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)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"The Poets are those who rise above the people by understanding them...The Prigs rise above the people by refusing to understand them..."

Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of people in this world. The first kind of people are People; they are the largest and probably the most valuable class.  We owe to this class the chairs we sit down on, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in; and, indeed (when we come to think of it), we probably belong to this class ourselves. The second class may be called for convenience the Poets; they are often a nuisance to their families, but, generally speaking, a blessing to mankind.  The third class is that of the Professors or Intellectuals; sometimes described as the thoughtful people; and these are a blight and a desolation both to their families and also to mankind.  Of course, the classification sometimes overlaps, like all classification.  Some good people are almost poets and some bad poets are almost professors.  But the division follows lines of real psychological cleavage.  I do not offer it lightly. It has been the fruit of more than eighteen minutes of earnest reflection and research.

The class called People (to which you and I, with no little pride, attach ourselves) has certain casual, yet profound, assumptions, which are called “commonplaces,” as that children are charming, or that twilight is sad and sentimental, or that one man fighting three is a fine sight.  Now, these feelings are not crude; they are not even simple.  The charm of children is very subtle; it is even complex, to the extent of being almost contradictory. It is, at its very plainest, mingled of a regard for hilarity and a regard for helplessness.  The sentiment of twilight, in the vulgarest drawing-room song or the coarsest pair of sweethearts, is, so far as it goes, a subtle sentiment.  It is strangely balanced between pain and pleasure; it might also be called pleasure tempting pain. The plunge of impatient chivalry by which we all admire a man fighting odds is not at all easy to define separately, it means many things, pity, dramatic surprise, a desire for justice, a delight in experiment and the indeterminate.  The ideas of the mob are really very subtle ideas; but the mob does not express them subtly. In fact, it does not express them at all, except on those occasions (now only too rare) when it indulges in insurrection and massacre.

Now, this accounts for the otherwise unreasonable fact of the existence of Poets.  Poets are those who share these popular sentiments, but can so express them that they prove themselves the strange and delicate things that they really are.  Poets draw out the shy refinement of the rabble...The Poets carry the popular sentiments to a keener and more splendid pitch; but let it always be remembered that it is the popular sentiments that they are carrying. No man ever wrote any good poetry to show that childhood was shocking, or that twilight was gay and farcical, or that a man was contemptible because he had crossed his single sword with three. The people who maintain this are the Professors, or Prigs.

The Poets are those who rise above the people by understanding them. Of course, most of the Poets wrote in prose — Rabelais, for instance, and Dickens.  The Prigs rise above the people by refusing to understand them: by saying that all their dim, strange preferences are prejudices and superstitions. The Prigs make the people feel stupid; the Poets make the people feel wiser than they could have imagined that they were. There are many weird elements in this situation.  The oddest of all perhaps is the fate of the two factors in practical politics. The Poets who embrace and admire the people are often pelted with stones and crucified.  The Prigs who despise the people are often loaded with lands and crowned.  In the House of Commons, for instance, there are quite a number of prigs, but comparatively few poets. There are no People there at all.

By poets, as I have said, I do not mean people who write poetry, or indeed people who write anything.  I mean such people as, having culture and imagination, use them to understand and share the feelings of their fellows; as against those who use them to rise to what they call a higher plane.  Crudely, the poet differs from the mob by his sensibility; the professor differs from the mob by his insensibility.  He has not sufficient finesse and sensitiveness to sympathise with the mob. His only notion is coarsely to contradict it, to cut across it, in accordance with some egotistical plan of his own; to tell himself that, whatever the ignorant say, they are probably wrong. He forgets that ignorance often has the exquisite intuitions of innocence.

-Alarms and Discursions (1910)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"But this advantage the mystic morality must always have--it is always jollier."

Much has been said, and said truly, of the monkish morbidity, of the hysteria which has often gone with the visions of hermits or nuns. But let us never forget that this visionary religion is, in one sense, necessarily more wholesome than our modern and reasonable morality. It is more wholesome for this reason, that it can contemplate the idea of success or triumph in the hopeless fight towards the ethical ideal, in what Stevenson called, with his usual startling felicity, "the lost fight of virtue." A modern morality, on the other hand, can only point with absolute conviction to the horrors that follow breaches of law; its only certainty is a certainty of ill. It can only point to imperfection. It has no perfection to point to. But the monk meditating upon Christ or Buddha has in his mind an image of perfect health, a thing of clear colours and clean air. He may contemplate this ideal wholeness and happiness far more than he ought; he may contemplate it to the neglect or exclusion of essential things; he may contemplate it until he has become a dreamer or a driveller; but still it is wholeness and happiness that he is contemplating. He may even go mad; but he is going mad for the love of sanity. But the modern student of ethics, even if he remains sane, remains sane from an insane dread of insanity.

The anchorite rolling on the stones in a frenzy of submission is a healthier person fundamentally than many a sober man in a silk hat who is walking down Cheapside. For many such are good only through a withering knowledge of evil. I am not at this moment claiming for the devotee anything more than this primary advantage, that though he may be making himself personally weak and miserable, he is still fixing his thoughts largely on gigantic strength and happiness, on a strength that has no limits, and a happiness that has no end. Doubtless there are other objections which can be urged without unreason against the influence of gods and visions in morality, whether in the cell or street. But this advantage the mystic morality must always have--it is always jollier. A young man may keep himself from vice by continually thinking of disease. He may keep himself from it also by continually thinking of the Virgin Mary. There may be question about which method is the more reasonable, or even about which is the more efficient. But surely there can be no question about which is the more wholesome.

I remember a pamphlet by that able and sincere secularist, Mr. G. W. Foote, which contained a phrase sharply symbolizing and dividing these two methods. The pamphlet was called Beer and Bible, those two very noble things, all the nobler for a conjunction which Mr. Foote, in his stern old Puritan way, seemed to think sardonic, but which I confess to thinking appropriate and charming. I have not the work by me, but I remember that Mr. Foote dismissed very contemptuously any attempts to deal with the problem of strong drink by religious offices or intercessions, and said that a picture of a drunkard's liver would be more efficacious in the matter of temperance than any prayer or praise. In that picturesque expression, it seems to me, is perfectly embodied the incurable morbidity of modern ethics. In that temple the lights are low, the crowds kneel, the solemn anthems are uplifted. But that upon the altar to which all men kneel is no longer the perfect flesh, the body and substance of the perfect man; it is still flesh, but it is diseased. It is the drunkard's liver of the New Testament that is marred for us, which which we take in remembrance of him.

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"...in all that welter of inconsistent and incompatible heresies, the one and only really unpardonable heresy was orthodoxy."

I began to examine more exactly the general Christian theology which many execrated and few examined. I soon found that it did in fact correspond to many of these experiences of life; that even its paradoxes corresponded to the paradoxes of life. Long afterwards Father Waggett (to mention another very able man of the old Anglo-Catholic group), once said to me, as we stood on the Mount of Olives in view of Gethsemane and Aceldama, “Well, anyhow, it must be obvious to anybody that the doctrine of the Fall is the only cheerful view of human life.” It is indeed obvious to me; but the thought passed over me at the moment, that a very large proportion of that old world of sceptical sects and cliques, to which I had once belonged, would find it a much more puzzling paradox than the paradoxes of Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw. I will not develop the argument here, which I have so often developed elsewhere; I merely mention it to suggest my general sense, even at this stage, that the old theological theory seemed more or less to fit into experience, while the new and negative theories did not fit into anything, least of all into each other. It was about this time that I had published some studies on contemporary writers, such as Kipling and Shaw and Wells; and feeling that each of them erred through an ultimate or religious error, I gave the book the title of Heretics. It was reviewed by Mr. G. S. Street, the very delightful essayist, who casually used the expression that he was not going to bother about his theology until I had really stated mine. With all the solemnity of youth, I accepted this as a challenge; and wrote an outline of my own reasons for believing that the Christian theory, as summarised in the Apostles’ Creed, would be found to be a better criticism of life than any of those that I had criticised. I called it Orthodoxy, but even at the time I was very much dissatisfied with the title. It sounded a thinnish sort of thing to be defending through thick and thin. Even then I fancy I had a dim foreshadowing that I should have to find some better name for it before I died. As it was, the only interesting effect of the title, or the book, that I ever heard of, occurred on the frontiers of Russia. There I believe the Censor, under the old Russian regime, destroyed the book without reading it. From its being called Orthodoxy, he naturally inferred that it must be a book on the Greek Church. And from its being a book on the Greek Church, he naturally inferred that it must be an attack on it.

But there did remain one rather vague virtue about the title, from my point of view; that it was provocative. And it is an exact test of that extraordinary modern society that it really was provocative. I had begun to discover that, in all that welter of inconsistent and incompatible heresies, the one and only really unpardonable heresy was orthodoxy. A serious defence of orthodoxy was far more startling to the English critic than a serious attack on orthodoxy was to the Russian censor. And through this experience I learned two very interesting things, which serve to divide all this part of my life into two distinct periods. Very nearly everybody, in the ordinary literary and journalistic world, began by taking it for granted that my faith in the Christian creed was a pose or a paradox. The more cynical supposed that it was only a stunt. The more generous and loyal warmly maintained that it was only a joke. It was not until long afterwards that the full horror of the truth burst upon them; the disgraceful truth that I really thought the thing was true. And I have found, as I say, that this represents a real transition or border-line in the life of the apologists. Critics were almost entirely complimentary to what they were pleased to call my brilliant paradoxes; until they discovered that I really meant what I said. Since then they have been more combative; and I do not blame them.

-Autobiography (1936)

Friday, May 24, 2013

One reviewer pointed out that Chesterton [in his book on Dickens] had said that every postcard Dickens wrote was a work of art; but Dickens died on June 9th, 1870 and the first British postcard was issued on October 1st, 1870. [Chesterton responded:] "A wonderful instance of Dickens's never-varying propensity to keep ahead of his age."

-Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Maisie Ward (1943)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"...the ordinary man in the street when he says that there is no poetry in a pig or a post-office is, in fact, merely intoxicated with literary style."

Some time ago Mr C. F. G. Masterman led a vigorous attack upon my timid and humble optimism, and declared in effect that when I maintained a poetry in all things it was I who supplied it. I wish I could claim that I had ever supplied poetry to anything; it seems to me that I am at the very best a humdrum scientific student noting it down. The sentimentalists, the sons of a passionate delusion, are those who do not think everything poetical. For they are wholly under the influence of words, of the vague current phraseology, which thinks `castle' a poetical word and 'Post-office' an unpoetical word, which thinks `knight' a poetical word and `policeman' an unpoetical word, which thinks `eagle' a poetical ward and `pig' an unpoetical word. I do not say that there is not truth in this as a matter of literature; I do not say that in pure technical style there is not a difference between eagles and pigs. All I wish to point out is that the ordinary man in the street when he says that there is no poetry in a pig or a post-office is, in fact, merely intoxicated with literary style. He is not looking at the thing itself; if he did that he would see that it was not only poetical, but obviously and glaringly poetical. He thinks a railway-signal, let us say, must be prosaic, because the word sounds funny, and there is no rhyme in it. But if he looked straight and square at what a railway-signal is, he would realise that it was, to take a casual case, a red fire or light kindled to keep people from death, as poetical a thing as the spear of Britomart or the lamp of Aladdin. It is, in short, the man who thinks ordinary things common who is really the man living in an unreal world.

But of all the examples of this general fact that have recently been called to my notice, there is none more peculiar and interesting than that of the family name of Smith, in which we have a splendid example of the fact that the poetry of common things is a mere fact, while the commonplace character of common things is a mere delusion. For, if we look at the name Smith in a casual and impressionable way, remembering how we commonly hear it, what is commonly said about it, we think of it as something funny and trivial; we think of pictures in Punch, of jokes in comic songs, of all the cheapness and modernity which seem to centre round a Mr Smith. But, if we look at the plain word itself, we suddenly behold a poem. It is the name of a great rugged and primeval craft, a trade that is in the bones of every great epic of antiquity, a trade on which the `arma virumque' have everlastingly depended, and which they have repeatedly acclaimed. It is a craft so poetical that even the babies of village yokels stand and stare into the cavern of its creative violence, with a dim sense that the dancing sparks and the deafening blows are in some way wonderful, as the shops of the village cobbler and the village baker are not wonderful. The mystery of flame, the mystery of metals, the fight between the hardest of earthly things and the weirdest of earthly elements, the defeat of the unconquerable iron by its only conqueror, the brute calm of Nature, the passionate cunning of man, the origin of a thousand sciences and arts, the ploughing of fields, the hewing of wood, the arraying of armies, and the whole beginning of arms, these things are written with brevity indeed, but with perfect clearness, on the visiting card of Mr Smith. The Smiths are a house of arrogant antiquity, of prehistoric simplicity. It would not be at all remarkable if a certain contemptuous carriage of the head, a certain curl of the lip, marked people whose name was Smith. Yet novelists, when they wish to describe a hero as strong and romantic, persistently call him Vernon Aylmer, which means nothing, or Bertrand Vallance, which means nothing; while all the time it is in their power to give him the sacred name of Smith, this name made of iron and fire. From the very beginnings of history and fable this clan has gone forth to battle; their trophies are in every hand, their name is everywhere; they are older than the nations, and their sign is the Hammer of Thor.

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald and GKC, part 2

Since the movie The Great Gatsby was recently released, I just decided to do another post on the connections between GKC and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

"Did you ever notice that remarkable coincidence. Bernard Shaw is 61 years old, H.G. Wells is 51, G.K. Chesterton 41, you're 31 and I'm 21---All the great authors of the world in arithmetical progression"

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, in a letter to Shane Leslie in February 1918 published in A Life in Letters

(Not accurate as to all the ages, but an interesting quote nevertheless)

BTW, while I admittedly don't quote from GKC's fiction as much as his non-fiction on this blog, Fitzgerald was an admirer of Chesterton's novels. 

To quote from my page of Chesterton's influence (where you can also find the references for the following as well):

[Fitzgerald] wrote that he put "Barry [sic] and Chesterton" above "anyone except Wells" as well as confided in 1917 that
I want to be one of the new school of American novelists — the Wells- Shaw- Chesterton-Mackenzie combination
He also confessed elsehwehre
I want to be able to do anything with words: handle slashing, flaming descriptions like Wells, and use the paradox with the clarity of Samuel Butler, the breadth of Bernard Shaw and the wit of Oscar Wilde, I want to do the wide sultry heavens of Conrad, the rolled-gold sundowns and crazy-quilt skies of Hitchens and Kipling as well as the pastelle dawns and twilights of Chesterton. All that is by way of example. As a matter of fact I am a professed literary thief, hot after the best methods of every writer in my generation.[emphasis mine]
In fact, in the first chapter of Fitzgerald's very first novel, This Side of Paradise, the protoganist is said to have read Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday
...which he liked without understanding

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"If a man...burns down the town, he cannot defend himself by denying that he invented fire."

If anybody seriously alleges a social decay, it is not sufficient to answer that the elements there alleged to be exaggerated can everywhere be discovered. Societies have decayed, and social causes can be reasonably adduced for the decay. Yet in no case could the new corruption be called a new cause, in the sense of never having appeared at all in more normal times. Suppose we think, as some do, that Athens fell through faction, through party passions in internal politics indifferent to dignity and defence. A man denying the decline could always have said with truth that in every age there had been parties, and always would be parties wherever there were people.  Suppose, on the other hand, we think, as others do, that Athens fell through the impatient imperialism of the Syracusan expedition; as the great Thucydides himself said, through "Empire pursued for covetousness and ambition." A man denying the danger could always have said that there had been covetousness in every age and ambition in every age, and would be so long as men were men....In short, the question is one of proportion; or, in other words, of common sense. If  a man...burns down the town, he cannot defend himself by denying that he invented fire. It is a question of the proportion and not the presence of certain forces; of the exaggeration and not the existence of certain follies.

-July 9, 1921, Illustrated London News

They have tried to set up the preposterous pretense that those who are rich in a state are rich in their own merit, and that those who are poor in a state are poor by their own fault. Mr. Kipling, in his swan song of suicide in the Morning Post, speaks of the unemployed laborer as the man "whose unthrift has destroyed him." He speaks of the modern landlord as the man who has toiled, who has striven and gathered possession...

It becomes quite a secondary fact that this new Tory theory is opposed to the Christian theory at every point, at every instant of history, from the boils of Job to the leprosy of Father Damien. It does not matter for the moment that the thing is un-Christian. The thing is a lie; everyone knows it to be a lie; the men who speak and write it know it to be a lie. They know as well as I do that the men who climb to the top of the modern ladder are not the best men, nor the cleverest, nor even the most industrious. Nobody who has ever talked to poor men on seats in Battersea Park can conceivably believe that they are the worst men of the community. Nobody who has ever talked to rich men at city dinners can conceivably believe that they are the best men of the community. On this one thesis I will admit no arguments about unconsciousness, self-deception or mere ritual phraseology. I admit all that and more most heartily to the man who says that the aristocracy as a whole is good for England or that poverty as a whole cannot be cured.

But if a man says that in his experience the thrifty thrive and only the unthrifty perish, then (as St. John the Evangelist says) he is a liar. This is the ultimate lie, and all who utter it are liars.

The London News. quoted in La Follette's Weekly Magazine, Volume 2 (1910)

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Aspects of truth"

There is, indeed, one class of modern writers and thinkers who cannot altogether be overlooked in this question, though there is no space here for a lengthy account of them, which, indeed, to confess the truth, would consist chiefly of abuse. I mean those who get over all these abysses and reconcile all these wars by talking about "aspects of truth," by saying that the art of Kipling represents one aspect of the truth, and the art of William Watson another; the art of Mr. Bernard Shaw one aspect of the truth, and the art of Mr. Cunningham Grahame another; the art of Mr. H. G. Wells one aspect, and the art of Mr. Coventry Patmore (say) another. I will only say here that this seems to me an evasion which has not even had the sense to disguise itself ingeniously in words. If we talk of a certain thing being an aspect of truth, it is evident that we claim to know what is truth; just as, if we talk of the hind leg of a dog, we claim to know what is a dog. Unfortunately, the philosopher who talks about aspects of truth generally also asks, "What is truth?" Frequently even he denies the existence of truth, or says it is inconceivable by the human intelligence. How, then, can he recognize its aspects? I should not like to be an artist who brought an architectural sketch to a builder, saying, "This is the south aspect of Sea-View Cottage. Sea-View Cottage, of course, does not exist." I should not even like very much to have to explain, under such circumstances, that Sea-View Cottage might exist, but was unthinkable by the human mind. Nor should I like any better to be the bungling and absurd metaphysician who professed to be able to see everywhere the aspects of a truth that is not there. Of course, it is perfectly obvious that there are truths in Kipling, that there are truths in Shaw or Wells. But the degree to which we can perceive them depends strictly upon how far we have a definite conception inside us of what is truth. It is ludicrous to suppose that the more sceptical we are the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything

-Heretics (1905)

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Those who maintain that Christianity was not a Church but a moral movement of idealists have been forced to push the period of its perversion or disappearance further and further back. A bishop of Rome writes claiming authority in the very lifetime of St. John the Evangelist; and it is described as the first papal aggression. A friend of the Apostles writes of them as men he knew and says they taught him the doctrine of the Sacrament, and Mr. Wells can only murmur that the reaction towards barbaric blood-rites may have happened rather earlier than might be expected. The date of the Fourth Gospel, which at one time was steadily growing later and later, is now steadily growing earlier and earlier; until critics are staggered at the dawning and dreadful possibility that it might be something like what it professes to be. The last limit of an early date for the extinction of true Christianity has probably been found by the latest German professor whose authority is invoked by Dean Inge. This learned scholar says that Pentecost was the occasion for the first founding of an ecclesiastical, dogmatic, and despotic Church utterly alien to the simple ideals of Jesus of Nazareth. This may be called, in a popular as well as a learned sense, the limit. What do professors of this kind imagine that men are made of? Suppose it were a matter of any merely human movement, let us say that of the conscientious objectors. Some say the early Christians were Pacifists; I do not believe it for a moment; but I am quite ready to accept the parallel for the sake of the argument. Tolstoy or some great preacher of peace among peasants has been shot as a mutineer for defying conscription; and a little while afterwards his few followers meet together in an upper room in remembrance of him. They never had any reason for coming together except that common memory; they are men of many kinds with nothing to bind them, except that the greatest event in all their lives was this tragedy of the teacher of universal peace. They are always repeating his words, revolving his problems, trying to imitate his character. The Pacifists meet at their Pentecost and are possessed of a sudden ecstasy of enthusiasm and wild rush of the whirlwind of inspiration, in the course of which they proceed to establish universal Conscription, to increase the Navy Estimates, to insist on everybody going about armed to the teeth and on all the frontiers bristling with artillery; the proceedings concluded with the singing of 'Boys of the Bulldog Breed' and 'Don't let them scrap the British Navy.' That is something like a fair parallel to the theory of these critics; that the transition from their idea of Jesus to their idea of Catholicism could have been made in the little upper room at Pentecost. Surely anybody's commonsense would tell him that enthusiasts who only met through their common enthusiasm for a leader whom they loved, would not instantly rush away to establish everything that he hated. No, if the 'ecclesiastical and dogmatic system' is as old as Pentecost it is as old as Christmas. If we trace it back to such very early Christians we must trace it back to Christ.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

People who lose all their charity generally lose all their logic.

-The Scandal of Father Brown (1935)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dickens then had this English feeling of a grotesque democracy. By that is more properly meant a vastly varying democracy. The intoxicating variety of men -- that was his vision and conception of human brotherhood. And certainly it is a great part of human brotherhood. In one sense things can only be equal if they are entirely different...similarity always means inequality. If everything is trying to be green, some things will be greener than others; but there is an immortal and indestructible equality between green and red. Something of the same kind of irrefutable equality exists between the violent and varying creations of such a writer as Dickens. They are all equally ecstatic fulfilments of a separate line of development. It would be hard to say that there could be any comparison or inequality, let us say between Mr. Sapsea and Mr. Elijah Pogram. They are both in the same difficulty; they can neither of them contrive to exist in this world; they are both too big for the gate of birth.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

Monday, May 13, 2013

New Art

It is one thing to swallow the new art and another thing merely to swallow the new art criticism. And as a rule, I fancy, it is rather easier to find new art criticism than new art. What I mean by the new art criticism is a sort of metaphysics which involves not only mysticism but prophecy. It is an anticipation of the artistic forms that could be produced; an indignant challenge as to why they should not be produced; a solemn warning of the fate of the blind and belated who shall be found among their persecutors when they are produced. The only thing it does not do is to produce them...Suppose a man says: “Why am I not free to produce a sublime architectural effect with thirty-seven butter-tubs, three gas pipes, and a packing case? Why should I not make beauty out of these?” There seems to be no answer except to say, “Why not, indeed?” If he will produce sublime architecture out of them, I shall not complain of the sublimity. If he will make beauty from them, I shall not condemn them for contriving to be beautiful…. My attitude toward the experiment may be described as one of patient expectancy—of hope not unmingled with doubt. I am waiting for the moment when the pagoda of tubs shall strike my soul like a thunderbolt out of the sky; when I shall stagger with admiration at some perfect poise and balance of pipes and packing-cases which I had never foreseen even in my dreams. I say nothing of that inspiring moment of my life, except that it has not yet come. And in the same way, the conundrum of the workshops, as propounded concerning poetry or paining, seems to be simply a riddle which is not, in fact, accompanied with an answer.

-February 11, 1922, Illustrated London News 
(h/t G.K. Chesterton Facebook page) 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"How to Write a Novel"

A series is issued entitled the "How To" series. It teaches in one volume "How to Choose Your Banker,'' in another "How to Dine in Paris," and in a third, which now lies before us, "How to Write a Novel." It never seems to strike the writers of this school that there is some difference between the psychological profundity and delicacy of choosing your banker and that of choosing your idea. An idea is a nameless thing; it melts into all other ideas, whereas a banker is detachable and does not melt into any one. The same is true, though in a lesser degree, of the comparison which the author makes in his first chapter. He says, with some apparent reason, that as painting and sculpture require training on fixed lines there is no reason why such training should not be given in fiction. Surely the answer is distinct. Fiction is more dark and chaotic than painting because, though both arts symbolise spiritual conditions, painting employs as its symbol the bodily form, which has been measured, while fiction employs as its symbol the thoughts and actions which have never been measured. Painting deals with what a man looks like, which we can all know; fiction deals with what he means, which he generally does not know himself. It is not possible to know how many thoughts a man has; it is possible to know, with reasonable industry, how many legs he has.

-March 23, 1901, The Speaker

Friday, May 10, 2013

"One pleasure can kill another pleasure as much as one colour can kill another colour."

I think the truth is this: that the modern world has had far too little understanding of the art of keeping young. Its notion of progress has been to pile one thing on top of another, without caring if each thing was crushed in turn. People forget that the human soul can enjoy a thing most when there is time to think about it and be thankful for it. And by crowding things together they lost the sense of surprise; and surprise is the secret of joy. They forgot that there is a kind of familiarity that really does breed contempt, and that contempt by its nature breeds boredom...

Now this problem is not solved by one side saying that there is far too much pleasure-seeking, and the other side answering that it is natural for the young to seek pleasure. The point is that this may be pleasure-seeking, but it is not pleasure-finding. The cynicism bordering on pessimism, which is the real matter in dispute, would itself be evidence that the pleasure had not been found. And the moral is in a law of the mind which mere anarchy always attempts to forget. One pleasure can kill another pleasure as much as one colour can kill another colour. Every coloured figure requires a background, and is often all the brighter for a grey background or even a black background. The proportions between pleasure and sobriety are a delicate problem, like the proportions between blue and black, or gold and grey. But it is a problem of finding the proportions, and not merely of piling up the pleasures.  Life should be so mixed that there is in all our pleasures a slight element of surprise. Every child understands that; but the question at issue is whether precocious children do not become too clever to understand it.

-December 9, 1922, Illustrated London News

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Books exist to produce emotions: if we are not moved by them we practically have not read them. If a real book has not touched us we might as well not have touched the book."

It is no disrespect to such able and interesting works as Professor Dillon's to say that they are only stages in an essentially endless process, the proper appreciation of one of the inexhaustible religious classics. None of them says the last word on Job, for the last word could only be said on the Last Day. For a great poem like Job is in this respect like life itself. The explanations are popular for a month or popular for a century. But they all fall. The unexplained thing is popular for ever. There are weaknesses in the Higher Criticism, as a general phenomenon, which are only gradually unfolding themselves. There are more defects or difficulties than would at first appear in the scientific treatment of Scripture. But after all the greatest defect in the scientific treatment of Scripture is simply that it is scientific. The professor of the Higher Criticism is never tired of declaring that he is detached, that he is disinterested, that he is concerned only with the facts, that he is applying to religious books the unbending methods which are employed by men of science towards the physical order. If what he says of himself is true, he must be totally unfitted to criticize any books whatever.

Books exist to produce emotions: if we are not moved by them we practically have not read them. If a real book has not touched us we might as well not have touched the book. In literature to be dispassionate is simply to be illiterate. To be disinterested is simply to be uninterested. The object of a book on comets, of course, is not to make us all feel like comets; but the object of a poem about warriors is to make us all feel like warriors. It is not merely true that the right method for one may be the wrong method for the other; it must be the wrong method for the other. A critic who takes a scientific view of the Book of Job is exactly like a surgeon who should take a poetical view of appendicitis: he is simply an old muddler.

It is said, of course, that this scientific quality is only applied to the actual facts, which are the department of science. But what are the actual facts? There are very few facts in connection with a work of literature which are really wholly apart from literary tact and grasp. That certain words are on a piece of parchment in a certain order science can say. Whether in that order they make sense or nonsense only literature can say. That in another place (say on a brick) the same words are in another order science can say. Whether it is a more likely order only literature can say. That on two bricks there is the same sentence science can say. Whether it is the sort of sentence one man would write on two bricks, or two men happen to write on their own respective bricks, only literature can say.

-September 9, 1905, The Speaker

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

To have one's sanctities destroyed violently is terrible; to have them destroyed gently is unforgivable.

-The Fortnightly Review, volume 80 (1903)

Monday, May 6, 2013

"...the real economic tyrant does not cease to be a bully when he becomes a bureaucrat."

...the worst monopolists of our own day are Socialists even while they are sweaters. But it will be very unwise for the victims of sweating to surrender everything to this sweeping and systematising spirit. They will certainly find that the real economic tyrant does not cease to be a bully when he becomes a bureaucrat. The only real freedom for workmen is to have some reserve of possessions independent of any institutions. The new system will have its own vices as well as the old system; it is only what a man owns that he can use to defend himself against any vices of any system. In a word, the man must own his own stick, especially if he has on rare occasions to use it as a cudgel.

-October 25, 1919, Illustrated London News

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Anybody who does not see that, he gently implies, does not really understand what is meant by a Creator."

To step out of these presumptions, prejudices and private disappointments, into the world of St. Thomas, is like escaping from a scuffle in a dark room into the broad daylight. St. Thomas says, quite straightforwardly, that he himself believes this world has a beginning and end; because such seems to be the teaching of the Church; the validity of which mystical message to mankind he defends elsewhere with dozens of quite different arguments...But Aquinas says he sees no particular reason, in reason, why this world should not be a world without end; or even without beginning. And he is quite certain that, if it were entirely without end or beginning, there would still be exactly the same logical need of a Creator. Anybody who does not see that, he gently implies, does not really understand what is meant by a Creator.

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

Saturday, May 4, 2013

...that charge of anti-patriotism....is very difficult to believe that any educated man on either side ever took seriously. The charge had literally no meaning at all. It is wearisome to have to point out that if a man thought the war bad for his country his opposition to it must of necessity be in proportion to his patriotism. The doctrine of the united nation is simply a piece of mental confusion. It means that at the precise moment when your country is in most danger you are to become suddenly frivolous and take any opinion you may find lying about the street.

-The Fortnightly Review, volume 80 (1903)

Friday, May 3, 2013

"The world may learn by its mistakes; but they are mostly the mistakes of the learned."

It is true, in a sense, to say that the mob has always been led by more educated men.  It is much more true, in every sense, to say that it has always been misled by educated men.  It is easy enough to say the cultured man should be the crowd’s guide, philosopher and friend.  Unfortunately, he has nearly always been a misguiding guide, a false friend and a very shallow philosopher.  And the actual catastrophes we have suffered, including those we are now suffering, have not in historical fact been due to the prosaic practical people who are supposed to know nothing, but almost invariably to the highly theoretical people who knew that they knew everything.  The world may learn by its mistakes; but they are mostly the mistakes of the learned.

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

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Laws are made not only to restrain the governed, but to restrain the governor

-March 9, 1916, New Witness

[H/T American Chesterton Society Facebook page]

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"The hypocrite is that unluckiest of actors who is never out of a job."

The divine punishment of hypocrisy is fatigue. Those, in Shakespeare's fine simile, whose hearts are all as false as stairs of sand, must really have much of that exhausted sensation that comes of walking through sand when it is loose and deep. The hypocrite is that unluckiest of actors who is never out of a job.

-June 13, 1914, Illustrated London News