The Full Wiki

G.K. Chesterton: Wikis

Advertisements

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Encyclopedia

(Redirected to G. K. Chesterton article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

G. K. Chesterton

Born Gilbert Keith Chesterton
29 May 1874(1874-05-29)
Kensington, London, England
Died 14 June 1936 (aged 62)
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England
Occupation Journalist, Novelist, Essayist
Genres Fantasy, Christian apologetics, Catholic apologetics, Mystery

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) was an English writer. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology, poetry, journalism, biography, Christian apologetics, fantasy and detective fiction.

Chesterton has been called the "prince of paradox".[1] Time magazine, in a review of a biography of Chesterton, observed of his writing style: "Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out."[2] For example, Chesterton wrote the following:

Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.[3]

Chesterton is well known for his reasoned apologetics and even some of those who disagree with him have recognized the universal appeal of such works as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.[2][4] Chesterton, as a political thinker, cast aspersions on both liberalism and conservatism, saying:

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.[5]

Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an "orthodox" Christian, and came to identify such a position with Catholicism more and more, eventually converting to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism. George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton's "friendly enemy" according to Time, said of him, "He was a man of colossal genius".[2]

Contents

Life

Chesterton at the time of his engagement, 1898

Born in Campden Hill in Kensington, London, Chesterton was educated at St Paul's School. He attended the Slade School of Art in order to become an illustrator and also took literature classes at University College London but did not complete a degree at either. In 1896 Chesterton began working for the London publisher Redway, and T. Fisher Unwin, where he remained until 1902. During this period he also undertook his first journalistic work as a freelance art and literary critic. In 1901 he married Frances Blogg, to whom he remained married for the rest of his life. In 1902 he was given a weekly opinion column in the Daily News, followed in 1905 by a weekly column in The Illustrated London News, for which he would continue to write for the next thirty years.

According to Chesterton, as a young man he became fascinated with the occult and, along with his brother Cecil, experimented with Ouija boards.[6] However, as he grew older, he became an increasingly orthodox Christian, culminating in his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922.[7]

Chesterton was a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and weighing around 21 stone (134 kg or 294 lb). His girth gave rise to a famous anecdote. During World War I a lady in London asked why he wasn't 'out at the Front'; he replied, 'If you go round to the side, you will see that I am.'[8] On another occasion he remarked to his friend George Bernard Shaw, 'To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England.' Shaw retorted, 'To look at you, anyone would think you caused it.'[citation needed] P. G. Wodehouse once described a very loud crash as "a sound like Chesterton falling onto a sheet of tin."[9]

He usually wore a cape and a crumpled hat, with a swordstick in hand, and had a cigar hanging out of his mouth. He would sometimes carry a knife and a loaded revolver. Chesterton often forgot where he was supposed to be going and would miss the train that was supposed to take him there. It is reported that on several occasions he sent a telegram to his wife, Frances Blogg, from some distant (and incorrect) location, writing such things as "Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" to which she would reply, "Home."[10] Due to these memory problems and the fact Chesterton was extremely clumsy as a child, some people have speculated that Chesterton had undiagnosed developmental dyspraxia.[11]

Chesterton loved to debate, often engaging in friendly public disputes with such men as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow. According to his autobiography, he and Shaw played cowboys in a silent movie that was never released. Chesterton died on 14 June 1936, at his home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. The homily at Chesterton's Requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral, London, was delivered by Ronald Knox. He is buried in Beaconsfield in the Catholic Cemetery. Chesterton's estate was probated at 28,389 pounds sterling, approximately equivalent to £1.3 million in modern terms.

Writing

Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. He was a columnist for the Daily News, the Illustrated London News, and his own paper, G. K.'s Weekly; he also wrote articles for the Encyclopædia Britannica, including the entry on Charles Dickens and part of the entry on Humour in the 14th edition (1929). His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday is arguably his best-known novel. He was a convinced Christian long before he was received into the Catholic Church, and Christian themes and symbolism appear in much of his writing. In the United States, his writings on distributism were popularized through The American Review, published by Seward Collins in New York.

Much of his poetry is little known, though well reflecting his beliefs and opinions. The best written is probably Lepanto, with The Rolling English Road the most familiar, and The Secret People perhaps the most quoted ("we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet"). Two other much admired poems are A Ballade of Suicide and The Ballad of the White Horse.

Of his nonfiction, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906) has received some of the broadest-based praise. According to Ian Ker (The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845–1961, 2003), "In Chesterton's eyes Dickens belongs to Merry, not Puritan, England" ; Ker treats Chesterton's thought in Chapter 4 of that book as largely growing out of his true appreciation of Dickens, a somewhat shop-soiled property in the view of other literary opinions of the time.

Chesterton's writings consistently displayed wit and a sense of humour. He employed paradox, while making serious comments on the world, government, politics, economics, philosophy, theology and many other topics. When The Times invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme "What's Wrong with the World?" Chesterton's contribution took the form of a letter:

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton[12]

Chesterton here combined wit with a serious point – that of fallen human nature and humility.

Much of Chesterton's work remains in print, including collections of the Father Brown detective stories. Ignatius Press is currently in the process of publishing a Complete Works.

Views and contemporaries

Chesterton's writing has been seen by some analysts as combining two earlier strands in English literature. Dickens' approach is one of these. Another is represented by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, whom Chesterton knew well: satirists and social commentators following in the tradition of Samuel Butler, vigorously wielding paradox as a weapon against complacent acceptance of the conventional view of things.

Chesterton's style and thinking were all his own, however, and his conclusions were often opposed to those of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. In his book Heretics, Chesterton has this to say of Wilde:

The same lesson [of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker] was taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw.[13]

More briefly, and with a closer approximation of Wilde's own style, he writes in Orthodoxy concerning the necessity of making symbolic sacrifices for the gift of creation:

Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.

Chesterton and Shaw were famous friends and enjoyed their arguments and discussions. Although rarely in agreement, they both maintained good-will toward and respect for each other. However, in his writing, Chesterton expressed himself very plainly on where they differed and why. In Heretics he writes of Shaw:

After belabouring a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr. Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be progressive at all. Having come to doubt whether humanity can be combined with progress, most people, easily pleased, would have elected to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations and go in for progress for its own sake. If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby.[14]

Shaw represented the new school of thought, modernism, which was rising at the time. Chesterton's views, on the other hand, became increasingly more focused towards the church. In Orthodoxy he writes:

The worship of will is the negation of will. . . If Mr. Bernard Shaw comes up to me and says, "Will something", that is tantamount to saying, "I do not mind what you will", and that is tantamount to saying, "I have no will in the matter." You cannot admire will in general, because the essence of will is that it is particular.[15]

This style of argumentation is what Chesterton refers to as using 'Uncommon Sense' — that is, that the thinkers and popular philosophers of the day, though very clever, were saying things that were nonsensical. This is illustrated again in Orthodoxy:

Thus when Mr. H. G. Wells says (as he did somewhere), "All chairs are quite different", he utters not merely a misstatement, but a contradiction in terms. If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them "all chairs."[16]

Or, again from Orthodoxy:

The wild worship of lawlessness and the materialist worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless — one because he must not grasp anything, and the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan's will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite's will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is — well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads.[16]

All healthy men, ancient and modern, Western and Eastern, hold that there is in sex a fury that we cannot afford to inflame; and that a certain mystery must attach to the instinct if it is to continue delicate and sane.[17]

Incisive comments and observations occurred almost impulsively in Chesterton's writing. In the middle of his epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse he famously states:

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.[18]

Another contemporary and friend from schooldays was Edmund Bentley, inventor of the clerihew. Chesterton himself wrote clerihews and illustrated his friend's first published collection of poetry, Biography for Beginners (1905), which popularized the clerihew form. He was also godfather to Bentley's son, Nicolas.

Ontology

"Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." – Orthodoxy, Chapter III: The Suicide of Thought, 1909

"It is the reality that is often a fraud." – Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909

"I would always trust the old wives' fables against the old maids' facts." – Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909

"My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. ... The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things that are fantastic. ... Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense." – Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909

"In fairy land we avoid the word 'law'; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it." – Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909

"Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the 'Laws of Nature.' When we are asked why eggs turn into birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned into horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is MAGIC. It is not a 'law,' for we do not understand its general formula." – Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909

"All the terms used in the science books, 'law,' 'necessity,' 'order,' 'tendency,' and so on, are really unintellectual .... The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, 'charm,' 'spell,' 'enchantment.' They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a MAGIC tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched. I deny altogether that this is fantastic or even mystical. We may have some mysticism later on; but this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic." – Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909

"But the cool rationalist from fairyland does not see why, in the abstract, the apple tree should not grow crimson tulips; it sometimes does in his country." – Orthodoxy, Chapter IV: The Ethics of Elfland, 1909

The Chesterbelloc

See Also G. K.'s Weekly.

Chesterton is often associated with his close friend, the poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc. George Bernard Shaw coined the name Chesterbelloc for their partnership, and this stuck. Though they were very different men, they shared many beliefs; Chesterton eventually joined Belloc in his natal Catholicism, and both voiced criticisms towards capitalism and socialism. They instead espoused a third way: distributism.

G. K.'s Weekly, which occupied much of Chesterton's energy in the last 15 years of his life, was the successor to Belloc's New Witness, taken over from Cecil Chesterton, Gilbert's brother who died in World War I.

Both Chesterton and Belloc faced accusations of anti-Semitism during their lifetimes and subsequently.[19] In The New Jerusalem, Chesterton made it clear that he believed that there was a "Jewish Problem" in Europe, in the sense that he believed that Jewish culture (not Jewish ethnicity) separated itself from the nationalities of Europe.[20] He suggested the formation of a Jewish homeland as a solution, and was later invited to Palestine by Jewish Zionists who saw him as an ally in their cause. The Wiener Library (London's archive on anti-semitism and Holocaust history) has defended Chesterton against the charge of anti-Semitism: "he was not an enemy, and when the real testing time came along he showed what side he was on."[21]

List of major works

Influence

See also

Literature and biographies on Chesterton

  • Cooney, A., G.K. Chesterton, One Sword at Least, Third Way Publications, London, 1999. ISBN 0-9535077-1-8
  • Coren, M., Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton, Paragon House, New York, 1990.
  • ffinch, M., G. K. Chesterton, 1986
  • Kenner, H., Paradox in Chesterton, 1947.
  • Paine, R., The Universe and Mr. Chesterton, Sherwood Sugden, 1999. ISBN 0893855111
  • Pearce, J, Wisdom and Innocence – A Life of G.K.Chesterton, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1996. ISBN 0-340-67132-7
  • Ward, M., Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Sheed & Ward, 1944.
  • Marshall McLuhan wrote an article on G.K. Chesterton, titled "G.K. Chesterton: A Practical Mystic" (Dalhousie Review 15 (4), 1936).
  • EWTN features a television series, G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, that focuses on Chesterton and his works.

References

  1. ^ Douglas, J.D.G.K. Chesterton, the Eccentric Prince of Paradox, 24 May 1974.
  2. ^ a b c Orthodoxologist Time October 11th, 1943 retrieved 10-24-2008
  3. ^ The Man Who Was Thursday/Chapter IVThe|Man Who was Thursday, ChapterIV
  4. ^ Douglas, J.D.G.K. Chesterton, the Eccentric Prince of Paradox, 24 May 1974. "Like his friend Ronald Knox he was both entertainer and Christian apologist. The world never fails to appreciate the combination when it is well done; even evangelicals sometimes give the impression of bestowing a waiver on deviations if a man is enough of a genius."
  5. ^ Illustrated London News (1924-04-19)
  6. ^ Autobiography, Chapter IV
  7. ^ G.K. Chesterton's Conversion Story
  8. ^ A. N. Wilson, Hilaire Belloc, Penguin Books. 1984.
  9. ^ THE WORLD OF MR. MULLINER, by P. G. Wodehouse
  10. ^ Ward, Maisie. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Chapter XV. Sheed & Ward. 1944.
  11. ^ Biggs, Victoria "Caged in Chaos" Chapter I Jessica Kingsley 2005
  12. ^ cited in Yancey, Philip. 2001. Soul Survivor p. 58.
  13. ^ Chesterton. G.K. Heretics, Chapter 7.
  14. ^ Chesterton, G.K. Heretics, Chapter 4.
  15. ^ Chesterton, G.K. Heretics, Chapter 20.
  16. ^ a b Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy, Chapter 3.
  17. ^ Chesterton, G.K. The Common Man, Rabelaisian Regrets.
  18. ^ Chesterton, G.K. The Ballad of the White Horse, Book 2.
  19. ^ Last orders,The Guardian, 9 April 2005.
  20. ^ Chesterton, G.K. The New Jerusalem, Chapter 12.
  21. ^ A Message from the President, Introduction to The Chesterton Review’s New Issue: Vol. XXXII, Nos. 3&4, Fall / Winter 2006
  22. ^ Found in A Severe Mercy
  23. ^ Found in C. S. Lewis: The Collected Letters, Vol. 2
  24. ^ The Christian Century 6 June 1962
  25. ^ Yancey, Philip. 2001. Soul Survivor, p. 45.
  26. ^ Margery Forester, Michael Collins – The Lost Leader, p.35.
  27. ^ P. N. Furbank, "Chesterton the Edwardian," in John Sullivan (ed.), G.K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal (Harper and Row, 1974).
  28. ^ Martin B. Green, Gandhi: Voice of a New Age Revolution (Axios, 2009), p. 266.

External links

Advertisements

Sources

Other


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to G. K. Chesterton article)

From Wikiquote

There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (29 May 187414 June 1936) was a British writer, critic and author of verse, essays, novels, and short stories. He often wrote from a Christian perspective.

See Also: The Ballad of the White Horse and The Man Who Was Thursday

Contents

Sourced

There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance
  • Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.
  • One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.
    • Robert Browning. (1903)
The philosophy of this world may be founded on facts, but its business is run on spiritual impressions and atmospheres.
  • The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. ...The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.
    • Tolstoy (1903)
  • Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.
    • Twelve Types (1903) Charles II
  • The center of every man's existence is a dream. Death, disease, insanity, are merely material accidents, like a toothache or a twisted ankle. That these brutal forces always besiege and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel.
    • Twelve Types (1903) "Sir Walter Scott"
  • The simplification of anything is always sensational.
    • Varied Types (1903)
  • He is only a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of the Conservative.
    • Varied Types (1903)
  • Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?
    • The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)
  • "Bosh," he said, "On what else is the whole world run but immediate impressions? What is more practical? My friend, the philosophy of this world may be founded on facts, but its business is run on spiritual impressions and atmospheres."
    • The Club of Queer Trades (1905) Ch. 2 "The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation"
  • Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction...for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it.
    • The Club of Queer Trades (1905) Ch. 4 "Speculation of the House Agent"
  • Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.
    • Daily News 25th February, 1905
  • When people impute special vices to the Christian Church, they seem entirely to forget that the world (which is the only other thing there is) has these vices much more. The Church has been cruel; but the world has been much more cruel. The Church has plotted; but the world has plotted much more. The Church has been superstitious; but it has never been so superstitious as the world is when left to itself.
    • Illustrated London News (1907-12-14)
  • The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types -- the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.
    • Illustrated London News (1924)
  • The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.
    • "The Book of Job: An introduction" (1907)
  • If you'd take your head home and boil it for a turnip it might be useful. I can't say. But it might.
  • Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.
    • The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal...
  • Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front —
    • The Man Who was Thursday (1908)
  • And it is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely.
    • The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
  • When learned men begin to use their reason, then I generally discover that they haven't got any.
    • Illustrated London News (7 November 1908)
Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
  • A man must be orthodox upon most things, or he will never even have time to preach his own heresy.
    • George Bernard Shaw (1909)
  • Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.
    • Tremendous Trifles (1909)
The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
  • What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
    • Tremendous Trifles (1909)
  • Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
  • "I swear to you, then," said MacIan, after a pause. "I swear to you that nothing shall come between us. I swear to you that nothing shall be in my heart or in my head till our swords clash together. I swear it by the God you have denied, by the Blessed Lady you have blasphemed; I swear it by the seven swords in her heart. I swear it by the Holy Island where my fathers are, by the honour of my mother, by the secret of my people, and by the chalice of the Blood of God."
    The atheist drew up his head. "And I," he said, "give my word."
    • The Ball and the Cross (1909), part II: "The Religion of the Stipendiary Magistrate", last paragraphs
Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
  • It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions. We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off a scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common. But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, "Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe," or "Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet." They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all. They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.
    • The Ball and the Cross, part IV: "A Discussion at Dawn", 2nd paragraph
  • The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.
    • Illustrated London News (16 July 1910)
  • Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
    • Alarms and Discursions (1910)
  • The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists, as the mother can love the unborn child.
    • Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens Chapter III "Pickwick Papers" (1911)
  • Either criticism is no good at all (a very defensible position) or else criticism means saying about an author the very things that would have made him jump out of his boots.
    • Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens Chapter VI "Old Curiosity Shop" (1911)
  • As for science and religion, the known and admitted facts are few and plain enough. All that the parsons say is unproved. All that the doctors say is disproved. That's the only difference between science and religion there's ever been, or will be.
    • Michael Moon in Manalive (1912)
There are two ways of dealing with nonsense in this world...
  • The academic mind reflects infinity, and is full of light by the simple process of being shallow and standing still.
    • Inglewood in Manalive (1912)
  • Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.
    • A Miscellany of Men (1912)
  • The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.
    • The Flying Inn (1914)
  • I am not fighting a hopeless fight. People who have fought in real fights don't, as a rule.
    • Patrick Dalroy in The Flying Inn (1914), p 295
  • To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.
    • A Short History of England (1917)
  • All government is an ugly necessity.
    • A Short History of England (1917)
  • A change of opinions is almost unknown in an elderly military man.
    • A Utopia of Usurers (1917)
  • When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.
  • A mystic is a man who separates heaven and earth even if he enjoys them both.
    • "William Blake" (1920)
  • It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.
  • There are two ways of dealing with nonsense in this world. One way is to put nonsense in the right place; as when people put nonsense into nursery rhymes. The other is to put nonsense in the wrong place; as when they put it into educational addresses, psychological criticisms, and complaints against nursery rhymes or other normal amusements of mankind.
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
  • I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.
  • If there were no God, there would be no atheists.
    • Where All Roads Lead (1922)
  • The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
  • These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.
  • Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.
  • There is something to be said for every error; but, whatever may be said for it, the most important thing to be said about it is that it is erroneous.
  • The modern world seems to have no notion of preserving different things side by side, of allowing its proper and proportionate place to each, of saving the whole varied heritage of culture. It has no notion except that of simplifying something by destroying nearly everything.
    • "Holding on to Romanticism" in The Illustrated London News (2 May 1931)
  • What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.
    • Sidelights on New London and Newer New York (1932)
  • Plato was right, but not quite right.
    • The Dumb Ox (1934)
  • It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem.
    • "The Point of a Pin" in The Scandal of Father Brown (1935)
  • For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.
    • The Coloured Lands (1938)
  • Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much.
    • As quoted in "The Sleep of Trees" (1980) by Jane Yolen, in Tales of Wonder (1983) by Jane Yolen, p. 33
  • Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.
    • Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton : The Illustrated London News, 1905-1907 (1986), p. 71
  • Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.
    • As quoted in Coraline (2004) by Neil Gaiman, epigraph.
    • Variant: Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
      • As quoted in Raising Young Children: 52 Brilliant Little Ideas for Parenting Under 5s (2007) by Sabina Dosani and Peter Cross, p. 38
  • I've searched all the parks in all the cities — and found no statues of Committees.
    • As quoted in Trust Or Consequences : Build Trust Today Or Lose Your Market Tomorrow (2004) by Al Golin, p. 206; also in Storms of Life (2008) by Dr. Don Givens, p. 136
The center of every man's existence is a dream.

The Defendant (1901)

A collection of essays previously published in The Speaker and The Daily News.
The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade all the other people how good they are. It has been proved a hundred times over that if you really wish to enrage people and make them angry, even unto death, the right way to do it is to tell them that they are all the sons of God.
  • The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears that things are not good enough to be worth improving. If the world is good we are revolutionaries, if the world is evil we must be conservatives. These essays, futile as they are considered as serious literature, are yet ethically sincere, since they seek to remind men that things must be loved first and improved afterwards.
    • "In Defence Of A New Edition" - Preface to the second edition (1902)
  • In our time the blasphemies are threadbare. Pessimism is now patently, as it always was essentially, more commonplace than piety. Profanity is now more than an affectation — it is a convention. The curse against God is Exercise I in the primer of minor poetry.
    • "Introduction"
  • There runs a strange law through the length of human history — that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.
    This is the great fall, the fall by which the fish forgets the sea, the ox forgets the meadow, the clerk forgets the city, every man forgets his environment and, in the fullest and most literal sense, forgets himself. This is the real fall of Adam, and it is a spiritual fall. It is a strange thing that many truly spiritual men, such as General Gordon, have actually spent some hours in speculating upon the precise location of the Garden of Eden. Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed.
    • "Introduction"
  • The pessimist is commonly spoken of as the man in revolt. He is not. Firstly, because it requires some cheerfulness to continue in revolt, and secondly, because pessimism appeals to the weaker side of everybody, and the pessimist, therefore, drives as roaring a trade as the publican. The person who is really in revolt is the optimist, who generally lives and dies in a desperate and suicidal effort to persuade all the other people how good they are. It has been proved a hundred times over that if you really wish to enrage people and make them angry, even unto death, the right way to do it is to tell them that they are all the sons of God.
    • "Introduction"
  • Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelley, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.
    • "Introduction"
  • Let me explain a little: Certain things are bad so far as they go, such as pain, and no one, not even a lunatic, calls a tooth-ache good in itself; but a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a bad knife, which it certainly is not. It is only not so good as other knives to which men have grown accustomed. A knife is never bad except on such rare occasions as that in which it is neatly and scientifically planted in the middle of one's back. The coarsest and bluntest knife which ever broke a pencil into pieces instead of sharpening it is a good thing in so far as it is a knife. It would have appeared a miracle in the Stone Age. What we call a bad knife is a good knife not good enough for us; what we call a bad hat is a good hat not good enough for us; what we call bad cookery is good cookery not good enough for us; what we call a bad civilization is a good civilization not good enough for us. We choose to call the great mass of the history of mankind bad, not because it is bad, but because we are better. This is palpably an unfair principle. Ivory may not be so white as snow, but the whole Arctic continent does not make ivory black.
    • "Introduction"
  • Now it has appeared to me unfair that humanity should be engaged perpetually in calling all those things bad which have been good enough to make other things better, in everlastingly kicking down the ladder by which it has climbed. It has appeared to me that progress should be something else besides a continual parricide; therefore I have investigated the dust-heaps of humanity, and found a treasure in all of them. I have found that humanity is not incidentally engaged, but eternally and systematically engaged, in throwing gold into the gutter and diamonds into the sea.
    • "Introduction"
Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all the cosmic things are what they really are — of immeasurable stature.
  • The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice. Moral truisms have been so much disputed that they have begun to sparkle like so many brilliant paradoxes.
    • "A Defence of Humilities"
  • We all know that the 'divine glory of the ego' is socially a great nuisance; we all do actually value our friends for modesty, freshness, and simplicity of heart. Whatever may be the reason, we all do warmly respect humility — in other people.
    • "A Defence of Humilities"
There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.
  • It is always the secure who are humble.
    • "A Defence of Humilities"
  • A beetle may or may not be inferior to a man — the matter awaits demonstration; but if he were inferior by ten thousand fathoms, the fact remains that there is probably a beetle view of things of which a man is entirely ignorant. If he wishes to conceive that point of view, he will scarcely reach it by persistently revelling in the fact that he is not a beetle.
    • "A Defence of Humilities"
  • Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all the cosmic things are what they really are — of immeasurable stature. That the trees are high and the grasses short is a mere accident of our own foot-rules and our own stature. But to the spirit which has stripped off for a moment its own idle temporal standards the grass is an everlasting forest, with dragons for denizens; the stones of the road are as incredible mountains piled one upon the other; the dandelions are like gigantic bonfires illuminating the lands around; and the heath-bells on their stalks are like planets hung in heaven each higher than the other.
    • "A Defence of Humilities"
  • There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect. Men do not quarrel about the meaning of sunsets; they never dispute that the hawthorn says the best and wittiest thing about the spring.
    • "A Defence of Heraldry"
  • The one stream of poetry which is continually flowing is slang.
    • "A Defence of Slang"
If we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse.
  • The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.
    • "A Defence of Baby-Worship"
The truth is that it is our attitude towards children that is right, and our attitude towards grown-up people that is wrong.
  • There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religion teaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understand the common clay of earth we should understand everything. Similarly, we have the sentiment that if we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. This is the great truth which has always lain at the back of baby-worship, and which will support it to the end
    • "A Defence of Baby-Worship"
  • The truth is that it is our attitude towards children that is right, and our attitude towards grown-up people that is wrong. Our attitude towards our equals in age consists in a servile solemnity, overlying a considerable degree of indifference or disdain. Our attitude towards children consists in a condescending indulgence, overlying an unfathomable respect.
    • "A Defence of Baby-Worship"
The humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together.
  • When we reverence anything in the mature, it is their virtues or their wisdom, and this is an easy matter. But we reverence the faults and follies of children.
    We should probably come considerably nearer to the true conception of things if we treated all grown-up persons, of all titles and types, with precisely that dark affection and dazed respect with which we treat the infantile limitations.
    • A Defence of Baby-Worship
  • The essential rectitude of our view of children lies in the fact that we feel them and their ways to be supernatural while, for some mysterious reason, we do not feel ourselves or our own ways to be supernatural. The very smallness of children makes it possible to regard them as marvels; we seem to be dealing with a new race, only to be seen through a microscope. I doubt if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can see the hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. It is awful to think of the essential human energy moving so tiny a thing; it is like imagining that human nature could live in the wing of a butterfly or the leaf of a tree. When we look upon lives so human and yet so small, we feel as if we ourselves were enlarged to an embarrassing bigness of stature. We feel the same kind of obligation to these creatures that a deity might feel if he had created something that he could not understand.
    • "A Defence of Baby-Worship"
  • The humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together. Their top-heavy dignity is more touching than any humility; their solemnity gives us more hope for all things than a thousand carnivals of optimism; their large and lustrous eyes seem to hold all the stars in their astonishment; their fascinating absence of nose seems to give to us the most perfect hint of the humour that awaits us in the kingdom of heaven.
    • "A Defence of Baby-Worship"
  • 'My country, right or wrong' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying, except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober'.
    • "A Defence of Patriotism"

Heretics (1905)

There are some people, nevertheless — and I am one of them — who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe.

Chapter I : "Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy"

  • The word 'heresy' not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word 'orthodoxy' not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. All this can mean one thing, and one thing only. It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right.
  • It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period.
  • We will have no generalizations. Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram: "The golden rule is that there is no golden rule." We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man's opinion on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters — except everything.
  • At any innocent tea-table we may easily hear a man say, "Life is not worth living." We regard it as we regard the statement that it is a fine day; nobody thinks that it can possibly have any serious effect on the man or on the world. And yet if that utterance were really believed, the world would stand on its head. Murderers would be given medals for saving men from life; firemen would be denounced for keeping men from death; poisons would be used as medicines; doctors would be called in when people were well; the Royal Humane Society would be rooted out like a horde of assassins. Yet we never speculate as to whether the conversational pessimist will strengthen or disorganize society; for we are convinced that theories do not matter.
  • When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made. Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony. The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what any one says. The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter frees inquiry as men fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating. Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, any one can discuss it. The old restriction meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion. Modern liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it. Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed.
  • There are some people, nevertheless — and I am one of them — who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. ... We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them.
  • Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor.
  • When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man's body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health. Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims.
There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.
  • I wish to deal with my most distinguished contemporaries, not personally or in a merely literary manner, but in relation to the real body of doctrine which they teach. I am not concerned with Mr. Rudyard Kipling as a vivid artist or a vigorous personality; I am concerned with him as a Heretic — that is to say, a man whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine. I am not concerned with Mr. Bernard Shaw as one of the most brilliant and one of the most honest men alive; I am concerned with him as a Heretic — that is to say, a man whose philosophy is quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.
  • As enunciated today, 'progress' is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.
    • Chapter II "On the Negative Spirit"
  • There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.
    • Chapter III "On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small"
  • The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive.
    • Chapter III "On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small"
The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and, eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them.
  • We ought to see far enough into a hypocrite to see even his sincerity.
    • Chapter V "Mr. H. G. Wells and the Giants"
  • Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalised.
    • Chapter VII "Omar and the Sacred Vine"
  • Every man speaks of public opinion, and means by public opinion, public opinion minus his opinion.
    • Chapter VIII "The Mildness of the Yellow Press"
All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired.
  • Charity is a fashionable virtue in our time; it is lit up by the gigantic firelight of Dickens. Hope is a fashionable virtue to-day; our attention has been arrested for it by the sudden and silver trumpet of Stevenson. But faith is unfashionable, and it is customary on every side to cast against it the fact that it is a paradox. Everybody mockingly repeats the famous childish definition that faith is "the power of believing that which we know to be untrue." Yet it is not one atom more paradoxical than hope or charity. Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and, eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful. Now the old pagan world went perfectly straightforward until it discovered that going straightforward is an enormous mistake. It was nobly and beautifully reasonable, and discovered in its death-pang this lasting and valuable truth, a heritage for the ages, that reasonableness will not do. The pagan age was truly an Eden or golden age, in this essential sense, that it is not to be recovered.
    • Chapter XII "Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson"
  • The weak point in the whole of Carlyle's case for aristocracy lies, indeed, in his most celebrated phrase. Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men. All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired. And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's pathetic belief (or any one else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few." There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.
    • Chapter XII "Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson"
To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance.
  • Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich. The word "kleptomania" is a vulgar example of what I mean. It is on a par with that strange theory, always advanced when a wealthy or prominent person is in the dock, that exposure is more of a punishment for the rich than for the poor. Of course, the very reverse is the truth. Exposure is more of a punishment for the poor than for the rich. The richer a man is the easier it is for him to be a tramp. The richer a man is the easier it is for him to be popular and generally respected in the Cannibal Islands. But the poorer a man is the more likely it is that he will have to use his past life whenever he wants to get a bed for the night. Honour is a luxury for aristocrats, but it is a necessity for hall-porters.
    • Chapter XIII "Celts and Celtophiles"
  • An enormous amount of modern ingenuity is expended on finding defences for the indefensible conduct of the powerful. As I have said above, these defences generally exhibit themselves most emphatically in the form of appeals to physical science. And of all the forms in which science, or pseudo-science, has come to the rescue of the rich and stupid, there is none so singular as the singular invention of the theory of races.
    • Chapter XIII "Celts and Celtophiles"
  • To be born into this earth is to be born into uncongenial surroundings, hence to be born into a romance.
    • Chapter XIV "On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family"
  • A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
    • Chapter XV "On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set"
  • The oligarchic character of the modern English commonwealth does not rest, like many oligarchies, on the cruelty of the rich to the poor. It does not even rest on the kindness of the rich to the poor. It rests on the perennial and unfailing kindness of the poor to the rich.
    • Chapter XV "On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set"

Concluding Remarks

Chapter XX : Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy

It was the people who did not care who filled the world with fire and oppression. It was the hands of the indifferent that lit the faggots; it was the hands of the indifferent that turned the rack.
  • Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but has not been debated.
  • Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human.
  • No man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error. In similar style, I hold that I am dogmatic and right, while Mr. Shaw is dogmatic and wrong.
  • A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything
  • It is the vague modern who is not at all certain what is right who is most certain that Dante was wrong. The serious opponent of the Latin Church in history, even in the act of showing that it produced great infamies, must know that it produced great saints. It is the hard-headed stockbroker, who knows no history and believes no religion, who is, nevertheless, perfectly convinced that all these priests are knaves.
  • Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent. This frenzy of the indifferent is in truth a terrible thing; it has made all monstrous and widely pervading persecutions. In this degree it was not the people who cared who ever persecuted; the people who cared were not sufficiently numerous. It was the people who did not care who filled the world with fire and oppression. It was the hands of the indifferent that lit the faggots; it was the hands of the indifferent that turned the rack. There have come some persecutions out of the pain of a passionate certainty; but these produced, not bigotry, but fanaticism — a very different and a somewhat admirable thing. Bigotry in the main has always been the pervading omnipotence of those who do not care crushing out those who care in darkness and blood.
Religious and philosophical beliefs are, indeed, as dangerous as fire, and nothing can take from them that beauty of danger.
  • Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller. It is a common error, I think, among the Radical idealists of my own party and period to suggest that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they are so sordid or so materialistic. The truth is that financiers and business men are a danger to the empire because they can be sentimental about any sentiment, and idealistic about any ideal, any ideal that they find lying about, just as a boy who has not known much of women is apt too easily to take a woman for the woman, so these practical men, unaccustomed to causes, are always inclined to think that if a thing is proved to be an ideal it is proved to be the ideal.
  • Human nature simply cannot subsist without a hope and aim of some kind; as the sanity of the Old Testament truly said, where there is no vision the people perisheth. But it is precisely because an ideal is necessary to man that the man without ideals is in permanent danger of fanaticism.
Even if we think religion insoluble, we cannot think it irrelevant. Even if we ourselves have no view of the ultimate verities, we must feel that wherever such a view exists in a man it must be more important than anything else in him.
  • Religious and philosophical beliefs are, indeed, as dangerous as fire, and nothing can take from them that beauty of danger. But there is only one way of really guarding ourselves against the excessive danger of them, and that is to be steeped in philosophy and soaked in religion.
  • Briefly, then, we dismiss the two opposite dangers of bigotry and fanaticism, bigotry which is a too great vagueness and fanaticism which is a too great concentration. We say that the cure for the bigot is belief; we say that the cure for the idealist is ideas. To know the best theories of existence and to choose the best from them (that is, to the best of our own strong conviction) appears to us the proper way to be neither bigot nor fanatic, but something more firm than a bigot and more terrible than a fanatic, a man with a definite opinion. But that definite opinion must in this view begin with the basic matters of human thought, and these must not be dismissed as irrelevant, as religion, for instance, is too often in our days dismissed as irrelevant. Even if we think religion insoluble, we cannot think it irrelevant. Even if we ourselves have no view of the ultimate verities, we must feel that wherever such a view exists in a man it must be more important than anything else in him.
The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas...
  • The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas. It may be said even that the modern world, as a corporate body, holds certain dogmas so strongly that it does not know that they are dogmas.
  • Because we are not in a civilization which believes strongly in oracles or sacred places, we see the full frenzy of those who killed themselves to find the sepulchre of Christ. But being in a civilization which does believe in this dogma of fact for facts' sake, we do not see the full frenzy of those who kill themselves to find the North Pole. I am not speaking of a tenable ultimate utility which is true both of the Crusades and the polar explorations. I mean merely that we do see the superficial and aesthetic singularity, the startling quality, about the idea of men crossing a continent with armies to conquer the place where a man died. But we do not see the aesthetic singularity and startling quality of men dying in agonies to find a place where no man can live — a place only interesting because it is supposed to be the meeting-place of some lines that do not exist.
  • Let us, at least, dig and seek till we have discovered our own opinions. The dogmas we really hold are far more fantastic, and, perhaps, far more beautiful than we think. In the course of these essays I fear that I have spoken from time to time of rationalists and rationalism, and that in a disparaging sense. Being full of that kindliness which should come at the end of everything, even of a book, I apologize to the rationalists even for calling them rationalists. There are no rationalists. We all believe fairy-tales, and live in them. Some, with a sumptuous literary turn, believe in the existence of the lady clothed with the sun. Some, with a more rustic, elvish instinct, like Mr. McCabe, believe merely in the impossible sun itself. Some hold the undemonstrable dogma of the existence of God; some the equally undemonstrable dogma of the existence of the man next door.
Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion.
  • Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

Charles Dickens (1906)

The thing that cannot be defined is the first thing; the primary fact.
  • Much of our modern difficulty, in religion and other things, arises merely from this: that we confuse the word "indefinable" with the word "vague." If some one speaks of a spiritual fact as "indefinable" we promptly picture something misty, a cloud with indeterminate edges. But this is an error even in commonplace logic. The thing that cannot be defined is the first thing; the primary fact. It is our arms and legs, our pots and pans, that are indefinable. The indefinable is the indisputable. The man next door is indefinable, because he is too actual to be defined. And there are some to whom spiritual things have the same fierce and practical proximity; some to whom God is too actual to be defined.
    • Ch 1 : "The Dickens Period"
  • Whatever the word "great" means, Dickens was what it means.
    • Ch 1 : "The Dickens Period"
  • There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.
    • Ch 1 : "The Dickens Period"
  • America has a new delicacy, a coarse, rank refinement.
    • Ch. 6 "Dickens and America"
  • A sober man may become a drunkard through being a coward. A brave man may become a coward through being a drunkard.
    • Ch. 8 "The Time of Transition"
  • When some English moralists write about the importance of having character, they appear to mean only the importance of having a dull character.
    • Ch. 10 "The Great Dickens Characters"
  • A man looking at a hippopotamus may sometimes be tempted to regard a hippopotamus as an enormous mistake; but he is also bound to confess that a fortunate inferiority prevents him personally from making such mistakes.
    • Ch. 10 "The Great Dickens Characters"

All Things Considered (1908)

Wikisource
Wikisource has original text related to:
  • I cannot understand the people who take literature seriously; but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this book. It is a collection of crude and shapeless papers upon current or rather flying subjects; and they must be published pretty much as they stand. They were written, as a rule, at the last moment; they were handed in the moment before it was too late, and I do not think that our commonwealth would have been shaken to its foundations if they had been handed in the moment after. They must go out now, with all their imperfections on their head, or rather on mine; for their vices are too vital to be improved with a blue pencil, or with anything I can think of, except dynamite.
    Their chief vice is that so many of them are very serious; because I had no time to make them flippant. It is so easy to be solemn; it is so hard to be frivolous.
    • "The Case for the Ephemeral"
  • The pure modernist is merely a snob; he cannot bear to be a month behind the fashion.
    • "The Case for the Ephemeral"
  • An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.
    • "On Running After One's Hat"
  • For my part, I should be inclined to suggest that the chief object of education should be to restore simplicity. If you like to put it so, the chief object of education is not to learn things; nay, the chief object of education is to unlearn things.
    • "An Essay on Two Cities"
  • It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke — that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls.
    • "Oxford from Without"
  • For fear of the newspapers politicians are dull, and at last they are too dull even for the newspapers. The speeches in our time are more careful and elaborate, because they are meant to be read, and not to be heard. And exactly because they are more careful and elaborate, they are not so likely to be worthy of a careful and elaborate report. They are not interesting enough. So the moral cowardice of modern politicians has, after all, some punishment attached to it by the silent anger of heaven. Precisely because our political speeches are meant to be reported, they are not worth reporting. Precisely because they are carefully designed to be read, nobody reads them.
    • "On the Cryptic and the Elliptic"
  • It is not funny that anything else should fall down, only that a man should fall down ... Why do we laugh? Because it is a gravely religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.
    • "Spiritualism"

Orthodoxy (1909)

The materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle...is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel.
  • The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.
    • First line of the Chapter I :Introduction in Defence of Everything Else
  • I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • Every remedy is a desperate remedy. Every cure is a miraculous cure. Curing a madman is not arguing with a philosopher; it is casting out a devil.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • The materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than any religion. In one sense, of course, all intelligent ideas are narrow. They cannot be broader than themselves. A Christian is only restricted in the same sense that an atheist is restricted. He cannot think Christianity false and continue to be a Christian; and the atheist cannot think atheism false and continue to be an atheist.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • And if great reasoners are often maniacal, it is equally true that maniacs are commonly great reasoners. When I was engaged in a controversy with the Clarion on the matter of free will, that able writer Mr. R. B. Suthers said that free will was lunacy, because it meant causeless actions, and the actions of a lunatic would be causeless. I do not dwell here upon the disastrous lapse in determinist logic. Obviously if any actions, even a lunatic's, can be causeless, determinism is done for. If the chain of causation can be broken for a madman, it can be broken for a man.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ,it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ's.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • There is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism. Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies. But if we examine the two vetoes we shall see that his is really much more of a pure veto than mine. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. Poor Mr. McCabe is not allowed to retain even the tiniest imp, though it might be hiding in a pimpernel.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials. Even if I believe in immortality I need not think about it. But if I disbelieve in immortality I must not think about it. In the first case the road is open and I can go as far as I like; in the second the road is shut. But the case is even stronger, and the parallel with madness is yet more strange. For it was our case against the exhaustive and logical theory of the lunatic that, right or wrong, it gradually destroyed his humanity. Now it is the charge against the main deductions of the materialist that, right or wrong, they gradually destroy his humanity; I do not mean only kindness, I mean hope, courage, poetry, initiative, all that is human. For instance, when materialism leads men to complete fatalism (as it generally does), it is quite idle to pretend that it is in any sense a liberating force. It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind , not to loose . They may well call their law the "chain" of causation. It is the worst chain that ever fettered a human being. You may use the language of liberty, if you like, about materialistic teaching, but it is obvious that this is just as inapplicable to it as a whole as the same language when applied to a man locked up in a mad-house. You may say, if you like, that the man is free to think himself a poached egg. But it is surely a more massive and important fact that if he is a poached egg he is not free to eat, drink, sleep, walk, or smoke a cigarette. Similarly you may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say "thank you" for the mustard.
    • Chapter II The Maniac
The materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane.
  • The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • Materialists and madmen never have doubts.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials. Even if I believe in immortality I need not think about it. But if I disbelieve in immortality I must not think about it. In the first case the road is open and I can go as far as I like; in the second the road is shut.
    • Chapter II : The Maniac
  • The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.
    • Chapter III : The Suicide of Thought
It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
  • It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
    • Chapter III : The Suicide of Thought
  • You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel from the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.
    • Chapter III : The Suicide of Thought
  • Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.
    • Chapter IV : The Ethics of Elfland
  • When I was a boy there were two curious men running about who were called the optimist and the pessimist. I constantly used the words myself, but I cheerfully confess that I never had any very special idea of what they meant. The only thing which might be considered evident was that they could not mean what they said; for the ordinary verbal explanation was that the optimist thought this world as good as it could be, while the pessimist thought it as bad as it could be. Both these statements being obviously raving nonsense, one had to cast about for other explanations. An optimist could not mean a man who thought everything right and nothing wrong. For that is meaningless; it is like calling everything right and nothing left. Upon the whole, I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and that the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself.
    • Chapter V : The Flag of The World
  • Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.
    • Chapter V : The Flag of The World
  • The eighteenth-century theories of the social contract have been exposed to much clumsy criticism in our time; in so far as they meant that there is at the back of all historic government an idea of content and co-operation, they were demonstrably right. But they really were wrong, in so far as they suggested that men had ever aimed at order or ethics directly by a conscious exchange of interests. Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, "I will not hit you if you do not hit me"; there is no trace of such a transaction. There IS a trace of both men having said, We must not hit each other in the holy place. They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean.
    • Chapter V : The Flag of The World
Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.
  • The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.
    • Chapter VI : The Paradoxes of Christianity
  • Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. "He that will lose his life, the same shall save it," is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.
    • Chapter VI : The Paradoxes of Christianity
  • Any one might say that we should be neither quite miserable nor quite happy. But to find out how far one may be quite miserable without making it impossible to be quite happy — that was a discovery in psychology. Any one might say, "Neither swagger nor grovel"; and it would have been a limit. But to say, "Here you can swagger and there you can grovel" — that was an emancipation.
    • Chapter VI : The Paradoxes of Christianity
Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
  • Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man's environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest — if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.
    • Chapter VII : The Eternal Revolution
  • Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
    • Chapter VII : The Eternal Revolution
  • Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus, he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus, he believes that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.

What's Wrong With The World (1910)

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
  • The great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived (which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough. Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
    • Part One: The Homelessness Of Man, Ch. 5 : The Unfinished Temple
  • No one has even begun to understand comradeship who does not accept with it a certain hearty eagerness in eating, drinking, or smoking, an uproarious materialism which to many women appears only hoggish. You may call the thing an orgy or a sacrament; it is certainly an essential. It is at root a resistance to the superciliousness of the individual. Nay, its very swaggering and howling are humble. In the heart of its rowdiness there is a sort of mad modesty; a desire to melt the separate soul into the mass of unpretentious masculinity. It is a clamorous confession of the weakness of all flesh. No man must be superior to the things that are common to men. This sort of equality must be bodily and gross and comic. Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.
    • Part Two : Imperialism, or The Mistake About Man; Ch. 2 : Wisdom and the Weather
  • Comradeship is obvious and universal and open; but it is only one kind of affection; it has characteristics that would destroy any other kind. Anyone who has known true comradeship in a club or in a regiment, knows that it is impersonal.
    • Part Two : Imperialism, or The Mistake About Man; Ch. 2 : Wisdom and the Weather
  • Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance... thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste... if a man could undertake to make use of all the things in his dustbin, he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare.
    • Part Three: Feminism, or The Mistake About Woman - Chapter 4 :The Romance of Thrift
  • Is there anyone... who will maintain that the Party System could have been created by people particularly fond of truth?
    • Part Four: Education, or The Mistake About The Child - Ch. 11 : The School for Hypocrites
  • If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
    • Part Four: Education, or The Mistake About The Child - Ch. 14 : Folly and Female Education

The Father Brown Mystery Series (1910 - 1927)

The Complete Father Brown Series online
If you convey to a woman that something ought to be done, there is always a dreadful danger that she will suddenly do it.
  • The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Blue Cross
  • If you know what a man's doing, get in front of him; but if you want to guess what he's doing keep behind him.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Blue Cross
  • One of his hobbies was to wait for the American Shakespeare — a hobby more patient than angling.
    • ''The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Secret Garden
  • His head was always most valuable when he had lost it. In such moments he put two and two together and made four million.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Queer Feet
  • Silver is sometimes more valuable than gold, that is, in large quantities.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Queer Feet
  • Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Flying Stars
  • One can sometimes do good by being the right person in the wrong place.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Sins of Prince Saradine
  • Very few reputations are gained by unsullied virtue.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Sins of Prince Saradine
  • The things that happen here do not seem to mean anything; they mean something somewhere else. Somewhere else retribution will come on the real offender. Here it often seems to fall on the wrong person.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Sins of Prince Saradine
  • To be clever enough to get all that money, one must be stupid enough to want it.
    • The Innocence of Father Brown (1911) The Paradise of Thieves
  • Journalism largely consists in saying 'Lord Jones Dead' to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.
    • The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914) The Purple Wig
  • If you convey to a woman that something ought to be done, there is always a dreadful danger that she will suddenly do it.
    • The Secret of Father Brown (1927) The Song of the Flying Fish

The Victorian Age in Literature (1913)

University of Notre Dame Press, 1963
The mind moves by instincts, associations and premonitions and not by fixed dates or completed processes.
  • It is a quaint comment on the notion that the English are practical and the French merely visionary, that we were rebels in arts while they were rebels in arms.
    • Ch I: The Victorian Compromise and Its Enemies (p. 8)
  • The mind moves by instincts, associations and premonitions and not by fixed dates or completed processes. Action and reaction will occur simultaneously: or the cause actually be found after the effect. Errors will be resisted before they have been properly promulgated: notions will be first defined long after they are dead.
    • Ch I: The Victorian Compromise and Its Enemies (p. 17)
  • A man making the confession of any creed worth ten minutes' intelligent talk, is always a man who gains something and gives up something. So long as he does both he can create: for he is making an outline and a shape.
    • Ch I: The Victorian Compromise and Its Enemies (p. 20)
  • The central idea of poetry is the idea of guessing right, like a child.
    • Ch I: The Victorian Compromise and Its Enemies (p. 24)
  • He did not know the way things were going: he was too Victorian to understand the Victorian epoch. He did not know enough ignorant people to have heard the news.
  • It is largely because the free-thinkers, as a school, have hardly made up their minds whether they want to be more optimist or more pessimist than Christianity that their small but sincere movement has failed.
    • Ch. II: The Great Victorian Novelists (p. 73)
  • He was, if ever there was one, an inspired poet. I do not think it the highest sort of poet. And you never discover who is an inspired poet until the inspiration goes.

The Everlasting Man (1925)

Introduction : The Plan Of This Book

Out of some dark forest under some ancient dawn there must come towards us, with lumbering yet dancing motions, one of the very queerest of the prehistoric creatures.
  • George Wyndham once told me that he had seen one of the first aeroplanes rise for the first time and it was very wonderful but not so wonderful as a horse allowing a man to ride on him. Somebody else has said that a fine man on a fine horse is the noblest bodily object in the world. Now, so long as people feel this in the right way, all is well. The first and best way of appreciating it is to come of people with a tradition of treating animals properly; of men in the right relation to horses.
  • Out of some dark forest under some ancient dawn there must come towards us, with lumbering yet dancing motions, one of the very queerest of the prehistoric creatures. We must see for the first time the strangely small head set on a neck not only longer but thicker than itself, as the face of a gargoyle is thrust out upon a gutter-spout, the one disproportionate crest of hair running along the ridge of that heavy neck like a beard in the wrong place; the feet, each like a solid club of horn, alone amid the feet of so many cattle; so that the true fear is to be found in showing, not the cloven, but the uncloven hoof. Nor is it mere verbal fancy to see him thus as a unique monster; for in a sense a monster means what is unique, and he is really unique. But the point is that when we thus see him as the first man saw him, we begin once more to have some imaginative sense of what it meant when the first man rode him. In such a dream he may seem ugly, but he does not seem unimpressive; and certainly that two-legged dwarf who could get on top of him will not seem unimpressive. By a longer and more erratic road we shall come back to the same marvel of the man and the horse; and the marvel will be, if possible, even more marvellous. We shall have again a glimpse of St. George; the more glorious because St. George is not riding on the horse, but rather riding on the dragon.
We should admire the subtlety of the Chinese view of life, which perceives that all human imperfection is in very truth a crying imperfection.
  • I say it is better to see a horse as a monster than to see it only as a slow substitute for a motor-car. If we have got into that state of mind about a horse as something stale, it is far better to be frightened of a horse because it is a good deal too fresh.
  • Now, as it is with the monster that is called a horse, so it is with the monster that is called a man. ... the really detached consideration of the curious career of man will lead back to, and not away from, the ancient faith in the dark designs of God. In other words, it is exactly when we do see how queer the quadruped is that we praise the man who mounts him; and exactly when we do see how queer the biped is that we praise the Providence that made him.
  • I am convinced that if we could tell the supernatural story of Christ word for word as of a Chinese hero, call him the Son of Heaven instead of the Son of God, and trace his rayed nimbus in the gold tread of Chinese embroideries or the gold lacquer of Chinese pottery, instead of in the gold leaf of our own old Catholic paintings, there would be a unanimous testimony to the spiritual purity of the story. We should hear nothing then of the injustice of substitution or the illogicality of atonement, of the superstitious exaggeration of the burden of sin or the impossible insolence of an invasion of the laws of nature. We should admire the chivalry of the Chinese conception of a god who fell from the sky to fight the dragons and save the wicked from being devoured by their own fault and folly. We should admire the subtlety of the Chinese view of life, which perceives that all human imperfection is in very truth a crying imperfection.

Part I : On the Creature Called Man

Art is the signature of man.
  • It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.
    • Ch. 1: The Man in the Cave
  • Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say 'I do not understand,' it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat 'You do not understand.' And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.
  • Men are moved most by their religion; especially when it is irreligion.

Part II : On the Man Called Christ

  • A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
    • Ch. 6 : The Five Deaths of the Faith
  • Other ages have seen the day conquer the candle-light and then the candle-light conquer the day. Again and again, before our time, men have grown content with a diluted doctrine. And again and again there has followed on that dilution, coming as out of the darkness in a crimson cataract, the strength of the red original wine. And we only say once more to-day as has been said many times by our fathers: 'Long years and centuries ago our fathers or the founders of our people drank, as they dreamed, of the blood of God. Long years and centuries have passed since the strength of that giant vintage has been anything but a legend of the age of giants. ... Never did we think to taste again even that bitter tang of sincerity and the spirit, still less the richer and the sweeter strength of the purple vineyards in our dreams of the age of gold. Day by day and year by year we have lowered our hopes and lessened our convictions; we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and vineyards overwhelmed in the water-floods and the last savour and suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down that went on for ever. But 'Thou hast kept the good wine until now.'
'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'... The civilisation of the world has passed away and those words have not passed away.
  • 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.' The civilisation of antiquity was the whole world: and men no more dreamed of its ending than of the ending of daylight. They could not imagine another order unless it were in another world. The civilisation of the world has passed away and those words have not passed away. In the long night of the Dark Ages feudalism was so familiar a thing that no man could imagine himself without a lord: and religion was so woven into that network that no man would have believed they could be torn asunder. Feudalism itself was torn to rags and rotted away in the popular life of the true Middle Ages; and the first and freshest power in that new freedom was the old religion. Feudalism had passed away, and the words did not pass away. The whole medieval order, in many ways so complete and almost cosmic a home for man, wore out gradually in its turn and here at least it was thought that the words would die. They went forth across the radiant abyss of the Renaissance and in fifty years were using all its light and learning for new religious foundations, new apologetics, new saints. It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.
  • Catholicism is not ritualism; it may in the future be fighting some sort of superstitious and idolatrous exaggeration of ritual. Catholicism is not asceticism; it has again and again in the past repressed fanatical and cruel exaggerations of asceticism. Catholicism is not mere mysticism; it is even now defending human reason against the mere mysticism of the Pragmatists.
    • Twelve Modern Apostles and Their Creeds

The Dagger with Wings (1926)

An artist will betray himself by some sort of sincerity.
  • We are talking about an artist; and for the enjoyment of the artist the mask must be to some extent moulded on the face. What he makes outside him must correspond to something inside him; he can only make his effects out of some of the materials of his soul.
All things are from God; and above all, reason and imagination and the great gifts of the mind. They are good in themselves; and we must not altogether forget their origin even in their perversion.
  • An artist will betray himself by some sort of sincerity.
  • You have no business to be an unbeliever. You ought to stand for all the things these stupid people call superstitions. Come now, don't you think there's a lot in those old wives' tales about luck and charms and so on, silver bullets included? What do you say about them as a Catholic?'
    'I say I'm an agnostic,' replied Father Brown, smiling.
    'Nonsense,' said Aylmer impatiently. 'It's your business to believe things.'
    'Well, I do believe some things, of course,' conceded Father Brown; 'and therefore, of course, I don't believe other things.'
  • 'You do believe it,' he said. 'You do believe everything. We all believe everything, even when we deny everything. The denyers believe. The unbelievers believe. Don't you feel in your heart that these contradictions do not really contradict: that there is a cosmos that contains them all? The soul goes round upon a wheel of stars and all things return; perhaps Strake and I have striven in many shapes, beast against beast and bird against bird, and perhaps we shall strive for ever. But since we seek and need each other, even that eternal hatred is an eternal love. Good and evil go round in a wheel that is one thing and not many. Do you not realize in your heart, do you not believe behind all your beliefs, that there is but one reality and we are its shadows; and that all things are but aspects of one thing: a centre where men melt into Man and Man into God?'
    'No,' said Father Brown.
  • He had the notion that because I am a clergyman I should believe anything. Many people have little notions of that kind.
  • All things are from God; and above all, reason and imagination and the great gifts of the mind. They are good in themselves; and we must not altogether forget their origin even in their perversion.
  • 'I'm afraid I'm a practical man,' said the doctor with gruff humour, 'and I don't bother much about religion and philosophy.'
    'You'll never be a practical man till you do,' said Father Brown. 'Look here, doctor; you know me pretty well; I think you know I'm not a bigot. You know I know there are all sorts in all religions; good men in bad ones and bad men in good ones.
  • Yet he is right enough about there being a white magic, if he only knows where to look for it.

Poems

  • Prince, Bayard would have smashed his sword
    To see the sort of knights you dub--
    Is that the last of them--O Lord
    Will someone take me to a pub?

The Ballad of the White Horse (1911)

These are just a few of the more famous quotes from this epic poem; see The Ballad of the White Horse for more quotes from this work.
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
  • I tell you naught for your comfort,
    Yea, naught for your desire,
    Save that the sky grows darker yet
    And the sea rises higher.
  • The great Gaels of Ireland
    Are the men that God made mad,
    For all their wars are merry,
    And all their songs are sad.

A Song of Defeat

Our chiefs said 'Done,' and I did not deem it;
Our seers said 'Peace,' and it was not peace;
Earth will grow worse till men redeem it,
And wars more evil, ere all wars cease.
  • Our chiefs said 'Done,' and I did not deem it;
    Our seers said 'Peace,' and it was not peace;
    Earth will grow worse till men redeem it,
    And wars more evil, ere all wars cease.
  • For we that fight till the world is free,
    We are not easy in victory:
    We have known each other too long, my brother,
    And fought each other, the world and we.
  • It is all as of old, the empty clangour,
    The NOTHING scrawled on a five-foot page,
    The huckster who, mocking holy anger,
    Painfully paints his face with rage.


    We that fight till the world is free,
    We have no comfort in victory;
    We have read each other as Cain his brother,
    We know each other, these slaves and we.

The Great Minimum

  • It is something to have wept as we have wept,
    It is something to have done as we have done,
    It is something to have watched when all men slept,
    And seen the stars which never see the sun.
    It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
    Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
    It is something to have hungered once as those
    Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.
  • To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
    Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
    Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
    It were something, though you went from me today.
    To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
    Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
    It is something to be wiser than the world,
    It is something to be older than the sky.
  • In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
    And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
    In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
    It is something to be sure of a desire.
    Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
    Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
    Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
    And the lightning. It is something to have been.

Who Goes Home?

I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.
  • In the city built upon slime and loam,
    They cry in their Parliament, "Who goes home?"
    And there comes no answer in arch or dome,
    For none in the city of graves goes home.
    Yet these shall perish and understand,
    For God has pity on this great land.
  • Men that are men again: Who goes home?
    Tocsin and trumpeter! Who goes home?
    For there's blood on the grass and blood on the foam,
    And blood on the body, when Man comes home.
    And a voice valedictory: Who is for victory?
    Who is for liberty?
    Who goes home?

Generally Speaking

  • I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.

Misattributed

  • When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.
  • This quotation actually comes from page 211 of Emile Cammaerts' book The Laughing Prophets (1937) in which he quotes Chesterton as having Father Brown say (in "The Oracle of the Dog" from 1923): "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense." Cammaerts then interposes his own analysis between further quotes from Father Brown: "'It's drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it's coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.' The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: 'And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.'" Note that the remark about believing in anything is outside quotes - it is from Cammaerts. The American Chesterton Society has explained the origin of the phrase.
  • A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things but cannot receive great ones.
  • Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.
  • According to The American Chesterton Society, this quotation is actually a John F. Kennedy paraphrase of a passage from The Thing (1929), and goes like this: "In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

External links

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works written by or about:

Advertisements






Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message