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)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"...real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root."

...real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root. Even when we improve we never progress. For progress, the metaphor from the road, implies a man leaving his home behind him: but improvement means a man exalting the towers or extending the gardens of his home.

-The Victorian Age in Literature (1913)

Monday, July 30, 2012

"The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant."

The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing, an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo. But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men--diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men-- hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky. Mr. Kipling, with all his merits, is the globe-trotter; he has not the patience to become part of anything. So great and genuine a man is not to be accused of a merely cynical cosmopolitanism; still, his cosmopolitanism is his weakness. That weakness is splendidly expressed in one of his finest poems, "The Sestina of the Tramp Royal," in which a man declares that he can endure anything in the way of hunger or horror, but not permanent presence in one place. In this there is certainly danger. The more dead and dry and dusty a thing is the more it travels about; dust is like this and the thistle-down and the High Commissioner in South Africa. Fertile things are somewhat heavier, like the heavy fruit trees on the pregnant mud of the Nile. In the heated idleness of youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss. We were inclined to ask, "Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?" But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right. The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive.

The truth is that exploration and enlargement make the world smaller. The telegraph and the steamboat make the world smaller. The telescope makes the world smaller; it is only the microscope that makes it larger. Before long the world will be cloven with a war between the telescopists and the microscopists. The first study large things and live in a small world; the second study small things and live in a large world. It is inspiriting without doubt to whizz in a motor-car round the earth, to feel Arabia as a whirl of sand or China as a flash of rice-fields. But Arabia is not a whirl of sand and China is not a flash of rice-fields. They are ancient civilizations with strange virtues buried like treasures. If we wish to understand them it must not be as tourists or inquirers, it must be with the loyalty of children and the great patience of poets. To conquer these places is to lose them. The man standing in his own kitchen-garden, with fairyland opening at the gate, is the man with large ideas. His mind creates distance; the motor-car stupidly destroys it. Moderns think of the earth as a globe, as something one can easily get round, the spirit of a schoolmistress...And under all this vast illusion of the cosmopolitan planet, with its empires and its Reuter's agency, the real life of man goes on concerned with this tree or that temple, with this harvest or that drinking-song, totally uncomprehended, totally untouched. And it watches from its splendid parochialism, possibly with a smile of amusement, motor-car civilization going its triumphant way, outstripping time, consuming space, seeing all and seeing nothing, roaring on at last to the capture of the solar system, only to find the sun cockney and the stars suburban.

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"If the centre of our faith is a certain fact, would not people far from the centre have a muddled version of that fact?"

The first of all the difficulties that I have in controverting Mr. Blatchford is simply this, that I shall be very largely going over his own ground. My favourite text-book of theology is [Blatchford's book] God and My Neighbour, but I cannot repeat it in detail. If I gave each of my reasons for being a Christian, a vast number of them would be Mr. Blatchford’s reasons for not being one.

For instance, Mr. Blatchford and his school point out that there are many myths parallel to the Christian story; that there were Pagan Christs, and Red Indian Incarnations, and Patagonian Crucifixions, for all I know or care. But does not Mr. Blatchford see the other side of this fact? If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions of the Christian God? If the centre of our faith is a certain fact, would not people far from the centre have a muddled version of that fact? If we are so made that a Son of God must deliver us, is it odd that Patagonians should dream of a Son of God?

The Blatchfordian position really amounts to this- that because a certain thing has impressed millions of different people as likely or necessary, therefore it cannot be true. And then this bashful being, veiling his own talents, convicts the wretched G.K.C. of paradox! I like paradox, but I am not prepared to dance and dazzle to the extent of [Blatchford], who points to humanity crying out to a thing, and pointing to it from immemorial ages, as a proof that it cannot be there.

The story of a Christ is very common in legend and literature. So is the story of two lovers parted by Fate. So is the story of two friends killing each other for a woman. But will it seriously be maintained that, because these two stories are common as legends, therefore no two friends were ever separated by love or no two lovers by circumstances? It is tolerably plain, surely, that these two stories are common because the situation is an intensely probably and human one, because our nature is so built as to make them almost inevitable.

Why should it not be that our nature is so built as to make certain spiritual events inevitable? In any case, it is clearly ridiculous to attempt to disprove Christianity by the number and variety of Pagan Christs. You might as well take the number and variety of ideal schemes of society, from Plato’s Republic to Morris’ News from Nowhere, from More’s Utopia to Blatchford’s Merrie England, and then try and prove from them that mankind cannot ever reach a better social condition. If anything, of course, they prove the opposite; they suggest a human tendency towards a better condition.

Thus, in this first instance, when learned sceptics come to me and say, “Are you aware that  [others] have a story of Incarnation?” I should reply: “Speaking as an unlearned person, I don’t know. But speaking as a Christian, I should be very much astonished if they hadn’t.”

-"Christianity and Rationalism" (1904), The Blatchford Controversies

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Collected Works, Volume 37

For anybody who is interested, next month Ignatius Press will be releasing volume 37 of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, which will consist of the last of his Illustrated London News articles (from 1935-1936).

"It is marked by a readiness to grant favours or conveniences to the citizen if he will give up some part of his old independence..."

We live in a very strange time, of which the main mark is that things are being altered and perverted so rapidly that what was the worst abuse yesterday is a comparatively mild anomaly today...the ignorant discontent of the rich against things like taxation begins to have a sort of shadowy excuse, not through any particular change of their own benighted intellects for the better, but by the extraordinary change in the science of taxation for the worse. A man who has always regarded himself as a Coriolanus hardening his heart against the sentimentalism of the Poor Rates finds himself in his old age a kind of Tribune of the People against the tyranny of the Insurance Act....Even illiterate plutocracy can sometimes be right by instinct as compared with more political monomaniacs and fidgetty prigs...

...our social reformers to-day have everywhere the same attitude, both rightly and wrongly. It is marked by a readiness to grant favours or conveniences to the citizen if he will give up some part of his old independence...

-April 12, 1913, Illustrated London News

Friday, July 27, 2012

"It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play."

It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke—that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls. When we are really holy we may regard the Universe as a lark...

-All Things Considered (1908)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"For the golden age only comes to men when they have, if only for a moment, forgotten gold."

For the golden age only comes to men when they have, if only for a moment, forgotten gold.

-Sidelights (1932)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"For it seems strangely forgotten that the unique authority of man is as much asserted in insisting on his mercy as in insisting on his mastery."

A short time ago the two first and most famous writers of our language to-day contradicted each other flatly, not for the first time, on a question of right and wrong. Mr. H.G. Wells wrote a defence of Vivisection, which was rather, perhaps, an attack on Anti-Vivisectionists. And Mr. Bernard Shaw wrote something which certainly could not possibly be mistaken for anything but an attack on Vivisectionists. I am not myself debating that matter in detail, because the chief mark of it, it seems to me, is a curious way which modern debaters have of debating against themselves. They do not seem to see the real inference from their own ideas....

...Neither Mr. Shaw nor Mr. Wells believes, as I do, in a mystical boundary between men and beasts. And yet that mystical boundary is really the only reason for either of the two men upholding either of the two moralities. The one thing in which they agree is the one thing which they do not admit. Mr. Wells claims the moral right to sacrifice all the other animals to man; and yet he would say that man is only a more or less accidental variety of the other animals. He assumes the very distinction that he denies. Mr. Shaw demands of man a moral magnanimity utterly unknown in all the rest of nature; and yet he would say that man is only a passing product of nature. He assumes the very distinction he denies. For it seems strangely forgotten that the unique authority of man is as much asserted in insisting on his mercy as in insisting on his mastery. If he is merely at one with nature, as all the other creatures are at one with nature, there is no more obligation for him than for them; and they certainly are not at one with each other. If he is only the brother of the wolf in the sense in which the wolf is the brother of the lamb, there seems nothing against the indefinite repetition of the brotherhood of Cain and Abel. If he is only to imitate the solidarity of a dog-fight or the natural affinities of a cannibal fish, there is no possible reason for asking him to disapprove of vivisection or of anything else. We do not expect the dog to be fond of the cat or the cat to be fond of the mouse. If we do expect the man to be fond of all of them, we are, in fact, treating him not only as a unique figure, but as a universal lord. We are, in fact, treating him exactly as he was treated in the old theological dogma which both Mr. Wells and Mr. Shaw would reject, and not in the least as he is treated by the new scientific dogma which both Mr. Wells and Mr. Shaw would accept. Even while each is arguing against the other, each is arguing against himself.

-October 15, 1927, Illustrated London News

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


....fallacies....do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

April 19, 1930, Illustrated London News

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Modern criticism, like all weak things, is overloaded with words."

Modern criticism, like all weak things, is overloaded with words.  In a healthy condition of language a man finds it very difficult to say the right thing, but at last says it. In this empire of journalese a man finds it so very easy to say the wrong thing that he never thinks of saying anything else. False or meaningless phrases lie so ready to his hand that it is easier to use them than not to use them.  These wrong terms picked up through idleness are retained through habit, and so the man has begun to think wrong almost before he has begun to think at all.

-George Bernard Shaw (1909)

H/T  this Chesterton FB page

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Young Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI] read and appreciated several of Chesterton's books; in fact, here and there, whether before or after the papal election, direct or indirect quotations emerge of the work of the inventor of Father Brown."

A G.K. Chestertonian Reading of this Pontificate (Zenit News)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree."

But modern thought also hit my second human tradition. It went against the fairy feeling about strict limits and conditions. The one thing it loved to talk about was expansion and largeness. Herbert Spencer would have been greatly annoyed if any one had called him an imperialist, and therefore it is highly regrettable that nobody did. But he was an imperialist of the lowest type. He popularized this contemptible notion that the size of the solar system ought to over-awe the spiritual dogma of man. Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God; a somewhat formless image; what one might call an impressionist portrait. It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree. But Herbert Spencer, in his headlong imperialism, would insist that we had in some way been conquered and annexed by the astronomical universe. He spoke about men and their ideals exactly as the most insolent Unionist talks about the Irish and their ideals. He turned mankind into a small nationality. And his evil influence can be seen even in the most spirited and honourable of later scientific authors; notably in the early romances of Mr. H. G. Wells. Many moralists have in an exaggerated way represented the earth as wicked. But Mr. Wells and his school made the heavens wicked. We should lift up our eyes to the stars from whence would come our ruin.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Friday, July 20, 2012

"...in all our modern movements we move away from Democracy."

But the modern editor regards himself far too much as a kind of original artist, who can select and suppress facts with the arbitrary ease of a poet or a caricaturist. He "makes up" the paper as man "makes up" a fairy tale, he considers his newspaper solely as a work of art, meant to give pleasure, not to give news. He puts in this one letter because he thinks it clever. He puts in these three or four letters because he thinks them silly. He suppresses this article because he thinks it wrong. He suppresses this other and more dangerous article because he thinks it right. The old idea that he is simply a mode of the expression of the public, an "organ" of opinion, seems to have entirely vanished from his mind. To-day the editor is not only the organ, but the man who plays on the organ. For in all our modern movements we move away from Democracy.

This is the whole danger of our time. There is a difference between the oppression which has been too common in the past and the oppression which seems only too probable in the future. Oppression in the past, has commonly been an individual matter. The oppressors were as simple as the oppressed, and as lonely. The aristocrat sometimes hated his inferiors; he always hated his equals. The plutocrat was an individualist. But in our time even the plutocrat has become a Socialist. They have science and combination, and may easily inaugurate a much greater tyranny than the world has ever seen.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Thursday, July 19, 2012


"Merriment is one of the world's natural flowers and not one of its exotics"

-quoted in The Century Magazine, volume 101 (November 1920, to April 1921)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


"Madmen are always serious; they go mad from lack of humour."

-The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

 Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else. The question of whether a man expresses himself in a grotesque or laughable phraseology, or in a stately and restrained phraseology, is not a question of motive or of moral state, it is a question of instinctive language and self-expression. Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German. Whether a man preaches his gospel grotesquely or gravely is merely like the question of whether he preaches it in prose or verse. The question of whether Swift was funny in his irony is quite another sort of question to the question of whether Swift was serious in his pessimism. Surely even Mr. McCabe would not maintain that the more funny "Gulliver" is in its method the less it can be sincere in its object. The truth is, as I have said, that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular.

-Heretics (1905)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"The final objection to a scheme is that it is undesirable; there is always some hope for it, such is the ardent chivalry of man, so long as it is merely impossible."

The final objection to a scheme is that it is undesirable; there is always some hope for it, such is the ardent chivalry of man, so long as it is merely impossible....For the soul of man is itself outside the sphere of practical politics, and the one thing that really cannot be changed is our love of the difficult and unattainable. Humanity is always young, and it is an imprudent course with young people to dissuade them from an action by daring them to do it.

-Daily News (quoted in  Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, NSW, Australia, April 1, 1905)

Monday, July 16, 2012

The old books

You can find all the new ideas in the old books; only there you will find them balanced, kept in their place, and sometimes contradicted and overcome by other and better ideas. The great writers did not neglect a fad because they had not thought of it, but because they had thought of it and of all the answers to it as well.

-The Common Man  (collection of essays first published in 1950)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Archbishop Fulton Sheen was recently declared "Venerable" by Pope Benedict (on June 28), a step on the path to being canonized as a Catholic saint. He is one whose writing I would highly recommend reading. (Outside of obvious exceptions such as the Bible, his book Life of Christ is my favorite non-GKC book ever, and apparently a book that Mother Teresa always kept with her). And, of course, one can watch reruns of his Emmy-winning television series "Life is Worth Living" as well. That being the case, I wish to quote from Archbishop Sheen's autobiography Treasure in Clay (written shortly before his death in 1979), concerning his influences, since it is appropriate to this blog. :-)

The greatest influence in writing was G.K. Chesterton, who never used a useless word, who saw the value of a paradox, and avoided what was trite.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"The really frivolous man, not unknown in fashionable circles, is the man who is too frivolous to enjoy himself."

As most men have triumphantly maintained some level of sobriety [Stevenson] triumphantly maintained a level of exhilaration. He discovered the new asceticism of cheerfulness, which will prove a hundred times harder than the old asceticism of despair....It is futile to say that, although he was hilarious, he was serious. For, as a matter of fact, no man can be merry unless he is serious. Happiness is as grave and practical as sorrow, if not more so. We might as well imagine that a man could carve a cardboard chicken or live on imitation loaves of bread, as supposed that any man could get happiness out of things that are merely light or laughable. The really frivolous man, not unknown in fashionable circles, is the man who is too frivolous to enjoy himself.

-October 18, 1901, Daily News

Friday, July 13, 2012

"We have a censorship by the press."

...we have almost up to the last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start) that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men. We have not any need to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty...It will not be necessary for any one to fight again against the proposal of a censorship of the press. We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mitt Romney quoting Martin Luther King Jr quoting GKC

Mitt Romney quoted GKC yesterday (by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., who in turn was quoting GKC).
Every good cause on this earth relies in the end on a plan bigger than ours. “Without dependence on God,” as Dr. King said, “our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest night. Unless his spirit pervades our lives, we find only what G. K. Chesterton called ‘cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, and solutions that don’t solve.’”

That being the case, I've decided to give the context of the passage of Chesterton's that he was quoting from.

On the contrary, it is the whole point, even of this final chapter upon the final decay of paganism, to insist once more that the worst sort of paganism had already been defeated by the best sort. It was the best sort of paganism that conquered the gold of Carthage. It was the best sort of paganism that wore the laurels of Rome. It was the best thing the world had yet seen, all things considered and on any large scale, that ruled from the wall of the Grampians to the garden of the Euphrates. It was the best that conquered; it was the best that ruled; and it was the best that began to decay.

Unless this broad truth be grasped, the whole story is seen askew. Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless. We might almost say that in a society without such good things we should hardly have any test by which to register a decline; that is why some of the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage have rather an air in history of standing and staring like mummies, so dried up and swathed and embalmed that no man knows when they are new or old. But Carthage at any rate was dead, and the worst assault ever made by the demons on mortal society had been defeated. But how much would it matter that the worst was dead if the best was dying?

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

"...I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth."

It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is preeminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

[Have to admit, I find it amusing that when Chesterton published that book, he was only 32, and hence not yet middle-aged himself. lol.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

...charity is a reverent agnosticism towards the complexity of the soul.

-Heretics (1905)
...the luxurious man...dictates the tone of nearly all "advanced" and "progressive" thought...

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt and GKC (again)

In England Mr. Roosevelt was particularly glad to make or renew the acquaintance of Mr. Balfour, Mr. Kipling, Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, Sir Harry Johnston, and Captain Scott. Long and delightful were the hours spent in retreat at "Chequers Court," Mr. Arthur Lee's country house, in conversation with thinking and doing men like these. He passed an especially happy day with Sir Edward Grey on a long tramp through the New Forest. It was noted that he had no time for expatriated American men, or American women married to English titles. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Bernard Shaw did not meet. I wish I were free to give the Colonel's opinion of the Englishman; it may be said, however, that it fully reciprocates the dramatist's scorn and pity. Curiously enough, however, Mr. Roosevelt desired to meet Mr. Gilbert Chesterton.

-The World's Work, Volume XX, May to October 1910

Monday, July 9, 2012

"What makes the ordinary political partisan spiritually unconvincing is, not so much that he points out that his opponent is spotted, as that he implies that he himself is spotless."

The weakness which underlies our latter-day ethics is very clearly shown during or after an election. The modern weakness is that denunciation of sin is not balanced by confession of sin. What makes the ordinary political partisan spiritually unconvincing is, not so much that he points out that his opponent is spotted, as that he implies that he himself is spotless. The true reason for hating crime is not that we could not commit it, but that we could; a better reason still for hating crime is that we have committed it.

-Daily News, Januray 29, 1910

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Cross

"The cross cannot be defeated...for it is defeat"

-The Ball and the Cross (1909)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Any extreme of Catholic asceticism is a wise, or unwise, precaution against the evil of the Fall; it is never a doubt about the good of the Creation."

Now nobody will begin to understand the Thomist philosophy, or indeed the Catholic philosophy, who does not realise that the primary and fundamental part of it is entirely the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the World. Everything else follows a long way after that, being conditioned by various complications like the Fall or the vocation of heroes. The trouble occurs because the Catholic mind moves upon two planes; that of the Creation and that of the Fall. The nearest parallel is, for instance, that of England invaded; there might be strict martial law in Kent because the enemy had landed in Kent, and relative liberty in Hereford; but this would not affect the affection of an English patriot for Hereford or Kent, and strategic caution in Kent would not affect the love of Kent. For the love of England would remain, both the parts to be redeemed by discipline and the parts to be enjoyed in liberty. Any extreme of Catholic asceticism is a wise, or unwise, precaution against the evil of the Fall; it is never a doubt about the good of the Creation.

-St. Thomas Aquinas (1933)

Friday, July 6, 2012

"A fairy tale is a tale told in a morbid age to the only remaining sane person, a child. A legend is a fairy tale told to men when men were sane."

For the character of the Just-So Stories is really unique. They are not fairy tales; they are legends. A fairy tale is a tale told in a morbid age to the only remaining sane person, a child. A legend is a fairy tale told to men when men were sane...

...But the peculiar splendour, as I say, of these new Kipling stories is the fact that they do not read like fairy tales told to children by the modern fireside, so much as like fairy tales told to men in the morning of the world. They see animals, for instance, as primeval men saw them; not as types and numbers in an elaborate biological scheme of knowledge, but as walking portents, things marked by extravagant and peculiar features. An elephant is a monstrosity with his tail between his eyes; a rhinoceros is a monstrosity with his horn balanced on his nose; a camel, a zebra, a tortoise are fragments of a fantastic dream, to see which is not seeing a scientific species, but like seeing a man with three legs or a bird with three wings, or men as trees walking. The whole opens a very deep question, the question of the relations between the old wonder and the new wonder, between knowledge and science. The hump of a camel is very likely not so much his characteristic from a scientific point of view as the third bone in the joint of his hind leg, but to the eyes of the child and the poet it remains his feature. And it is more important in this sense that it is more direct and certain: there is a relation between the human soul and the hump of a camel, which there is not between the human soul and the bone in his hind leg. The hump still remains and the bone vanishes, if all these physical phenomena are nothing but a grotesque shadow-show, constructed by a paternal deity to amuse an universe of children.

-The Bookman, Volume 16 (August, 1902- February, 1903)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Witty Response

"TheRavenofPoe" shares Chesterton's poetic rejoinder to a poem by Frances Cornford. Heh. :-)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"...though the most mystical, it is also the most practical summary of equality that all men bear the image of the King of Kings."

Winston Churchill mentioned this passage of Chesterton's in his own book A Traveller in Wartime (see this post), and it seems a very appropriate passage for today.

Roughly and frankly speaking, we may say that America forced the quarrel. She wished to be separate, which was to her but another phrase for wishing to be free. She was not thinking of her wrongs as a colony, but already of her rights as a republic. The negative effect of so small a difference could never have changed the world, without the positive effect of a great ideal, one may say of a great new religion. The real case for the colonists is that they felt they could be something, which they also felt, and justly, that England would not help them to be. England would probably have allowed the colonists all sorts of concessions and constitutional privileges, but England could not allow the colonists equality: I do not mean equality with her, but even with each other. Chatham might have compromised with Washington, because Washington was a gentleman; but Chatham could hardly have conceived a country not governed by gentlemen. Burke was apparently ready to grant everything to America; but he would not have been ready to grant what America eventually gained. If he had seen American democracy, he would have been as much appalled by it as he was by French democracy, and would always have been by any democracy. In a word the Whigs were liberal and even generous aristocrats, but they were aristocrats; that is why their concessions were as vain as their conquests. We talk, with a humiliation too rare with us, about our dubious part in the secession of America. Whether it increase or decrease the humiliation I do not know; but I strongly suspect that we had very little to do with it. I believe we counted for uncommonly little in the case. We did not really drive away the American colonists, nor were they driven. They were led on by a light that went before.

That light came from France, like the armies of Lafayette that came to the help of Washington. France was already in travail with the tremendous spiritual revolution which was soon to reshape the world. Her doctrine, disruptive and creative, was widely misunderstood at the time, and is much misunderstood still, despite the splendid clarity of style in which it was stated by Rousseau in the "Contrat Social," and by Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence. Say the very word "equality" in many modern countries, and four hundred fools will leap to their feet at once to explain that some men can be found, on careful examination, to be taller or handsomer than others. As if Danton had not noticed that he was taller than Robespierre, or as if Washington was not well aware that he was handsomer than Franklin. This is no place to expound a philosophy; it will be enough to say in passing, by way of a parable, that when we say that all pennies are equal, we do not mean that they all look exactly the same. We mean that they are absolutely equal in their one absolute character, in the most important thing about them. It may be put practically by saying that they are coins of a certain value, twelve of which go to a shilling. It may be put symbolically, and even mystically, by saying that they all bear the image of the King. And, though the most mystical, it is also the most practical summary of equality that all men bear the image of the King of Kings. Indeed, it is of course true that this idea had long underlain all Christianity, even in institutions less popular in form than were, for instance, the mob of mediaeval republics in Italy. A dogma of equal duties implies that of equal rights. I know of no Christian authority that would not admit that it is as wicked to murder a poor man as a rich man, or as bad to burgle an inelegantly furnished house as a tastefully furnished one. But the world had wandered further and further from these truisms, and nobody in the world was further from them than the group of the great English aristocrats. The idea of the equality of men is in substance simply the idea of the importance of man. But it was precisely the notion of the importance of a mere man which seemed startling and indecent to a society whose whole romance and religion now consisted of the importance of a gentleman. It was as if a man had walked naked into Parliament. There is not space here to develop the moral issue in full, but this will suffice to show that the critics concerned about the difference in human types or talents are considerably wasting their time. If they can understand how two coins can count the same though one is bright and the other brown, they might perhaps understand how two men can vote the same though one is bright and the other dull. If, however, they are still satisfied with their solid objection that some men are dull, I can only gravely agree with them, that some men are very dull.

-A Short History of England (1917)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wine and Water

Wine and Water

Old Noah he had an ostrich farm and fowls on the largest scale,
He ate his egg with a ladle in a egg-cup big as a pail,
And the soup he took was Elephant Soup and fish he took was Whale,
But they all were small to the cellar he took when he set out to sail,
And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,
"I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine."

The cataract of the cliff of heaven fell blinding off the brink
As if it would wash the stars away as suds go down a sink,
The seven heavens came roaring down for the throats of hell to drink,
And Noah he cocked his eye and said, "It looks like rain, I think,
The water has drowned the Matterhorn as deep as a Mendip mine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine."

But Noah he sinned, and we have sinned; on tipsy feet we trod,
Till a great big black teetotaller was sent to us for a rod,
And you can't get wine at a P.S.A., or chapel, or Eisteddfod,
For the Curse of Water has come again because of the wrath of God,
And water is on the Bishop's board and the Higher Thinker's shrine,
But I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.

-The Flying Inn (1914)

George Bernard Shaw relates a somewhat humorous story concerning this poem in a letter he wrote to Chesterton concerning an incident that he had witnessed at the headquarters of the Fabian Society:

"As I descended the stairs I was stunned by the most infernal din I have ever heard...coming from the Fabian Hall....On rushing to this temple I found the young enthusiasts sprawling over tables, over radiators, over everything except chairs, in a state of scandalous abandonment, roaring at the tops of their voices and in a quite unintelligible manner a string of presumably obscene songs, accompanied on the piano with frantic gestures and astonishing musical skill by a man whom I had always regarded as a respectable Fabian Researcher...As they went on (for I regret to say that my presence excercised no restraint whatever) they sang their extraordinary and incomprehensible litany to every tune, however august its associations, which happened to fit it...

But I have not told you the worst. Before I fled the building I did at last discover what words it was they were singing. When it first flashed on me, I really could not believe it. But at the end of the next verse no doubt or error was possible. The young maenad nearest me was concluding every strophe by shrieking that she didn't care where the water went if it didn't get into the wine. Now you know.

I have since ascertained that a breviary of this Black Mass can be obtained at the Fabian Office, with notes of the numbers of the hymns Ancient and Modern, and all the airs sacred and profane, to which your poems have been set.

This letter needs no answer- indeed, admits of none. I leave you to your reflections."

(Shaw quote found in Wisdom and Innocence, Joseph Pearce, pp. 223-224)

Monday, July 2, 2012

"It is easy enough for a man to be a headlong partisan, to foam at the mouth, to beat the drums, to call down fire from Heaven, upon one condition —that he has not strong feelings."

[One of the things I especially love about Google Books...coming across volumes of old magazines with articles by Chesterton that I have not ever seen anywhere else, and quite possibly have not ever been reprinted anywhere other than the Internet, in over a century. Here's an article I came across recently that I especially loved, and posted on another blog of mine, but decided to post here as well. It was written in Januray 1903, when GKC was 28.]


-The Humane Review, January 1903

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Ten Commandments

The truth is that the curtness of the [Ten] Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion but of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted precisely because most things are permitted and only a few things are forbidden. An optimist who insisted on a purely positive morality would have to begin by telling a man that he might pick dandelions on a common and go on for months before he came to the fact that he might throw pebbles into the sea. In comparison with this positive morality the Ten Commandments rather shine in that brevity which is the soul of wit.

-January 3, 1920, Illustrated London News