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

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

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

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

-Heretics (1905)

Friday, 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)