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, June 30, 2012

A "new philosophy"

A new philosophy generally means in practice the praise of some old vice.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"But whenever we see things done wildly, but taken tamely, then the State is growing insane."

A nation is not going mad when it does extravagant things, so long as it does them in an extravagant spirit. Crusaders not cutting their beards till they found Jerusalem, Jacobins calling each other Harmodius and Epaminondas when their names were Jacques and Jules, these are wild things, but they were done in wild spirits at a wild moment. But whenever we see things done wildly, but taken tamely, then the State is growing insane...

...For madness is a passive as well as an active state: it is a paralysis, a refusal of the nerves to respond to the normal stimuli, as well as an unnatural stimulation. There are commonwealths, plainly to be distinguished here and there in history, which pass from prosperity to squalor, or from glory to insignificance, or from freedom to slavery, not only in silence, but with serenity. The face still smiles while the limbs, literally and loathsomely, are dropping from the body. These are peoples that have lost the power of astonishment at their own actions. When they give birth to a fantastic fashion or a foolish law, they do not start or stare at the monster they have brought forth. They have grown used to their own unreason; chaos is their cosmos; and the whirlwind is the breath of their nostrils. These nations are really in danger of going off their heads en masse; of becoming one vast vision of imbecility, with toppling cities and crazy country-sides, all dotted with industrious lunatics.

-A Miscellany of Men (1912)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"It is not the wild ideals which wreck the practical world; it is the tame ideals.

People who say that an ideal is a dangerous thing, that it deludes and intoxicates, are perfectly right. But the ideal which intoxicates most is the least idealistic kind of ideal. The ideal which intoxicates least is the very ideal ideal; that sobers us suddenly, as all heights and precipices and great distances do. Granted that it is a great evil to mistake a cloud for a cape; still, the cloud, which can be most easily mistaken for a cape, is the cloud that is nearest the earth. Similarly, we may grant that it may be dangerous to mistake an ideal for something practical. But we shall still point out that, in this respect, the most dangerous ideal of all is the ideal which looks a little practical. It is difficult to attain a high ideal; consequently, it is almost impossible to persuade ourselves that we have attained it. But it is easy to attain a low ideal; consequently, it is easier still to persuade ourselves that we have attained it when we have done nothing of the kind. To take a random example. It might be called a high ambition to wish to be an archangel; the man who entertained such an ideal would very possibly exhibit asceticism, or even frenzy, but not, I think, delusion. He would not think he was an archangel, and go about flapping his hands under the impression that they were wings. But suppose that a sane man had a low ideal; suppose he wished to be a gentleman. Any one who knows the world knows that in nine weeks he would have persuaded himself that he was a gentleman; and this being manifestly not the case, the result will be very real and practical dislocations and calamities in social life. It is not the wild ideals which wreck the practical world; it is the tame ideals.

-Heretics (1905)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Father Brown series on the BBC starring Mark Williams

 Harry Potter Star Mark Williams To Star In BBC Drama ‘Father Brown’
Actor who played Arthur Weasley will star in new crime drama


Interesting headline to come across....Apparently the BBC is making a television adaptation of Chesterton's Father Brown stories...

UPDATE (September 19, 2012): Another article on the series:


Monday, June 25, 2012

From the Chesterton and Friends blog:

As some Chesterton fans may recall, an earlier radio dramatization of The Man Who Was Thursday was broadcast on Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, September 5, 1938 (just a few weeks before Welles' famous radio recreation of The War of the Worlds). Frank Brady's 1989 biography, Citizen Welles, offers some interesting sidelights on this broadcast. Chesterton's novel was the last production of the Mercury Radio Theatre's inaugural season. Brady credits Welles' "splendid adaptation" of Thursday ("one of the finest shows of the season") with the last minute decision by CBS to renew the Mercury Theatre series. Furthermore, according to Brady, "Welles had great affinity for the works of Chesterton and decided to write the adaptation himself, allowing no assistance." [New York, p. 144]

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Only it happened to be the key that could unlock the prison of the whole world; and let in the white daylight of liberty."

Christ founded the Church with two great figures of speech...The first was the phrase about founding it on Peter as on a rock; the second was the symbol of the keys...

But the other image of the keys has an exactitude that has hardly been exactly noticed. The keys have been conspicuous enough in the art and heraldry of Christendom; but not everyone has noted the peculiar aptness of the allegory...The Early Christian was very precisely a person carrying about a key, or what he said was a key. The whole Christian movement consisted in claiming to possess that key. It was not merely a vague forward movement, which might be better represented by a battering-ram. It was not something that swept along with it similar or dissimilar things, as does a modern social movement. As we shall see in a moment, it rather definitely refused to do so. It definitely asserted that there was a key and that it possessed that key and that no other key was like it; in that sense it was as narrow as you please. Only it happened to be the key that could unlock the prison of the whole world; and let in the white daylight of liberty.

The creed was like a key in three respects; which can be most conveniently summed up under this symbol. First, a key is above all things a thing with a shape. It is a thing that depends entirely upon keeping its shape. The Christian creed is above all things the philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness... A man told that his solitary latchkey had been melted down with a million others into a Buddhistic unity would be annoyed. But a man told that his key was gradually growing and sprouting in his pocket, and branching into new wards or complications, would not be more gratified.

Second, the shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape....And it is fantastic because it is in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that sense a key is not a matter of argument. It either fits the lock or it does not. It is useless for men to stand disputing over it, considered by itself; or reconstructing it on pure principles of geometry or decorative art. It is senseless for a man to say he would like a simple key; it would be far more sensible to do his best with a crowbar. And thirdly, as the key is necessarily a thing with a pattern, so this was one having in some ways a rather elaborate pattern. When people complain of the religion being so early complicated with theology and things of the kind, they forget that the world had not only got into a hole, but had got into a whole maze of holes and corners. The problem itself was a complicated problem; it did not in the ordinary sense merely involve anything so simple as sin. It was also full of secrets, of unexplored and unfathomable fallacies, of unconscious mental diseases, of dangers in all directions. If the faith had faced the world only with the platitudes about peace and simplicity some moralists would confine it to, it would not have had the faintest effect on that luxurious and labyrinthine lunatic asylum. What it did do we must now roughly describe; it is enough to say here that there was undoubtedly much about the key that seemed complex, indeed there was only one thing about it that was simple. It opened the door.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"No good ever came of merely flattering one's nation: a man flatters the land he fears, but not the land he loves."

No good ever came of merely flattering one's nation: a man flatters the land he fears, but not the land he loves.

-September 25, 1915, Illustrated London News, "The English Spirit and the Flea"

The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (collection of essays published posthumously in 1975)

"Whenever there is pomp there is some peril of pomposity. But it is only fair to remember that most rebels against it have not ultimately avoided pomposity, even when they avoided pomp."

[A good point, I believe.]

Friday, June 22, 2012

"The greatest act of faith that a man can perform is the act that we perform every night."

The greatest act of faith that a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"We have come to trusting experts even in the things about which they are amateurs."

All human beings will agree that a Specialist can be trusted too much; though this will not prevent all political parties from trusting him with everything they want to shirk. But, indeed, we are past the point of trusting experts as experts. We have come to trusting experts even in the things about which they are amateurs. The ordinary practitioner, in a matter of Measles, must give way to a great specialist on Memory; and because another specialist knows more about hydrophobia than a dog, he is also supposed to know more about teeth than a dentist. A man is not only autocratic on one subject, but on all other subjects by right of that subject; and is allowed to be a lord over ten cities because he has been something like a monomaniac in one.This is no exaggeration; a glance at popular magazines and public controversies will give you scores of instances of it. The religion of of Haeckel the biologist is more important than his biology. The journalism of a famous cricketer is more prominent than his cricket...You will almost always find that the "authorities" are authorities on some other subject; and that the "representative men" represent nobody and nothing except their own accidental likes and dislikes.

June 22, 1912, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"The instinct of the human soul perceives that a fool may be permitted to praise himself, but that a wise man ought to praise God."

It will not, I imagine, be disputed that the one black and inexcusable kind of pride is the pride of the man who has something to be proud of. It is true that you often do hear people saying, as they say other idle and unmeaning things while they are really watching a bird fly or expecting the dinnerbell, that such and such a person is vain, but has some right to be. But you do not find these people actually regarded with anything short of the most delightful loathing; whereas the nice old donkeys who are vain without any earthly ground for vanity at all, are not only universally and rightly beloved, but are made Cabinet Ministers and Bishops, and covered with a continual admiration. And this popular feeling is right. The universal objection to the people who are proud of genuine calibre is not any mere jealousy of them; it is not a paltry or panic-stricken resentment of their admitted superiority. It is, like a great many other things which ordinary people feel in a flash and could not possibly defend, entirely philosophical. The instinct of the human soul perceives that a fool may be permitted to praise himself, but that a wise man ought to praise God. A man who really has a head with brains in it ought to know that this head has been gratuitously clapped on top of him like a new hat. A man who by genius can make masterpieces ought to know that he cannot make genius. A man whose thoughts are as high as the stars ought to know that they roll almost as regardless of his power. A man who possesses great powers ought to know that he does not really possess them.

-February 27, 1904, The Daily News, "The True Vanity of Vanities"

Found in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (collection of essays first published in 1975)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Poetry is always commonplace; it is vulgar in the noblest sense of that noble word."

The attempts which have been made to discredit the poetical position of Tennyson are in the main dictated by an entire misunderstanding of the nature of poetry. When critics like Matthew Arnold, for example, suggest that his poetry is deficient in elaborate thought, they only prove, as Matthew Arnold proved, that they themselves could never be great poets. It is no valid accusation against a poet that the sentiment he expresses is commonplace. Poetry is always commonplace; it is vulgar in the noblest sense of that noble word. Unless a man can make the same kind of ringing appeal to absolute and admitted sentiments that is made by a popular orator, he has lost touch with emotional literature. Unless he is to some extent a demagogue, he cannot be a poet. A man who expresses in poetry new and strange and undiscovered emotions is not a poet; he is a brain specialist. Tennyson can never be discredited before any serious tribunal of criticism because the sentiments and thoughts to which he dedicates himself are those sentiments and thoughts which occur to anyone. These are the peculiar province of poetry; poetry, like religion, is always a democratic thing, even if it pretends the contrary. The faults of Tennyson, so far as they existed, were not half so much in the common character of his sentiments as in the arrogant perfection of his workmanship. He was not by any means so wrong in his faults as he was in his perfections.

-Varied Types (1905)

Monday, June 18, 2012

"The forlorn hope is not only a real hope, it is the only real hope of mankind"

The strong old literature is all in praise of the weak....When men were tough and raw, when they lived amid hard knocks and hard laws, when they knew what fighting really was, they had only two kinds of songs. The first was a rejoicing that the weak had conquered the strong, the second a lamentation that the strong had, for once in a way, conquered the weak. For this defiance of the status quo, this constant effort to alter the existing balance, this premature challenge to the powerful, is the whole nature and inmost secret of the psychological adventure which is called man. It is his strength to disdain strength. The forlorn hope is not only a real hope, it is the only real hope of mankind. In the coarsest ballads of the greenwood men are admired most when they defy, not only the king, but what is more to the point, the hero. The moment Robin Hood becomes a sort of Superman, that moment the chivalrous chronicler shows us Robin thrashed by a poor tinker whom he thought to thrust aside. And the chivalrous chronicler makes Robin Hood receive the thrashing in a glow of admiration. This magnanimity is not a product of modern humanitarianism; it is not a product of anything to do with peace. This magnanimity is merely one of the lost arts of war.

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The character Lisa Douglas of "Green Acres" fully agrees. :-)

I never could imagine why pigs should not be kept as pets. To begin with, pigs are very beautiful animals. Those who think otherwise are those who do not look at anything with their own eyes, but only through other people's eyeglasses. The actual lines of a pig (I mean of a really fat pig) are among the loveliest and most luxuriant in nature; the pig has the same great curves, swift and yet heavy, which we see in rushing water or in rolling cloud. Compared to him, the horse, for instance, is a bony, angular, and abrupt animal. I remember that Mr. H. G. Wells, in arguing for the relativity of things (a subject over which even the Greek philosophers went to sleep until Christianity woke them up), pointed out that, while a horse is commonly beautiful if seen in profile, he is excessively ugly if seen from the top of a dogcart, having a long, lean neck, and a body like a fiddle. Now, there is no point of view from which a really corpulent pig is not full of sumptuous and satisfying curves. You can look down on a pig from the top of the most unnaturally lofty dogcart; you can (if not pressed for time) allow the pig to draw the dogcart; and I suppose a dogcart has as much to do with pigs as it has with dogs. You can examine the pig from the top of an omnibus, from the top of the Monument, from a balloon, or an airship; and as long as he is visible he will be beautiful. In short, he has that fuller, subtler, and more universal kind of shapeliness which the unthinking (gazing at pigs and distinguished journalists) mistake for a mere absence of shape. For fatness itself is a valuable quality. While it creates admiration in the onlookers, it creates modesty in the possessor. If there is anything on which I differ from the monastic institutions of the past, it is that they sometimes sought to achieve humility by means of emaciation. It may be that the thin monks were holy, but I am sure it was the fat monks who were humble. Falstaff said that to be fat is not to be hated; but it certainly is to be laughed at, and that is a more wholesome experience for the soul of man.

I do not urge that it is effective upon the soul of a pig, who, indeed, seems somewhat indifferent to public opinion on this point. Nor do I mean that mere fatness is the only beauty of the pig. The beauty of the best pigs lies in a certain sleepy perfection of contour which links them especially to the smooth strength of our south English land in which they live. There are two other things in which one can see this perfect and piggish quality: one is in the silent and smooth swell of the Sussex downs, so enormous and yet so innocent. The other is in the sleek, strong limbs of those beech trees that grow so thick in their valleys. These three holy symbols, the pig, the beech tree, and the chalk down, stand for ever as expressing the one thing that England as England has to say--that power is not inconsistent with kindness.

-The Uses of Diversity (1921)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pratical Courage

It is the first law of practical courage. To be in the weakest camp is to be in the strongest school.

-Heretics (1905)

Friday, June 15, 2012


We are no longer in a world in which it is thought normal to be moderate or even necessary to be normal. Most men now are not so much rushing to extremes as merely sliding to extremes; and even reaching the most violent extremes by being almost entirely passive...We can no longer trust even the normal man to value and guard his own normality.

-January 4, 1936, America

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church."

These can be called the essentials of the old orthodoxy, of which the chief merit is that it is the natural fountain of revolution and reform; and of which the chief defect is that it is obviously only an abstract assertion. Its main advantage is that it is the most adventurous and manly of all theologies. Its chief disadvantage is simply that it is a theology. It can always be urged against it that it is in its nature arbitrary and in the air. But it is not so high in the air but that great archers spend their whole lives in shooting arrows at it -- yes, and their last arrows; there are men who will ruin themselves and ruin their civilization if they may ruin also this old fantastic tale. This is the last and most astounding fact about this faith; that its enemies will use any weapon against it, the swords that cut their own fingers, and the firebrands that burn their own homes. Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church. This is no exaggeration; I could fill a book with the instances of it. Mr. Blatchford set out, as an ordinary Bible-smasher, to prove that Adam was guiltless of sin against God; in manoeuvring so as to maintain this he admitted, as a mere side issue, that all the tyrants, from Nero to King Leopold, were guiltless of any sin against humanity. I know a man who has such a passion for proving that he will have no personal existence after death that he falls back on the position that he has no personal existence now. He invokes Buddhism and says that all souls fade into each other; in order to prove that he cannot go to heaven he proves that he cannot go to Hartle-pool. I have known people who protested against religious education with arguments against any education, saying that the child's mind must grow freely or that the old must not teach the young. I have known people who showed that there could be no divine judgment by showing that there can be no human judgment, even for practical purposes. They burned their own corn to set fire to the church; they smashed their own tools to smash it; any stick was good enough to beat it with, though it were the last stick of their own dismembered furniture. We do not admire, we hardly excuse, the fanatic who wrecks this world for love of the other. But what are we to say of the fanatic who wrecks this world out of hatred of the other? He sacrifices the very existence of humanity to the non-existence of God. He offers his victims not to the altar, but merely to assert the idleness of the altar and the emptiness of the throne. He is ready to ruin even that primary ethic by which all things live, for his strange and eternal vengeance upon some one who never lived at all.

And yet the thing hangs in the heavens unhurt. Its opponents only succeed in destroying all that they themselves justly hold dear. They do not destroy orthodoxy; they only destroy political courage and common sense. They do not prove that Adam was not responsible to God; how could they prove it? They only prove (from their premises) that the Czar is not responsible to Russia. They do not prove that Adam should not have been punished by God; they only prove that the nearest sweater should not be punished by men. With their oriental doubts about personality they do not make certain that we shall have no personal life hereafter; they only make certain that we shall not have a very jolly or complete one here. With their paralysing hints of all conclusions coming out wrong they do not tear the book of the Recording Angel; they only make it a little harder to keep the books of Marshall & Snelgrove. Not only is the faith the mother of all worldly energies, but its foes are the fathers of all worldly confusion. The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them. The Titans did not scale heaven; but they laid waste the world.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Perfect Game

The Perfect Game
from Tremendous Trifles (1909)

We have all met the man who says that some odd things have happened to him, but that he does not really believe that they were supernatural. My own position is the opposite of this. I believe in the supernatural as a matter of intellect and reason, not as a matter of personal experience. I do not see ghosts; I only see their inherent probability. But it is entirely a matter of the mere intelligence, not even of the motions; my nerves and body are altogether of this earth, very earthy. But upon people of this temperament one weird incident will often leave a peculiar impression. And the weirdest circumstance that ever occurred to me occurred a little while ago. It consisted in nothing less than my playing a game, and playing it quite well for some seventeen consecutive minutes. The ghost of my grandfather would have astonished me less.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Scorn springs easily to the essentially vulgar-minded

-Alarms and Discursions (1910)

"...nine times out of ten, the coarse word is the word that condemns an evil and the refined word the word that excuses it."

I'm reminded of a recent Facebook status a friend of mine shared about someone who was rebuked for his choice of language concerning a great moral evil, while those who rebuked him (if I remember correctly anyway) seemed much less concerned about the evil itself....the quote in the title of this post seems quite appropriate therefore.

None of these great [Victorian novelists] would have tolerated for a moment being talked to (as the muddle-headed amateur censors talk to artists to-day) about "wholesome" topics and suggestions "that cannot elevate." They had to describe the great battle of good and evil and they described both; but they accepted a working Victorian compromise about what should happen behind the scenes and what on the stage. Dickens did not claim the license of diction Fielding might have claimed in repeating the senile ecstasies of Gride (let us say) over his purchased bride: but Dickens does not leave the reader in the faintest doubt about what sort of feelings they were; nor is there any reason why he should. Thackeray would not have described the toilet details of the secret balls of Lord Steyne: he left that to Lady Cardigan. But no one who had read Thackeray's version would be surprised at Lady Cardigan's. But though the great Victorian novelists would not have permitted the impudence of the suggestion that every part of their problem must be wholesome and innocent in itself, it is still tenable (I do not say it is certain) that by yielding to the Philistines on this verbal compromise, they have in the long run worked for impurity rather than purity. In one point I do certainly think that Victorian Bowdlerism did pure harm. This is the simple point that, nine times out of ten, the coarse word is the word that condemns an evil and the refined word the word that excuses it...The great peril of such soft mystifications is that extreme evils (they that are abnormal even by the standard of evil) have a very long start. Where ordinary wrong is made unintelligible, extraordinary wrong can count on remaining more unintelligible still; especially among those who live in such an atmosphere of long words.

-The Victorian Age in Literature (1913)

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable."

It seems to me that the mass of men do agree on the mass of morality, but differ disastrously about the proportions of it. In other words, all men admit the Ten Commandments, but they differ horribly about which is the first Commandment and which is the tenth. The difference between men is not in what merits they confess, but in what merits they emphasize. All the nations of the earth are troubled about many things; they only fight about what is the one thing needful. The spoilt son of some Chicago millionaire who puffs smoke in his father's face for fun will not, in so many words, deny the rightness of the commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother." He will only think it a small and somewhat laughable matter; while he will be quite solemn about the command, "Thou shalt do no murder"- all the more because he must feel that he is the kind of person whom one murders....Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable. The sins are substantially the same all over the earth. What men fight each other about is the question of which are the venial and which the mortal sins.

-October 23, 1909, Illustrated London News

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"The truth is that all feeble spirits naturally live in the future, because it is featureless; it is a soft job; you can make it what you like."

The truth is that all feeble spirits naturally live in the future, because it is featureless; it is a soft job; you can make it what you like.  The next age is blank, and I can paint it freely with my favourite colour.  It requires real courage to face the past, because the past is full of facts which cannot be got over; of men certainly wiser than we and of things done which we could not do. I know I cannot write a poem as good as Lycidas. But it is always easy to say that the particular sort of poetry I can write will be the poetry of the future.

-George Bernard Shaw (1909)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"...it has long been the sport of the market-place...to deride the cross for not discharging the functions of the weather-cock"

What Sir Harry and his Humanists have to show is not that they are free from what they regard as delusions altogether distant and dead, but that they are free from the characteristic delusions of their own day. And they are so very far from being free of them, they are so strangely duped even by the worst of them, that we are not at all disposed to apologize for thinking the myths of the Middle Ages a better training for the mind. 

What shocks them in what they call Shillitottery is, I fancy, the fact that the Christian side is no longer on the defensive. In the spiritual city of which they are citizens, it has long been the sport of the market-place to throw stones and cat-calls at the church and steeple; and especially to deride the cross for not discharging the functions of the weather-cock. But of late there has come a voice from the silent steeple, perhaps from the bell which is its ancient tongue; it is somewhat husky at present; but it seems to be saying to the market something a little like this: 'You say that I am decayed, that I am superstitious, that I am hypocritical. But what about you? What about the idols of the market-place and the impostures of the mart? If you think our legends are lies, at least they are not daily lies, like those you turn out in your daily papers. You fancy we confess that our creeds are illogical; but at least we do not boast that they are illogical as your lawyers do about their constitutions and their courts. You think our saints are insanely idolized for their virtues; but at least they are not idolized for their vices, as are the capitalists and commercial magnates whom you flatter and adore. You say that our influence has declined; yes, indeed, our influence has declined; and he who looks long and clearly, across your labyrinth of sewers and gutters, will realize how much.'

-"The Mythology of the Moderns", The New Witness
(reprinted in The Living Age, volume 299, October, November, December 1918)


Any one of the strange laws we suffer is a compromise between a fad and a vested interest.

-Fancies Versus Fads (1923)

Friday, June 8, 2012

"A great man is not a man so strong that he feels less than other men; he is a man so strong that he feels more."

But the old hero was a being who, like Achilles, was more human than humanity itself. Nietzsche's Superman is cold and friendless. Achilles is so foolishly fond of his friend that he slaughters armies in the agony of his bereavement. Mr. Shaw's sad Caesar says in his desolate pride, "He who has never hoped can never despair." The Man-God of old answers from his awful hill, "Was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow?" A great man is not a man so strong that he feels less than other men; he is a man so strong that he feels more. And when Nietszche says, "A new commandment I give to you, `be hard,'" he is really saying, "A new commandment I give to you, `be dead.'" Sensibility is the definition of life.

-Heretics (1905)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"...it seems brazenly irrational that because people have failed to be Christians they should say that Christianity has failed."

But the impudence involved here is even more simple and startling. In any case it seems brazenly irrational that because people have failed to be Christians they should say that Christianity has failed. It might be mildly suggested to them that they need not look quite so far afield for the failure. My mother tells me not to climb a certain apple-tree to steal apples, and I do it in spite of her. A bough breaks, a bull-dog pins me by the throat, a policeman takes me to prison, whence I eventually return to shake my head reproachfully at my mother, and say in a sad and meditative manner: "I had hoped better things of you. Alas, there is something pathetic about this failure of motherhood to influence the modern mind; I fear that we must all admit that maternity as an institution is barren and must be abandoned altogether."

-August 18, 1922, The New Witness
(quoted in The New American Church Monthly, Volume XII, 1922)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chestertonian Ray Bradbury Dies :-(


I have never read any of his stories myself, but I have heard them recommended by friends of mine.

However, I was aware that Bradbury was an admirer of Chesterton's writing, listing him among his literary heroes, and even wrote a poem about his heroes, mentioning GKC in the title of the poem:  The R.B., G.K.C., and G.B.S. Forever Orient Express

You can read part of the poem here, via Google Books through their preview, though parts of the poem are not included in the preview. Here are the first eight lines, however:

And when I die, will this dream truly be
Entrained with Shaw and Chesterton and me?
O, glorious Lord, please make it so
That down along eternity we'll row
Atilted headlong, nattering the way
All mouth, no sleep, and endless be our day;
The Chesterton Night Tour, the Shaw Express
A picknicking of brains in London dress...

For an example of Bradbury mentioning GKC among his literary heroes, see this post.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"[The politician's] whole career has only two stages: first, as quickly as possible to represent his town; then as quickly as possible to misrepresent it."

The politicians do want to fight every species of superstition, including what they consider the superstition of democracy. Politicians are always by the nature of things the enemies of crowds. There have been dark and tremendous times when the politicians have shot down the crowds. On the other hand, there have been brighter and purer times when the crowds have torn the politicians in pieces. But always the man who cared first and foremost for politics has been essentially separated from the men who made up the people....

In Parliamentary countries like England and America the politician has only two successive desires. First, he wishes to do what the people want in order to become an M.P. Then he wishes to do what the people don't want in order to become a Cabinet Minister. His whole career has only two stages: first, as quickly as possible to represent his town; then as quickly as possible to misrepresent it. Again and again, in the history of all representative Governments, this simple and yet subtle game has been played. Out of Parliament the politician persuades the people that he really wants what they want. Inside Parliament the politician persuades the people that they really want what he wants.

-December 22, 1906, Illustrated London News

Monday, June 4, 2012

Modern Flattery

There has crept, I notice, into our literature and journalism a new way of flattering the wealthy and the great. In more straightforward times flattery itself was more straightforward; falsehood itself was more true. A poor man wishing to please a rich man simply said that he was the wisest, bravest, tallest, strongest, most benevolent and most beautiful of mankind; and as even the rich man probably knew that he wasn't that, the thing did the less harm. When courtiers sang the praises of a King they attributed to him things that were entirely improbable, as that he resembled the sun at noonday, that they had to shade their eyes when he entered the room, that his people could not breathe without him, or that he had with his single sword conquered Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. The safety of this method was its artificiality; between the King and his public image there was really no relation. But the moderns have invented a much subtler and more poisonous kind of eulogy. The modern method is to take the prince or rich man, to give a credible picture of his type of personality, as that he is business-like, or a sportsman, or fond of art, or convivial, or reserved; and then enormously exaggerate the value and importance of these natural qualities. Those who praise Mr. Carnegie do not say that he is as wise as Solomon and as brave as Mars; I wish they did. It would be the next most honest thing to giving their real reason for praising him, which is simply that he has money. The journalists who write about Mr. Pierpont Morgan do not say that he is as beautiful as Apollo; I wish they did. What they do is to take the rich man's superficial life and manner, clothes, hobbies, love of cats, dislike of doctors, or what not; and then with the assistance of this realism make the man out to be a prophet and a saviour of his kind, whereas he is merely a private and stupid man who happens to like cats or to dislike doctors. The old flatterer took for granted that the King was an ordinary man, and set to work to make him out extraordinary. The newer and cleverer flatterer takes for granted that he is extraordinary, and that therefore even ordinary things about him will be of interest.

-All Things Considered (1908)
The morality of a great writer is not the morality he teaches, but the morality he takes for granted.

-The Superstition of Divorce (1920)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

GKC mentions in Agatha Christie novels

I know that GKC is mentioned in other places in her novels, but here are two of them that I remember off the top of my head. First, from Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)

"I hadn't really got down to the job, though," continued Lawrence, "because it occurred to me that I'd like to see Miss Marple, first, to make quite sure that no one did pass along the lane yesterday evening while we were in the studio."

I shook my head. "She was quite positive that nobody did."

"Yes, nobody whom she would call anybody- sounds mad, but you see what I mean. But there might have been someone like a postman or a milkman or a butcher's boy- someone whose presence would be so natural that you wouldn't think of mentioning it."

"You've been reading G.K. Chesterton," I said, and Lawrence did not deny it.

"But don't you think there's just possibly something in the idea?"

"Well, I suppose there might be," I admitted.

...and from her novel At Bertram's Hotel (1966)

"Now don't you worry, Mrs. McCrae," he said in his genial fashion, as he sat down to the meal she had prepared for his arrival. "We'll hunt the absent-minded fellow down. Ever heard that story about Chesterton? G.K. Chesterton, you know, the writer. Wired to his wife when he'd gone on a lecture tour 'Am at Crew Station. Where ought I to be?' "

[For more information about that anecdote, btw, see here.]

"Everybody knows in his heart that it is not dead; and none better than those who want it to die."

I never heard of any case of any heathen sceptics becoming iconoclasts; and going out and smashing the popular deities as a protest on behalf of abstract truth. They accepted the lyre of Apollo or the wand of Mercury, just as we still accept a Cupid on a Valentine or a nymph on a stone fountain. We may say that the cupid has been vulgarized and is no longer truly a god. We may say that the nymph has met the gorgon, and been turned to stone. And they may have known in their hearts that their religion was dead. But because it was dead, they had even less desire to make exhausting efforts to kill it. If Christianity were really one of the cults studied in comparative religion, if it were really, as its critics sometimes say, a thing made up of materials borrowed from Paganism, if it were really only the last myth or ritual of the long undying death of the Roman Empire, then there is no reason why its symbolism should not be used forever by anybody; as the symbolism of nymphs and cupids is still used forever by anybody. The real reason is that this religion does differ in one detail from all those ancient and beautiful religions. It is not dead. Everybody knows in his heart that it is not dead; and none better than those who want it to die.

The people arranging for the Peace Memorial of the League of Nations would not have the slightest objection to covering it with signs and symbols which were once religious. They would not object to a statue of Peace holding the olive branch like a statue of Minerva; they would not object to a symbolic figure of Sunrise which had the lyre or the horses of Apollo; they would not be annoyed if somebody conceived womanhood under the form of Diana hunting or manhood under the form of Hercules at rest. All these things are now really an allegory. And if Christians could accept so trifling a modernist modification of their view as to agree that Christianity is dead, they could safely go on using all their great historical and hagiological wealth of imagery and illustration; and nobody would object to ten thousand angels or a million martyrs or any number of crosses and haloes. But the ground of the resistance is that the whole modern comparison between the decline of Paganism and the decline of Christianity is false. Paganism, in the historic sense of Polytheism, did decline once and for all. Christianity has declined twenty times; but nobody who hated it was ever quite certain that it was dead. The rationalist historians of the nineteenth century found it easy to trace in a curve the rise and fall of a religion. They showed very lucidly, to their own satisfaction, that such a historical monstrosity was first a myth, and then a superstition, and then a tradition, and then an abstraction and an allegory. And what they wrote was largely true, if they had happened to be writing the history of Jupiter-Ammon. But as a history of post-Pagan Europe, commonly called Christendom, it is simply not true. It is not the story of something that ruled the whole world, as a pagan deity ruled the whole city. It is not the story of something which was lost when a man left his own city, and enlarged his mind by considering the gods of other cities. It did not begin by being so powerful as Paganism; it never came to being so impotent as Paganism. It was the story of some thing that was unsafe at its safest and living still at its lowest; something which is always coming out of the Catacombs and going back again; something that is never entirely acceptable when it appears; and never entirely forgotten when it disappears.

-The Glass Walking Stick (1955)

Friday, June 1, 2012

"But at least they were taught that death was humorous."

In the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance (which was, in certain times and respects, a much gloomier period) this idea of the skeleton had a vast influence in freezing the pride out of all earthly pomps and the fragrance out of all fleeting pleasures. But it was not, surely, the mere dread of death that did this, for these were ages in which men went to meet death singing; it was the idea of the degradation of man in the grinning ugliness of his structure that withered the juvenile insolence of beauty and pride. And in this it almost assuredly did more good than harm. There is nothing so cold or so pitiless as youth, and youth in aristocratic stations and ages tended to an impeccable dignity, an endless summer of success which needed to be very sharply reminded of the scorn of the stars. It was well that such flamboyant prigs should be convinced that one practical joke, at least, would bowl them over, that they would fall into one grinning man-trap, and not rise again. That the whole structure of their existence was as wholesomely ridiculous as that of a pig or a parrot they could not be expected to realize; that birth was humorous, coming of age humorous, drinking and fighting humorous, they were far too young and solemn to know. But at least they were taught that death was humorous.

-The Defendant (1901)

"Christ knew that it would be a more stunning thunderbolt to fulfil the law than to destroy it."

Now I have no notion at all of propounding a new ideal. There is no new ideal imaginable by the madness of modern sophists, which will be anything like so startling as fulfilling any one of the old ones. On the day that any copybook maxim is carried out there will be something like an earthquake on the earth. There is only one thing new that can be done under the sun; and that is to look at the sun. If you attempt it on a blue day in June, you will know why men do not look straight at their ideals. There is only one really startling thing to be done with the ideal, and that is to do it. It is to face the flaming logical fact, and its frightful consequences. Christ knew that it would be a more stunning thunderbolt to fulfil the law than to destroy it. It is true of both the cases I have quoted, and of every case. The pagans had always adored purity: Athena, Artemis, Vesta. It was when the virgin martyrs began defiantly to practice purity that they rent them with wild beasts, and rolled them on red-hot coals. The world had always loved the notion of the poor man uppermost; it can be proved by every legend from Cinderella to Whittington, by every poem from the Magnificat to the Marseillaise. The kings went mad against France not because she idealized this ideal, but because she realized it. Joseph of Austria and Catherine of Russia quite agreed that the people should rule; what horrified them was that the people did. The French Revolution, therefore, is the type of all true revolutions, because its ideal is as old as the Old Adam, but its fulfilment almost as fresh, as miraculous, and as new as the New Jerusalem.

 But in the modern world we are primarily confronted with the extraordinary spectacle of people turning to new ideals because they have not tried the old. Men have not got tired of Christianity; they have never found enough Christianity to get tired of. Men have never wearied of political justice; they have wearied of waiting for it.

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)