Quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, G.K. Chesterton
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."
Saturday, December 31, 2011
"When we see the Old Year out, we do what many eminent men have done, and what all men desire to do; we die temporarily."
Death is a time limit; but differs in many ways from New Year's Day. The divisions of time which men have adopted are in a sort of way a mild mortality. When we see the Old Year out, we do what many eminent men have done, and what all men desire to do; we die temporarily. Whenever we admit that it is Tuesday we fulfil St. Paul, and die daily. I doubt if the strongest stoic that ever existed on earth could endure the idea of Tuesday following on a Tuesday, and a Tuesday on that, and a Tuesday on that, and all the days being Tuesdays till the Day of Judgment, which might be (by some strange and special mercy) a Wednesday.
-"January One" (Daily News, 1904)
Found in Lunacy and Letters (collection of essays published in 1958
Friday, December 30, 2011
"...until we love a thing in all its ugliness we cannot make it beautiful"
-Twelve Types (1902)
Thursday, December 29, 2011
-Come To Think of It (1930)
Passage from Manalive
"Mary, Mary," cried Rosamund, almost breaking down, "I'm so sorry about it, but the thing can't be at all. We -- we have found out all about Mr. Smith."
"All?" repeated Mary, with a low and curious intonation; "why, that must be awfully exciting."
There was no noise for an instant and no motion except that the silent Michael Moon, leaning on the gate, lifted his head, as it might be to listen. Then Rosamund remaining speechless, Dr. Pym came to her rescue in a definite way.
"To begin with," he said, "this man Smith is constantly attempting murder. The Warden of Brakespeare College --"
"I know," said Mary, with a vague but radiant smile. "Innocent told me."
"I can't say what he told you," replied Pym quickly, "but I'm very much afraid it wasn't true. The plain truth is that the man's stained with every known human crime. I assure you I have all the documents. I have evidence of his committing burglary, signed by a most eminent English curate. I have --"
"Oh, but there were two curates," cried Mary, with a certain gentle eagerness; "that was what made it so much funnier."
The darkened glass doors of the house opened once more, and Inglewood appeared for an instant, making a sort of signal. The American doctor bowed, the English doctor did not, but they both set out stolidly towards the house. No one else moved, not even Michael hanging on the gate; but the back of his head and shoulders had still an indescribable indication that he was listening to every word.
"But don't you understand, Mary," cried Rosamund in despair; "don't you know that awful things have happened even before our very eyes. I should have thought you would have heard the revolver shots upstairs."
"Yes, I heard the shots," said Mary almost brightly; "but I was busy packing just then. And Innocent had told me he was going to shoot at Dr. Warner; so it wasn't worth while to come down."
"Oh, I don't understand what you mean," cried Rosamund Hunt, stamping, "but you must and shall understand what I mean. I don't care how cruelly I put it, if only I can save you. I mean that your Innocent Smith is the most awfully wicked man in the world. He has sent bullets at lots of other men and gone off in cabs with lots of other women. And he seems to have killed the women too, for nobody can find them."
"He is really rather naughty sometimes," said Mary Gray, laughing softly as she buttoned her old gray gloves."
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
J.R.R. Tolkien and GKC
In one of his most famous essays, "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien himself described portions of Chesterton's study of Dickens that met with his approval. "We need recovery," Tokien observed.
We should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, dogs, and horses- and wolves. This recovery fairy-stories help us to make...-Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton, Kevin Belmonte, pp. 102-103 (emphasis mine)
Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re-gaining- regaining of a clear view. I do not say "seeing things as they are" and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say "seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them"- as things apart from ourselves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity- from possessiveness...This triteness is really the penalty of "appropriation": the things that are tried, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.
Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough. And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle. That kind of "fantasy" most people would allow to be wholesone enough; and it can never lack for material.
(That said, while Tolkien did indeed praise Chestertonian Fantasy, he did believe it had its limitations)
Another interesting tidbit:
Sayer's revived memory revealed that Tolkien knew a number of the poems from Chesterton's The Flying Inn by heart, including "The Song of the Quoodle," "The Song against Grocers," and the famous refrain, "The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road." Tolkien was also quite fond of reciting "The Battle of Lepanto," a fact which Tolkien's daughter Priscilla confirmed. [Source]
"As long as a corpse or two turns up in the second, the third, nay even the fourth or fifth chapter, I make allowance for human weakness..."
But I have another and more important quarrel about the sensational novel. There seems to be a very general idea that the romance of the tomahawk will be (or will run the risk of being) more immoral than the romance of the teapot. This I violently deny. And in this I have the support of practically all the old moral traditions of our civilization and of every civilization. High or low, good or bad, clever or stupid, a moral story almost always meant a murderous story. For the old Greeks a moral play was one full of madness and slaying. For the great medievals a moral play was one which exhibited the dancing of the devil and the open jaws of hell. For the great Protestant moralists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a moral story meant a story in which a parricide was struck by lightning or a boy was drowned for fishing on a Sunday. For the more rationalistic moralists of the eighteenth century, such as Hogarth, Richardson, and the author of Sandford and Merton, all agreed that shocking calamities could properly be indicated as the result of evil doing; that the more shocking those calamities were the more moral they were. It is only in our exhausted and agnostic age that the idea has been started that if one is moral one must not be melodramatic.
-Found in The Spice of Life and Other Essays, collection of essays published in 1964
Monday, December 26, 2011
"[Dickens] climbed towards the lower classes. He panted upwards on weary wings to reach the heaven of the poor."
Ordinary people dislike the delicate modern work, not because it is good or because it is bad, but because it is not the thing that they asked for. If, for instance, you find them pent in sterile streets and hungering for adventure and a violent secrecy, and if you then give them their choice between "A Study in Scarlet," a good detective story, and "The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford," a good psychological monologue, no doubt they will prefer "A Study in Scarlet." But they will not do so because "The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford" is a very good monologue, but because it is evidently a very poor detective story...
Dickens stands first as a defiant monument of what happens when a great literary genius has a literary taste akin to that of the community. For this kinship was deep and spiritual. Dickens was not like our ordinary demagogues and journalists. Dickens did not write what the people wanted. Dickens wanted what the people wanted. And with this was connected that other fact which must never be forgotten, and which I have more than once insisted on, that Dickens and his school had a hilarious faith in democracy and thought of the service of it as a sacred priesthood. Hence there was this vital point in his popularism, that there was no condescension in it. The belief that the rabble will only read rubbish can be read between the lines of all our contemporary writers, even of those writers whose rubbish the rabble reads. Mr. Fergus Hume has no more respect for the populace than Mr. George Moore. The only difference lies between those writers who will consent to talk down to the people, and those writers who will not consent to talk down to the people. But Dickens never talked down to the people. He talked up to the people. He approached the people like a deity and poured out his riches and his blood. This is what makes the immortal bond between him and the masses of men. He had not merely produced something they could understand, but he took it seriously, and toiled and agonised to produce it. They were not only enjoying one of the best writers, they were enjoying the best he could do. His raging and sleepless nights, his wild walks in the darkness, his note-books crowded, his nerves in rags, all this extraordinary output was but a fit sacrifice to the ordinary man. He climbed towards the lower classes. He panted upwards on weary wings to reach the heaven of the poor.
-Charles Dickens (1906)
Saturday, December 24, 2011
"The shepherds had found their Shepherd."
| All this popular and fraternal element in the story has been rightly attached by tradition to the episode of the Shepherds; the hinds who found themselves talking face to face with the princes of heaven. But there is another aspect of the popular element as represented by the shepherds which has not perhaps been so fully developed; and which is more directly relevant here. |
Men of the people, like the shepherds, men of the popular tradition, had everywhere been the makers of the mythologies...They had best understood that the soul of a landscape is a story and the soul of a story is a personality...Upon all such peasantries everywhere there was descending a dusk and twilight of disappointment, in the hour when these few men discovered what they sought. Everywhere else Arcadia was fading from the forest. Pan was dead and the shepherds were scattered like sheep. And though no man knew it, the hour was near which was to end and to fulfil all things; and though no man heard it, there was one far-off cry in an unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains. The shepherds had found their Shepherd.And the thing they found was of a kind with the things they sought. The populace had been wrong in many things; but they had not been wrong in believing that holy things could have a habitation and that divinity need not disdain the limits of time and space...the place that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic, it was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true. Since that hour no mythologies have been made in the world. Mythology is a search.
-The Everlasting Man (1925)
1 And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled.
|2 This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria.|
|3 And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.|
|4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David,|
|5 To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.|
|6 And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered.|
|7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.|
|8 And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock.|
|9 And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear.|
|10 And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people:|
|11 For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.|
|12 And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.|
|13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying:|
|14 Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.|
|15 And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.|
|16 And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.|
|17 And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child.|
|18 And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds.|
|19 But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.|
|20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.|
I do not know if I will be posting on Christmas day, so in case I do not, let me say now...
Merry Christ Mass! :-)
Thursday, December 22, 2011
The House of Christmas
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.
This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
GKC's Christmas story "The Shop of Ghosts"
"The Shop of Ghosts"
-Tremendous Trifles (1909)
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.."
Chesterton, in describing the Church:
In short, the whole world being divided about whether the stream was going slower or faster, became conscious of something vague but vast that was going against the stream. Both in fact and figure there is something deeply disturbing about this, and that for an essential reason. A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it. A dead dog can be lifted on the leaping water with all the swiftness of a leaping hound; but only a live dog can swim backwards. A paper boat can ride the rising deluge with all the airy arrogance of a fairy ship, but if the fairy ship sails up stream it is really rowed by the fairies. And among the things that merely went with the tide of apparent progress and enlargement there was many a demagogue or sophist whose wild gestures were in truth as lifeless as the movement of a dead dog's limbs wavering in the eddying water; and many a philosophy uncommonly like a paper boat, of the sort that it is not difficult to knock into a cocked hat. But even the truly living and even life-giving things that went with that stream did not thereby prove that they were living or life-giving. It was this other force that was unquestionably and unaccountably alive; the mysterious and unmeasured energy that was thrusting back the river. That was felt to be like the movement of some great monster; and it was none the less clearly a living monster because most people thought it a prehistoric monster. It was none the less an unnatural, an incongruous, and to some a comic upheaval; as if the Great Sea Serpent had suddenly risen out of the Round Pond--unless we consider the Sea Serpent as more likely to live in the Serpentine. This flippant element in the fantasy must not be missed, for it was one of the clearest testimonies to the unexpected nature of the reversal. That age did really feel that a preposterous quality in prehistoric animals belonged also to historic rituals; that mitres and tiaras were like the horns or crests of antediluvian creatures; and that appealing to a Primitive Church was like dressing up as a Primitive Man.
-The Everlasting Man (1925)
Monday, December 19, 2011
"I am ready to appear, armed with nothing but an intuition -- which is American for a guess."
Sunday, December 18, 2011
"There is something defiant in [Christmas]...that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won."
That is perhaps the mightiest of the mysteries of the cave. It is already apparent that though men are said to have looked for hell under the earth, in this case it is rather heaven that is under the earth. And there follows in this strange story the idea of an upheaval of heaven. That is the paradox of the whole position; that henceforth the highest thing can only work from below. Royalty can only return to its own by a sort of rebellion. Indeed the Church from its beginnings, and perhaps especially in its beginnings, was not so much a principality as a revolution against the prince of the world. This sense that the world had been conquered by the great usurper, and was in his possession, has been much deplored or derided by those optimists who identify enlightenment with ease. But it was responsible for all that thrill of defiance and a beautiful danger that made the good news seem to be really both good and new. It was in truth against a huge unconscious usurpation that it raised a revolt, and originally so obscure a revolt. Olympus still occupied the sky like a motionless cloud moulded into many mighty forms; philosophy still sat in the high places and even on the thrones of the kings, when Christ was born in the cave and Christianity in the catacombs. In both cases we may remark the same paradox of revolution; the sense of something despised and of something feared. The cave in one aspect is only a hole or corner into which the outcasts are swept like rubbish; yet in the other aspect it is a hiding-place of something valuable which the tyrants are seeking like treasure. In one sense they are there because the innkeeper would not even remember them, and in another because the king can never forget them. We have already noted that this paradox appeared also in the treatment of the early Church. It was important while it was still insignificant, and certainly while it was still impotent. It was important solely because it was intolerable; and in that sense it is true to say that it was intolerable because it was intolerant. It was resented, because, in its own still and almost secret way, it had declared war. It had risen out of the ground to wreck the heaven and earth of heathenism. It did not try to destroy all that creation of gold and marble; but it contemplated a world without it. It dared to look right through it as though the gold and marble had been glass...
-The Everlasting Man (1925)
Saturday, December 17, 2011
"The business world needs metaphysics--to simplify it."
-The Common Man (collection of essays first published in 1950)
Friday, December 16, 2011
"It will always give a man the strange sense of looking down at the skies."
And indeed this is the last and not the least gracious of the casual works of magic wrought by rain: that while it decreases light, yet it doubles it. If it dims the sky, it brightens the earth. It gives the roads (to the sympathetic eye) something of the beauty of Venice. Shallow lakes of water reiterate every detail of earth and sky; we dwell in a double universe. Sometimes walking upon bare and lustrous pavements, wet under numerous lamps, a man seems a black blot on all that golden looking-glass, and could fancy he was flying in a yellow sky. But wherever trees and towns hang head downwards in a pigmy puddle, the sense of Celestial topsy-turvydom is the same. This bright, wet, dazzling confusion of shape and shadow, of reality and reflection, will appeal strongly to any one with the transcendental instinct about this dreamy and dual life of ours. It will always give a man the strange sense of looking down at the skies.-A Miscellany of Men (1912)
Thursday, December 15, 2011
"The highest and most valuable quality in Nature is not her beauty, but her generous and defiant ugliness."
-The Defendant (1901)
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
"Democracy has its occasional victories; and even the Favourite has been known to come in first."
-A Miscellany of Men (1912)
Monday, December 12, 2011
"He has to soothe and quiet himself among tigers and vultures, camels and crocodiles."
Friday, December 9, 2011
"The question for brave men is not whether a certain thing is increasing; the question is whether we are increasing it."
A correspondent has written me an able and interesting letter in the matter of some allusions of mine to the subject of communal kitchens. He defends communal kitchens very lucidly from the standpoint of the calculating collectivist; but, like many of his school, he cannot apparently grasp that there is another test of the whole matter, with which such calculation has nothing at all to do. He knows it would be cheaper if a number of us ate at the same time, so as to use the same table. So it would. It would also be cheaper if a number of us slept at different times, so as to use the same pair of trousers. But the question is not how cheap are we buying a thing, but what are we buying? It is cheap to own a slave. And it is cheaper still to be a slave.My correspondent also says that the habit of dining out in restaurants, etc., is growing. So, I believe, is the habit of committing suicide. I do not desire to connect the two facts together. It seems fairly clear that a man could not dine at a restaurant because he had just committed suicide; and it would be extreme, perhaps, to suggest that he commits suicide because he has just dined at a restaurant. But the two cases, when put side by side, are enough to indicate the falsity and poltroonery of this eternal modern argument from what is in fashion. The question for brave men is not whether a certain thing is increasing; the question is whether we are increasing it.
-All Things Considered (1908)
Thursday, December 8, 2011
"Philanthropy, as far as I can see, is rapidly becoming the recognisable mark of a wicked man."
The above is a link to an online article from the July 20, 1909 edition (archived obviously) of the Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle, but it had originally appeared in the May 29, 1909 edition of the Illustrated London News (named in the Ignatius Press collection of such articles in GKC's collected works: "Whitewashing the Philanthropists") Here is how it begins:
Philanthropy, as far as I can see, is rapidly becoming the recognisable mark of a wicked man. We have often sneered at the superstition and cowardice of the medieval barons who thought that giving lands to the Church would wipe out the memory of their raids or robberies; but modern capitalists seem to have exactly the same notion; with this not unimportant addition, that in the case of the capitalists the memory of the robberies is really wiped out. This, after all, seems to be the chief difference between the monks who took land and gave pardons and the charity organisers who take money and give praise: the difference is that the monks wrote down in their books and chronicles, "Received three hundred acres from a bad baron"; whereas the modern experts and editors record the three hundred acres and call him a good baron. (go to the link for the rest of the article):
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
"Some men never feel small; but these are the few men who are."
-A Miscellany of Men (1912)
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
"The definition of a prig, I suppose, is this: one who has pride in the possession of his brain rather than joy in the use of it."
-June 12, 1909, Illustrated London News
Sunday, December 4, 2011
A Christmas Carol
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)
The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown.
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.
-The Wild Knight (1900)
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Vincent Price quotes GKC
For the quote (which comes from GKC's book Charles Dickens, go here
(H/T a post on the GK Chesterton community on Facebook)
For the mere desire to "make a protest," which merely means to enjoy an emotion, I have no respect whatever. The only object of telling a man to do something is to get him to do it. And if you tell him to do it when you know perfectly well that it will make him do the opposite, I will not only call your enthusiasm hysterical, I will take the liberty of calling it insincere.
-December 2, 1911, Illustrated London News
BTW, I apologize for not posting much lately...Been a little busy, but I figured I ought to update to explain why. Hope to get back to posting more soon...