churchill referred to GKC in his book A Traveller in War Time.

Here is the passage:

America must now contribute what Britain and France, with all their energies and resources and determination, have hitherto been unable to contribute. It must not be men, money, and material alone, but some quality that America has had in herself during her century and a half of independent self-realization. Mr. Chesterton, in writing about the American Revolution, observes that the real case for the colonists is that they felt that they could be something which England would not help them to be. It is, in fact, the only case for separation. What may be called the English tradition of democracy, which we inherit, grows through conflicts and differences, through experiments and failures and successes, toward an intellectualized unity,--experiments by states, experiments by individuals, a widely spread development, and new contributions to the whole.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An appropriate Christmas reading... :-)

"The God in the Cave"

A chapter from The Everlasting Man (1925)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Christmas must certainly be delightful to the normal man- if he can be found."

Everything that is really lovable can be hated; and there are undoubtedly people who hate Christmas. It is not difficult to divide them roughly according to their reasons for doing so. There are those, for instance, who hate what they call vulgarity and what is really mankind. There are those who dislike playing the fool, preferring to act the same part in a more serious spirit. There are those who cannot sit down to a steady meal because they have those insane American nerves which the Scriptural writer prophesied when he wrote (foreseeing the life of the rich Yankee): "There is no peace for the wicked." There are those who object to Waits- I never can imagine why. There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions. There are those (equally unchristian in their basic sentiment) who hate Paganism. They regret the Pagan quality in the Christian festival; which is simply regretting that Christianity satisfied the previous cravings of mankind. There are some who cannot or will not eat turkey and sausages. Of course if this is simply part of a private physical necessity, it may leave the soul still in a sound Christmas condition. But if it is part of a philosophy, it is part of a philosophy with which I disagree. I hold myself in a simple abstract position towards the vegetarian and towards the teetotaler. I can respect the thing as a regimen, but not as a religion. As long as the man abstains from low motives I can heartily sympathise with him. It is when he abstains from high motives that I hold him as a heretic.

There are these people, then, who dislike Christmas, and no doubt they are very numerous. But even if they are the majority, they are still essentially mad. Christmas must certainly be delightful to the normal man- if he can be found. I need hardly point out to any readers of this paper so alphabetical a fact of philosophy as the fact that the normal does not mean merely the average. If there are only four men in the world, if one has broken his nose, another had his eye put out, if the third has a bald head, and the fourth has a wooden leg, it does not in the least affect the fact that the normal man, from whom they all by various accidents fall short, is a man with two eyes, two legs, natural hair and an unbroken nose. So it is with mental or moral normality. If you put round a table four of the most celebrated philosophers in modern Europe, no doubt you would find that each had his little abnormality. I do not say the modern philosopher would have a broken nose; though, if there were any spirit and courage in the modern populace he would get one fast enough. Let us say that he had a mental dislocation, his spiritual nose broken, and that some similar criticism applied to each of his three companions. One of them (let us say) might be so constituted that he could not see blotting-paper without bursting into tears. The second (the Prophet of the Will to Power) would be constitutionally afraid of rabbits. A third would be always expecting a visit from a nine-headed monkey. A fourth will expect the Superman. But precisely because all these insanities are different they leave untouched the idea of the central sanity from which they all fall away. The man who is mad on blotting-paper is sane on rabbits. The man who believes in a nine-headed monkey is not such a fool as to believe in the Superman. Even if there be no other men in the world but these four, there is still existent in idea the Normal Man of whom each is a variation or rather a violation. But I incline rather to think that the Normal Man does exist also in a physical and locateable sense. Hiding in some crazy attic from the fury of the populace (whose fiery faces fill the street below like a sea), barricaded against the madness of the mere majority of men, there lives somewhere the man whose name is Man. Wherever he is he is at one with himself, and the balance of his mind is like music. And wherever he is he is eating plum-pudding.

-January 13, 1906, Illustrated London News

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do -- because they are Christian."

The following propositions have been urged: First, that some faith in our life is required even to improve it; second, that some dissatisfaction with things as they are is necessary even in order to be satisfied; third, that to have this necessary content and necessary discontent it is not sufficient to have the obvious equilibrium of the Stoic. For mere resignation has neither the gigantic levity of pleasure nor the superb intolerance of pain. There is a vital objection to the advice merely to grin and bear it. The objection is that if you merely bear it, you do not grin. Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do -- because they are Christian. And when a Christian is pleased, he is (in the most exact sense) frightfully pleased; his pleasure is frightful. Christ prophesied the whole of Gothic architecture in that hour when nervous and respectable people (such people as now object to barrel organs) objected to the shouting of the gutter-snipes of Jerusalem. He said, "If these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Under the impulse of His spirit arose like a clamorous chorus the facades of the mediaeval cathedrals, thronged with shouting faces and open mouths. The prophecy has fulfilled itself: the very stones cry out.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hilaire Belloc's "Song of the Pelagian Heresy"

OK, the following song is *not* by Chesterton, but since it's by the other half of the Chesterbelloc (Hilaire Belloc), it is still appropriate enough for this blog, and so I had to post it. :-)

It is taken from Belloc's novel The Four Men (1912), in which a character named The Sailor sings it. (However, it contains historical errors which one of the other characters in the novel called Grizzlebeard points out- see the end of this post). But it is hilarious, nevertheless.

The Song of the Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men's Backs and the Very Robust Out-thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual

Pelagius lived in Kardanoel
and taught a doctrine there
How whether you went to Heaven or Hell,
It was your own affair.
How, whether you found eternal joy
Or sank forever to burn,
It had nothing to do with the church, my boy,
But it was your own concern.

Oh, he didn't believe in Adam and Eve,
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began with the fall of man,
And he laughed at original sin!

With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
He laughed at orignal sin!

Whereat the Bishop of old Auxerre
(Germanus was his name)
He tore great handfuls out of his hair,
And he called Pelagius Shame:
And then with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly thwhacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall,
They rather had been hanged.

Oh, he thwacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions,
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions!

With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
Their orthodox persuasions!

Now the Faith is old
and the Devil is bold
Exceedingly bold. indeed;
And the masses of doubt
That are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in sturdy youth,
And still can drink strong ale,
Oh -- let us put it away to infallible truth,
Which always shall prevail!

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword,
And for howling heretics, too;
And whatever good things
our Christendom brings,
But especially the barley-brew!

With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow
Especially the barley-brew!


"As we swung down the road which leads at last to Little Cowfold, Grizzlebeard, thinking about that song, said:
'I cannot believe, Sailor, that your song is either old or true; for there is no such place as Kardanoel, and Pelagius never lived there, and his doctrine was very different from what you say, and the blessed Germanus would not have hurt a fly. As witness that battle of his somewhere in Flint, where he discomforted the Scotch, of all people, by talking Hebrew too loud, although he only knew one word of the tongue. Then, also, what you say of ale is not ecclesiastical, nor is it right doctrine to thank the Lord for heresy.'

The Sailor:
'Anything you will! But every church must have its customs within reason, and this song, or rather hymn, is of Breviary, and very properly used in the diocese of the Theleme upon certain feast days. Yes, notably that of the Saints Comus and Hilarius, who, having nothing else to do, would have been cruelly martyred for the faith had they not contrariwise, as befits Christian men, be-martyred and banged to death their very persecutors in turn. It is a prose of the church militant, and is ascribed to Dun-Scotus, but is more probably of traditional origin. Compare the 'Hymn to the Ass', which all good Christian men should know."

'Nevertheless I doubt if it be for the strengthening of souls, but rather a bit of ribaldry, more worthy of the Martyrs' Mount which you may know, than of holy Sussex.'"

"The spirit, I mean, strictly speaking, does not take things for granted. It takes them as if they had not been granted."

It may roughly be described as the spirit of taking things for granted. But, indeed, oddly enough, the very form of this phrase rather misses its own meaning. The spirit, I mean, strictly speaking, does not take things for granted. It takes them as if they had not been granted. It takes them as if it held them by something more autocratic than a right; by a cold and unconscious occupation, as stiff as a privilege and as baseless as a caprice. As a fact, things generally are granted, ultimately by God, but often immediately by men. But this type of man is so unconscious of what he has been given that he is almost unconscious of what he has got; not realizing things as gifts, he hardly realizes them as goods.

-Fancies Versus Fads (1923)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Scientists do not love truth any more than anone else."

Scientists do not love truth any more than anyone else. All men love truth when they are disinterested; as in the solving of a good puzzle. There is nothing to show that chemists or astronomers specially love truth when they are interested; as in filling up the paper for the income-tax. I have never heard that the income-tax returns of physicians in general practice were regarded as above suspicion.

-December 28, 1907, Illustrated London News

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"A man cannot pay that kind of reverence to truth solid as marble; they can only be reverent towards a beautiful lie."

They are not reverent any more than Roman Catholics are reverent, for reverence in the sad and delicate meaning of the term reverence is a thing only possible to infidels. That beautiful twilight you will find in Euripides, in Renan, in Matthew Arnold; but in men who believe you will not find it-- you will find only laughter and war. A man cannot pay that kind of reverence to truth solid as marble; they can only be reverent towards a beautiful lie. And the Salvation Army, though their voice has broken out in a mean environment and an ugly shape, are really the old voice of glad and angry faith, hot as the riots of Dionysus, wild as the gargoyles of Catholicism, not to be mistaken for a philosophy. Professor Huxley, in one of his clever phrases, called the Salvation Army "corybantic Christianity." Huxley was the last and noblest of those Stoics who have never understood the Cross. If he had understood Christianity he would have known that there never has been, and never can be, any Christianity that is not corybantic.

-Heretics (1905)

Monday, November 22, 2010

"When people talk....as if the Crusades were nothing more than an aggressive raid against Islam..."

When people talk, for instance, as if the Crusades were nothing more than an aggressive raid against Islam, they seem to forget in the strangest way that Islam itself was only an aggressive raid against the old and ordered civilisation in these parts. I do not say it in mere hostility to the religion of Mahomet; as will be apparent later, I am fully conscious of many values and virtues in it; but certainly it was Islam that was the invasion and Christendom that was the thing invaded. An Arabian gentleman found riding on the road to Paris or hammering on the gates of Vienna can hardly complain that we have sought him out in his simple tent in the desert. The conqueror of Sicily and Spain cannot reasonably express surprise at being an object of morbid curiosity to the people of Italy and France.

-The New Jerusalem (1920)

Friday, November 19, 2010

GKC's Introduction to "The Pilgrim's Progress"

Chesterton's introduction to "The Pilgrim's Progress"

"Our civilization has decided....that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men."

Our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

-Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anecdote with Shaw

"George Bernard Shaw, tall and thin, stood in vivid contrast to the corpulent Chesterton. They differed about other matters too. Once Shaw is reported to have said to Chesterton, "If I were as fat as you, I'd hang myself." Chesterton replied amiably, "And if I had it in mind to hang myself, I'd use you as the rope."

-Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"All is gold that glitters, For the glitter is the gold"

"A coronation on `Swiss Family' lines, I suppose," said Michael, laughing. "Oh, I know you would find everything in that atmosphere. If we wanted such a simple thing, for instance, as a Coronation Canopy, we should walk down beyond the geraniums and find the Canopy Tree in full bloom. If we wanted such a trifle as a crown of gold, why, we should be digging up dandelions, and we should find a gold mine under the lawn. And when we wanted oil for the ceremony, why I suppose a great storm would wash everything on shore, and we should find there was a Whale on the premises."

"And so there is a whale on the premises for all you know," asseverated Smith, striking the table with passion. "I bet you've never examined the premises! I bet you've never been round at the back as I was this morning -- for I found the very thing you say could only grow on a tree. There's an old sort of square tent up against the dustbin; it's got three holes in the canvas, and a pole's broken, so it's not much good as a tent, but as a Canopy --" And his voice quite failed him to express its shining adequacy; then he went on with controversial eagerness: "You see I take every challenge as you make it. I believe every blessed thing you say couldn't be here has been here all the time. You say you want a whale washed up for oil. Why, there's oil in that cruet-stand at your elbow; and I don't believe anybody has touched it or thought of it for years. And as for your gold crown, we're none of us wealthy here, but we could collect enough ten-shilling bits from our own pockets to string round a man's head for half an hour; or one of Miss Hunt's gold bangles is nearly big enough to --"

The good-humoured Rosamund was almost choking with laughter. "All is not gold that glitters," she said, "and besides --"

"What a mistake that is!" cried Innocent Smith, leaping up in great excitement. "All is gold that glitters -- especially now we are a Sovereign State. What's the good of a Sovereign State if you can't define a sovereign? We can make anything a precious metal, as men could in the morning of the world. They didn't choose gold because it was rare; your scientists can tell you twenty sorts of slime much rarer. They chose gold because it was bright -- because it was a hard thing to find, but pretty when you've found it. You can't fight with golden swords or eat golden biscuits; you can only look at it -- an you can look at it out here."

With one of his incalculable motions he sprang back and burst open the doors into the garden. At the same time also, with one of his gestures that never seemed at the instant so unconventional as they were, he stretched out his hand to Mary Gray, and led her out on to the lawn as if for a dance.

The French windows, thus flung open, let in an evening even lovelier than that of the day before. The west was swimming with sanguine colours, and a sort of sleepy flame lay along the lawn. The twisted shadows of the one or two garden trees showed upon this sheen, not gray or black, as in common daylight, but like arabesques written in vivid violet ink on some page of Eastern gold. The sunset was one of those festive and yet mysterious conflagrations in which common things by their colours remind us of costly or curious things. The slates upon the sloping roof burned like the plumes of a vast peacock, in every mysterious blend of blue and green. The red-brown bricks of the wall glowed with all the October tints of strong ruby and tawny wines. The sun seemed to set each object alight with a different coloured flame, like a man lighting fireworks; and even Innocent's hair, which was of a rather colourless fairness, seemed to have a flame of pagan gold on it as he strode across the lawn towards the one tall ridge of rockery.

"What would be the good of gold," he was saying, "if it did not glitter? Why should we care for a black sovereign any more than for a black sun at noon? A black button would do just as well. Don't you see that everything in this garden looks like a jewel? And will you kindly tell me what the deuce is the good of a jewel except that it looks like a jewel? Leave off buying and selling, and start looking! Open your eyes, and you'll wake up in the New Jerusalem.

"All is gold that glitters--
Tree and tower of brass;
Rolls the golden evening air
Down the golden grass.
Kick the cry to Jericho,
How yellow mud is sold,
All is gold that glitters,
For the glitter is the gold."

"And who wrote that?" asked Rosamund, amused.
"No one will ever write it," answered Smith, and cleared the rockery with a flying leap.

-Manalive (1912)

Friday, November 12, 2010

"But Santa Claus's door was really the front door: it was the door fronting the universe."

In every well-appointed gentleman's house, I reflected, there was the front door for the gentlemen, and the side door for the tradesmen; but there was also the top door for the gods. The chimney is, so to speak, the underground passage between earth and heaven. By this starry tunnel Santa Claus manages -- like the skylark -- to be true to the kindred points of heaven and home. Nay, owing to certain conventions, and a widely distributed lack of courage for climbing, this door was, perhaps, little used. But Santa Claus's door was really the front door: it was the door fronting the universe.

-Manalive (1912)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

A real soldier does not fight because he has something that he hates in front of him. He fights because he has something that he loves behind his back.

-Januray 14, 1911, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"...and I am told that both classes of people are entertaining conversationalists."

The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared. There are a large number of cultivated persons who doubt these maxims of daily life, just as there are a large number of persons who believe they are the Prince of Wales; and I am told that both classes of people are entertaining conversationalists.

-The Defendant (1901)

"I met a man the other day who did not believe in fairy tales."

I met a man the other day who did not believe in fairy tales. I do not mean that he did not believe in the incidents narrated in them—that he did not believe that a pumpkin could turn into a coach. He did, indeed, entertain this curious disbelief. And, like all the other people I have ever met who entertained it, he was wholly unable to give me an intelligent reason for it. He tried the laws of nature, but he soon dropped that. Then he said that pumpkins were unalterable in ordinary experience, and that we all reckoned on their infinitely protracted pumpkinity. But I pointed out to him that this was not an attitude we adopt specially towards impossible marvels, but simply the attitude we adopt towards all unusual occurrences. If we were certain of miracles we should not count on them. Things that happen very seldom we all leave out of our calculations, whether they are miraculous or not. I do not expect a glass of water to be turned into wine; but neither do I expect a glass of water to be poisoned with prussic acid. I do not in ordinary business relations act on the assumption that the editor is a fairy; but neither do I act on the assumption that he is a Russian spy, or the lost heir of the Holy Roman Empire. What we assume in action is not that the natural order is unalterable, but simply that it is much safer to bet on uncommon incidents than on common ones. This does not touch the credibility of any attested tale about a Russian spy or a pumpkin turned into a coach. If I had seen a pumpkin turned into a Panhard motor-car with my own eyes that would not make me any more inclined to assume that the same thing would happen again. I should not invest largely in pumpkins with an eye to the motor trade. Cinderella got a ball dress from the fairy; but I do not suppose that she looked after her own clothes any the less after it.

But the view that fairy tales cannot really have happened, though crazy, is common. The man I speak of disbelieved in fairy tales in an even more amazing and perverted sense. He actually thought that fairy tales ought not to be told to children. That is (like a belief in slavery or annexation) one of those intellectual errors which lie very near to ordinary mortal sins. There are some refusals which, though they may be done what is called conscientiously, yet carry so much of their whole horror in the very act of them, that a man must in doing them not only harden but slightly corrupt his heart. One of them was the refusal of milk to young mothers when their husbands were in the field against us. Another is the refusal of fairy tales to children.

-Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Monday, November 1, 2010

"The Christian Church can best be defined as an enormous private detective, correcting that official detective-- the State."

Every person of sound education enjoys detective stories, and there are even several points on which they have a hearty superiority to most modern books. A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive. But those who have enjoyed the roman policier must have noted one thing, that when the murderer is caught he is hardly ever hanged. "That," says Sherlock Holmes, "is the advantage of being a private detective"; after he has caught he can set free. The Christian Church can best be defined as an enormous private detective, correcting that official detective-- the State. This, indeed, is one of the injustices done to historic Christianity; injustices which arise from looking at complex exceptions and not at the large and simple fact. We are constantly being told that theologians used racks and thumbscrews, and so they did. Theologians used racks and thumbscrews just as they used thimbles and three-legged stools, because everybody else used them. Christianity no more created the mediaeval tortures than it did the Chinese tortures; it inherited them from any empire as heathen as the Chinese.

The Church did, in an evil hour, consent to imitate the commonwealth and employ cruelty. But if we open our eyes and take in the whole picture, if we look at the general shape and colour of the thing, the real difference between the Church and the State is huge and plain. The State, in all lands and ages, has created a machinery of punishment, more bloody and brutal in some places than others, but bloody and brutal everywhere. The Church is the only institution that ever attempted to create a machinery of pardon. The Church is the only thing that ever attempted by system to pursue and discover crimes, not in order to avenge, but in order to forgive them. The stake and rack were merely the weaknesses of the religion; its snobberies, its surrenders to the world. Its speciality--or, if you like, its oddity--was this merciless mercy; the unrelenting sleuthhound who seeks to save and not slay.

-A Miscellany of Men (1912)

Friday, October 29, 2010

New York Times review of The Man Who Was Thursday

New York Times review of G.K.'s novel The Man Who Was Thursday (By Nathaniel Hawthorne's granddaughter).

"G.K. Chesterton's Fantastic Novel"

The review was published on May 2, 1908.

Here is an excerpt:

"And this story is told as Mr. Chesterton tells things, with wit and paradox nudging you into frequent smiles, with felicitous phrase and apt simile- quotable from page to page. It is all a huge joke, a quite absurd and laughable fantasy- or it is a sermon- or it is even an explanation. Read the book and make your choice. In any event you are not likely to lay it down and leave it unread..."

Just came across that and thought it was cool. :-)

"Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people.."

The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need. This is surely the very much mistaken meaning of those words to the first saints, "Ye are the salt of the earth," which caused the Ex-Kaiser to remark with all solemnity that his beefy Germans were the salt of the earth; meaning thereby merely that they were the earth's beefiest and therefore best. But salt seasons and preserves beef, not because it is like beef; but because it is very unlike it. Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt. It is because they were the exceptional people, that they must not lose their exceptional quality. "If salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" is a much more pointed question than any mere lament over the price of the best beef. If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world.

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"It is the democracy of the dead."

But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record....Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

I have first to say, therefore, that if I have had a bias, it was always a bias in favour of democracy, and therefore of tradition.

Orthodoxy (1908)

Father Brown

A clip from "Father Brown" (also known as "The Detective"), starring Alec Guinness as Father Brown

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"We can never precisely trust him- but we can frequently believe him."

The worst insincerity is not in the gutter Press, but in the respectable Press; the worst deceiving of the people is not done by demagogues but by statesmen. The freelance is by no means the worst of our freebooters. We all know a certain type of adventurer now-a-days who runs sporting or popular papers, in which it is often worth his while to tell truths that no one else dares to tell; we feel moved to palliate his irresponsibility on account of his independence. We can never precisely trust him- but we can frequently believe him.

-February 24, 1912, Illustrated London News

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Skeleton

Chattering finch and water-fly
Are not merrier than I;
Here among the flowers I lie
Laughing everlastingly.
No; I may not tell the best;
Surely, friends, I might have guessed
Death was but the good King's jest,
It was hid so carefully.

-The Wild Knight and Other Poems (1900)

Friday, October 22, 2010

"No Englishman likes to hear his Party abused; and this is right. Every Englishman likes to hear both parties abused, and this is righter still."

There was a time when I was afraid of mentioning politics on this page. But that was when I did not know anything about politics; when I was, in short, a good Party man- nay, in real peril of becoming a politician. I have long since found out the perfectly simple principle upon which ordinary Englishmen permit the discussion of politics. No Englishman likes to hear his Party abused; and this is right. Every Englishman likes to hear both parties abused, and this is righter still. If the pot calls the kettle black, the pot will (very naturally) get into hot water. But, if we all agree that they are both black, then England is calm, and even optimistic. Somehow the two blacks make a white. I will confess that I do not think they make a white; but I think they may turn out to be the troubled grey of morning. Or to revert to the older and homelier and therefore much truer metaphor, if the pot and kettle call each other black and prove each other black, it might just possibly lead to the kitchen-maid cleaning both of them.

-March 2, 1912, Illustrated London News

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What book would *you* choose if stranded on a desert island?

G.K. Chesterton and several other literary figures were once asked what book they would prefer to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island.

"The complete works of Shakespeare," said one writer without hesitation.

"I choose the Bible," said another.

"How about you?" they asked Chesterton.

"I would choose Thomas' Guide to Practical Shipbuilding," replied Chesterton.

Source- Joke Barn

UPDATE (May 8, 2011):

Here, apparently, is the original source of the above anecdote. Cyril Clemens (a relation of Samuel Clemens, i.e., Mark Twain) wrote a book on Chesterton called Chesterton as Seen by His Contemporaries (1939), in the course of which he interviewed Chesterton himself as well (shortly before GKC's death), in addition to his contemporaries. From that book (p. 131 in my edition):

I then asked the author what would be his choice if he had to go on a desert island and could take but one book along.

"It would depend upon the circumstances," he replied. "If I were a politician who wanted to impress his constituents, I would take Plato or Aristotle. But the real test would be with people who had no chance to show off before their friends or their constituents. In that case I feel certain that everyone would take Thomas' 'Guide to Practical Shipbuilding' so that they could get away from the island as quickly as possible. And then if they should be allowed to take a second book it would be the most exciting detective story within reach. But if I could take only one book to a desert isle and was not in a particular hurry to get off, I would without the slightest hesitation put 'Pickwick Papers' in my handbag."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"...the really undemocratic and unfraternal thing is the common practice of not kicking the butler downstairs."

Odd ideas are entertained in our time about the real nature of the doctrine of human fraternity. The real doctrine is something which we do not, with all our modern humanitarianism, very clearly understand, much less very closely practise. There is nothing, for instance, particularly undemocratic about kicking your butler downstairs. It may be wrong, but it is not unfraternal. In a certain sense, the blow or kick may be considered as a confession of equality: you are meeting your butler body to body; you are almost according him the privilege of the duel. There is nothing, undemocratic, though there may be something unreasonable, in expecting a great deal from the butler, and being filled with a kind of frenzy of surprise when he falls short of the divine stature. The thing which is really undemocratic and unfraternal is not to expect the butler to be more or less divine. The thing which is really undemocratic and unfraternal is to say, as so many modern humanitarians say, "Of course one must make allowances for those on a lower plane." All things considered indeed, it may be said, without undue exaggeration, that the really undemocratic and unfraternal thing is the common practice of not kicking the butler downstairs.

It is only because such a vast section of the modern world is out of sympathy with the serious democratic sentiment that this statement will seem to many to be lacking in seriousness. Democracy is not philanthropy; it is not even altruism or social reform. Democracy is not founded on pity for the common man; democracy is founded on reverence for the common man, or, if you will, even on fear of him. It does not champion man because man is so miserable, but because man is so sublime. It does not object so much to the ordinary man being a slave as to his not being a king, for its dream is always the dream of the first Roman republic, a nation of kings.

-Heretics (1905)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

C.S. Lewis on GKC

In his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis mentions Chesterton on 8 different occasions, I believe. 4 of them were simply quoting or mentioning him, for the most part, without it being directly involved with Lewis' story itself. But the other 4 occasions were directly involved with his own story, in which he detailed Chesterton's influence on him. So I just wanted to include them here (I have not included any other quotes on GKC by C.S. Lewis from other sources other than Surprised by Joy in this post, though there are others).

First, the longest passage on Chesterton is when Lewis describes how he, when an atheist, first discovered GKC during WW1 while he was in the hospital at Le Treport:

(From the chapter "Guns and Good Company")
It was here that I first read a volume of Chesterton's essays. I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me. It might have been expected that my pessimism, my atheism, and my hatred of sentiment would have made him to me the least congenial of all authors. It would almost seem that Providence, or some "second cause" of a very obscure kind, quite overrules our previous tastes when it decides to bring two minds together. Liking an author may be as involuntary and improbable as falling in love. I was by now a sufficiently experienced reader to distinguish liking from agreement. I did not need to accept what Chesterton said in order to enjoy it. His humor was of the kind which I like best- not "jokes" imbedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humor which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the "bloom" on dialectic itself. The sword glitters not because the swordsman set out to make it glitter but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. For the critics who think Chesterton frivolous or "paradoxical" I have to work hard to feel even pity; sympathy is out of the question. Moreover, strange as it may seem, I liked him for his goodness...

...In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere- "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," as Herbert says, "fine nets and stratagems." God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.
The second passage mentions Chesterton briefly, but I wanted to quote the whole portion where it appears because I just absolutely loved the passage (even if it hadn't mentioned GKC):

(From the chapter "Checkmate")
All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been as blind as a bad not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity that he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete- Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire- all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called "tinny." It wasn't that I didn't like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.
And Lewis also describe when he first encountered The Everlasting Man (which he would on another occasion state to be the contemporary book that had helped him most in his conversion to Christianity, and as being the best popular defense of the Christian faith he knew of):

(From the chapter "Checkmate")
Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense...I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive "apart from his Christianity." Now, I veritably believe, I thought...that Christianity itself was very sensible "apart from its Christianity"
Finally, a last passage in which Lewis makes reference to GKC (or, to be more specific, The Everlasting Man) as being helpful in his conversion:

(From the chapter "The Beginning")
There could be no question of going back to primitive, untheologized and unmoralized, Paganism. The God whom I had at last acknowledged was one, and was righteous. Paganism had been only the childhood of religion, or only a prophetic dream. Where was the thing full grown? or where was the awakening? (The Everlasting Man was helping me here.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Queen Elizabeth

Here is a link to the portrait "Conversation Piece" found in the National Portrait Gallery, featuring G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and Maurice Baring (which three figures Chesterton labeled as "Baring, over-bearing, and past-bearing." lol.)

"Conversation Piece"

In any case, an interesting fact I just came across last night. From Joseph Pearce's biography Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc (p. 244)

In November 1947, James and Pauline Gunn gave one of the preliminary sketches for the Conversation Piece to Princess Elizabeth as a wedding gift on the occasion of her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh. The future Queen replied on 16 December to offer "our most sincere thanks for the delightful picture of Mr. Chesterton, Mr. Belloc and Mr. Maurice Baring...I think it perfectly charming, and much look forward to hanging it in my house." It is intriguing to conjecture whether she ever did so; whether, even now, the triumvirate of writers overlooks some corner of one of the royal residences, or whether the picture gathers dust unheeded in a neglected storeroom.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Instead of the liberty of dogma, you have the tyranny of taste."

A fixed creed is absolutely indispensable to freedom. For while men are and should be various, there must be some communication between them if they are to get any pleasure out of their variety. And an intellectual formula is the only thing that can create a communication that does not depend on mere blood, class, or capricious sympathy. If we all start with the agreement that the sun and moon exist, we can talk about our different visions of them. The strong-eyed man can boast that he sees the sun as a perfect circle. The shortsighted man may say (or if he is an impressionist, boast) that he sees the moon as a silver blur. The colour-blind man may rejoice in the fairy-trick which enables him to live under a green sun and a blue moon. But if once it be held that there is nothing but a silver blur in one man's eye or a bright circle (like a monocle) in the other man's, then neither is free, for each is shut up in the cell of a separate universe.

But, indeed, an even worse fate, practically considered, follows from the denim of the original intellectual formula. Not only does the individual become narrow, but he spreads narrowness across the world like a cloud; he causes narrowness to increase and multiply like a weed. For what happens is this: that all the shortsighted people come together and build a city called Myopia, where they take short-sightedness for granted and paint short-sighted pictures and pursue very short-sighted policies. Meanwhile all the men who can stare at the sun get together on Salisbury Plain and do nothing but stare at the sun; and all the men who see a blue moon band themselves together and assert the blue moon, not once in a blue moon, but incessantly. So that instead of a small and varied group, you have enormous monotonous groups. Instead of the liberty of dogma, you have the tyranny of taste.

-A Miscellany of Men (1912)

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land."

More than a month ago, when I was leaving London for a holiday, a friend walked into my flat in Battersea and found me surrounded with half-packed luggage.

"You seem to be off on your travels," he said. "Where are you going?"

With a strap between my teeth I replied, "To Battersea."

"The wit of your remark," he said, "wholly escapes me."

"I am going to Battersea," I repeated, "to Battersea viĆ¢ Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort. My remark contained no wit. It contained simply the truth. I am going to wander over the whole world until once more I find Battersea. Somewhere in the seas of sunset or of sunrise, somewhere in the ultimate archipelago of the earth, there is one little island which I wish to find: an island with low green hills and great white cliffs. Travellers tell me that it is called England (Scotch travellers tell me that it is called Britain), and there is a rumour that somewhere in the heart of it there is a beautiful place called Battersea."

"I suppose it is unnecessary to tell you," said my friend, with an air of intellectual comparison, "that this is Battersea?"

"It is quite unnecessary," I said, "and it is spiritually untrue. I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair: because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays. Do you suppose that I go to France in order to see France? Do you suppose that I go to Germany in order to see Germany? I shall enjoy them both; but it is not them that I am seeking. I am seeking Battersea. The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land. Now I warn you that this Gladstone bag is compact and heavy, and that if you utter that word 'paradox' I shall hurl it at your head. I did not make the world, and I did not make it paradoxical. It is not my fault, it is the truth, that the only way to go to England is to go away from it."

But when, after only a month's travelling, I did come back to England, I was startled to find that I had told the exact truth. England did break on me at once beautifully new and beautifully old. To land at Dover is the right way to approach England (most things that are hackneyed are right), for then you see first the full, soft gardens of Kent, which are, perhaps, an exaggeration, but still a typical exaggeration, of the rich rusticity of England.

-Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one"

Through all this ordeal his root horror had been isolation, and there are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one

-The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908)

Monday, October 11, 2010

"This is all very well when one is an Eastern despot and can pay compliments in freedom."

After writing recently in this column some remarks about the nose never figuring in amorous poetry, I ought to have been prepared to be triumphantly contradicted; for those generalisations are never exactly true, especially when they take the form of a universal negative. One correspondant wrote me a very charming letter drawing my attention to a case which I certainly ought to have remembered- that of the lady whose nose was "tip-tilted like the petal of a flower." This is very delicately done; I doubt if it could be done again. In any case, a careful selection among flowers must be made by the young lyrist who wishes to compare his lady's nose to any of them. Tiger-lilies, carnations, sunflowers, and such instances should be avoided. Another obliging gentleman sent me a postcard with the following quotation from the Song of Solomon- "Thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh towards Damascus." This is all very well when one is an Eastern despot and can pay compliments in freedom. But if in these days I endeavoured to ingratiate myself with a lady by comparing her nose to the Eiffel Tower it is not quite so easy to say what would happen.

-December 9, 1905, Illustrated London News, "Public Houses; Christianity and Christian Science; Noses and Compliments"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"In an article of that enlightened sort, it seemed enough for the writer to suggest that superstition is anything that he does not happen to like."

...I think it was a general article on Superstition; and, being a journalistic article of the modern type, it was of course devoted to discussing superstition without defining superstition. In an article of that enlightened sort, it seemed enough for the writer to suggest that superstition is anything that he does not happen to like. Some of the things are also things that I do not happen to like. But such a writer is not reasonable even when he is right. A man ought to have some more philosophical objection to stories of ill luck than merely calling them credulity; as certainly as a man ought to have some more philosophical objection to Mass than to call it Magic. It is hardly a final refutation of Spiritualists to prove that they believe in Spirits; any more than a refutation of Deists to prove that they believe in Deity. Creed and credence and credulity are words of the same origin and can be juggled backwards and forwards to any extent. But when a man assumes the absurdity of anything that anybody else believes, we wish first to know what he believes; on what principle he believes; and, above all, upon what principle he disbelieves. There is no trace of anything so rational in the Dean's piece of metaphysical journalism. If he had stopped to define his terms, or in other words to tell us what he was talking about, such an abstract analysis would of course have filled up some space in the article. There might have been no room for the Alarum Against the Pope.

-The Thing (1929)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Song Against Grocers

[From Chesterton's novel The Flying Inn- lol.]

The Song Against Grocers

"God made the wicked Grocer,
For a mystery and a sign,
That men might shun the awful shops,
And go to inns to dine;
Where the bacon's on the rafter
And the wine is in the wood,
And God that made good laughter
Has seen that they are good.

"The evil-hearted Grocer
Would call his mother 'Ma'am,'
And bow at her and bob at her,
Her aged soul to damn;
And rub his horrid hands and ask,
What article was next;
Though mortis in articulo,
Should be her proper text.

"His props are not his children
But pert lads underpaid,
Who call out 'Cash!' and bang about,
To work his wicked trade;
He keeps a lady in a cage,
Most cruelly all day,
And makes her count and calls her 'Miss,'
Until she fades away.

"The righteous minds of inn-keepers
Induce them now and then
To crack a bottle with a friend,
Or treat unmoneyed men;
But who hath seen the Grocer
Treat housemaids to his teas,
Or crack a bottle of fish-sauce,
Or stand a man a cheese?

"He sells us sands of Araby
As sugar for cash down,
He sweeps his shop and sells the dust,
The purest salt in town;
He crams with cans of poisoned meat
Poor subjects of the King,
And when they die by thousands
Why, he laughs like anything.

"The Wicked Grocer groces
In spirits and in wine,
Not frankly and in fellowship,
As men in inns do dine;
But packed with soap and sardines
And carried off by grooms,
For to be snatched by Duchesses,
And drunk in dressing-rooms.

"The hell-instructed Grocer
Has a temple made of tin,
And the ruin of good inn-keepers
Is loudly urged therein;
But now the sands are running out
From sugar of a sort,
The Grocer trembles; for his time
Just like his weight is short."

Friday, October 8, 2010

"When scientific evolution was announced, some feared that it would encourage mere animality. It did worse: it encouraged mere spirituality."

The greatest disaster of the nineteenth century was this: that men began to use the word "spiritual" as the same as the word "good." They thought that to grow in refinement and uncorporeality was to grow in virtue. When scientific evolution was announced, some feared that it would encourage mere animality. It did worse: it encouraged mere spirituality. It taught men to think that so long as they were passing from the ape they were going to the angel. But you can pass from the ape and go to the devil.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Chesterton's poem commemorating the Battle of Lepanto, which took place on October 7, 1571


Friday, October 1, 2010

I wonder what he would think *today*.... :-)

That is basically what I was thinking when reading this passage (concerning Christmas being celebrated too early), written over a century ago.

There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article. It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day. Thus, for instance, children were never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed hour. The presents were kept tied up in brown-paper parcels, out of which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally stuck. I wish this principle were adopted in respect of modern Christmas ceremonies and publications. Especially it ought to be observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines. The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to a solid anticipation of the turkey which is to come. Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept for Christmas Day. On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown paper. Whether the leg or arm of an editor should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools"

The weak point in the whole of Carlyle's case for aristocracy lies, indeed, in his most celebrated phrase. Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men. All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired. And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's pathetic belief (or any one else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few." There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob. Every oligarchy is merely a knot of men in the street--that is to say, it is very jolly, but not infallible. And no oligarchies in the world's history have ever come off so badly in practical affairs as the very proud oligarchies--the oligarchy of Poland, the oligarchy of Venice. And the armies that have most swiftly and suddenly broken their enemies in pieces have been the religious armies--the Moslem Armies, for instance, or the Puritan Armies. And a religious army may, by its nature, be defined as an army in which every man is taught not to exalt but to abase himself. Many modern Englishmen talk of themselves as the sturdy descendants of their sturdy Puritan fathers. As a fact, they would run away from a cow. If you asked one of their Puritan fathers, if you asked Bunyan, for instance, whether he was sturdy, he would have answered, with tears, that he was as weak as water. And because of this he would have borne tortures.

-Heretics (1905)

Monday, September 27, 2010

"The command of Christ is impossible, but it is not insane; it is rather sanity preached to a planet of lunatics."

It represents the re-assertion of a certain awful common-sense which characterised the most extreme utterances of Christ. It is true that we cannot turn the cheek to the smiter; it is true that we cannot give our cloak to the robber; civilisation is too complicated, too vainglorious, too emotional. The robber would brag, and we should blush; in other words, the robber and we are alike sentimentalists. The command of Christ is impossible, but it is not insane; it is rather sanity preached to a planet of lunatics. If the whole world was suddenly stricken with a sense of humour it would find itself mechanically fulfilling the Sermon on the Mount. It is not the plain facts of the world which stand in the way of that consummation, but its passions of vanity and self-advertisement and morbid sensibility. It is true that we cannot turn the cheek to the smiter, and the sole and sufficient reason is that we have not the pluck.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dean Koontz on Catholic humor

A quote by Dean Koontz I liked, which mentions GKC. :-) (emphasis mine)

[I would wish to post this quote anyway, but the fact that it mentions Chesterton is my excuse for putting it on this blog. lol. BTW, he also mentions Dorothy Sayers among "Catholic writers", though she was in fact an Anglican. Just wished to note that.]

The humor is entirely consistent with a spiritual world view. The most humorless people I've ever known are ardent atheists. Many Catholic writers have been howlingly funny, not least of all Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene in books like TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, Dorothy Sayers, certainly the singular G.K. Chesterton. We once had a party, about sixty people, and half a dozen were friends who were monks. There was also an avowed atheist present. The evening was marked by much laughter and high good spirits. Near the end, the atheist said to me, in astonishment, "The monks are very funny. You must be playing a joke on us. They can't really be monks." When I assured him that monks--they were all priests as well--are usually highly accomplished, deeply educated, and nearly always amusing, he looked at me as if I were insane. He said, "But they're Catholics." At other functions, he had met and liked numerous other friends of ours, but he had no idea that many of them were Catholics--or that I was. When I noted this, his eyes widened even further. The Catholic view of the human condition is fundamentally tragic, but that does not mean that we are required to be glum. Indeed, quite the opposite. The human condition may be tragic, but we have been given a beautiful world to enjoy and the promise of eternity, and if we are open to the grace of God, we must be happy because faith and hope and happiness are the proper reaction to what we've been given. The fact that in many of my books--such as LIFE EXPECTANCY and ONE DOOR AWAY FROM HEAVEN and THE FACE and TICKTOCK--comedy is as big an element as suspense...well, that seems to me to be the natural consequence of my Catholicism! [Source]

Friday, September 24, 2010

G.F. Watts

I recently read the book G.F. Watts, which Chesterton wrote in 1904. I enjoyed it greatly (perhaps not so surprising given my love of Chesterton). But it reminded me of a couple of interesting facts I had learned before.

First, as Joseph Pearce pointed out in his biography Wisdom and Innocence:

" G.F. Watts died in the year Chesterton's biography was published, but not before he had read the book. On 5 April 1904 Frances recorded in her diary that Mrs. G.F. Watts had written Gilbert 'a charming note' saying that her husband 'is really pleased with the little book' "

So it looks like Watts himself liked GKC's book. :-)

Second, while I had known little about Watts except for GKC's book, shortly after Obama's election, I came across this article which described the influence of a painting by Watts ("Hope") on Obama. While admittedly I'm not exactly a big Obama fan, still, I thought it would be interesting to note that influence in this post.

Anyway, just to give an example of a quote from that book:

Purity is the only atmosphere for passion.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Agatha Christie on Father Brown

Agatha Christie on G.K. Chesterton's character "Father Brown":

"Father Brown has always been one of my favorite sleuths...He is one of the few figures in detective fiction who can be enjoyed for his own sake, whether you are a detective fan or not."


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chesterton the Hippie!

[OK, not really. lol. But seeing one word in the following quote was enough to give me an excuse for using that paradoxical post title, and so I had to take the opportunity while it presented itself. lol. More seriously, the quote itself, though, makes a very good point]

Somebody writes complaining of something I said about progress. I have forgotten what I said, but I am quite certain that it was (like a certain Mr. Douglas in a poem which I have also forgotten) tender and true. In any case, what I say now is this. Human history is so rich and complicated that you can make out a case for any course of improvement or retrogression. I could make out that the world has been growing more democratic, for the English franchise has certainly grown more democratic. I could also make out that the world has been growing more aristocratic, for the English Public Schools have certainly grown more aristocratic. I could prove the decline of militarism by the decline of flogging; I could prove the increase of militarism by the increase of standing armies and conscription. But I can prove anything in this way. I can prove that the world has always been growing greener. Only lately men have invented absinthe and the Westminster Gazette. I could prove the world has grown less green. There are no more Robin Hood foresters, and fields are being covered with houses. I could show that the world was less red with khaki or more red with the new penny stamps. But in all cases progress means progress only in some particular thing. Have you ever noticed that strange line of Tennyson, in which he confesses, half consciously, how very conventional progress is?—

"Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing
grooves of change."

Even in praising change, he takes for a simile the most unchanging thing. He calls our modern change a groove. And it is a groove; perhaps there was never anything so groovy.

All Things Considered (1908)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jekyll and Hyde

[Chesterton on "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"]

Though the fable may seem mad, the moral is very sane; indeed, the moral is strictly orthodox. The trouble is that most of those who mention it do not know the moral, possibly because they have never read the fable. From time to time those anonymous authorities in the newspapers, who dismiss Stevenson with such languid grace, will say that there is something quite cheap and obvious about the idea that one man is really two men and can be divided into the evil and the good. Unfortunately for them, that does not happen to be the idea. The real stab of the story is not in the discovery that the one man is two men; but in the discovery that the two men are one man. After all the diverse wandering and warring of those two incompatible beings, there was still one man born and only one man buried. Jekyll and Hyde have become a proverb and a joke; only it is a proverb read backwards and a joke that nobody really sees. But it might have occurred to the languid critics, as a part of the joke, that the tale is a tragedy; and that this is only another way of saying that the experiment was a failure. The point of the story is not that a man can cut himself off from his conscience, but that he cannot. The surgical operation is fatal in the story. It is an amputation of which both the parts die. Jekyll, even in dying, declares the conclusion of the matter; that the load of man's moral struggle is bound upon him and cannot be thus escaped. The reason is that there can never be equality between the evil and the good. Jekyll and Hyde are not twin brothers. They are rather, as one of them truly remarks, like father and son. After all, Jekyll created Hyde; Hyde would never have created Jekyll; he only destroyed Jekyll. The notion is not so hackneyed as the critics find it, after Stevenson has found it for them thirty years ago. But Jekyll's claim is not that it is the first of such experiments in duality; but rather that it must be the last.

Nor do I necessarily admit the technical clumsiness which some have alleged against the tale, merely because I believe that many of its emotions were first experienced in the crude pain of youth. Some have gone into particular detail in order to pick it to pieces; and Mr. E. F. Benson has made the (to me) strange remark that the structure of the story breaks down when Jekyll discovers that his chemical combination was partly accidental and is therefore unrecoverable. The critic says scornfully that it would have done just as well if Jekyll had taken a blue pill. It seems to me odd that any one who seems to know so much about the devil as the author of Colin should fail to recognise the cloven hoof in the cloven spirit called up by the Jekyll experiment. That moment in which Jekyll finds his own formula fail him, through an accident he had never foreseen, is simply the supreme moment in every story of a man buying power from hell; the moment when he finds the flaw in the deed. Such a moment comes to Macbeth and Faustus and a hundred others; and the whole point of it is that nothing is really secure, least of all a Satanist security. The moral is that the devil is a liar, and more especially a traitor; that he is more dangerous to his friends than his foes

-Robert Louis Stevenson (1927)

Friday, September 17, 2010

"...but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever."

Lastly, this truth is yet again true in the case of the common modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ. The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end. But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break....And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"...that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and civilisation potentially the end of man."

Savonarola is a man whom we shall probably never understand until we know what horror may lie at the heart of civilisation. This we shall not know until we are civilised. It may be hoped, in one sense, that we may never understand Savonarola.

The great deliverers of men have, for the most part, saved them from calamities which we all recognise as evil, from calamities which are the ancient enemies of humanity. The great law-givers saved us from anarchy: the great physicians saved us from pestilence: the great reformers saved us from starvation. But there is a huge and bottomless evil compared with which all these are flea-bites, the most desolating curse that can fall upon men or nations, and it has no name, except we call it satisfaction. Savonarola did not save men from anarchy, but from order; not from pestilence, but from paralysis; not from starvation, but from luxury. Men like Savonarola are the witnesses to the tremendous psychological fact at the back of all our brains, but for which no name has ever been found, that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and civilisation potentially the end of man.

For I fancy that Savonarola's thrilling challenge to the luxury of his day went far deeper than the mere question of sin. The modern rationalistic admirers of Savonarola, from George Eliot downwards, dwell, truly enough, upon the sound ethical justification of Savonarola's anger, upon the hideous and extravagant character of the crimes which polluted the palaces of the Renaissance. But they need not be so anxious to show that Savonarola was no ascetic, that he merely picked out the black specks of wickedness with the priggish enlightenment of a member of an Ethical Society. Probably he did hate the civilisation of his time, and not merely its sins; and that is precisely where he was infinitely more profound than a modern moralist. He saw that the actual crimes were not the only evils: that stolen jewels and poisoned wine and obscene pictures were merely the symptoms; that the disease was the complete dependence upon jewels and wine and pictures. This is a thing constantly forgotten in judging of ascetics and Puritans in old times. A denunciation of harmless sports did not always mean an ignorant hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmful. Sometimes it meant an exceedingly enlightened hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmless. Ascetics are sometimes more advanced than the average man, as well as less.

Such, at least, was the hatred in the heart of Savonarola. He was making war against no trivial human sins, but against godless and thankless quiescence, against getting used to happiness, the mystic sin by which all creation fell. He was preaching that severity which is the sign-manual of youth and hope. He was preaching that alertness, that clean agility and vigilance, which is as necessary to gain pleasure as to gain holiness, as indispensable in a lover as in a monk. A critic has truly pointed out that Savonarola could not have been fundamentally anti-aesthetic, since he had such friends as Michael Angelo, Botticelli, and Luca della Robbia. The fact is that this purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have the mind a storehouse of sunset, requires a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"...there are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds"

Behind all these things is the fact that beauty and terror are very real things and related to a real spiritual world; and to touch them at all, even in doubt or fancy, is to stir the deep things of the soul. We all understand that and the pagans understood it. The point is that paganism did not really stir the soul except with these doubts and fancies, with the consequence that we to-day can have little beyond doubts and fancies about paganism. All the best critics agree that all the greatest poets, in pagan Hellas for example, had an attitude towards their gods which is quite queer and puzzling to men in the Christian era. There seems to be an admitted conflict between the god and the man; but everybody seems to be doubtful about which is the hero and which is the villain. This doubt does not merely apply to a doubter like Euripides in the Bacchae; it applies to a moderate conservative like Sophocles in the Antigone; or even to a regular Tory and reactionary like Aristophanes in the Frogs. Sometimes it would seem that the Greeks believed above all things in reverence, only they had nobody to revere. But the point of the puzzle is this, that all this vagueness and variation arise from the fact that the whole thing began in fancy and in dreaming; and that there are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Monday, September 13, 2010

A couple of fans of the other half of the Chesterbelloc

Not a Chesterton post per se, but it does deal with the other half of the "ChesterBelloc", Hilaire Belloc, so it seems appropriate to include this here. Besides writing a poem about Chesterton called The Only Man I Regularly Read, as well as another defending Chesterton called Lines to a Don Belloc also wrote other poetry, and was a popular children's poet, including writing "Cautionary Tales for Children"

Anyway, a couple of fans of Belloc's poetry include J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) and Syd Barrett (of Pink Floyd).

Rowling, for instance, contributed Belloc's poem "Jim Who Ran Away From His Nurse and Was Eaten By Lion" to a book called Once Upon a Poem: Favourite Poems That Tell Stories. [Source] As Rowling states:

Belloc is one of my favourite poets for his wit, his understatement, and his profundity- but, perhaps most of all, for the lion called Ponto who ate Jim.

As for Syd Barrett, this link discusses Barrett's love of Bellocs "Cautionary Tales for Children", and also discusses the original version of the song "Matilda Mother" (based on Belloc's poetry), which, as the link describes it, "helped give the band their start"

I should perhaps point out that I do not read Harry Potter, nor have I ever listened to Pink Floyd. As for Belloc, while I have read "Cautionary Tales for Children", the other books I have read by him mainly deal with the history of the Catholic Church. That said, I did wish to make this post (which I've been meaning to) before I forgot to again. :-)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"The bigot is not the man who thinks his opponent mistaken. The bigot is the man who will not think him mistaken."

Subject to this consideration, I have often considered the common definition, or at least the common sense , of words like bigot and fanatic. The homeless intellectualism of an unhappy age often uses the terms for anybody who is sure that he is right and other people are wrong. Every sane man ought to be sure he is right; and if he is right, then those who contradict him are wrong. I have always found it best to understand by the word “bigot” a man who cannot imagine how other men can go wrong, granted that they do go wrong. If I say I am quite sure a man is wrong to be a Christian Scientist, I am simply a believer- a believer in my own beliefs. But if I say I cannot conceive how a man can become a Christian Scientist, I am a bigot. I am, in that particular and personal case, a liar. I can quite easily imagine a man falling into the error called Christian Science. It comes of two very natural modern moods- of being sick of science and of never having heard of Christianity. And if I say the Christian Scientist must be a quack looking for fees, or even a lunatic drugging himself with fictions, then I am a bigot. The bigot is not the man who thinks his opponent mistaken. The bigot is the man who will not think him mistaken.

-March 7, 1925, Illustrated London News

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing."

The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised." The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. Until we picture nonentity we underrate the victory of God, and can realize none of the trophies of His ancient war. It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing.

-Heretics (1905)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"...It is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black."

Now, those who are acquainted with philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here on a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a color. It is not a mere absence of color; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a color. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colors; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.

Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"...two peculiarities which may be found by the curious in the works of Euclid."

A great deal is said in these days about the value or valuelessness of logic. In the main, indeed, logic is not a productive tool so much as a weapon of defence. A man building up an intellectual system has to build like Nehemiah, with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other. The imagination, the constructive quality, is the trowel, and argument is the sword. A wide experience of actual intellectual affairs will lead most people to the conclusion that logic is mainly valuable as a weapon wherewith to exterminate logicians.

But though this may be true enough in practice, it scarcely clears up the position of logic in human affairs. Logic is a machine of the mind, and if it is used honestly it ought to bring out an honest conclusion. When people say that you can prove anything by logic, they are not using words in a fair sense. What they mean is that you can prove anything by bad logic. Deep in the mystic ingratitude of the soul of man there is an extraordinary tendency to use the name for an organ, when what is meant is the abuse or decay of that organ. Thus we speak of a man suffering from 'nerves,' which is about as sensible as talking about a man suffering from ten fingers. We speak of 'liver' and 'digestion' when we mean the failure of liver and the absence of digestion. And in the same manner we speak of the dangers of logic, when what we really mean is the danger of fallacy.

But the real point about the limitation of logic and the partial overthrow of logic by writers like Carlyle is deeper and somewhat different. The fault of the great mass of logicians is not that they bring out a false result, or, in other words, are not logicians at all. Their fault is that by an inevitable psychological habit they tend to forget that there are two parts of a logical process--the first the choosing of an assumption, and the second the arguing upon it; and humanity, if it devotes itself too persistently to the study of sound reasoning, has a certain tendency to lose the faculty of sound assumption. It is astonishing how constantly one may hear from rational and even rationalistic persons such a phrase as 'He did not prove the very thing with which he started,' or 'The whole of his case rested upon a pure assumption,' two peculiarities which may be found by the curious in the works of Euclid. It is astonishing, again, how constantly one hears rationalists arguing upon some deep topic, apparently without troubling about the deep assumptions involved, having lost their sense, as it were, of the real colour and character of a man's assumption. For instance, two men will argue about whether patriotism is a good thing and never discover until the end, if at all, that the cosmopolitan is basing his whole case upon the idea that man should, if he can, become as God, with equal sympathies and no prejudices, while the nationalist denies any such duty at the very start, and regards man as an animal who has preferences, as a bird has feathers.

-Twelve Types (1902)

"Prince Florizel is almost our favourite character in fiction; but we willingly add the proviso that if we met him in real life we should kill him."

A recent incident has finally convinced us that Stevenson was, as we suspected, a great man. We knew from recent books that we have noticed, from the scorn of 'Ephemera Critica' and Mr George Moore, that Stevenson had the first essential qualification of a great man: that of being misunderstood by his opponents. But from the book which Messrs Chatto & Windus have issued, in the same binding as Stevenson's works, 'Robert Louis Stevenson,' by Mr H. Bellyse Baildon, we learn that he has the other essential qualification, that of being misunderstood by his admirers...

...The author has most extraordinary ideas about Stevenson's tales of blood and spoil; he appears to think that they prove Stevenson to have had (we use Mr Baildon's own phrase) a kind of 'homicidal mania.' 'He (Stevenson) arrives pretty much at the paradox that one can hardly be better employed than in taking life.' Mr Baildon might as well say that Dr Conan Doyle delights in committing inexplicable crimes, that Mr Clark Russell is a notorious pirate, and that Mr Wilkie Collins thought that one could hardly be better employed than in stealing moonstones and falsifying marriage registers. But Mr Baildon is scarcely alone in this error: few people have understood properly the goriness of Stevenson. Stevenson was essentially the robust schoolboy who draws skeletons and gibbets in his Latin grammar. It was not that he took pleasure in death, but that he took pleasure in life, in every muscular and emphatic action of life, even if it were an action that took the life of another.

Let us suppose that one gentleman throws a knife at another gentleman and pins him to the wall. It is scarcely necessary to remark that there are in this transaction two somewhat varying personal points of view. The point of view of the man pinned is the tragic and moral point of view, and this Stevenson showed clearly that he understood in such stories as 'The Master of Ballantrae' and 'Weir of Hermiston.' But there is another view of the matter--that in which the whole act is an abrupt and brilliant explosion of bodily vitality, like breaking a rock with a blow of a hammer, or just clearing a five-barred gate. This is the standpoint of romance, and it is the soul of 'Treasure Island' and 'The Wrecker.' It was not, indeed, that Stevenson loved men less, but that he loved clubs and pistols more. He had, in truth, in the devouring universalism of his soul, a positive love for inanimate objects such as has not been known since St Francis called the sun brother and the well sister. We feel that he was actually in love with the wooden crutch that Silver sent hurtling in the sunlight, with the box that Billy Bones left at the 'Admiral Benbow,' with the knife that Wicks drove through his own hand and the table. There is always in his work a certain clean-cut angularity which makes us remember that he was fond of cutting wood with an axe....

...But Mr Baildon, whether from hasty reading or natural difference of taste, cannot in the least comprehend the rich and romantic irony of Stevenson's London stories. He actually says of that portentous monument of humour, Prince Florizel of Bohemia, that, 'though evidently admired by his creator, he is to me on the whole rather an irritating presence.' From this we are almost driven to believe (though desperately and against our will) that Mr Baildon thinks that Prince Florizel is to be taken seriously, as if he were a man in real life. For ourselves, Prince Florizel is almost our favourite character in fiction; but we willingly add the proviso that if we met him in real life we should kill him.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Monday, September 6, 2010

"And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters."

The hour of absinthe is over. We shall not be much further troubled with the little artists who found Dickens too sane for their sorrows and too clean for their delights. But we have a long way to travel before we get back to what Dickens meant; and the passage is along an English rambling road -- a twisting road such as Mr. Pickwick travelled. But this at least is part of what he meant: that comradeship and serious joy are not interludes in our travel, but that rather our travels are interludes in comradeship and joy, which, through God, shall endure for ever. The inn does not point to the road: the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters. And when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

"We are already drifting horribly near to a New War, which will probably start on the Polish Border."

We are already drifting horribly near to a New War, which will probably start on the Polish Border. The Young Men have had nineteen years in which to learn how to avoid it. I wonder whether they do know much more about how to avoid it than the despised and drivelling Old Men of 1914. How many of the Young Men, for instance, have made the smallest attempt to understand Poland? How many would have anything to say to Hitler, to dissuade him from setting all Christendom aflame by a raid on Poland? Or have the Young Men been thinking of nothing since 1914 except the senile depravity of the Old Men of that date?

-All I Survey (1933)

Six years later, on September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany under Hitler invaded Poland, starting World War 2

Friday, September 3, 2010

"Another was that Nero was a Christian"

Some day, I think, I shall take a holiday and write a book full of opinions that I do not hold. Then shall the world see what a paradox is really like, and my enemies be confounded. I once made notes for several complete demonstrations of things I disbelieve entirely; demonstrations quite as elaborate and full of coincidences as the demonstration that Bacon wrote Shakespeare. One of them was that Shakespeare wrote Bacon. Another was that Nero was a Christian. I have no space to go into the details of it here. And if I were merely to say that Nero burnt Rome because he was a Christian, the elliptical expression might leave me open to some slight misunderstanding. My story was, I think, that he was urging militant methods which the other Christians refused to adopt. This would account both for the crime being done by him and its being attributed to them. Then, of course, there was the Christian slave-girl who scattered flowers on his grave. And there was that general real glory of the Christian Church, that it is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I do not believe that Nero was a Christian, but the arguments for it were overwhelming. I sometimes felt, in my arrogance, that I could convince almost anyone but myself.

-May 10, 1913, The Illustrated London News

"Vox populi vox Dei is not a maxim we are in any danger of overdoing.."

Vox populi vox Dei is not a maxim we are in any danger of overdoing; for the modern world has profoundly lost faith in both the two entities. But there is one sense in which the voice of the people is really like the voice of God; and that is that most of us take precious little notice of it.

-September 9, 1911, Illustrated London News

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"...that deeper sort of paradox by which two opposite cords of truth become entangled in an inextricable knot."

Now if by paradox we mean truth inherent in a contradiction, as in the saying of Christ that I have quoted, it is a very curious fact that Bernard Shaw is almost entirely without paradox. Moreover, he cannot even understand a paradox. And more than this, paradox is about the only thing in the world that he does not understand. All his splendid vistas and startling suggestions arise from carrying some one clear principle further than it has yet been carried. His madness is all consistency, not inconsistency. As the point can hardly be made clear without examples, let us take one example, the subject of education. Shaw has been all his life preaching to grownup people the profound truth that liberty and responsibility go together; that the reason why freedom is so often easily withheld, is simply that it is a terrible nuisance. This is true, though not the whole truth, of citizens; and so when Shaw comes to children he can only apply to them the same principle that he has already applied to citizens. He begins to play with the Herbert Spencer idea of teaching children by experience; perhaps the most fatuously silly idea that was ever gravely put down in print. On that there is no need to dwell; one has only to ask how the experimental method is to be applied to a precipice; and the theory no longer exists. But Shaw effected a further development, if possible more fantastic. He said that one should never tell a child anything without letting him hear the opposite opinion. That is to say, when you tell Tommy not to hit his sick sister on the temple, you must make sure of the presence of some Nietzscheite professor, who will explain to him that such a course might possibly serve to eliminate the unfit. When you are in the act of telling Susan not to drink out of the bottle labelled "poison," you must telegraph for a Christian Scientist, who will be ready to maintain that without her own consent it cannot do her any harm. What would happen to a child brought up on Shaw's principle I cannot conceive; I should think he would commit suicide in his bath. But that is not here the question. The point is that this proposition seems quite sufficiently wild and startling to ensure that its author, if he escapes Hanwell, would reach the front rank of journalists, demagogues, or public entertainers. It is a perfect paradox, if a paradox only means something that makes one jump. But it is not a paradox at all in the sense of a contradiction. It is not a contradiction, but an enormous and outrageous consistency, the one principle of free thought carried to a point to which no other sane man would consent to carry it. Exactly what Shaw does not understand is the paradox; the unavoidable paradox of childhood. Although this child is much better than I, yet I must teach it. Although this being has much purer passions than I, yet I must control it. Although Tommy is quite right to rush towards a precipice, yet he must be stood in the corner for doing it. This contradiction is the only possible condition of having to do with children at all; anyone who talks about a child without feeling this paradox might just as well be talking about a merman. He has never even seen the animal. But this paradox Shaw in his intellectual simplicity cannot see; he cannot see it because it is a paradox. His only intellectual excitement is to carry one idea further and further across the world. It never occurs to him that it might meet another idea, and like the three winds in Martin Chuzzlewit, they might make a night of it. His only paradox is to pull out one thread or cord of truth longer and longer into waste and fantastic places. He does not allow for that deeper sort of paradox by which two opposite cords of truth become entangled in an inextricable knot. Still less can he be made to realise that it is often this knot which ties safely together the whole bundle of human life.

-George Bernard Shaw (1909)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters."

We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well. The figure in the Gospels does indeed utter in words of almost heart-breaking beauty his pity for our broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters. Nevertheless they are almost the only kind of words that the Church in its popular imagery ever represents him as uttering. That popular imagery is inspired by a perfectly sound popular instinct. The mass of the poor are broken, and the mass of the people are poor, and for the mass of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the incredible compassion of God. But nobody with his eyes open can doubt that it is chiefly this idea of compassion that the popular machinery of the Church does seek to carry. The popular imagery carries a great deal to excess the sentiment of 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.' It is the first thing that the outsider feels and criticises in a Pieta or a shrine of the Sacred Heart. As I say, while the art may be insufficient, I am not sure that the instinct is unsound. In any case there is something appalling, something that makes the blood run cold, in the idea of having a statue of Christ in wrath. There is something insupportable even to the imagination in the idea of turning the corner of a street or coming out into the spaces of a marketplace, to meet the petrifying petrifaction of that figure as it turned upon a generation of vipers, or that face as it looked at the face of a hypocrite. The Church can reasonably be justified therefore if she turns the most merciful face or aspect towards men; but it is certainly the most merciful aspect that she does turn.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"...the mystic and partially symbolic interpretation of Scripture is the old and orthodox interpretation of it..."

In short, I only say that the ideas of popular science and scepticism about these things are very much in a tangle. The sceptics do not distinguish between what, on their own principles, they could or could not believe; or between what, on other principles, they would be required to believe. They would doubtless be required to believe many things which at present they could not believe; but they have not at present the least notion of what the things are....I have tried in vain to hammer into the head of Mr. H.G. Wells, for instance (if I may allude to so large and illustrious a head in so irreverent an image) the perfectly elementary historical fact that the mystic and partially symbolic interpretation of Scripture is the old and orthodox interpretation of it; and that the mania for materialistic exactitude is a modern mania. At the very beginning of Christian history, St. Augustine said that some things in Scripture must be read as symbols, and that it was puerile to do anything else. But right at the end of Christian history, Brigham Young and the Mormons refused to see anything symbolic even in God's eye or right hand; and insisted that He must physically exist, like a sort of giant. A certain margin of mystical interpretation was an idea perfectly familiar to the Fathers and Schoolmen; and it was not their fault, or the fault of the Bible, if the idea was less familiar to Billy Brimstone, the saved Bootlegger of Kansas City, or Freeze-the-Devil Debora, the sweet and winning Prophetess of Potluck, Neb.

-April 20, 1929, Illustrated London News