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)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

...most of the [first martyrs] died....for refusing to extend a civil loyalty into a religious idolatry. Most of them did not die for refusing to worship Mercury or Venus, or fabulous figures who might be supposed not to exist; or others like Moloch or Priapus whom we might well hope do not exist. Most of them died for refusing to worship somebody who certainly did exist; and even somebody whom they were quite prepared to obey but not to worship. The typical martyrdom generally turned on the business of burning incense before the statue of Divus Augustus; the sacred image of the Emperor. He was not necessarily a demon to be destroyed; he was simply a despot who must not be turned into a deity. That is where their case came so...very near to the practical problem of mere State-worship to-day. And it is typical of all Catholic thought that men died in torments, not because their foes "spoke all false"; but simply because they would not give an unreasonable reverence where they were perfectly prepared to give a reasonable respect. For us the problem of Progress is always a problem of Proportion: improvement is reaching a right proportion, not merely moving in one direction. And our doubts about most modern developments, about the Socialists in the last generation, or the Fascists in this generation, do not arise from our having any doubts at all about the desirability of economic justice, or of national order...[but of the] Divine Right of Kings.

-The Well and the Shallows (1935)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"It's hard at first to believe that a fellow like Herries, who had pickled himself in vice like vinegar, can have any scruple left. But about that I've noticed a curious thing. Patriotism is not the first virtue. Patriotism rots into Prussianism when you pretend it is the first virtue. But patriotism is sometimes the last virtue. A man will swindle or seduce who will not sell his country..."

-The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"When people's brains are tired, as they are now, it is very much easier to look at the symptoms than at the cause."

People may suffer from the brewer and the publican, particularly as what they sell is often not beer but some chemical compound which modern science has provided to poison men. . . . When people's brains are tired, as they are now, it is very much easier to look at the symptoms than at the cause. They say, therefore, that if we abolish the public-house a lot of these evils would not occur; just as when the evil has become so bad that people go out, as they soon may, with bricks and stones and kill other people, it may be said that if we were to abolish bricks and stones there would be no riots.

-quoted in Littell’s Living Age, volume 312 (1922)

Monday, December 24, 2012

"...the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle."

This sketch of the human story began in a cave; the cave which popular science associates with the cave-man and in which practical discovery has really found archaic drawings of animals. The second half of human history, which was like a new creation of the world, also begins in a cave. There is even a shadow of such a fancy in the fact that animals were again present; for it was a cave used as a stable by the mountaineers of the uplands about Bethlehem; who still drive their cattle into such holes and caverns at night. It was here that a homeless couple had crept underground with the cattle when the doors of the crowded caravanserai had been shut in their faces; and it was here beneath the very feet of the passers-by, in a cellar under the very floor of the world, that Jesus Christ was born. But in that second creation there was indeed something symbolical in the roots of the primeval rock or the horns of the prehistoric herd. God also was a Cave-Man, and had also traced strange shapes of creatures, curiously coloured, upon the wall of the world; but the pictures that he made had come to life.

 A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded. It is at least like a jest in this, that it is something which the scientific critic cannot see. He laboriously explains the difficulty which we have always defiantly and almost derisively exaggerated; and mildly condemns as improbable something that we have almost madly exalted as incredible; as something that would be much too good to be true, except that it is true. When that contrast between the cosmic creation and the little local infancy has been repeated, reiterated, underlined, emphasised, exulted in, sung, shouted, roared, not to say howled, in a hundred thousand hymns, carols, rhymes, rituals, pictures, poems, and popular sermons, it may be suggested that we hardly need a higher critic to draw our attention to something a little odd about it; especially one of the sort that seems to take a long time to see a joke, even his own joke....Omnipotence and impotence, or divinity and infancy, do definitely make a sort of epigram which a million repetitions cannot turn into a platitude. It is not unreasonable to call it unique. Bethlehem is emphatically a place where extremes meet.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Merry Christ's Mass!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"How Far is it to Bethlehem"

"How Far is it to Bethlehem" is a hymn that was written by GKC's wife Frances

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"...when a man has found something which he prefers to life, he then for the first time begins to live."

...there is a very natural explanation of this frightful felicity, either of phrase or action, which so many men have exhibited on so many scaffolds or battlefields. It is merely that when a man has found something which he prefers to life, he then for the first time begins to live. A promptitude of poetry opens in his soul of which our paltry experiences do not possess the key. When once he has despised the world as a mere instrument, it becomes a musical instrument; it falls into certain artistic harmonies around him.

-"The Heroic that Happened" (an article from the Daily News in 1909)
Collected in Lunacy and Letters (1958)

Friday, December 21, 2012

One of the few times I most definitely disagree with Chesterton....

....but I still like the poetry, so I decided to share it. :-)

Cocoa is a cad and coward,
Cocoa is a vulgar beast,
Cocoa is a dull, disloyal,
Lying, crawling cad and clown,
And may very well be grateful
To the fool that takes him down.

-excerpted from "The Song of Right and Wrong"

-The Flying Inn (1914)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The unknown God

But this fact is falsified by the error that I put first in this note on mythology. It is misunderstanding the psychology of day-dreams. A child pretending there is a goblin in a hollow tree will do a crude and material thing, like leaving a piece of cake for him. A poet might do a more dignified and elegant thing, like bringing to the god fruits as well as flowers. But the degree of seriousness in both acts may be the same or it may vary in almost any degree. The crude fancy is no more a creed than the ideal fancy is a creed. Certainly the pagan does not disbelieve like an atheist, any more than he believes like a Christian. He feels the presence of powers about which he guesses and invents. St. Paul said that the Greeks had one altar to an unknown god. But in truth all their gods were unknown gods. And the real break in history did come when St. Paul declared to them whom they had ignorantly worshipped.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)


The weakness of all statistics is that, even when the numbers are generally right, the names are generally wrong. I mean that if somebody says there are so many Christians in Margate or in Mesopotamia, it is obvious that they are assuming that everybody is agreed on what is meant by a Christian.....I merely point out that, when people talk about "educational statistics" and make tables of the condition of culture in Nebraska or anywhere else, there is really nothing in their statements that is exact except the numbers; and the numbers must be inexact when there is nothing to apply them to. The statistician is trying to make a rigid and unchangeable chain of elastic links.

-July 23, 1927, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The best way to shorten winter is to prolong Christmas...

-George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity."

The future is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers...It is pleasant to play with children, especially unborn children. The future is a blank wall on which every man can write his own name as large as he likes; the past I find already covered with illegible scribbles, such as Plato, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, Napoleon. I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity. And the upshot of this modern attitude is really this: that men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back.

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

Monday, December 17, 2012

"...it is so easy to say the last word about a crowd, and so difficult to say even the first word about one of the men in it."

Cynics and other persons who suffer from a certain ignorance of human life, have at the back of their minds one curiously fixed idea, the idea that there is in the world a class consisting of what they call ordinary people. They believe that some thousands of black-hatted city men, all exactly alike, come up on recurrent mornings, all exactly alike, from villas exactly alike to offices exactly alike. They seem to think that the people who assemble in literary salons are the only people who have any individuality. As a matter of fact, of course, there are no ordinary people. To the modern artist all city men look alike...In reality every one of them is distinct. If we stopped each of the clerks that pour out of a Mansion House train, we should find that the first one collected Roman coins, and the second one had fought with burglars, and the third thought he was going mad, and the fourth thought (erroneously) that he was sane, and the fifth was a Theosophist, and the sixth was in love. There are quite as many varieties of fools in the world as there are clever men, and the fools are very often infinitely more healthy and interesting. There is no plain background in real life; every detail of it springs forward graphically and assertively as it does in a coloured photograph or a picture by Holman Hunt. The only real fault which defaced the splendid work of Matthew Arnold was a failure to realise this fact, that ordinary people do not exist.... But this tendency of the great critic runs very deep in his work; we cannot help feeling that he took an unconscious advantage of the fact that it is so easy to say the last word about a crowd, and so difficult to say even the first word about one of the men in it. He made great sport of the Nonconformists and their tea-drinkings and evening lectures. But he forgot how imperious and illusive is the mysterious spirit of happiness, and that with a healthy humility, a healthy vanity, and a good digestion, it is possible to have about ten times more of the everlasting joie de vivre at a Baptist meeting than at all the Pagan festivals of the earth.

-The Bookman, September 1902

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"...these two saints saved us from Spirituality, a dreadful doom."

Perhaps it would sound too paradoxical to say that these two saints [St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas] saved us from Spirituality; a dreadful doom...But it is best to say the truth in its simplest form; that they both reaffirmed the Incarnation, by bringing God back to earth.

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.

-The Coloured Lands (1938)

H/T G.K. Chesterton Facebook Page

"There is no inconsistency in ranking things in ascending order on the practical plane and equalising them on the religious plane."

Mr. Lowes Dickinson states all the various points of view with conspicuous eloquence and justice. If there is one point that we should be inclined to criticise it is his stricture upon Walt Whitman, when he quotes him as an example of the untenable optimism which equalises all things. Walt Whitman has been singularly misunderstood on this point. Surely no one imagines that he really thought that all distinctions were unmeaning, that he drank coffee and arsenic in idle alternation, and went to bed on the kitchen fire as a change from his bedstead. What he did say and mean was that there was one plane on which all things were equal, one point from which everything was the same, the point of view of unfathomable wonder at the energy of Being, the power of God. There is no inconsistency in ranking things in ascending order on the practical plane and equalising them on the religious plane.

We may take a familiar parallel. There is nothing inconsistent in saying, "For what we are about to receive the Lord make us truly thankful," and then complaining that the champagne is corked or the mutton raw. There is such a thing as a bad dinner and such a thing as a good one, and criticism is quite justified in comparing one with the other: but it remains true that both become good the moment we compare them with the hypothesis of no dinner at all. So it was with Whitman, good and bad lives became equal to him in relation to the hypothesis of no life at all. A man, let us say a soldier of the Southern Confederacy, was considered as a man, a miracle that swallowed up all moral distinctions, in the realm of religion. But in the realm of criticism, otherwise called the Battle of Gettysburg, Whitman would strain every nerve to blow the man into a thousand pieces.

-February 16, 1901, The Speaker

"...if they had a few more dogmas they might have a few less decrees."

If there was one thing reiterated and re-echoed in all our papers, pamphlets, and books, it was that the coming religion must be a "free religion." Whatever else it was (people said) it must avoid the old mistake of rule and regimentation of dogmas launched from an international centre, of authority sitting on a central throne. No pope must control the preacher- no council, even; it was doubtful whether any church or congregation had the right. All the idealistic journalism of the nineteenth century.....repeated, like a chime of bells, that the new creed must be the creed of souls set free.

And all the time the new creeds were growing up. The one or two genuine religious movements of the nineteenth century had come out of the soul of the nineteenth century; and they were despotic from top to bottom. General Booth had based a big theological revival on the pure notion of military obedience. In title and practice he was far more papal than a pope. A pope is supreme, like a judge; he says the last word. But the General was supreme- like a general. He said the first word, which was also the last; he initiated all the activities, gave orders for all the enthusiasms. The idealistic Liberal journalists...fell headlong into the trap of this tremendous autocracy, still faintly shrieking that the Church of the future must be free....

...Religion is the sub-consciousness of an age. Our age has been superficially chattering about change and freedom. But sub-consciously it has believed far too much in barbaric and superstitious authority; it has worshiped strong men, it has asked for protection in everything....

I do not agree with the moderns either in the extreme anarchy of their theory or in the extreme autocracy of their practice. I even have the feeling that if they had a few more dogmas they might have a few less decrees. I merely point out that what we say when we are criticising churches is startlingly different from what we do when we are making churches; and that this illustrates the failure of our phraseology.

-December 24, 1910, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Various GKC quotes

"Originality is the power of going behind the common mind, discovering what it desires as distinct from what it says it desires, and satisfying the sub-consciousness."

-quoted in Current Opinion, volume 52 (1912)

 "I may remark that all the quotations given here are probably wrong. I quote from memory both by temper and on principle. That is what literature is for; it ought to be a part of a man."

-quoted in The Public, volume 15 (1912)

"Nowadays, when we wish to speak of democracy or of the average citizen, we always talk of the 'man in the street'! Real democracies are conscious of the man in the field."

-introduction to The Cottage Homes of England: The Case Against the Housing System in Rural Districts by W. Walter Crotch (1908)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Song of the Strange Ascetic

The Song of the Strange Ascetic

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have crowned Neœra's curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I;
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.

Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight—?
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

Monday, December 10, 2012


...it is doubtful, it is more than doubtful, whether one of the Broad Church ecclesiastics would be soothed and flattered if I addressed him personally as an Old Fossil. Nor indeed should I dream of indulging in this playful form of social address; since there are truths, or half-truths, that cannot be coarsely stated without giving rise to misunderstanding even about their true meaning.

...But I doubt whether they have really thought profoundly and delicately about what a fossil is, or there would be no danger of their resenting so innocent and inoffensive a comparison. For a fossil is really a very curious thing. A fossil is not a dead animal, or a decayed organism, or in essence even an antiquated object. The whole point of a fossil is that it is the form of an animal or organism, from which all its own animal or organic substance has entirely disappeared; but which has kept its shape, because it has been filled up by some totally different substance by some process of distillation or secretion, so that we might almost say, as in the medieval metaphysics, that its substance has vanished and only its accidents remain. And that is perhaps the very nearest figure of speech we can find for the truth about the New Religions....They are Fossils.

-The Well and the Shallows (1935)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Here are 24 of the articles on my other GKC blog which Chesterton wrote for The Speaker near the beginning of his career that (as far as I am aware) were not later collected into books (such as The Defendant).


Saturday, December 8, 2012

GKC and stolen umbrellas

Not quite sure of the source for this GKC quote yet, but regardless of whether I can track down the source or not, the quote is too good to pass up.

The portly prophet G.K. Chesterton once observed that he knew the Catholic Church was for him because when he went into to an Anglican or a Methodist church his umbrella was still at the back where he left it, but when he went to a Catholic church it had been stolen.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chesterton, writing during the First World War concerning Prussianized Germany, but which has a much wider application in our society today.

The definition of the true savage does not concern itself even with how much more he hurts strangers or captives than do the other tribes of men. The definition of the true savage is that he laughs when he hurts you; and howls when you hurt him.

-The Appetite of Tyranny (1915)

Monday, December 3, 2012

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In the round of our rational and mournful year one festival remains out of all those ancient gaieties that once covered the whole earth. Christmas remains to remind us of those ages, whether Pagan or Christian, when the many acted poetry instead of the few writing it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

[H.G. Wells] says, "Nothing endures, nothing is precise and certain (except the mind of a pedant). . . . Being indeed!--there is no being, but a universal becoming of individualities, and Plato turned his back on truth when he turned towards his museum of specific ideals." Mr. Wells says, again, "There is no abiding thing in what we know. We change from weaker to stronger lights, and each more powerful light pierces our hitherto opaque foundations and reveals fresh and different opacities below." Now, when Mr. Wells says things like this, I speak with all respect when I say that he does not observe an evident mental distinction. It cannot be true that there is nothing abiding in what we know. For if that were so we should not know it at all and should not call it knowledge. Our mental state may be very different from that of somebody else some thousands of years back; but it cannot be entirely different, or else we should not be conscious of a difference. Mr. Wells must surely realize the first and simplest of the paradoxes that sit by the springs of truth. He must surely see that the fact of two things being different implies that they are similar. The hare and the tortoise may differ in the quality of swiftness, but they must agree in the quality of motion. The swiftest hare cannot be swifter than an isosceles triangle or the idea of pinkness. When we say the hare moves faster, we say that the tortoise moves. And when we say of a thing that it moves, we say, without need of other words, that there are things that do not move. And even in the act of saying that things change, we say that there is something unchangeable.

But certainly the best example of Mr. Wells's fallacy can be found in the example which he himself chooses. It is quite true that we see a dim light which, compared with a darker thing, is light, but which, compared with a stronger light, is darkness. But the quality of light remains the same thing, or else we should not call it a stronger light or recognize it as such. If the character of light were not fixed in the mind, we should be quite as likely to call a denser shadow a stronger light, or vice versa If the character of light became even for an instant unfixed, if it became even by a hair's-breadth doubtful, if, for example, there crept into our idea of light some vague idea of blueness, then in that flash we have become doubtful whether the new light has more light or less. In brief, the progress may be as varying as a cloud, but the direction must be as rigid as a French road. North and South are relative in the sense that I am North of Bournemouth and South of Spitzbergen. But if there be any doubt of the position of the North Pole, there is in equal degree a doubt of whether I am South of Spitzbergen at all. The absolute idea of light may be practically unattainable. We may not be able to procure pure light. We may not be able to get to the North Pole. But because the North Pole is unattainable, it does not follow that it is indefinable. And it is only because the North Pole is not indefinable that we can make a satisfactory map of Brighton and Worthing.

In other words, Plato turned his face to truth but his back on Mr. H. G. Wells, when he turned to his museum of specified ideals. It is precisely here that Plato shows his sense. It is not true that everything changes; the things that change are all the manifest and material things. There is something that does not change; and that is precisely the abstract quality, the invisible idea. Mr. Wells says truly enough, that a thing which we have seen in one connection as dark we may see in another connection as light. But the thing common to both incidents is the mere idea of light-- which we have not seen at all. Mr. Wells might grow taller and taller for unending aeons till his head was higher than the loneliest star. I can imagine his writing a good novel about it. In that case he would see the trees first as tall things and then as short things; he would see the clouds first as high and then as low. But there would remain with him through the ages in that starry loneliness the idea of tallness; he would have in the awful spaces for companion and comfort the definite conception that he was growing taller and not (for instance) growing fatter.

-Heretics (1905)

Friday, November 30, 2012


Mr. Wells, however, is not quite clear enough of the narrower scientific outlook to see that there are some things which actually ought not to be scientific. He is still slightly affected with the great scientific fallacy; I mean the habit of beginning not with the human soul, which is the first thing a man learns about, but with some such thing as protoplasm, which is about the last. The one defect in his splendid mental equipment is that he does not sufficiently allow for the stuff or material of men. In his new Utopia he says, for instance, that a chief point of the Utopia will be a disbelief in original sin. If he had begun with the human soul--that is, if he had begun on himself--he would have found original sin almost the first thing to be believed in. He would have found, to put the matter shortly, that a permanent possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self, and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon.

-Heretics (1905)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Christmas Carol

(The Chief Constable has issued a statement declaring that carol singing in the streets by
children is illegal, and morally and physically injurious. He appeals to the public to discourage
the practice.—Daily Paper.)

God rest you merry gentlemen, 
Let nothing you dismay;  
The Herald Angels cannot sing, 
The cops arrest them on the wing, 
And warn them of the docketing  
Of anything they say.

God rest you merry gentlemen,  
May nothing you dismay:  
On your reposeful cities lie 
Deep silence, broken only by 
The motor horn’s melodious cry,  
The hooter’s happy bray.

So, when the song of children ceased  
And Herod was obeyed,  
In his high hall Corinthian
With purple and with peacock fan, 
Rested that merry gentleman; 
And nothing him dismayed.

-The Ballad of St. Barbara and Other Verses (1922)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


"...I want to consult you about the Human Gazette. Shall we have a double Christmas number?"

"So long as you don't call it an Xmas number, I don't mind," said Basil. "I think it a disgrace to any Xian, with all the gospel of hard work which is as much the law of Xianity as it was of the carpenter's bench at Nazareth, to be so lazy that he can't take the trouble to spell his master's name, but must call him X."

"There is an algebraic truth in it," said Denis Marvell. "I think he is still the unknown quantity."

"I myself," said Gabriel, "could never get rid of a transcendental conviction that He was equal to N."

"Dear me, I never imagined you knew any mathematics, Gabriel," said Basil. "I thought you confined yourself entirely to the other wrongs of man."

"So I do," said the poet, "but you see N was the only algebraic sign I ever really loved: because it was equal to infinity. From my babyhood infinity has been my hobby."

-Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Volume XIV, p. 672, "The Human Club" (mid 1890's)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Education is implication. It is not the things you say which children respect; when you say things they very commonly laugh and do the opposite. It is the things you assume that really sink into them. It is the things you forget even to teach that they learn.

-January 26, 1907, Illustrated London News

Monday, November 26, 2012

"A great nation in peril is saved by a great nation, or it is not saved at all."

Strength is the great weakness of politicians. They are haunted by the decayed Carlylean fancy that a nation in peril must be saved by a Great Man; and each of them is always trying to prove that he was the Great Man and all his colleagues were impiously blind to the fact. They are wrong from the very root. A great nation in peril is saved by a great nation, or it is not saved at all [...] Here is the great snare for statesmen. And we....must warn them against this great temptation. They must be cured of being strong men. They must be saved from saving the State. Serving the State is all that is asked of them, and this they are quite competent to do. 

-November 27, 1915, Illustrated London News

[I would only add that the population itself must not look for any politician to "save the nation", either, which we almost invariably see by all sides in any Presidential election, for instance, unfortunately....Or, in other words, to quote the words of Scripture, "Put not your trust in princes."]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King

But above all, it is true of the most tremendous issue; of that tragedy which has created the divine comedy of our creed. Nothing short of the extreme and strong and startling doctrine of the divinity of Christ will give that particular effect that can truly stir the popular sense like a trumpet; the idea, of the king himself serving in the ranks like a common soldier. By making that figure merely human we make that story much less human. We take away the point of the story which actually pierces humanity; the point of the story which is quite literally the point of a spear. It does not especially humanize the universe to say that good and wise men can die for their opinions; any more than it would be any sort of uproariously popular news in an army that good soldiers may easily get killed. It is no news that King Leonidas is dead any more than that Queen Anne is dead; and men did not wait for Christianity to be men, in the full sense of being heroes. But if we are describing, for the moment, the atmosphere of what is generous and popular and even picturesque, any knowledge of human nature will tell us that no sufferings of the sons of men, or even of the servants of God, strike the same note as the notion of the master suffering instead of his servants. And this is given by the theological and emphatically not by the scientific deity. No mysterious monarch, hidden in his starry pavilion at the base of the cosmic campaign, is in the least like that celestial chivalry of the Captain who carries his five wounds in the front of battle.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

H/T to  G.K. Chesterton Facebook page

Saturday, November 24, 2012

That explains it....

In the beginning of the twentieth century you could not see the ground for clever men. They were so common that a stupid man was quite exceptional, and when they found him they followed him in crowds down the street and treasured him and gave him some high post in the State.

-The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Man has always lost his way. He has been a tramp ever since Eden; but he always knew, or thought he knew, what he was looking for. Every man has a house somewhere in the elaborate cosmos; his house waits for him waist deep in slow Norfolk rivers or sunning itself upon Sussex downs. Man has always been looking for that home which is the subject matter of this book. But in the bleak and blinding hail of skepticism to which he has been now so long subjected, he has begun for the first time to be chilled, not merely in his hopes, but in his desires. For the first time in history he begins really to doubt the object of his wanderings on the earth. He has always lost his way; but now he has lost his address.

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

-"Notebook" (mid 1890's)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Enemy of Eugenics 

The United Kingdom was one of the few major countries where eugenics was not effectively put into law. Yet people should not feel smug that it did not happen in Britain – because it nearly did. The United Kingdom escaped eugenics laws by the skin of its teeth, as they were backed by some of the most powerful people in the land. As far as can be seen, only one public figure waged a vigorous, and ultimately successful, campaign against the proposed Mental Deficiency Bill in 1912. That man was G. K. Chesterton. The battle against eugenics is Chesterton's great, unknown victory.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Choose a favourite author and say why you admire her/him

GK Chesterton, especially ‘The Napoleon of Notting Hill’. I like his way with paradox. My granny lived in Beconsfield and he did too. She told me that he was a big fat man with a squeaky voice.

"One Minute With: Terry Pratchett, Novelist" (The Independent, Saturday, October 20, 2012)

Monday, November 19, 2012

...that clear mark of recent times [is] the appeal to authorities without authority....

-June 18, 1927, Illustrated London News

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Many supernatural stories rest on the evidence of rough unlettered men, like fishermen and peasants; and most criminal trials depend on the detailed testimony of quite uneducated people. It may be remarked that we never throw a doubt on the value of ignorant evidence when it is a question of a judge hanging a man, but only when it is a question of a saint healing him.

-The Uses of Diversity (1921)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

What we really need for the frustration and overthrow of a deaf and raucous Jingoism is a renascence of the love of the native land. When that comes, all shrill cries will cease suddenly. For the first of all the marks of love is seriousness: love will not accept sham bulletins or the empty victory of words. It will always esteem the most candid counsellor the best. Love is drawn to truth by the unerring magnetism of agony; it gives no pleasure to the lover to see ten doctors dancing with vociferous optimism round a death-bed.

-The Defendant (1901)

Friday, November 16, 2012

I will confess that I attach much more importance to men's theoretical arguments than to their practical proposals. I attach more importance to what is said than to what is done; what is said generally lasts much longer and has much more influence. I can imagine no change worse for public life than that which some prigs advocate, that debate should be curtailed. A man's arguments show what he is really up to. Until you have heard the defence of a proposal, you do not really know even the proposal. Thus, for instance, if a man says to me, "Taste this temperance drink," I have merely doubt, slightly tinged with distaste. But if he says, "Taste it, because your wife would make a charming widow," then I decide. I would be openly moved in my choice of an institution, not by its immediate proposals for practice, but very much by its incidental, even its accidental, allusion to ideals. I judge many things by their parentheses.

-January 4, 1908, The New Age

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A perfect description of modern advertising....

Living in a world that worships swiftness and success no longer means living in a world of new things. Rather it means living in a world of old things; of things that very swiftly grow old. The actual sensation of novelty lasts for a much shorter time than it does in a world where there are fewer sensations. People are not taught and trained to prolong and enjoy their own sense of wonder, even at novelties. They are only trained to tire of things quickly; and then boast that their life goes by very quick. Moreover, this sort of newness is inevitably accompanied by narrowness. Things do not move so swiftly as that, unless they move in a groove.

-August 3, 1935, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Most of them by this time cannot amuse themselves; they are too used to being amused."

I will now emit another brilliant flash of paradox by remarking that Christmas occurs in the winter. That is, it is not only a feast dedicated to domesticity, but it is one deliberately placed under the conditions in which it is most uncomfortable to rush about and most natural to stop at home. But under the complicated conditions of modern conventions and conveniences, there arises this more practical and much more unpleasant sort of paradox. People have to rush about for a few weeks, if it is only to stay at home for a few hours. Now the old and healthy idea of such winter festivals was this; that people being shut in and besieged by the weather were driven back on their own resources; or, in other words, had a chance of showing whether there was anything in them. It is not certain that the reputation of our most fashionable modern pleasure-seekers would survive the test. Some dreadful exposures would be made of some such brilliant society favourites, if they were cut off from the power of machinery and money. They are quite used to having everything done for them......on the average of healthy humanity I believe the cutting off of all these mechanical connections would have a thoroughly enlivening and awakening effect. At present they are always accused of merely amusing themselves; but they are doing nothing so noble or worthy of their human dignity. Most of them by this time cannot amuse themselves; they are too used to being amused.

Christmas might be creative. We are told, even by those who praise it most, that it is chiefly valuable for keeping up ancient customs or old-fashioned games. It is indeed valuable for both those admirable purposes. But in the sense of which I am now speaking it might once more be possible to turn the truth the other way round. It is not so much old things as new things that a real Christmas might create. It might, for instance, create new games, if people were really driven to invent their own games. Most of the very old games began with the use of ordinary tools or furniture. So the very terms of tennis were founded on the framework of the old inn courtyard. So, it is said, the stumps in cricket were originally only the three legs of the milking-stool. Now we might invent new things of this kind, if we remembered who is the mother of invention. How pleasing it would be to start a game in which we scored so much for hitting the umbrella-stand or the dinner-wagon, or even the host and hostess; of course, with a missile of some soft material. Children who are lucky enough to be left alone in the nursery invent not only whole games, but whole dramas and life-stories of their own; they invent secret languages; they create imaginary families; they laboriously conduct family magazines. That is the sort of creative spirit that we want in the modern world; want both in the sense of desiring and in the sense of lacking it. If Christmas could become more domestic, instead of less, I believe there would be a vast increase in the real Christmas spirit; the spirit of the Child. But in indulging this dream we must once more invert the current convention into the form of a paradox. It is true in a sense that Christmas is the time at which the doors should be open. But I would have the doors shut at Christmas, or at least just before Christmas; and then the world shall see what we can do.

-The Thing (1929)

Monday, November 12, 2012

...the whole business of Comparitive Mythology is made up of shallow parallels; that is, of superficial resemblances which cover deep and fundamental divisions. I have legs and a table has legs; if I am large and round, it is also possible for a table to be large and round. Therefore I am the legendary counterpart, or possibly the mythical origin, of the Round Table. But if I modestly advance this claim, it may occur to some that the differences between a man and a table are fundamental; while the resemblances between table-legs and merely human legs are superficial; they are in fact almost metaphorical. A man is alive and walks about; a table seldom does so, save under the moral influence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*. And the abyss between the organic and the inorganic is too absolute to be bridged by the figure of speech called a wooden leg. So we commonly find in current discussions a pretence of finding things roughly similar when they are radically different; as if a man were accused of splitting hairs because he obstinately distinguished between feathers and ferns.

-Chaucer (1932)

*Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, besides being the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, in later life was also a Spiritualist.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"I have a suspicion that you are all mad," said Dr. Renard, smiling sociably; "but God forbid that madness should in any way interrupt friendship.

-The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908)
There is this characteristic of the vitality of all real attitudes, that they can be expressed in any number of ways, and are always taking on new disguises. Everything that is really true is true for all the reasons of its opponents, as well as for all the reasons of its supporters. Blasphemy itself is only the underside of holiness; when Swift said, as a bitter joke, that if Christianity were abolished it would be a pity, since nobody could swear, he was expressing what is, in actual truth, one of the strongest arguments for the sanctity and necessity of the supernatural. It is the argument that without it we have no superlatives: that without it no one could say "God bless you" or "God forbid": that the language of lovers would suddenly be bankrupt with the bankruptcy of theology. And when we find this about a view, that it is able to express itself, either religiously or sceptically, either gravely or flippantly, we are certain that it lives

-The English Illustrated Magazine, Volume 29 (1903)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Scrooge is not only as modern as Gradgrind but more modern than Gradgrind. He belongs not only to the hard times of the middle of the nineteenth century, but to the harder times of the beginning of the twentieth century; the yet harder times in which we live. Many amiable sociologists will say, as he said, "Let them die and decrease the surplus population." The improved proposal is that they should die before they are born.

It is notable also that Dickens gives the right reply; and that with a deadly directness worthy of a much older and more subtle controversionalist. The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population; or if he is not, how he knows he is not. That is the answer which the Spirit of Christmas gives to Scrooge.

Friday, November 9, 2012

"That is one of the ringing realities of the Bible, that it does not make its great men commit grand sins; it makes its great men (such as David and St. Peter) commit small sins and behave like sneaks."

But the best part of [Dicken's novel Great Expectations] -- the account of the vacillations of the hero between the humble life to which he owes everything, and the gorgeous life from which he expects something, touches a very true and somewhat tragic part of morals; for the great paradox of morality (the paradox to which only the religions have given an adequate expression) is that the very vilest kind of fault is exactly the most easy kind. We read in books and ballads about the wild fellow who might kill a man or smoke opium, but who would never stoop to lying or cowardice or to "anything mean." But for actual human beings opium and slaughter have only occasional charm; the permanent human temptation is the temptation to be mean. The one standing probability is the probability of becoming a cowardly hypocrite. The circle of the traitors is the lowest of the abyss, and it is also the easiest to fall into. That is one of the ringing realities of the Bible, that it does not make its great men commit grand sins; it makes its great men (such as David and St. Peter) commit small sins and behave like sneaks.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bad government, like good government, is a spiritual thing. Even the tyrant never rules by force alone; but mostly by fairy tales.

-Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays (1917)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now a man must be very blind nowadays not to see that there is a danger of a sort of amateur science or pseudo-science being made the excuse for every trick of tyranny and interference. Anybody who is not an anarchist agrees with having a policeman at the corner of the street; but the danger at present is that of finding the policeman half-way down the chimney or even under the bed. In other words, it is a danger of turning the policeman into a sort of benevolent burglar. Against this protests are already being made, and will increasingly be made, if men retain any instinct of independence or dignity at all.

-What I Saw in America (1922)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It seems strangely forgotten that the indifference of a nation is sacred as well as its differences. Even public apathy is a kind of public opinion--and in many cases a very sensible kind. If I ask every body to vote about Mineral Meals and do not get a single ballot-paper returned, I may say that the citizens have not voted. But they have.

- Divorce versus Democracy (1916)

Monday, November 5, 2012

To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.

-A Short History of England (1917)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Just a few short quotes from Chesterton's book Fancies Versus Fads (1923)

"... a potato is a poem; it is even an ascending scale of poems; beginning at the root, in subterranean grotesques in the Gothic manner, with humps like the deformities of a goblin and eyes like a beast of Revelation, and rising up through the green shades of the earth to a crown that has the shape of stars and the hue of Heaven."

"It is human to err; and the only final and deadly error, among all our errors, is denying that we have ever erred."

"In truth there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don't know it."

[Finally, Chesterton rhetorically questioning those who blindly scorn past generations:]

"If you cannot see Man, divine and democratic, under the disguises of all the centuries, why on earth should you suppose you will be able to see him under the disguises of all the nations and tribes?"

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"They sacrifice...the unfortunates of the human community. They do not merely kill, but annihilate; not only in the sense of reducing people to nothing, but even of regarding them as nobodies."

An amusing, albeit serious, attack made by GKC in the mid-30's on certain modern principles of contempt for the unfortunate....which has a chilling relevance in these days of even greater euthenasia advocacy

The world has not yet had the happiness of reading my great forthcoming work, The Case for Human Sacrifice, or Moloch the Modern World’s Hope, in nine volumes, with plates and diagrams illustrating all the advantages of Ritual Murder, and the religious side of cannibalism. It is even possible, alas! that the reader will never have the rapture of reading this great scientific monograph; for I have a great many other jobs on hand, in the distraction and excitement of which it is possible that my first fiery and youthful enthusiasm for Human Sacrifice may have somewhat faded, with the passage of years and the consolidation of more moderate convictions. But though I doubt whether I could, by this time, bring myself to sacrifice a baby to Moloch, and though my first boyish impatience at the tame compromise adopted in the cases of Isaac and Iphigenia has long died away, I still think Human Sacrifice is infinitely more decent and dignified than some scientific operations proposed at the present time. At least Human Sacrifice is human; a great deal more human than humanitarianism. And when modern medical men gravely get up and propose that human beings should be put in lethal chambers, when there is any reason to fancy that they are tired of life, I am still (relatively) prepared to cry: “Give me Moloch and the cannibals.”

First consider the fundamental point: that the pagan altar at least treated a man’s life as something valuable, while the lethal chamber treats a man’s life as something valueless. A man’s life was offered to the gods because it was valuable; more valuable than the best bull or the finest ram, or the choice things from the flocks and herds which were always chosen because they were choice. But the moderns, who do not believe in the existence of gods, tend at last not to believe even in the existence of men. Being scientific evolutionists, they cannot tell the difference between a man and a sheep. And being highly civilized townsmen, they would probably be very bad judges of the difference between a good sheep and a bad one. Therefore, there is in their sacrificial operations a sort of scornful and indifferent quality contrary to the idea of sacrifice, even at its blackest and bloodiest. They are always talking about eliminating the unfit, getting rid of the surplus population, segregating the feeble-minded, or destroying the hopeless; and this gives all their work a character of contempt. Now, in the very vilest blood-rites of barbarians, there may have been cruelty, but there was not contempt. To have your throat cut before an ugly stone idol was a compliment; though perhaps a compliment that you would have politely disclaimed and waved away.

It would have implied that you were, in the words of the old feudal custom of rent, the Best Beast. And however beastly you might think the people around you, and their religious views and liturgical habits, there would be some satisfaction in being the best beast among them. Human Sacrifice had this great though fallen splendour clinging about it; that at least it was the very contrary of the Survival of the Fittest. Like all the deaths of the martyrs and the heroes, it was the Surrender of the Fittest. The scientific destroyers necessarily talk in the opposite terms and spread the opposite tone. They sacrifice the black sheep of the flock; the mad bull of the herd; the unfortunates of the human community whom they choose to regard as mad or merely as weak-minded. They do not merely kill, but annihilate; not only in the sense of reducing people to nothing, but even of regarding them as nobodies. The sacrificial victim was always regarded as something; he was even respected as somebody. The victim was often a princess whose beauty was admired, or a great enemy whose courage was envied. Some have said that the latter was the origin of cannibalism; in which case it would be quite a handsome compliment to be cooked and eaten; and something of a snub or sneer, to any sensitively constituted gentleman, to be spared and left alive. The reader may be relieved to learn, however, that I do not really recommend the inclusion of cannibalism and human sacrifice among the ritualistic innovations of the Advanced School in the Church.

-As I Was Saying (1936)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"...a man ought to have a dog. A man ought to have six legs; those other four legs are part of him."

[My dog] lies in front of me curled up before the fire, as so many dogs must have lain before so many fires. I sit on one side of that hearth, as so many men must have sat by so many hearths. Somehow this creature has completed my manhood; somehow, I cannot explain why, a man ought to have a dog. A man ought to have six legs; those other four legs are part of him. Our alliance is older than any of the passing and priggish explanations that are offered of either of us; before evolution was, we were. You can find it written in a book that I am a mere survival of a squabble of anthropoid apes; and perhaps I am. I am sure I have no objection. But my dog knows I am a man, and you will not find the meaning of that word written in any book as clearly as it is written in his soul.

-Lunacy and Letters (collection of essays published posthumously in 1958)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


At about twenty-one minutes past two today I suddenly saw that asparagus is the secret of aristocracy. I was trying to put long limp stalks into my mouth, when the idea came into my head; and the stalk failed to do so. I do not refer to any merely metaphorical and superficial comparisons which could easily be made between them. We might say that most of the organism was left dead white, merely that a little button at the top might be bright green. We might draw the moral that average aristocrats are made out much stronger than they are; and illustrate it from average asparagi. They say that any stick is good enough to beat a dog with; but did anyone ever try to beat a dog with a stick of asparagus? We might draw the moral that aristocratic traditions are made out much more popular than they really were. 'Norman' gets mispronounced as English. In this way three French leopards were somehow turned into British lions. And in this way also the solemn word Asparagus, which means nothing so far as I know, was turned by the populace into 'sparrowgrass', which means two of the most picturesque things in the world. Asparagus, which I presume to have been the name of a Roman pro-consul, Marcus Asparagus Esculens, or what not, never deserved such luck as to lose its origin in two things so true and common as the bold birds of the town and the green democracy of the fields. Or again, we might say of sticks of asparagus that they have often lost their heads, and we might say the same of aristocrats. Both heads have been bitten off by the guillotine before now. But to complete the parallel we must maintain that the head of the aristocrat was the best part of him; and this is often hard to maintain. But, indeed, I do not base the view upon any such fancies from phraseology. Far deeper in earth are the roots of asparagus.

The one essential of an aristocracy is to be in advance of its age. That is, there must be something new known to a few. There must be a password; and it must always be a new password. Moreover, it must be, by its nature, an irrational password, for anything quite rational might rapidly be calculated even by the uninitiated. In the same way it is essential to any social observance that involves a social distinction, that the observance should be, in this sense at least, artificial. That is, you can only know the observance as the soldier knows the password, because he has been told.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"To have a theology is our only protection against the wicked restlessness of theologians."

I agree with those who think that this element of mere rank and fashion in the English Church is a thing to be regretted and removed. But I think it odd that many of those who declaim against it declaim also against doctrines and all definite theology. Surely it is clear that the only way to get equality is to get definition. Suppose you or I start an hotel; we may or may not have rules very severely stated in black and white. But at least we know what the result will be of the rules or the absence of the rules. If we have the hotel principles printed very plainly on a big board, we know that the poorest man in the place can always appeal to them. If we had no rules at all, we know quite well that the richest man in the place will certainly be best served....A definition is the only alternative to a mere brute struggle; to have things settled in black and white is the only alternative to having them settled in black and blue. To have a theology is our only protection against the wicked restlessness of theologians. If the Church of England or any other body tries to do without doctrines, the poor will fall way from it more than ever; the poor are found precisely wherever doctrine is found, whether under Popery or the Salvation Army. If we succeed in including all creeds, we shall fail to include all classes. We talk of things being High Church and Low Church and Broad Church. No doubt there is a sense in which all three of them are actualities; and beyond doubt all three of them are infinities. But there is a falsehood in the modern assumption that breadth is the only kind of largeness. Breadth is a small thing; infinite breadth is a small thing. It is only one dimension.

-October 27, 1906, Illustrated London News

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why, the English party system is founded upon the principle that telling the whole truth does not matter. It is founded upon the principle that half a truth is better than no politics. Our system deliberately turns a crowd of men who might be impartial into irrational partisans. It teaches some of them to tell lies and all of them to believe lies. It gives every man an arbitrary brief that he has to work up as best he may and defend as best he can. It turns a room full of citizens into a room full of barristers. I know it has many charms and virtues, fighting and good-fellowship; it has all the charms and virtues of a game. I only say that it would be a stark impossibility in a nation which believed in telling the truth.

-August 11, 1906, Illustrated London News

Thursday, October 25, 2012


...courage is a paradox, and can best and most easily be expressed by a paradox. I have only to say, 'Courage involves the power of being frightened,' and you have a paradox and a matter of plain common sense. For we certainly do not talk of the courage of the entomologist in boldly striking the beetle, because he does not fear it.....Courage involves fear, and this is only one of the million paradoxes which existed in nature ages before any literary men ever borrowed them.

-The Speaker, February 8, 1902

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect."

Now, there is something to be said for the peculiar influence of pictorial symbols on men's minds. All letters, we learn, were originally pictorial and heraldic: thus the letter A is the portrait of an ox, but the portrait is now reproduced in so impressionist a manner that but little of the rural atmosphere can be absorbed by contemplating it. But as long as some pictorial and poetic quality remains in the symbol, the constant use of it must do something for the aesthetic education of those employing it. Public-houses are now almost the only shops that use the ancient signs, and the mysterious attraction which they exercise may be (by the optimistic) explained in this manner. There are taverns with names so dreamlike and exquisite that even Sir Wilfrid Lawson might waver on the threshold for a moment, suffering the poet to struggle with the moralist. So it was with the heraldic images. It is impossible to believe that the red lion of Scotland acted upon those employing it merely as a naked convenience like a number or a letter; it is impossible to believe that the Kings of Scotland would have cheerfully accepted the substitute of a pig or a frog. There are, as we say, certain real advantages in pictorial symbols, and one of them is that everything that is pictorial suggests, without naming or defining. There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect. Men do not quarrel about the meaning of sunsets; they never dispute that the hawthorn says the best and wittiest thing about the spring.

-The Defendant (1901)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dean Koontz

Not much today....but here is an EWTN interview with Dean Koontz that aired last week, in which he mentions his reading of Chesterton at the 8:50 mark (hence, justifying my posting on this blog.)


(Yes, I hope to get to posting quotes again tomorrow).

Sunday, October 21, 2012

...journalism largely consists in saying "Lord Jones Dead" to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

-The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

...all men are allegories, puzzles, earthly stories with heavenly meanings; the difference between them is mainly in degree of lucidity, in the fact that while some are as stately as a pageant of Spenser, as plain and passionate as a dialogue of Bunyan, or as quaint and philosophical as a fable of Aesop, some others of our acquaintances are somewhat murky designs by William Blake, from which the heavenly meaning is exceedingly difficult to extract.

-The Bookman, December 1901

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Fiction means the common things as seen by the uncommon people. Fairy tales mean the uncommon things as seen by the common people."

For not only is [Dickens'] whole machinery directed to facilitating the self-display of certain characters, but something more deep and more unmodern still is also true of him. It is also true that all the moving machinery exists only to display entirely static character. Things in the Dickens story shift and change only in order to give us glimpses of great characters that do not change at all. If we had a sequel of Pickwick ten years afterwards, Pickwick would be exactly the same age. We know he would not have fallen into that strange and beautiful second childhood which soothed and simplified the end of Colonel Newcome. Newcome, throughout the book, is in an atmosphere of time: Pickwick, throughout the book, is not. This will probably be taken by most modern people as praise of Thackeray and dispraise of Dickens. But this only shows how few modern people understand Dickens. It also shows how few understand the faiths and the fables of mankind. The matter can only be roughly stated in one way. Dickens did not strictly make a literature; he made a mythology.

For a few years our corner of Western Europe has had a fancy for this thing we call fiction; that is, for writing down our own lives or similar lives in order to look at them. But though we call it fiction, it differs from older literatures chiefly in being less fictitious. It imitates not only life, but the limitations of life; it not only reproduces life, it reproduces death. But outside us, in every other country, in every other age, there has been going on from the beginning a more fictitious kind of fiction. I mean the kind now called folklore, the literature of the people. Our modern novels, which deal with men as they are, are chiefly produced by a small and educated section of society. But this other literature deals with men greater than they are -- with demi-gods and heroes; and that is far too important a matter to be trusted to the educated classes. The fashioning of these portents is a popular trade, like ploughing or bricklaying; the men who made hedges, the men who made ditches, were the men who made deities. Men could not elect their kings, but they could elect their gods. So we find ourselves faced with a fundamental contrast between what is called fiction and what is called folklore. The one exhibits an abnormal degree of dexterity operating within our daily limitations; the other exhibits quite normal desires extended beyond those limitations. Fiction means the common things as seen by the uncommon people. Fairy tales mean the uncommon things as seen by the common people.

As our world advances through history towards its present epoch, it becomes more specialist, less democratic, and folklore turns gradually into fiction. But it is only slowly that the old elfin fire fades into the light of common realism. For ages after our characters have dressed up in the clothes of mortals they betray the blood of the gods. Even our phraseology is full of relics of this. When a modern novel is devoted to the bewilderments of a weak young clerk who cannot decide which woman he wants to marry, or which new religion he believes in, we still give this knock-kneed cad the name of "the hero" -- the name which is the crown of Achilles. The popular preference for a story with "a happy ending" is not, or at least was not, a mere sweet-stuff optimism; it is the remains of the old idea of the triumph of the dragon-slayer, the ultimate apotheosis of the man beloved of heaven.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Freedom of mind

There can be no liberty of thought unless it is ready to unsettle what has recently been settled, as well as what has long been settled.

-What I Saw in America (1922)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Will someone take me to a pub?"

A Ballade of an Anti-Puritan

They spoke of Progress spiring round,
Of light and Mrs Humphrey Ward--
It is not true to say I frowned,
Or ran about the room and roared;
I might have simply sat and snored--
I rose politely in the club
And said, `I feel a little bored;
Will someone take me to a pub?'

The new world's wisest did surround
Me; and it pains me to record
I did not think their views profound,
Or their conclusions well assured;
The simple life I can't afford,
Besides, I do not like the grub--
I want a mash and sausage, `scored'--
Will someone take me to a pub?

I know where Men can still be found,
Anger and clamorous accord,
And virtues growing from the ground,
And fellowship of beer and board,
And song, that is a sturdy cord,
And hope, that is a hardy shrub,
And goodness, that is God's last word--
Will someone take me to a pub?

Prince, Bayard would have smashed his sword
To see the sort of knights you dub--
Is that the last of them--O Lord
Will someone take me to a pub?

[From the July 13, 1911 edition of The Eye-Witness]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


A crater on Mercury has recently been named after GKC...


(see "Origin" near bottom of the page)

That is all. :-)

Monday, October 15, 2012


...exaggeration is often a very good proof of honesty. The test of a truth is that it is a thing that may be safely exaggerated. Try to exaggerate a falsehood, and every one will see what a monster you have set up.

-The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume XXVI, January to April 1902

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth."

The transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of revolution; by which one for whom all things illustrate and illuminate God becomes one for whom God illustrates and illuminates all things. It is rather like the reversal whereby a lover might say at first sight that a lady looked like a flower, and say afterwards that all flowers reminded him of his lady. A saint and a poet standing by the same flower might seem to say the same thing; but indeed though they would both be telling the truth, they would be telling different truths. For one the joy of life is a cause of faith, for the other rather a result of faith. But one effect of the difference is that the sense of a divine dependence, which for the artist is like the brilliant levin-blaze, for the saint is like the broad daylight. Being in some mystical sense on the other side of things, he sees things go forth from the divine as children going forth from a familiar and accepted home, instead of meeting them as they come out, as most of us do, upon the roads of the world. And it is the paradox that by this privilege he is more familiar, more free and fraternal, more carelessly hospitable than we. For us the elements are like heralds who tell us with trumpet and tabard that we are drawing near the city of a great king; but he hails them with an old familiarity that is almost an old frivolity. He calls them his Brother Fire and his Sister Water.

So arises out of this almost nihilistic abyss the noble thing that is called Praise; which no one will ever understand while he identifies it with nature-worship or pantheistic optimism. When we say that a poet praises the whole creation, we commonly mean only that he praises the whole cosmos. But this sort of poet does really praise creation, in the sense of the act of creation. He praises the passage or transition from nonentity to entity; there falls here also the shadow of that archetypal image of the bridge, which has given to the priest his archaic and mysterious name. The mystic who passes through the moment when there is nothing but God does in some sense behold the beginningless beginnings in which there was really nothing else. He not only appreciates everything but the nothing of which everything was made. In a fashion he endures and answers even the earthquake irony of the Book of Job; in some sense he is there when the foundations of the world are laid, with the morning stars singing together and the sons of God shouting for joy. That is but a distant adumbration of the reason why the Franciscan, ragged, penniless, homeless and apparently hopeless, did indeed come forth singing such songs as might come from the stars of morning; and shouting, a son of God.

This sense of the great gratitude and the sublime dependence was not a phrase or even a sentiment; it is the whole point that this was the very rock of reality. It was not a fancy but a fact; rather it is true that beside it all facts are fancies. That we all depend in every detail, at every instant, as a Christian would say upon God, as even an agnostic would say upon existence and the nature of things, is not an illusion of imagination; on the contrary, it is the fundamental fact which we cover up, as with curtains, with the illusion of ordinary life. That ordinary life is an admirable thing in itself, just as imagination is an admirable thing in itself. But it is much more the ordinary life that is made of imagination than the contemplative life. He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth. He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up.

-St. Francis of Assisi (1923)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

...the man who treats every human inconsistency as a hypocrisy is himself a hypocrite about his own inconsistencies.

-A Short History of England (1917)

Friday, October 12, 2012

"The great and delightful thing about human existence is that it has been engaged from the beginning of time in one everlasting crisis."

...all these forecasts of our future earthly state have always seemed to me to be under one great primary curse and error. They all represent the future condition of mankind as a state. The condition of mankind never has been, and probably never will be, a state. It has always been a change, and, to the people engaged in it, an exciting change.

It is solemnly said that this is a transition period; but the whole history of humanity has been one continual transition period. The great and delightful thing about human existence is that it has been engaged from the beginning of time in one everlasting crisis. Humanity went to bed every night expecting to wake up and find itself divine. The whole of history is the vigil of a festival. This is, I think, the essential error which gives that strange air of unreality, even of a kind of spectral horror, to all the Utopias which are now written about the ultimate condition of men. Men a thousand years hence may have the institutions of Mr. H. G. Wells, or the institutions of Mr. Bellamy, or the institutions of Mr. William Morris. But whatever their institutions are, the essential point is that they will not live by those institutions or in those institutions; they will live in some direct and practical excitement about the approaching appearance of the kingdom of God. Man will not rest in the Eden of William Morris any more than he rested in the Eden of the Book of Genesis. The simple pagan villages of "News from Nowhere" will be convulsed by the rumour that a man has arisen who claims to unite earth and heaven. The vast and automatic cities of Mr. Bellamy will be shaken, like Tyre and Babylon, to their foundations by a voice crying in the wilderness. Mechanics and business men who will run so successfully the perfect society of Mr. H. G. Wells may at any moment be made to look as black and mean as a mob of ants by the appearance of a martyr or an artist. There will be no "state" of humanity in the future. It will be, as we are, excited about something that it cannot understand. What we want to know about men in the future—supposing that we want to know anything, which is, I think, more than doubtful—is not how they will manage their police or their tramcars, but what they will be excited about. Their police and tramcars will be as uninteresting to them as ours are to us. What we want to know is what will make the darkness a hint to them and the dawn a prophecy. For to the collective spirit of humanity, as to the mightier spirit behind it, there is nothing-but an everlasting present; a thousand years are as yesterday in its sight, and as a watch in the night.

-The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume XXVI, January to April 1902

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Schopenhauer, with that brilliant futility which made him so striking considered merely as a literary man, maintains that Christianity is akin to his own pessimism because it rejects the vanities of the world. The remark is a good instance of that class of ingenious observations against which we can say nothing except that they are obviously not true. Any one can see that a man floating in visions of certain felicity is not in the same state of mind as a man who believes all felicity impossible: and the two are not made essentially any more similar by the accident that they both take the same attitude towards something else. Schopenhauer and the most maniacal ascetic of the middle ages are no more like each other than a man who does not take an omnibus because he cannot afford it and a man who does not take an omnibus because he prefers his landau...the monkish felicity was full of the fieriest human images, and if he scoffed at non-religious pleasures it was as a lover might scoff at the mass of women or a patriot at the mass of nations.

-November 17, 1900, The Speaker

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Why not say that crackens and cuttles and all the sea-monsters are themselves flowers; fearful and wonderful flowers in that terrible twilight garden of God?"

"The subject of flowers is hackneyed, but the flowers are not," the poet was insisting. "Tennyson was right about the flower in the crannied wall; but most people don't look at flowers in a wall, but only in a wall-paper. If you generalize them, they are dull, but if you simply see them they are always startling. If there's a special providence in a falling star, there's more in a rising star; and a live star at that."

"Well, I can't see it," said the man of science, good-humouredly; he was a red-haired, keen-faced youth in pince-nez, by the name of Wilkes. "I'm afraid we fellows grow out of the way of seeing it like that. You see, a flower is only a growth like any other, with organs and all that; and its inside isn't any prettier or uglier than an animal's. An insect is much the same pattern of rings and radiations. I'm interested in it as I am in an octopus or any sea-beast you would think a monster."

"But why should you put it that way round?" retorted the poet. "Why isn't it quite as logical the other way round? Why not say the octopus is as wonderful as the flower, instead of the flower as ordinary as the octopus? Why not say that crackens and cuttles and all the sea-monsters are themselves flowers; fearful and wonderful flowers in that terrible twilight garden of God? I do not doubt that God can be as fond of a shark as I am of a buttercup."

-The Poet and the Lunatics (1929)
Anyhow, traveling about alone with nothing but a big Bible, he had learned to study it minutely, first for oracles and commandments, and afterwards for errors and contradictions; for the Bible-smasher is only the Bible-worshipper turned upside down.

-The Poet and the Lunatics (1929)

Monday, October 8, 2012


Anarchism, appeals to absolute liberty, renunciation of limitations as such — all this is incurably futile and childish, because it will not face a fundamental logical fact. This fact is that there is no such thing as a condition of complete emancipation, unless we can speak of a condition of nonentity. What we call emancipation is always and of necessity simply the free choice of the soul between one set of limitations and another. If I have a piece of chalk in my hand, I can make either a circle or a square; that is the sacred thing called liberty. But I cannot make a thing that is both a circle and a square. I cannot make an unlimited square. I cannot draw an emancipated circle. If I wish to make anything at all, I must abide by the limitations and principles of the thing I make. . . . And any man who makes anything whatever, if it be with a piece of chalk, is doing exactly what a man does when he marries or enlists in an army. He is courageously selling himself into a splendid slavery. And, of course, in moral matters it is the same; there is no lawlessness, there is only a free choice between limitations.

-December 21st, 1905, Daily News
Quoted in The Man Who Was Orthodox: A Selection from the Uncollected Writings of G. K. Chesterton, collected by A.L. Maycock (1963)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Various "Speaker" quotes

...frivolity is, in the secretive sense, far more sacred than seriousness; it is more fragile, more personal, more occult. Any one can see St. Paul's Cathedral, but there may be only two people in the world who can see a particular joke...it is not possible, properly speaking, to laugh irreverently at time, death and judgment—for they laugh best who laugh last; but it is possible to laugh very irreverently at a joke.

-October 20, 1900, The Speaker

...religion is a secret passion audaciously made public; it is not strange if its hymns have something of the splendid folly of love-letters...

-October 27, 1900, The Speaker

...the lies of fiction convey truth and the lies of history convey nothing. But there is obviously a distinction between romances in this matter: all good romances convey truth, but not always about the period they describe.

-December 8, 1900, The Speaker

A poem may be written about everything, but not about things in general. To a poet who sings of the universe, the universe must be for the moment one thing—as much one thing as a daisy or a butterfly.

-January 5, 1901, The Speaker

The truth is that we should have the greatest respect for Mr. Wynne's work, with all its crudities, if it bore the impress even of the vulgarest fanaticism. If he had one thing which could be called an opinion we could forgive him everything. But he seems to dawdle round all sides of a question, like a drunkard going continually round a house because he cannot find the door.

-January 5, 1901, The Speaker
The literature of atheism is bound to fail exactly in proportion as it succeeds. The Bolshevists have not merely tried to abolish God; which some think a trick needing some ingenuity. They have tried to make an institution of abolishing God; and when the God is abolished, the abolition is abolished. There can never be any future for the literature of blasphemy; for if it fails, it fails; and if it succeeds, it becomes a literature of respectability. In short, all that sort of effect can only be an instantaneous effect; like smashing a valuable vase that cannot be smashed again.The heaven-defying gesture can only be impressive as a last gesture. Blasphemy is by definition the end of everything, including the blasphemer. The wife of Job saw the commonsense of this, when she instinctively said, "Curse God and die". The modern poet, by some thoughtless oversight, so often neglects to die.

-The Bookman, December 1932

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"Where does a wise man hide a leaf?"

"Where does a wise man hide a pebble?"

 And the tall man answered in a low voice: "On the beach."

The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: "Where does a wise man hide a leaf?"

And the other answered: "In the forest."

-The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)

Friday, October 5, 2012

"A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed in this planet of frogs and elephants, of crocodiles and cuttle-fish."

There is one very fixed, and I think very false, conception current in human life--the conception that to laugh at a thing is in some strange way to score off it. The literature of blasphemy, for instance, always assumes that when a thing has been shown to be ridiculous, it has in some way been shown to be disgusting or untrue. So far from having been shown to be disgusting, it has not even been shown to be undignified; so far from having been shown to be untrue, it has not even been shown to be improbable. ... A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed in this planet of frogs and elephants, of crocodiles and cuttle-fish. The round earth itself is so round that it is impossible to say for certain that it is not standing on its head.

-April 18, 1903, Black and White
Quoted in The Man Who Was Orthodox" A Selection from the Uncollected Writings of G. K. Chesterton, collected by A.L. Maycock (1963)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A man makes himself far more practically unpopular by defending popularity than by any other course he can take. It is safe to defend the most oppressive dynasty or the most antiquated priesthood, for they at least will be grateful. But it is always unsafe to defend the mob, for there does not exist a single human being who believes himself to be a member of the mob.

-The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume 25 (September to December 1901)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Unmeaning and muddle-headed tyranny in small things, that is the thing which, if extended over many years, is harder to bear and hope through than the massacres of September."

Tyranny like this is not the worst tyranny, but it is the most intolerable. It interferes with men not in the most serious matters, but precisely in those matters in which they most resent interference. It may be illogical for men to accept cheerfully unpardonable public scandals, benighted educational systems, bad sanitation, bad lighting, a blundering and inefficient system of life, and yet to resent the tearing up of a telegram or a post-card; but the fact remains that the sensitiveness of men is a strange and localised thing, and there is hardly a man in the world who would not rather be ruled by despots chosen by lot and live in a city like a mediæval Ghetto, than be forbidden by a policeman to smoke another cigarette, or sit up a quarter of an hour later; hardly a man who would not feel inclined in such a case to raise a rebellion for a caprice for which he did not really care a straw. Unmeaning and muddle-headed tyranny in small things, that is the thing which, if extended over many years, is harder to bear and hope through than the massacres of September.

-Robert Browning (1903)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chesterton in a movie made by J.M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan).

J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, and a good friend of Chesterton's, liked to make his own films. Chesterton appeared in one of them, a cowboy film, which you can read about at the following link, including the humorous circumstances of it's production (even if the British Prime Minister at the time didn't find it so amusing). Also included at the link is a picture of Chesterton (as well as George Bernard Shaw and a couple of others) dressed up as cowboys!


Monday, October 1, 2012


Red is the most joyful and dreadful thing in the physical universe; it is the fiercest note, it is the highest light, it is the place where the walls of this world of ours wear thinnest and something beyond burns through. It glows in the blood which sustains and in the fire which destroys us, in the roses of our romance and in the awful cup of our religion. It stands for all passionate happiness, as in faith or in first love.

Now, the profligate is he who wishes to spread this crimson of conscious joy over everything; to have excitement at every moment; to paint everything red. He bursts a thousand barrels of wine to incarnadine the streets; and sometimes (in his last madness) he will butcher beasts and men to dip his gigantic brushes in their blood. For it marks the sacredness of red in nature, that it is secret even when it is ubiquitous, like blood in the human body, which is omnipresent, yet invisible. As long as blood lives it is hidden; it is only dead blood that we see. But the earlier parts of the rake's progress are very natural and amusing. Painting the town red is a delightful thing until it is done. It would be splendid to see the cross of St. Paul's as red as the cross of St. George, and the gallons of red paint running down the dome or dripping from the Nelson Column. But when it is done, when you have painted the town red, an extraordinary thing happens. You cannot see any red at all.

Alarms and Discursions (1910)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

...the mere fact of the size and plain purpose of the Gospels makes nonsense of the whole of Mr. Roberts's laments about things being absent from them. One might as well complain of some subjects being left out of a telegram or a triolet. Mr. Roberts's complaint that Jesus does not mention debtors and creditors or the slave system, is utterly absurd when taken in connection with the nature of the books. He might as well object that the Lord's Prayer is entirely silent on the subject of a Second Chamber, the duty of doctors in time of plague, the art of Botticelli, the advisability of reading novels, and the use of tobacco. The Lord's Prayer is, in shape and purpose, a short prayer. The Gospel of St. Luke is, in shape and purpose, a short account of such sayings and doings of Jesus as a particular person happened to remember. As I have already said, I agree that this leaves the Gospel Jesus too shadowy to be all-sufficient; that is the argument for a Church. But the same brevity and obscurity which make it a little difficult to define His doctrines make it mere impudent nonsense to talk of His limitations.

 But Mr. Roberts does something worse than complain of the omissions of Jesus: he supplies them. It is borne in upon me that he has pursued a course not uncommon among cultivated modern persons—a course which I pursued myself for many years of my life; I mean that he has read all the books about the New Testament and forgotten to read the book itself. His memories of it, at any rate, are singularly hazy and exaggerative.

-Hibbert Journal, April 1910

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Modern Martyr

The modern notion of impressing the public by a mere demonstration of unpopularity, by being thrown out of meetings or thrown into jail is largely a mistake. It rests on a fallacy touching the true popular value of martyrdom. People look at human history and see that it has often happened that persecutions have not only advertised but even advanced a persecuted creed, and given to its validity the public and dreadful witness of dying men....And because his martyrdom is thus a power to the martyr, modern people think that any one who makes himself slightly uncomfortable in public will immediately be uproariously popular....The assumption is that if you show your ordinary sincerity (or even your political ambition) by being a nuisance to yourself as well as to other people, you will have the strength of the great saints who passed through the fire. Any one who can be hustled in a hall for five minutes, or put in a cell for five days, has achieved what was meant by martyrdom, and has a halo in the Christian art of the future...

But there is a fallacy in this analogy of martyrdom. The truth is that the special impressiveness which does come from being persecuted only happens in the case of extreme persecution. For the fact that the modern enthusiast will undergo some inconvenience for the creed he holds only proves that he does hold it, which no one ever doubted....All our ordinary intellectual opinions are worth a bit of a row: I remember during the Boer War fighting an Imperialist clerk outside the Queen's Hall, and giving and receiving a bloody nose; but I did not think it one of the incidents that produce the psychological effect of the Roman amphitheatre or the stake at Smithfield. For in that impression there is something more than the mere fact that a man is sincere enough to give his time or his comfort. Pagans were not impressed by the torture of Christians merely because it showed that they honestly held their opinion; they knew that millions of people honestly held all sorts of opinions. The point of such extreme martyrdom is much more subtle. It is that it gives an appearance of a man having something quite specially strong to back him up, of his drawing upon some power. And this can only be proved when all his physical contentment is destroyed; when all the current of his bodily being is reversed and turned to pain. If a man is seen to be roaring with laughter all the time that he is skinned alive, it would not be unreasonable to deduce that somewhere in the recesses of his mind he had thought of a rather good joke. Similarly, if men smiled and sang (as they did) while they were being boiled or torn in pieces, the spectators felt the presence of something more than mere mental honesty: they felt the presence of some new and unintelligible kind of pleasure, which, presumably, came from somewhere. It might be a strength of madness, or a lying spirit from Hell; but it was something quite positive and extraordinary; as positive as brandy and as extraordinary as conjuring. The Pagan said to himself: "If Christianity makes a man happy while his legs are being eaten by a lion, might it not make me happy while my legs are still attached to me and walking down the street?" The Secularists laboriously explain that martyrdoms do not prove a faith to be true, as if anybody was ever such a fool as to suppose that they did. What they did prove, or, rather, strongly suggest, was that something had entered human psychology which was stronger than strong pain. If a young girl, scourged and bleeding to death, saw nothing but a crown descending on her from God, the first mental step was not that her philosophy was correct, but that she was certainly feeding on something. But this particular point of psychology does not arise at all in the modern cases of mere public discomfort or inconvenience....

 I should advise modern agitators, therefore, to give up this particular method: the method of making very big efforts to get a very small punishment. It does not really go down at all; the punishment is too small, and the efforts are too obvious. It has not any of the effectiveness of the old savage martyrdom, because it does not leave the victim absolutely alone with his cause, so that his cause alone can support him...

 Or, again, the matter might be put in this way. Modern martyrdoms fail even as demonstrations, because they do not prove even that the martyrs are completely serious. I think, as a fact, that the modern martyrs generally are serious, perhaps a trifle too serious. But their martyrdom does not prove it; and the public does not always believe it....A person might be chucked out of meetings just as young men are chucked out of music-halls—for fun. But no man has himself eaten by a lion as a personal advertisement. No woman is broiled on a gridiron for fun. That is where the testimony of St. Perpetua and St. Faith comes in. Doubtless it is no fault of these enthusiasts that they are not subjected to the old and searching penalties; very likely they would pass through them as triumphantly as St. Agatha. I am simply advising them upon a point of policy, things being as they are. And I say that the average man is not impressed with their sacrifices simply because they are not and cannot be more decisive than the sacrifices which the average man himself would make for mere fun if he were drunk. Drunkards would interrupt meetings and take the consequences. And as for selling a teapot, it is an act, I imagine, in which any properly constituted drunkard would take a positive pleasure. The advertisement is not good enough; it does not tell...Hence the British public, and especially the working classes, regard the whole demonstration with fundamental indifference; for, while it is a demonstration that probably is adopted from the most fanatical motives, it is a demonstration which might be adopted from the most frivolous.

-All Things Considered (1908)