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)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sounds like modern America as well...

The trouble with modern England is not how many or how few people vote. It is that, however many people vote, a small ring of administrators do what they please

-August 30, 1909, Daily News

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Ancient religion (with much more worldly wisdom) asked us to consider 'the weaker brethren.' ”

The plain fact that no chain is stronger than its weakest link is one of the primary facts at the bottom of democracy and equality. Suppose, for instance, our society, or any society, were in serious danger. The fool would look first to the fortunate members of society to see whether they would lead us. The wise man would look first to the unfortunate members of society to see whether they would give us away. Modern Imperialism and hero-worship asks us to look for what it calls the “strongest man.” Ancient religion (with much more worldly wisdom) asked us to consider “the weaker brethren.” The simple reason is that the weaker brethren have everything in their hands. No chain is stronger than its weakest link. Therefore, the weakest links are the most important. The weakest links have the greatest power instantaneously to destroy the chain; the weakest links are the strongest.

-April 25, 1908, Illustrated London News

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

For there is a corollary to the conception of being too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the fighting.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Whatever virtues a triumphant egoism really leads to, no one can reasonably pretend that it leads to knowledge."

...humility has infinitely deeper roots than any modern men suppose; that it is a metaphysical and, one might almost say, a mathematical virtue. Probably this can best be tested by a study of those who frankly disregard humility and assert the supreme duty of perfecting and expressing one's self. These people tend, by a perfectly natural process, to bring their own great human gifts of culture, intellect, or moral power to a great perfection, successively shutting out everything that they feel to be lower than themselves. Now shutting out things is all very well, but it has one simple corollary—that from everything that we shut out we are ourselves shut out. When we shut our door on the wind, it would be equally true to say that the wind shuts its door on us. Whatever virtues a triumphant egoism really leads to, no one can reasonably pretend that it leads to knowledge. Turning a beggar from the door may be right enough, but pretending to know all the stories the beggar might have narrated is pure nonsense; and this is practically the claim of the egoism which thinks that self-assertion can obtain knowledge. A beetle may or may not be inferior to a man—the matter awaits demonstration; but if he were inferior by ten thousand fathoms, the fact remains that there is probably a beetle view of things of which a man is entirely ignorant. If he wishes to conceive that point of view, he will scarcely reach it by persistently revelling in the fact that he is not a beetle. The most brilliant exponent of the egoistic school, Nietszche, with deadly and honourable logic, admitted that the philosophy of self-satisfaction led to looking down upon the weak, the cowardly, and the ignorant. Looking down on things may be a delightful experience, only there is nothing, from a mountain to a cabbage, that is really seen when it is seen from a balloon. The philosopher of the ego sees everything, no doubt, from a high and rarified heaven; only he sees everything foreshortened or deformed.

-The Defendant (1901)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"But that is only because evil always wins through the strength of its splendid dupes..."

There exists to-day a scheme of action, a school of thought, as collective and unmistakable as any of those by whose grouping alone we can make any outline of history. It is as firm a fact as the Oxford Movement, or the Puritans of the Long Parliament; or the Jansenists; or the Jesuits. It is a thing that can be pointed out; it is a thing that can be discussed; and it is a thing that can still be destroyed. It is called for convenience "Eugenics"; and that it ought to be destroyed I propose to prove in the pages that follow. I know that it means very different things to different people; but that is only because evil always takes advantage of ambiguity. I know it is praised with high professions of idealism and benevolence; with silver-tongued rhetoric about purer motherhood and a happier posterity. But that is only because evil is always flattered, as the Furies were called "The Gracious Ones." I know that it numbers many disciples whose intentions are entirely innocent and humane; and who would be sincerely astonished at my describing it as I do. But that is only because evil always wins through the strength of its splendid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal innocence and abnormal sin. Of these who are deceived I shall speak of course as we all do of such instruments; judging them by the good they think they are doing, and not by the evil which they really do. But Eugenics itself does exist for those who have sense enough to see that ideas exist; and Eugenics itself, in large quantities or small, coming quickly or coming slowly, urged from good motives or bad, applied to a thousand people or applied to three, Eugenics itself is a thing no more to be bargained about than poisoning.

-Eugenics and Other Evils (1922)



Friday, May 25, 2012

"A faith is that which is able to survive a mood."

If anyone wishes to listen to the words of a man who in the most final sense is not a sceptic, here are [Hamlet's] words:

This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Oddly enough I have heard this passage quoted as a pessimistic passage. It is, perhaps, the most optimistic passage in all human literature. It is the absolute expression of the ultimate fact of the faith of Hamlet; his faith that, although he cannot see the world is good, yet certainly it is good; his faith that, though he cannot see man as the image of God, yet certainly he is the image of God. The modern, like the modern conception of Hamlet, believes only in mood. But the real Hamlet, like the Catholic Church, believes in reason. Many fine optimists have praised man when they felt like praising him. Only Hamlet has praised man when he felt like kicking him as a monkey of the mud. Many poets, like Shelley and Whitman, have been optimistic when they felt optimistic. Only Shakespeare has been optimistic when he felt pessimistic. This is the the definition of a faith. A faith is that which is able to survive a mood. And Hamlet had this from first to last....

If Hamlet had been a sceptic he would have had an easy life. He would not have known that his moods were moods. He would have called them Pessimism or Materialism, or some silly name. But Hamlet was a great soul, great enough to know that he was not the world. He knew that there was a truth beyond himself, therefore he believed readily in things most unlike himself, in Horatio and his ghost. All through his story we can read his conviction that he is wrong. And that to a clear mind like his is only another way of stating that there is something that is right. The real sceptic never thinks he is wrong; for the real sceptic does not think that there is any wrong. He sinks through floor after floor of a bottomless universe. But Hamlet was the very reverse of a sceptic. He was a thinker.

-Lunacy and Letters (1958)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"I would test them not by a calendar which records whether they have happened, but by a creed which decides whether they ought to happen."

It might be expressed by saying that I may be a reactionary, but I am sure I am not a Conservative. I am a reactionary, in the true sense that I would react against a great many things in the past as well as the present. I would test them not by a calendar which records whether they have happened, but by a creed which decides whether they ought to happen. Some of the things I desire have already happened, and I would therefore preserve them; others have not yet happened, and I would therefore join in any revolution to obtain them. But the test for painting the town red is whether I like red, not whether I like the day before yesterday or the middle of next week. All this is absurdly obvious, but is still more absurdly neglected.

-October 30, 1920, Illustrated London News

"A state of freedom ought to mean a state in which no man can silence another. As it is, it means a state in which every man must silence himself."

...there is a great deal of elementary absurdity about the bursts of indignation that greet utterances such as that of Mr. Shaw. Mr. Shaw writes a letter in which he says that he thinks that most amateur theatricals are pretentious and silly. He may be right or he may be wrong; but manifestly he has a right to criticise private theatricals, as much as he has a right to criticise the clouds in the sky. It is perfectly childish to talk (as I see numerous journalists are talking) about "an insult to amateur actors." What is an insult? In one sense, a critic only exists to offer insults; he is a professional insulter. If he is not there to object to the mental or moral condition of certain people, what is he there for? Of all the weak-minded manifestations of the modern cowardice, perhaps the most contemptible is this assumption of a collective sensitiveness, this banding of a class together against its critics. If you think the London drama dull, it is an insult to actors. If you think the London streets ugly, it is an insult to architects. If you suggest that the London streets are dirty, it is an insult to the sacred Guild of Crossing-Sweepers. The whole of our modern indignation is to be reserved, apparently, for those who point out an evil; we are never to insult anybody except when we insult the insulter of wrong. We want to get rid of the whole idea of "insult" in this sense. A state of freedom ought to mean a state in which no man can silence another. As it is, it means a state in which every man must silence himself. It ought to mean that Mr. Shaw can say a thing twenty times, and still not make me believe it. As it is, it means that Mr. Shaw must leave off saying it, because my exquisite nerves will not endure to hear somebody saying something with which I do not agree. Freedom means that we cannot oppress each other. But unless we insult each other we shall never do anything.

-March 10, 1906, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"The Chesterton"

Max Beerbohm, writing in Harper's Magazine, in 1907, describing a "new dance" he made up, "The Chesterton".  :-)

"...the only really practical type of a rebellion is that which is also a repentance."

He would rebel but he would not repent; and the only really practical type of a rebellion is that which is also a repentance....

All real reform springs from this sense of something wrong, not only in our surroundings, but in ourselves. And there is one thing that must come before even reform in your relations to the changing and challenging social conditions of our time. There is something we have do even before we reform, before we reconstruct, before we revolutionise or refuse to revolutionise. We have to apologize....

I believe that this fact of a false dignity has a great deal to do with the fierceness of the real discontent...The mood of revolt will grow more and more bitter so long as we can prove we are right; we must pray for the higher talent of proving we are wrong.

-October 23, 1920, Illustrated London News

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Nothing's incompatible, you know—except husband and wife and so on."

Duke. [...] Well, Professor, what's the news in the conjuring world?

Conjurer. I fear there is never any news in the conjuring world.

Duke. Don't you have a newspaper or something? Everybody has a newspaper now, you know. The—er—Daily Sword-Swallower or that sort of thing?

Conjurer. No, I have been a journalist myself; but I think journalism and conjuring will always be incompatible.

Duke. Incompatible—Oh, but that's where I differ—that's where I take larger views! Larger laws, as old Buffle said. Nothing's incompatible, you know—except husband and wife and so on; you must talk to Morris about that. It's wonderful the way incompatibility has gone forward in the States.

Conjurer. I only mean that the two trades rest on opposite principles. The whole point of being a conjurer is that you won't explain a thing that has happened.

Duke. Well, and the journalist?

Conjurer. Well, the whole point of being a journalist is that you do explain a thing that hasn't happened.

Duke. But you'll want somewhere to discuss the new tricks.

Conjurer. There are no new tricks. And if there were we shouldn't want 'em discussed.

Duke. I'm afraid you're not really advanced. Are you interested in modern progress?

Conjurer. Yes. We are interested in all tricks done by illusion.

-Magic (1913)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Listeners especially noted the quickness with which he picked up the "feel" of the audience and returned the ball to the questioner, leaving him often holding it in bewilderment and not knowing what to do next. A rather conceited young man made quite a speech of patronizing approval, saying that he had really quite liked the lecture but ending up, "I feel, Mr. Chesterton, that there is one important matter you have not quite covered: in the event of your having to change your original position, what tactics do you adopt?"

G.K. answered, "On such occasions I invariably commit suicide."

-Return To Chesterton, Maisie Ward (1952)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The true and horrid secret of the crank is this: that he is not interested in his subject. He is only interested in his object."

The true and horrid secret of the crank is this: that he is not interested in his subject. He is only interested in his object. He wants to do something, to alter something, to feel he has made a difference, to rediscover his own miserable existence. He does not care for women, but for Votes for Women; he does not care for children, but for education; he does not care for animals, but for Anti-vivisection; he does not care for Nature, but for "open spaces." He does not care for anything unless he can do something to it. Leave him for three minutes alone with a cow or a canary, and he has not enough energy to live the life of contemplation. He can never enjoy a discussion because he can never enjoy a doubt. He is unfit for all the arts and sciences and philosophies, which require a powerful patience or a noble indifference. He is unfit to be an agnostic. He is unfit to be an angler. I am not sure he might not shoot someone, out of sheer ennui, if he were a sentry. Milton had in him, in so far as so great a man could have, a slight streak of the crank. And it was this that he rebuked in himself and in all his brother cranks in that phrase, that "They also serve who only stand and wait." That is another trade from which the real and genuine crank is cut off. He can never really be a Waiter.

-July 19, 1913, Illustrated London News
....we are learning to do a great many clever things. Unless we are much mistaken the next great task will be to learn not to do them.

-Varied Types (1905)

[That quote reminds me of what the character Ian Malcolm states in Jurassic Park, something along the lines of "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that you never stopped to think whether or not they should."]

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Mystical minimum of gratitude"

In truth, the story of what was called my Optimism was rather odd. When I had been for some time in these, the darkest depths of the contemporary pessimism, I had a strong inward impulse to revolt; to dislodge this incubus or throw off this nightmare. But as I was still thinking the thing out by myself, with little help from philosophy and no real help from religion, I invented a rudimentary and makeshift mystical theory of my own. It was substantially this; that even mere existence, reduced to its most primary limits, was extraordinary enough to be exciting. Anything was magnificent as compared with nothing. Even if the very daylight were a dream, it was a day-dream; it was not a nightmare. The mere fact that one could wave one's arms and legs about (or those dubious external objects in the landscape which were called one's arms and legs) showed that it had not the mere paralysis of a nightmare. Or if it was a nightmare, it was an enjoyable nightmare. In fact, I had wandered to a position not very far from the phrase of my Puritan grandfather, when he said that he would thank God for his creation if he were a lost soul. I hung on to the remains of religion by one thin thread of thanks. I thanked whatever gods might be, not like Swinburne, because no life lived for ever, but because any life lived at all; not, like Henley for my unconquerable soul (for I have never been so optimistic about my own soul as all that) but for my own soul and my own body, even if they could be conquered. This way of looking at things, with a sort of mystical minimum of gratitude, was of course, to some extent assisted by those few of the fashionable writers who were not pessimists; especially by Walt Whitman, by Browning and by Stevenson; Browning's "God must be glad one loves his world so much", or Stevenson's "belief in the ultimate decency of things". But I do not think it is too much to say that I took it in a way of my own; even if it was a way I could not see clearly or make very clear. What I meant, whether or no I managed to say it, was this; that no man knows how much he is an optimist, even when he calls himself a pessimist, because he has not really measured the depths of his debt to whatever created him and enabled him to call himself anything. At the back of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy.

-Autobiography (1936)

Friday, May 18, 2012


There are two senses in which an artist may work to awaken wonder. One is the basest and vulgarest kind of art; the other is the highest and holiest kind of art. The former is meant to make us wonder at the artist; the latter is meant to make us wonder at the world.

-Littell's Living Age, volume 305 (April, May, June 1920)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Original Outlook on Life

There is a perfectly genuine and practical disadvantage in having an original and interesting outlook upon life. The disadvantage is that a man who has it lives in a cosmos of his own, with new mountains and new cities and new stars. The whole universe is so lucid to him that he does not know how complicated and inscrutable appear the fragments of his view which he reveals. When he is most frank and explanatory he is called obscure, when he is most sensational he is called abstruse, when he endeavours to be particularly bald and honest he is called affected.

-The Pall Magazine, Volume 25 (1900)
I think of the following quote whenever I hear someone, such as in the media, remark that the Catholic Church is "fixated on sexual issues". I was reminded of it again yesterday by a post on Mark Shea's blog when he made the same point. Anyone who actually knows anything about Catholicism, of course, knows that criticism to be a matter of projection on the part of the critic. The fact that the media seems to be fixated on whatever the Church states on those issues, and ignores the million other things that the Church is concerned about, shows that any "fixation" on such issues resides in those who report.

And Chesterton's quote here, though in context written about how some Protestants do so in regards to other issues, still describes the same general attitude of the media mentality mentioned above, specifically the part of the quote that is bolded: 

the Church is generally seen in the light of the last heresy. The Church is supposed to consist chiefly of the things of which that heresy happens to disapprove. So much of the Protestant tradition still remains that a great many people suppose that the chief marks of Catholicity are those which stood out as stains in the eyes of the last school of critics. Romanism is supposed to be made up of Popery and Purgatory and the Confessional, with the queerest things thrown in, such as incense and rosaries and the images of saints. But these were often the things most important to [these opponents of Catholicism], not most important to Catholics; and not most important to the other opponents of Catholics.

-The Well and the Shallows (1935)

Or, more briefly, as Chesterton puts it in The Common Man (1950)

The Catholic Church is always being defined in terms of the particular quarrel that she happens to have with particular people in a particular place.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


For great tragedy is only great when it describes loss so as to increase value, and not to decrease it.

-The Living Age July 15, 1930

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"A Twitch Upon the Thread"

Book Two of Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited is titled "A Twitch Upon the Thread", and is taken from one of GKC's Father Brown stories.

To quote from the novel:

"Still trying to convert me, Cordelia?"

"Oh, no. That's all over, too. D'you know what papa said when he became a Catholic? Mummy told me once. He said to her: 'You have brought back my family to the faith of their ancestors.' Pompous, you know. It takes people different ways. Anyhow, the family haven't been very constant, have they? There's him gone and Sebastian gone and Julia gone. But God won't let them go for long, you know. I wonder if you remember the story mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk – I mean the bad evening. "Father Brown" said something like 'I caught him' (the thief) 'with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.' "

Or, to quote from the Father Brown story itself that is made reference to ("The Queer Feet")

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"...the individual is so much bigger than the average, that the inside of life is much larger than the outside."

That is what makes one so impatient with that type of pessimistic rebel who is always complaining of the narrowness of his life, and demanding a larger sphere. Life is too large for us as it is: we have all too many things to attend to. All true romance is an attempt to simplify it, to cut it down to plainer and more pictorial proportions. What dullness there is in our life arises mostly from its rapidity: people pass us too quickly to show us their interesting side. By the end of the week we have talked to a hundred bores; whereas, if we had stuck to one of them, we might have found ourselves talking to a new friend, or a humourist, or a murderer, or a man who had seen a ghost.

I do not believe that there are any ordinary people. That is, I do not believe that there are any people whose lives are really humdrum or whose characters are really colourless. But the trouble is that one can so quickly see them all in a lump, like a land surveyor, and it would take so long to see them one by one as they really are, like a great novelist....the individual is so much bigger than the average, that the inside of life is much larger than the outside.

-October 24, 1908, Illustrated London News