A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here, citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

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

-The Well and the Shallows (1935)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

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

-The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

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

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2012

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

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

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

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Merry Christ's Mass!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"How Far is it to Bethlehem"

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2012

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

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

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

-excerpted from "The Song of Right and Wrong"

-The Flying Inn (1914)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The unknown God

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

-The Everlasting Man (1925)


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

-July 23, 1927, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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

-George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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

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

-What's Wrong With the World (1910)

Monday, December 17, 2012

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

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

-The Bookman, September 1902

Sunday, December 16, 2012

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

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

-The Coloured Lands (1938)

H/T G.K. Chesterton Facebook Page

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

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

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

-February 16, 1901, The Speaker

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

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

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

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

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

-December 24, 1910, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Various GKC quotes

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

-quoted in Current Opinion, volume 52 (1912)

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

-quoted in The Public, volume 15 (1912)

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Song of the Strange Ascetic

The Song of the Strange Ascetic

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2012


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

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

-The Well and the Shallows (1935)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

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


Saturday, December 8, 2012

GKC and stolen umbrellas

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

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


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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

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

-The Appetite of Tyranny (1915)

Monday, December 3, 2012

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

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

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

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

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

-Heretics (1905)