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)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

For instance, it was a very special idea of St. Thomas that Man is to be studied in his whole manhood; that a man is not a man without his body, just as he is not a man without his soul. A corpse is not a man; but also a ghost is not a man...St. Thomas stood up stoutly for the fact that a man's body is his body as his mind is his mind; and that he can only be a balance and union of the two. Now this is in some ways a naturalistic notion, very near to the modern respect for material things; a praise of the body that might be sung by Walt Whitman or justified by D H. Lawrence: a thing that might be called Humanism or even claimed by Modernism. In fact, it may be Materialism; but it is the flat contrary of Modernism. It is bound up, in the modern view, with the most monstrous, the most material, and therefore the most miraculous of miracles. It is specially connected with the most startling sort of dogma, which the Modernist can least accept; the Resurrection of the Body.

-St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox (1932)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Therefore the story of Christ is the story of a journey, almost in the manner of a military march; certainly in the manner of the quest of a hero moving to his achievement or his doom. It is a story that begins in the paradise of Galilee, a pastoral and peaceful land having really some hint of Eden, and gradually climbs the rising country into the mountains that are nearer to the storm-clouds and the stars...He may be met as if straying in strange places, or stopped on the way for discussion or dispute; but his face is set towards the mountain city. That is the meaning of that great culmination when he crested the ridge and stood at the turning of the road and suddenly cried aloud, lamenting over Jerusalem...all these incidents have in them a character of mounting crisis. In other words. these incidents are not incidental. When Apollonius the ideal philosopher is brought before the judgement-seat of Domitian and vanishes by magic, the miracle is entirely incidental. It might have occurred at any time in the wandering life of the Tyanean; indeed, I believe it is doubtful in date as well as in substance. The ideal philosopher merely vanished, and resumed his ideal existence somewhere else for an indefinite period. It is characteristic of the contrast perhaps that Apollonius was supposed to have lived to an almost miraculous old age. Jesus of Nazareth was less prudent in his miracles. When Jesus was brought before the judgement-seat of Pontius Pilate, he did not vanish. It was the crisis and the goal; it was the hour and the power of darkness. It was the supremely supernatural act, of all his miraculous life, that he did not vanish.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)
It is the deepest of our tragedies that we do not feel the great revolution which founded modern civilisation as a revolution at all. There was more compliment in those who crucified Christ as a novelty than in those who worship Him as a commonplace

-December 29, 1900, The Speaker

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.

-Autobiography (1936)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"It is futile to talk of reform without reference to form."

It is futile to talk of reform without reference to form. To take a case from my own taste and fancy, there is nothing I feel to be so beautiful and wonderful as a window. All casements are magic casements, whether they open on the foam or the front-garden; they lie close to the ultimate mystery and paradox of limitation and liberty. But if I followed my instinct towards an infinite number of windows, it would end in having no walls. It would also (it may be added incidentally) end in having no windows either; for a window makes a picture by making a picture-frame. But there is a simpler way of stating my more simple and fatal error. It is that I have wanted a window, without considering whether I wanted a house. Now many appeals are being made to us to-day on behalf of that light and liberty that might well be symbolised by windows; especially as so many of them concern the enlightenment and liberation of the house, in the sense of the home. Many quite disinterested people urge many quite reasonable considerations in the case of divorce, as a type of domestic liberation; but in the journalistic and general discussion of the matter there is far too much of the mind that works backwards and at random, in the manner of all windows and no walls. Such people say they want divorce, without asking themselves whether they want marriage. Even in order to be divorced it has generally been found necessary to go through the preliminary formality of being married; and unless the nature of this initial act be considered, we might as well be discussing haircutting for the bald or spectacles for the blind. To be divorced is to be in the literal sense unmarried; and there is no sense in a thing being undone when we do not know if it is done.

There is perhaps no worse advice, nine times out of ten, than the advice to do the work that's nearest. It is especially bad when it means, as it generally does, removing the obstacle that's nearest. It means that men are not to behave like men but like mice; who nibble at the thing that's nearest. The man, like the mouse, undermines what he cannot understand. Because he himself bumps into a thing, he calls it the nearest obstacle; though the obstacle may happen to be the pillar that holds up the whole roof over his head. He industriously removes the obstacle; and in return, the obstacle removes him, and much more valuable things than he. This opportunism is perhaps the most unpractical thing in this highly unpractical world. People talk vaguely against destructive criticism; but what is the matter with this criticism is not that it destroys, but that it does not criticise. It is destruction without design. It is taking a complex machine to pieces bit by bit, in any order, without even knowing what the machine is for. And if a man deals with a deadly dynamic machine on the principle of touching the knob that's nearest, he will find out the defects of that cheery philosophy. Now leaving many sincere and serious critics of modern marriage on one side for the moment, great masses of modern men and women, who write and talk about marriage, are thus nibbling blindly at it like an army of mice. When the reformers propose, for instance, that divorce should be obtainable after an absence of three years (the absence actually taken for granted in the first military arrangements of the late European War) their readers and supporters could seldom give any sort of logical reason for the period being three years, and not three months or three minutes. They are like people who should say "Give me three feet of dog"; and not care where the cut came. Such persons fail to see a dog as an organic entity; in other words, they cannot make head or tail of it. And the chief thing to say about such reformers of marriage is that they cannot make head or tail of it. They do not know what it is, or what it is meant to be, or what its supporters suppose it to be; they never look at it, even when they are inside it. They do the work that's nearest; which is poking holes in the bottom of a boat under the impression that they are digging in a garden. This question of what a thing is, and whether it is a garden or a boat, appears to them abstract and academic. They have no notion of how large is the idea they attack; or how relatively small appear the holes that they pick in it.

-The Superstition of Divorce (1920)

Monday, March 25, 2013


Just a few interesting facts about Chesterton's poem Lepanto that I wished to gather in one place.

-J.R.R. Tolkien was "quite fond of reciting" the poem. [1]

The poem "was a favourite of [Theodore Roosevelt's] eldest daughter Alice, who could (and often did) 'recite all nine stanzas at a rapid clip.' In later years, reciting this poem with her granddaughter Joanna was a source of particular delight for Alice Roosevelt Longworth—something that drew them together." [2]

-Jorge Luis Borges translated Lepanto into Spanish [3]

 -Hilaire Belloc wrote that the poem "is not only the summit of Chesterton's achievement in verse but the summit of high rhetorical verse in all our generation. I have said this so often that I am almost tired of saying it again, but I must continue to say it."

1. http://platitudesundone.blogspot.com/2011/12/jrr-tolkien-and-gkc.html
2. http://platitudesundone.blogspot.com/2013/02/what-supreme-genius-chesterton-is-i.html
3. http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/lepanto-spanish.txt
4. On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters (1940)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

This writer solemnly asserts that Kant's idea of an ultimate conscience is a fable because Mohammedans think it wrong to drink wine, while English officers think it right. Really he might just as well say that the instinct of self-preservation is a fable because some people avoid brandy in order to live long, and some people drink brandy in order to save their lives. Does Professor Forel believe that Kant, or anybody else, thought that our consciences gave us direct commands about the details of diet or social etiquette? Did Kant maintain that, when we had reached a certain stage of dinner, a supernatural voice whispered in our ear "Asparagus"; or that the marriage between almonds and raisins was a marriage that was made in heaven? Surely it is plain enough that all these social duties are deduced from primary moral duties--and may be deduced wrong. Conscience does not suggest "asparagus," but it does suggest amiability, and it is thought by some to be an amiable act to accept asparagus when it is offered to you. Conscience does not respect fish and sherry; but it does respect any innocent ritual that will make men feel alike. Conscience does not tell you not to drink your hock after your port. But it does tell you not to commit suicide; and your mere naturalistic reason tells you that the first act may easily approximate to the second.

Christians encourage wine as something which will benefit men. Teetotallers discourage wine as something that will destroy men. Their conscientious conclusions are different, but their consciences are just the same. Teetotallers say that wine is bad because they think it moral to say what they think. Christians will not say that wine is bad because they think it immoral to say what they don't think. And a triangle is a three-sided figure. And a dog is a four-legged animal. And Queen Anne is dead. We have, indeed, come back to alphabetical truths. But Professor Forel has not yet even come to them. He goes on laboriously repeating that there cannot be a fixed moral sense, because some people drink wine and some people don't. I cannot imagine how it was that he forgot to mention that France and England cannot have the same moral sense, because Frenchmen drive cabs on the right side of the road and Englishmen on the left.

-The Uses of Diversity (1921)

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Anomalies do matter very much, and do a great deal of harm; abstract illogicalities do matter a great deal, and do a great deal of harm. And this for a reason that any one at all acquainted with human nature can see for himself. All injustice begins in the mind. And anomalies accustom the mind to the idea of unreason and untruth. Suppose I had by some prehistoric law the power of forcing every man in Battersea to nod his head three times before he got out of bed. The practical politicians might say that this power was a harmless anomaly; that it was not a grievance. It could do my subjects no harm; it could do me no good. The people of Battersea, they would say, might safely submit to it. But the people of Battersea could not safely submit to it, for all that. If I had nodded their heads for them for fifty years I could cut off their heads for them at the end of it with immeasurably greater ease. For there would have permanently sunk into every man's mind the notion that it was a natural thing for me to have a fantastic and irrational power. They would have grown accustomed to insanity.

For, in order that men should resist injustice, something more is necessary than that they should think injustice unpleasant. They must think injustice absurd; above all, they must think it startling. They must retain the violence of a virgin astonishment.

-All Things Considered (1908)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The position of Maeterlinck in modern life is a thing too obvious to be easily determined in words. It is, perhaps, best expressed by saying that it is the great glorification of the inside of things at the expense of the outside. There is one great evil in modern life for which nobody has found even approximately a tolerable description: I can only invent a word and call it "remotism." It is the tendency to think first of things which, as a matter of fact, lie far away from the actual centre of human experience. Thus people say, "All our knowledge of life begins with the amoeba." It is false; our knowledge of life begins with ourselves. Thus they say that the British Empire is glorious, and at the very word Empire they think at once of Australia and New Zealand, and Canada, and Polar bears, and parrots and kangaroos, and it never occurs to any one of them to think of the Surrey Hills. The one real struggle in modern life is the struggle between the man like Maeterlinck, who sees the inside as the truth, and the man like Zola, who sees the outside as the truth.

-Varied Types (1905)
The other kind of Liberalism is in its nature allied, not to science but to art, to literature, and to religion. And it is allied to them for the reason that I have suggested in the opening of this article, that it tends, like literature and like religion, to take some one thing or other out of the stress of time, from under the tyranny of circumstance, and give it that liberty which is only another name for sanctity. For liberty is altogether a mystical thing. All attempts to justify it rationally have always failed. Ruskin tried to attack it by pointing out that the stars had it not and the universe had it not. So good a mystic ought to have known that it is just because man has it and the universe has it not, that man is called the Image of God and the universe merely His masterpiece.

-The Independent Review, Volume 5, February-April. 1905
But whenever there appeared, in Catholic history, a new and promising experiment, bolder or broader or more enlightened than existing routine, that movement always came to be identified with the Papacy; because the Papacy alone upheld it against the resisting social medium which it rent asunder. So, in the present case, it was really the Pope who upheld St. Francis and the popular movement of the Friars. So, in the sixteenth century, it was really the Pope who upheld St. Ignatius Loyola and the great educational movement of the Jesuits. The Pope, being the ultimate court of appeal, cannot for shame be a mere expression of any local prejudice; this may easily be strong among local ecclesiastics, without any evil intention; but the remote arbiter at Rome must make some attempt to keep himself clear of it...And the Pope often supported the improvement, because he alone was independent and strong enough to do so... for Catholics, in history, the Pope is a leader as well as a ruler.

-Chaucer (1932) 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Indeed, I wonder that the philosophy of flux and relativity has not been applied to simple arithmetic. If we are to give changing and varied values to comparatively trifling things like truth and justice and religion, how much more should there be liberty and progress for really important and inspiring ideas like four and nine and eleven? Might not the clerk gaze in rapt reverence at the figure three and see it evolve before his very eyes into something wider, something loftier, something larger than all this; say into 337? We have had a vast and varied production of evolutionary books. May we not look forward to a book on evolutionary book-keeping? Indeed, there have been some modern characters who have kept their accounts in this hopeful way and whom tribal prejudice has sent to jail. They also had evolved a larger morality.

-March 16, 1929, Illustrated London News

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Since recently posting about one famous Argentinian in reference to Chesterton, here is the thoughts of another one, Jorge Luis Borges, about GKC's "Father Brown" stories:

"Chesterton said that there had never been detective stories better than those of Poe, but Chesterton himself seems to me better than Poe."

[quoted in The Fantastic Fiction of Gilbert Chesterton, Martin Gardner, p. 91 (2008)]
Blasphemy is not wild; blasphemy is in its nature prosaic. It consists in regarding in a commonplace manner something which other and happier people regard in a rapturous and imaginative manner.

-William Blake (1910)

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Since Pope Francis is an honorary board member of the Argentinian Chesterton Society, perhaps now would be a good time to read (or re-read, as the case may be) Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi. (Though I cannot say for sure, of course, still, given those circumstances and the Pope's obvious devotion to St. Francis, it would not seem improbable that the Pope might have read GKC's book on St. Francis).

We know that Pope Pius XI was familiar with the book, as Chesterton mentions in The Resurrection of Rome that the former had said "some very generous things about a sketch I wrote of St. Francis of Assisi." (And, of course, Mumford and Sons incorporates a passage from it in their song "The Cave.")

In any case, it is a good book to read. :-)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

An interesting link...

The following is from a few years ago, and I'm using Google translate (it being fairly obvious it is an automatic translation, given how rough it is), but....

Dear friend:

Between 21 and 24 September will be held in Buenos Aires the INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
(FIRST SOUTH AMERICAN), which organizes the GK Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture, Society conjuntocon Chestertonian in Argentina.

The ideas and principles and reported interpellate Chesterton defended strongly to the challenges
We propose our time dramatically. The "culture of death" has been installed on all
areas of the civilized world. Moral relativism, the attack on the Church, the destruction of common sense, with the attempt to dissolve the principles that support the family and therefore society, threaten to destroy the remains of what was once called the culture cristinano west.
This is a most particular opportunity for dissemination of ideas of Chesterton, his friends and followers on our hands becomes an effective tool for the Christianization of contemporary culture.

Significant foreign personalities address different issues related to the crisis of our
time, effort that will be shared by qualified exhibitors from our environment.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio BE, Primate of Argentina, has sponsored the Conference and
officiate a Mass at UCA on September 23.

Waiting at the conference meet, greet you cordially

On the obscurity of Robert Browning

He talked positively, he talked a great deal, but he never attempted to give that neat and æsthetic character to his speech which is almost invariable in the case of the man who is vain of his mental superiority. When he did impress people with mental gymnastics, it was mostly in the form of pouring out, with passionate enthusiasm, whole epics written by other people, which is the last thing that the literary egotist would be likely to waste his time over. We have therefore to start with an enormous psychological improbability that Browning made his poems complicated from mere pride in his powers and contempt of his readers.

There is, however, another very practical objection to the ordinary theory that Browning's obscurity was a part of the intoxication of fame and intellectual consideration. We constantly hear the statement that Browning's intellectual complexity increased with his later poems, but the statement is simply not true. Sordello, to the indescribable density of which he never afterwards even approached, was begun before Strafford, and was therefore the third of his works, and even if we adopt his own habit of ignoring Pauline, the second. He wrote the greater part of it when he was twenty-four. It was in his youth, at the time when a man is thinking of love and publicity, of sunshine and singing birds, that he gave birth to this horror of great darkness; and the more we study the matter with any knowledge of the nature of youth, the more we shall come to the conclusion that Browning's obscurity had altogether the opposite origin to that which is usually assigned to it. He was not unintelligible because he was proud, but unintelligible because he was humble. He was not unintelligible because his thoughts were vague, but because to him they were obvious.

A man who is intellectually vain does not make himself incomprehensible, because he is so enormously impressed with the difference between his readers' intelligence and his own that he talks down to them with elaborate repetition and lucidity. What poet was ever vainer than Byron? What poet was ever so magnificently lucid? But a young man of genius who has a genuine humility in his heart does not elaborately explain his discoveries, because he does not think that they are discoveries. He thinks that the whole street is humming with his ideas, and that the postman and the tailor are poets like himself. Browning's impenetrable poetry was the natural expression of this beautiful optimism. Sordello was the most glorious compliment that has ever been paid to the average man.

In the same manner, of course, outward obscurity is in a young author a mark of inward clarity. A man who is vague in his ideas does not speak obscurely, because his own dazed and drifting condition leads him to clutch at phrases like ropes and use the formulæ that every one understands. No one ever found Miss Marie Corelli obscure, because she believes only in words. But if a young man really has ideas of his own, he must be obscure at first, because he lives in a world of his own in which there are symbols and correspondences and categories unknown to the rest of the world. Let us take an imaginary example. Suppose that a young poet had developed by himself a peculiar idea that all forms of excitement, including religious excitement, were a kind of evil intoxication, he might say to himself continually that churches were in reality taverns, and this idea would become so fixed in his mind that he would forget that no such association existed in the minds of others. And suppose that in pursuance of this general idea, which is a perfectly clear and intellectual idea, though a very silly one, he were to say that he believed in Puritanism without its theology, and were to repeat this idea also to himself until it became instinctive and familiar, such a man might take up a pen, and under the impression that he was saying something figurative indeed, but quite clear and suggestive, write some such sentence as this, "You will not get the godless Puritan into your white taverns," and no one in the length and breadth of the country could form the remotest notion of what he could mean. So it would have been in any example, for instance, of a man who made some philosophical discovery and did not realise how far the world was from it. If it had been possible for a poet in the sixteenth century to hit upon and learn to regard as obvious the evolutionary theory of Darwin, he might have written down some such line as "the radiant offspring of the ape," and the maddest volumes of mediæval natural history would have been ransacked for the meaning of the allusion. The more fixed and solid and sensible the idea appeared to him, the more dark and fantastic it would have appeared to the world. Most of us indeed, if we ever say anything valuable, say it when we are giving expression to that part of us which has become as familiar and invisible as the pattern on our wall paper. It is only when an idea has become a matter of course to the thinker that it becomes startling to the world.

-Robert Browning (1903)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

"A man treats his own faults as original sin and supposes them scattered everywhere with the seed of Adam. He supposes that men have then added their own foreign vices to the solid and simple foundation of his own private vices."

In this case, as in every case, the only way to measure justly the excess of a foreign country is to measure the defect of our own country. For in this matter the human mind is the victim of a curious little unconscious trick, the cause of nearly all international dislikes. A man treats his own faults as original sin and supposes them scattered everywhere with the seed of Adam. He supposes that men have then added their own foreign vices to the solid and simple foundation of his own private vices. It would astound him to realise that they have actually, by their strange erratic path, avoided his vices as well as his virtues. His own faults are things with which he is so much at home that he at once forgets and assumes them abroad. He is so faintly conscious of them in himself that he is not even conscious of the absence of them in other people. He assumes that they are there so that he does not see that they are not there. The Englishman takes it for granted that a Frenchman will have all the English faults. Then he goes on to be seriously angry with the Frenchman for having dared to complicate them by the French faults. The notion that the Frenchman has the French faults and not the English faults is a paradox too wild to cross his mind.

-What I Saw in America (1922)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Those who leave the tradition of truth do not escape into something which we call Freedom. They only escape into something else, which we call Fashion."

Those who leave the tradition of truth do not escape into something which we call Freedom. They only escape into something else, which we call Fashion.

That is really the crux of the controversy between the two views of history and philosophy. If it were true that by leaving the temple we walked out into a world of truths, the question would be answered; but it is not true. By leaving the temple, we walk out into a world of idols; and the idols of the marketplace are more perishable and passing than the gods of the temple we have left. If we wished to test rationally the case of rationalism, we should follow the career of the sceptic and ask how far he remained sceptical about the idols or ideals of the world into which he went. There are very few sceptics in history who cannot be proved to have been instantly swallowed by some swollen convention or some hungry humbug of the hour, so that all their utterances about contemporary things now look to us almost pathetically contemporary. The little group of Atheists, who still run their paper in Fleet Street and frequently honour me with hearty but somewhat hasty denunciation, began their agitation in the old Victorian days, and selected for themselves a terribly appropriate title. They did not call themselves Atheists, they called themselves Secularists. Never was a more bitter and blighting confession made in the form of a boast. For the word "secular" does not mean anything so sensible as "worldly." It does not even mean anything so spirited as "irreligious." To be secular simply means to be of the age; that is, of the age which is passing; of the age which, in their case, is already passed. There is one tolerably correct translation of the Latin word which they have chosen as their motto. There is one adequate equivalent of the word "secular"; and it is the word "dated."

-The Well and the Shallows (1935)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Every one on this earth should believe, amid whatever madness or moral failure, that his life and temperament have some object on the earth. Every one on the earth should believe that he has something to give to the world which cannot otherwise be given. Every one should, for the good of men and the saving of his own soul, believe that it is possible, even if we are the enemies of the human race, to be the friends of God.

-Robert Browning (1903)
To love anything with a reason is to tire of it very soon; to love without a reason is to love for ever.

[The World, quoted in Bush Advocate, Volume XVI, Issue 566, 15 November 1904, Page 3]

The trouble with most people is that they don't know what they want, and they do it in a hurry.

[quoted in Evening Post, Volume CIV, Issue 37, 12 August 1922, Page 18]

Friday, March 8, 2013

One general description of madness, it seems to us, might be found in the statement that madness is a preference for the symbol over that which it represents....Money, for example, is a symbol; it symbolises wine and horses and beautiful vesture and high houses, the great cities of the world and the quiet tent by the river. The miser is a madman, because he prefers money to all these things; because he prefers the symbol to the reality....

...The essential of idolatry is the same. Idolatry exists wherever the thing that originally gave us happiness becomes at last more important than happiness itself. Drunkenness, for example, may be fairly described as an engrossing hobby. And drunkenness is, when really comprehended in its inward and psychological reality, a typical example of idolatry. Essential intemperance begins at the point where the one incidental form of pleasure, which comes from a certain article of consumption, becomes more important than all the vast universe of natural pleasures, which it finally destroys....

...This is idolatry: the preference for the incidental good over the eternal good which it symbolises. It is the employment of one example of the everlasting goodness to confound the validity of a thousand other examples. It is the elementary mathematical and moral heresy that the part is greater than the whole.

-"Lunacy and Letters" (1901)
Found in Lunacy and Letters (collection of essays published posthumously in 1958) 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"We and all the stars and winds may be riding in rigid ranks under the orders of the captain; but he is leading us on we know not how wild a raid."

For, when we isolate a thing, we make it a perfect symbol of the universe. For the universe is of necessity the perfectly lonely thing. You may state the eternal problem in the form of saying: "Why is there a Cosmos?" But you can state it just as well by saying: "Why is there an omnibus?" You can say: "Why is there everything?" You can say instead: "Why is there anything?" For that law and sequence and harmony and inevitability on which science so proudly insists are in their nature only true of the relations of the parts to each other. The whole, the nature of things itself, is not legal, is not consecutive, is not harmonious, and not inevitable. It is wild, like a poem; arbitrary, like a poem; unique, like a poem. The existence of the law itself is a solitary phenomenon, an incomparable phenomenon, and, in that sense, therefore, a lawless phenomenon. We and all the stars and winds may be riding in rigid ranks under the orders of the captain; but he is leading us on we know not how wild a raid

-The Independent Review, Volume 5, February-April. 1905

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Other men have justified existence because it was a harmony. He justified it because it was a battle, because it was an inspiring and melodious discord."

[Robert Louis Stevenson's] optimism was one which, so far from dwelling upon those flowers and sunbeams which form the stock-in-trade of conventional optimism, took a peculiar pleasure in the contemplation of skulls, and cudgels, and gallows. It is one thing to be the kind of optimist who can divert his mind from personal suffering by dreaming of the face of an angel, and quite another thing to be the kind of optimist who can divert it by dreaming of the foul fat face of Long John Silver. And this faith of his had a very definite and a very original philosophical purport. Other men have justified existence because it was a harmony. He justified it because it was a battle, because it was an inspiring and melodious discord. He appealed to a certain set of facts which lie far deeper than any logic—the great paradoxes of the soul. For the singular fact is that the spirit of man is in reality depressed by all the things which, logically speaking, should encourage it, and encouraged by all the things which, logically speaking, should depress it. Nothing, for example, can be conceived more really dispiriting than that rationalistic explanation of pain which conceives it as a thing laid by Providence upon the worst people. Nothing, on the other hand, can be conceived as more exalting and reassuring than that great mystical doctrine which teaches that pain is a thing laid by Providence upon the best. We can accept the agony of heroes, while we revolt against the agony of culprits. We can all endure to regard pain when it is mysterious; our deepest nature protests against it the moment that it is rational. This doctrine that the best man suffers most is, of course, the supreme doctrine of Christianity; millions have found not merely an elevating but a soothing story in the undeserved sufferings of Christ; had the sufferings been deserved we should all have been pessimists. Stevenson's great ethical and philosophical value lies in the fact that he realised this great paradox that life becomes more fascinating the darker it grows, that life is worth living only so far as it is difficult to live. The more steadfastly and gloomily men clung to their sinister visions of duty, the more, in his eyes, they swelled the chorus of the praise of things. He was an optimist because to him everything was heroic, and nothing more heroic than the pessimist. To Stevenson, the optimist, belong the most frightful epigrams of pessimism. It was he who said that this planet on which we live was more drenched with blood, animal and vegetable, than a pirate ship. It was he who said that man was a disease of the agglutinated dust. And his supreme position and his supreme difference from all common optimists is merely this, that all common optimists say that life is glorious in spite of these things, but he said that all life was glorious because of them. He discovered that a battle is more comforting than a truce. He discovered the same great fact which was discovered by a man so fantastically different from him that the mere name of him may raise a legitimate laugh— General Booth.

-Robert Louis Stevenson (1906)

F. Scott Fitzgerald and GKC

F. Scott Fitzgerald told Shane Leslie, one of his many biographers, that he intended to quote a passage from Chesterton on the title page of his first novel This Side of Paradise. The quote would have been the nonsense song that a judge, in the book's first chapter [i.e., GKC's book The Club of Queer Trades], sings in court as his summation of a case"

"O Rowty-owty tiddly-owty
Tiddly-owty tiddly owty
Highly-ighty tiddly-ighty
Tiddly-ighty ow."

-The Fantastic Fiction of Gilbert Chesterton, Martin Gardner

He read voluminously all spring, the beginning of his eighteenth year: "The Gentleman from Indiana," "The New Arabian Nights," "The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne," "The Man Who Was Thursday," which he liked without understanding...

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
(Book One, Chapter 1- emphasis mine)

Monday, March 4, 2013

...“progress” is a useless word; for progress takes for granted an already defined direction; and it is exactly about the direction that we disagree.

-Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens (1911)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

We will only remark that we sincerely hope that the time will come when preachers, hymn-writers and pious poets will realise that there is a very deep and menacing truth at the bottom of the commandment, "Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." That a man shall not use the strongest words so as to make them weak is emphatically one of the ten commandments of literature. The law against taking the Name in vain is, for some strange reason, generally as understood as dealing with jokes upon serious subjects. But a joke is not necessarily vain, it is generally highly significant. Job and Elijah jest constantly on serious subjects. But to the use the greatest names in our language, the words that are, as it were, too great for the mouth, again and again like a worn-out stamp, in trivial arguments, in cocksure explanations, in mere rhetorical padding; this, which resounds from hundreds of pulpits and sacred lyres, is indeed, to our minds, the sin against the Name...

-January 5, 1901, The Speaker

[To be honest, in addition, I would like to add an additional instance to those examples of "sins against the Name", i.e., trying to guilt people into reposting Facebook pictures and messages, etc., by saying something along the lines of "Christ said if you deny him in front of others, he'll deny you in front of his Father. Re-post if you don't deny him." As if the only reason one wouldn't spam is because you're denying Christ! Actually, if we're going to be taking verses out of  their context anyway, I'd say Christ's warning against using "vain repetitions" is much more relevant in such a situation...Sorry, just saw one of those types of post one too many times lately, so...]