G. K. Chesterton

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When some English moralists write about the importance of having character, they appear to mean only the importance of having a dull character.
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 whose prolific and diverse output included works of philosophy, ontology, poetry, play writing, journalism, public lecturing and debating, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction. He has been called the "prince of paradox".

See also:
The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
The Ballad of the White Horse (1911)

Quotes[edit]

Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.
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.
The center of every man's existence is a dream.
  • 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)
  • The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called “Keep to–morrow dark,” and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) “Cheat the Prophet.” The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

    For human beings, being children, have the childish wilfulness and the childish secrecy. And they never have from the beginning of the world done what the wise men have seen to be inevitable.
  • "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)
  • "Lord! what a strange world in which a man cannot remain unique even by taking the trouble to go mad!"
    • The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)
  • There is only one thing that it requires real courage to say, and that is a truism.
  • "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"
Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.
  • 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"
  • Men always talk about the most important things to total strangers. It is because in the total stranger we perceive man himself; the image of God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of the wisdom of a moustache.
  • Earnest Freethinkers need not worry themselves so much about the persecutions of the past. Before the Liberal idea is dead or triumphant we shall see wars and persecutions the like of which the world has never seen.
    • Daily News (18 February 1905)
  • Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.
    • Daily News (25 February 1905)
  • The riddle of life is simply this. For some mad reason in this mad world of ours, the things which men differ about most are exactly the things about which they must be got to agree. Men can agree on the fact that the earth goes round the sun. But then it does not matter a dump whether the earth goes around the sun or the Pleiades. But men cannot agree about morals: sex, property, individual rights, fixity and contracts, patriotism, suicide, public habits of health – these are exactly the things that men tend to fight about. And these are exactly the things that must be settled somehow on strict principles. Study each of them, and you will find each of them works back certainly to a philosophy, probably to a religion.
    • According to Larry Azar ("Evolution and Other Fairy Tales", AuthorHouse, 2005, p. 470), Chesterton made this statement on 16 March 1907.
  • 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 (14 December 1907)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • We have passed the age of the demagogue, the man who has little to say and says it loud. We have come to the age of the mystagogue or don, the man who has nothing to say, but says it softly and impressively in an indistinct whisper.
    • George Bernard Shaw (1909)
  • For my friend said that he opened his intellect as the sun opens the fans of a palm tree, opening for opening's sake, opening infinitely for ever. But I said that I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid. I was doing it at the moment. And as I truly pointed out, it would look uncommonly silly if I went on opening my mouth infinitely, for ever and ever.
    • Tremendous Trifles (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.
  • Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. 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. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.
    • Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: "The Red Angel"
    • Paraphrased Variant: Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.
      • The earliest known attribution of this was an epigraph in Coraline (2004) by Neil Gaiman; when questioned on this at his official Tumblr account, Gaiman admitted to misquoting Chesterton: "It’s my fault. When I started writing Coraline, I wrote my version of the quote in Tremendous Trifles, meaning to go back later and find the actual quote, as I didn’t own the book, and this was before the Internet. And then ten years went by before I finished the book, and in the meantime I had completely forgotten that the Chesterton quote was mine and not his.
        I’m perfectly happy for anyone to attribute it to either of us. The sentiment is his, the phrasing is mine.
    • Paraphrased variant: Fairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.
  • Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
    • Illustrated London News (23 October 1909)
  • "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)
  • Neither reason nor faith will ever die; for men would die if deprived of either. The wildest mystic uses his reason at some stage; if it be only by reasoning against reason. The most incisive sceptic has dogmas of his own; though when he is a very incisive sceptic, he has often forgotten what they are. Faith and reason are in this sense co-eternal; but as the words are popularly used, as loose labels for particular periods, the one is now almost as remote as the other. What was called the Age of Reason has vanished as completely as what are called the Ages of Faith.
  • 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)
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.
  • 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.
    • Illustrated London News (6 April 1918)
  • 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?
  • A mystic is a man who separates heaven and earth even if he enjoys them both.
    • "William Blake" (1920)
  • Christendom might quite reasonably have been alarmed if it had not been attacked. But as a matter of history it had been attacked. The Crusader would have been quite justified in suspecting the Moslem even if the Moslem had merely been a new stranger; but as a matter of history he was already an old enemy. The critic of the Crusade talks as if it had sought out some inoffensive tribe or temple in the interior of Thibet, which was never discovered until it was invaded. They seem entirely to forget that long before the Crusaders had dreamed of riding to Jerusalem, the Moslems had almost ridden into Paris. They seem to forget that if the Crusaders nearly conquered Palestine, it was but a return upon the Moslems who had nearly conquered Europe.
    • The Meaning of The Crusade. (1920)
  • It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.
    • The Cleveland Press (1 March 1921)
  • 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.
    • Child Psychology and Nonsense (15 October 1921)
  • 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.
    • Illustrated London News (29 April 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.
  • 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.
    • Illustrated London News (3 June 1922)
  • If there were not 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.
    • Illustrated London News (19 April 1924)
  • These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.
    • Illustrated London News (11 August 1928)
  • Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.
    • Illustrated London News (19 April 1930)
  • 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 Illustrated London News (25 April 1931)
  • 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 absence of self-criticism.
    • "On Bright Old Things — and Other Things" in Sidelights on New London and Newer New York : And Other Essays (1932)
  • Plato was right, but not quite right.
    • The Dumb Ox (1934)
  • The Church never said that wrongs could not or should not be righted; or that commonwealths could not or should not be made happier; or that it was not worth while to help them in secular and material things; or that it is not a good thing if manners become milder, or comforts more common, or cruelties more rare. But she did say that we must not count on the certainty even of comforts becoming more common or cruelties more rare; as if this were an inevitable social trend towards a sinless humanity; instead of being as it was a mood of man, and perhaps a better mood, possibly to be followed by a worse one. We must not hate humanity, or despise humanity, or refuse to help humanity; but we must not trust humanity; in the sense of trusting a trend in human nature which cannot turn back to bad things.
    • "My Six Conversions, § II : When the World Turned Back" in The Wells and the Shallows (1935)
  • 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)
  • A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.
    • As quoted in Mackay's The Harvest of a Quiet Eye, A Selection of Scientific Quotations (1977), p. 34
The poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being governed at all.
  • 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
  • A modern man may disapprove of some of his sweeping reforms, and approve others; but finds it difficult not to admire even where he does not approve.
    • Said of Benito Mussolini while comparing him to Hildebrand, as quoted in "The Pearl of Great Price" by Robert Royal, his Introduction to "The Resurrection of Rome" by G. K. Chesterton in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (1990) by Vol. XXI, p. 274
  • 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 poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being governed at all.
    • As quoted in Grace at the Table : Ending Hunger in God's World (1999) by David M. Beckmann abd Arthur R. Simon, p. 156
  • And I will add this point of merely personal experience of humanity: when men have a real explanation they explain it, eagerly and copiously and in common speech, as Huxley freely gave it when he thought he had it. When they have no explanation to offer, they give short dignified replies, disdainful of the ignorance of the multitude.
    • Doubts About Darwinism (1920) : The Illustrated London News 17th July 1920

The Defendant (1901)[edit]

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)[edit]

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[edit]

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)[edit]

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)[edit]

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.
Full text online at Wikisource
  • 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.
  • It is incomprehensible to me that any thinker can calmly call himself a modernist; he might as well call himself a Thursdayite. … The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly "in the know." To flaunt the fact that we have had all the last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed’s antiquity is like introducing a sneer at a lady’s age. It is caddish because it is irrelevant. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (1908)[edit]

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 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
  • 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
  • We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.
    • 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. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think 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
  • Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to them being disqualified by the accident of death.
    • Chapter IV : The Ethics of Elfland
  • Men spoke much in my boyhood about restricted or ruined men of genius: and it was common to say that many a man was a Great Might-Have-Been. To me it's a more solid and startling fact that any man in the street is a Great Might-Not-Have-Been.
    • Chapter IV : The Ethics of Elfland
  • 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.
    • 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
  • Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men. As far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.
    • 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
  • It may be a mere patriotic bias, though I do not think so, but it seems to me that the English aristocracy is not only the type, but is the crown and flower of all actual aristocracies; it has all the oligarchical virtues as well as all the defects. It is casual, it is kind, it is courageous in obvious matters; but it has one great merit that overlaps even these. The great and very obvious merit of the English aristocracy is that nobody could possibly take it seriously.
    • 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.
  • A man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.
  • Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)[edit]

These are just a few samples — for more quotes from this work see The Man Who Was Thursday
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...
  • 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.
  • 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 —
  • It is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely.

What's Wrong With The World (1910)[edit]

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

A Song of Defeat (1910)[edit]

Fully published in Poems (1917), but appearing in part in Sketches and Snapshots (1910) by George William Russell
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 Father Brown Mystery Series (1910 - 1927)[edit]

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
  • Odd, isn't it, that a thief and a vagabond should repent, when so many who are rich and secure remain hard and frivolous, and without fruit for God or man?
    • 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 Ballad of the White Horse (1911)[edit]

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.
Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
  • Before the gods that made the gods
    Had seen their sunrise pass,
    The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
    Was cut out of the grass.
    • Book I : The Vision of the King
  • I tell you naught for your comfort,
    Yea, naught for your desire,
    Save that the sky grows darker yet
    And the sea rises higher.
    • Book I : The Vision of the King
  • The great Gaels of Ireland
    Are the men that God made mad,
    For all their wars are merry,
    And all their songs are sad.
    • Book I : The Vision of the King
  • They shall come mild as monkish clerks,
    With many a scroll and pen;
    And backward shall ye turn and gaze,
    Desiring one of Alfred's days,
    When pagans still were men
    • Book VIII : The Scouring Of The Horse
  • What though they come with scroll and pen,
    And grave as a shaven clerk,
    By this sign you shall know them,
    That they ruin and make dark
    .
    • Book VIII : The Scouring Of The Horse
  • By all men bond to Nothing,
    Being slaves without a lord,
    By one blind idiot world obeyed,
    Too blind to be abhorred.
    • Book VIII : The Scouring Of The Horse

Magic: A Fantastic Comedy (1913)[edit]

  • I object to a quarrel because it always interrupts an argument.

The Victorian Age in Literature (1913)[edit]

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.

Who Goes Home? (1914)[edit]

Who is for victory?
Who is for liberty?
Who goes home?
This first appeared in The Flying Inn (1914), Ch. XXI : The Road to Roundabout, p. 275
  • In the city set 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?

Poems (1917)[edit]

It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

The Great Minimum[edit]

Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.
  • 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.

Utopia of Usurers (1917)[edit]

Full text online
A fairly clear line separated advertisement from art. ... The first effect of the triumph of the capitalist (if we allow him to triumph) will be that that line of demarcation will entirely disappear. There will be no art that might not just as well be advertisement.
The big commercial concerns of to-day are quite exceptionally incompetent. They will be even more incompetent when they are omnipotent.
The new community which the capitalists are now constructing will be a very complete and absolute community; and one which will tolerate nothing really independent of itself.
  • A fairly clear line separated advertisement from art. ... The first effect of the triumph of the capitalist (if we allow him to triumph) will be that that line of demarcation will entirely disappear. There will be no art that might not just as well be advertisement.
    • p. 6
  • Literary men are being employed to praise a big business man personally, as men used to praise a king. They not only find political reasons for the commercial schemes—that they have done for some time past—they also find moral defences for the commercial schemers. ... I do resent the whole age of patronage being revived under such absurd patrons; and all poets becoming court poets, under kings that have taken no oath.
    • pp. 15-17
  • Even the tyrant never rules by force alone; but mostly by fairy tales. And so it is with the modern tyrant, the great employer. The sight of a millionaire is seldom, in the ordinary sense, an enchanting sight: nevertheless, he is in his way an enchanter. As they say in the gushing articles about him in the magazines, he is a fascinating personality. So is a snake. At least he is fascinating to rabbits; and so is the millionaire to the rabbit-witted sort of people that ladies and gentlemen have allowed themselves to become.
    • p. 19
  • The big commercial concerns of to-day are quite exceptionally incompetent. They will be even more incompetent when they are omnipotent.
    • p. 23
  • Employers will give time to eat, time to sleep; they are in terror of a time to think.
    • p. 31
  • The new community which the capitalists are now constructing will be a very complete and absolute community; and one which will tolerate nothing really independent of itself.
    • pp. 33-34
  • In every serious doctrine of the destiny of men, there is some trace of the doctrine of the equality of men. But the capitalist really depends on some religion of inequality. The capitalist must somehow distinguish himself from human kind; he must be obviously above it—or he would be obviously below it.
    • p. 34
  • Wait and see whether the religion of the Servile State is not in every case what I say: the encouragement of small virtues supporting capitalism, the discouragement of the huge virtues that defy it.
    • p. 37

The Superstition of Divorce (1920)[edit]

  • I do not ask them to assume the worth of my creed or any creed; and I could wish they did not so often ask me to assume the worth of their worthless, poisonous plutocratic modern society. But if it could be shown, as I think it can, that a long historical view and a patient political experience can at last accumulate solid scientific evidence of the vital need of such a vow, then I can conceive no more tremendous tribute than this, to any faith, which made a flaming affirmation from the darkest beginnings, of what the latest enlightenment can only slowly discover in the end.
  • Say that a thing is so, according to the Pope or the Bible, and it will be dismissed as a superstition without examination. But preface your remark merely with "they say" or "don't you know that?" or try (and fail) to remember the name of some professor mentioned in some newspaper; and the keen rationalism of the modern mind will accept every word you say.

What I Saw in America (1922)[edit]

There is truth in every ancient fable, and there is here even something of it in the fancy that finds the symbol of the Republic in the bird that bore the bolts of Jove.
Full text online
  • A foreigner is a man who laughs at everything except jokes. He is perfectly entitled to laugh at anything, so long as he realises, in a reverent and religious spirit, that he himself is laughable. I was a foreigner in America; and I can truly claim that the sense of my own laughable position never left me. But when the native and the foreigner have finished with seeing the fun of each other in things that are meant to be serious, they both approach the far more delicate and dangerous ground of things that are meant to be funny. The sense of humour is generally very national; perhaps that is why the internationalists are so careful to purge themselves of it. I had occasion during the war to consider the rights and wrongs of certain differences alleged to have arisen between the English and American soldiers at the front. And, rightly or wrongly, I came to the conclusion that they arose from the failure to understand when a foreigner is serious and when he is humorous. And it is in the very nature of the best sort of joke to be the worst sort of insult if it is not taken as a joke.
  • Now there is any amount of this nonsense cropping up among American cranks. Anybody may propose to establish coercive Eugenics; or enforce psychoanalysis — that is, enforce confession without absolution.
    • "Fads and Public Opinion"
  • The truth is that prohibitions might have done far less harm as prohibitions, if a vague association had not arisen, on some dark day of human unreason, between prohibition and progress. And it was the progress that did the harm, not the prohibition. Men can enjoy life under considerable limitations, if they can be sure of their limited enjoyments; but under Progressive Puritanism we can never be sure of anything. The curse of it is not limitation; it is unlimited limitation. The evil is not in the restriction; but in the fact that nothing can ever restrict the restriction. The prohibitions are bound to progress point by point; more and more human rights and pleasures must of necessity be taken away; for it is of the nature of this futurism that the latest fad is the faith of the future, and the most fantastic fad inevitably makes the pace. Thus the worst thing in the seventeenth-century aberration was not so much Puritanism as sectarianism. It searched for truth not by synthesis but by subdivision. It not only broke religion into small pieces, but it was bound to choose the smallest piece.
    • "Fads and Public Opinion"
  • The last hundred years has seen a general decline in the democratic idea. If there be anybody left to whom this historical truth appears a paradox, it is only because during that period nobody has been taught history, least of all the history of ideas. If a sort of intellectual inquisition had been established, for the definition and differentiation of heresies, it would have been found that the original republican orthodoxy had suffered more and more from secessions, schisms, and backslidings. The highest point of democratic idealism and conviction was towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the American Republic was 'dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal.' It was then that the largest number of men had the most serious sort of conviction that the political problem could be solved by the vote of peoples instead of the arbitrary power of princes and privileged orders.
  • There is truth in every ancient fable, and there is here even something of it in the fancy that finds the symbol of the Republic in the bird that bore the bolts of Jove. Owls and bats may wander where they will in darkness, and for them as for the sceptics the universe may have no centre; kites and vultures may linger as they like over carrion, and for them as for the plutocrats existence may have no origin and no end; but it was far back in the land of legends, where instincts find their true images, that the cry went forth that freedom is an eagle, whose glory is gazing at the sun.
    • "The Future of Democracy"

The Everlasting Man (1925)[edit]

Introduction : The Plan Of This Book[edit]

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.
  • "There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk 'round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote."
  • 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[edit]

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.
  • This is the mighty and branching tree called mythology which ramifies round the whole world whose remote branches under separate skies bear like colored birds the costly idols of Asia and the half-baked fetishes of Africa and the fairy kings and princesses of the folk-tales of the forest and buried amid vines and olives the Lares of the Latins, and carried on the clouds of Olympus the buoyant supremacy of the gods of Greece. These are the myths and he who has no sympathy with myths has no sympathy with men. But be who has most Sympathy with myths will most fully realize that they are not and never were a religion, in the sense that Christianity or even Islam is a religion. They satisfy some of the needs satisfied by a religion; and notably the need for doing certain things at certain dates; the need of the twin ideas of festivity and formality. But though they provide a man with a calendar they do not provide him with a creed. A man did not stand up and say 'I believe in Jupiter and Juno and Neptune,' etc., and she stands up and says 'I believe in God the Father Almighty' and the rest of the Apostles' Creed.... Polytheism fades away at its fringes into fairy-tales or barbaric memories; it is not a thing like monotheism as held by serious monotheists. Again it does satisfy the need to cry out on some uplifted name, or some noble memory in moments that are themselves noble and uplifted; such as the birth of a child or the saving of a city. But the name was so used by many to whom it was only a name. Finally it did satisfy, or rather it partially satisfied, a thing very deep in humanity indeed; the idea of surrendering something as the portion of the unknown powers; of pouring out wine upon the ground, of throwing a ring into the sea; in a word, of sacrifice....A child pretending there is a goblin in a hollow tree will do a crude and material thing like leaving a piece of cake for him. A poet might do a more dignified and elegant thing, like bringing to the god fruits as well as flowers. But the degree of seriousness in both acts may be the same or it may vary in almost any degree. The crude fancy is no more a creed than the ideal fancy is a creed. Certainly the pagan does not disbelieve like an atheist, any more than he believes like a Christian. He feels the presence of powers about which he guesses and invents. St. Paul said that the Greeks had one altar to an unknown god. But in truth all their gods were unknown gods. And the real break in history did come when St. Paul declared to them whom they had worshipped. The substance of all such paganism may be summarized thus. It is an attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination alone; in its own field reason does not restrain it all..... There is nothing in Paganism whereby one may check his own exaggerations.... The only objection to Natural Religion is that somehow it always becomes unnatural. A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty. He washes at dawn in clear water as did the Wise Man of the Stoics, yet, somehow at the dark end of the day, he is bathing in hot bull’s blood, as did Julian the Apostate.

Part II : On the Man Called Christ[edit]

  • 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)[edit]

  • 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.

The Thing (1929)[edit]

The Thing : Why I Am A Catholic (1929)
  • 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."
    This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
    • Ch. IV : The Drift From Domesticity


Misattributed[edit]

  • An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.
    • Original quote:
      • For my friend said that he opened his intellect as the sun opens the fans of a palm tree, opening for opening's sake, opening infinitely for ever. But I said that I opened my intellect as I opened my mouth, in order to shut it again on something solid. I was doing it at the moment. And as I truly pointed out, it would look uncommonly silly if I went on opening my mouth infinitely, for ever and ever.
      • The Extraordinary Cabman, one of many essays collected in Tremendous Trifles (1909)
  • When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.
    • This quotation actually comes from page 211 of Émile Cammaerts' book The Laughing Prophet : The Seven Virtues and G. K. Chesterton (1937) in which he quotes Chesterton as having Father Brown say, in "The Oracle of the Dog" (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 the quotation marks — it is Cammaerts. Nigel Rees is credited with identifying this as the source of the misattribution, in a 1997 issue of First Things
  • A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things but cannot receive great ones.
    • Though sometimes misattributed to Chesterton, this is generally attributed to Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, with the first publication of this yet located is in a section of proverbs called "Diamond Dust" in Eliza Cook's Journal, No. 98 (15 March 1851), with the first attribution to Chesterfield as yet located in: Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1862) edited by Henry Southgate.
  • 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 paraphrase by John F. Kennedy of a passage from The Thing (1929) in which Chesterton made reference to 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."
  • Q: What's wrong with the world? A: I am.
    • Purportedly a response by Chesterton to the question posed around 1910 by the The Times of London (along with other luminaries), but biographer Kevin Belmonte, in 'Defiant Joy: the Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton', was unable to verify. Belmonte surmises its origin in an anecdote that while writing What's Wrong with the World (told in the book's preface), he would delight in telling society ladies that "I have been doing 'What is Wrong' all this morning."[1]
  • And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.
    • A popular internet misattribution.[citation needed] A number of variants of the "rain on your parade" theme appear, with different sources.
  • A man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God.
    • The source is actually a 1945 book by Bruce Marshall, The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith, in which he says, "...the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God."

Quotes about Chesterton[edit]

Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight. ~ Neil Gaiman
  • The insistence of the Christian doctrine on man’s limited condition was somehow enough of a philosophy to allow it’s adherents a very deep insight into the essential inhumanity of all those modern attempts – psychological, technical, biological – to change man into the monster of superman. They realized that a pursuit of happiness which actually means to wipe away all tears will pretty quickly end by wiping out all laughter. It was again Christianity which taught them that nothing human can exist beyond tears and laughter, except the silence of despair.
    • Hannah Arendt, commenting on Chesterton and Charles Péguy in “Christianity and Revolution”, in Hannah Arendt, Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954 (1994), edited by Jerome Kohn, p. 154
  • In its fundamental conception, as well as in many of the significant details of its working out, Lord of the Rings is heavily indebted to G. K. Chesterton's now little read poem of 1911,The Ballad of the White Horse.
    The major theme of both works is the war and eventual victory, despite all odds, of an alliance of good folk against vastly more powerful forces of evil, and the return of a king to his rightful state. Like Lord of the Rings, Chesterton's poem is set in a heroic society after the decay of a highly civilized imperial power — in England, that is to say, in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. (Tolkien's Minas Tirith, built on seven levels, greatly resembles a medieval idealization of Rome.) King Alfred, its hero,is fighting a losing war to save his kingdom from complete conquest by the Danes. As one would expect with Chesterton, it is a war of white against black, of Christianity against a diabolical paganism that has defeated Rome and is now trying to make all good men its slaves. … The enemy is not simply Danes, or barbarians in general, but a wholly malignant and almost irresistible force that stands behind all the enemies of Christianity: This power blights everything it touches — there are repeated references to its distorting effects even on the natural world — and the men who serve it become like Tolkien's Orcs. … To fight against this menace, Alfred, hiding in exile, summons three kindreds of free, Christian peoples as allies. Alfred himself, like Tolkien's Aragorn, is an idealized heroic figure who roams around in humble disguise and is sometimes mistreated by the ignorant. Instead of Dwarves, Elves, and Men of Numenorean descent, he leads an alliance of Saxons, Celts, and Romans.
    • Cristopher Clausen, in "The Lord of the Rings and The Ballad of the White Horse" in South Atlantic Bulletin 39.2 (May 1974)
  • Chesterton was important — as important to me in his way as C. S. Lewis had been.
    You see, while I loved Tolkien and while I wished to have written his book, I had no desire at all to write like him. Tolkien’s words and sentences seemed like natural things, like rock formations or waterfalls, and wanting to write like Tolkien would have been, for me, like wanting to blossom like a cherry tree or climb a tree like a squirrel or rain like a thunderstorm. Chesterton was the complete opposite. I was always aware, reading Chesterton, that there was someone writing this who rejoiced in words, who deployed them on the page as an artist deploys his paints upon his palette. Behind every Chesterton sentence there was someone painting with words, and it seemed to me that at the end of any particularly good sentence or any perfectly-put paradox, you could hear the author, somewhere behind the scenes, giggling with delight.
  • Chesterton and Tolkien and Lewis were, as I’ve said, not the only writers I read between the ages of six and thirteen, but they were the authors I read over and over again; each of them played a part in building me. Without them, I cannot imagine that I would have become a writer, and certainly not a writer of fantastic fiction. I would not have understood that the best way to show people true things is from a direction that they had not imagined the truth coming, nor that the majesty and the magic of belief and dreams could be a vital part of life and of writing.
    And without those three writers, I would not be here today. And nor, of course, would any of you. I thank you.
    • Neil Gaiman, in his "Mythcon 35 Guest of Honor Speech", in Mythprint (October 2004)
  • There is great poetry being written now. G.K. Chesterton, for instance.
  • To speak of ideals and their significance as goals to be reached for is to put one's finger on an ever-recurring theme in Chesterton's productive life, the indignant rejection of pessimism in any and all of its forms. This is not to say that he was unaware that there is evil — a great deal of it — in this world. His life was one continuous campaign against the evils he perceived, one of the chief of which was the denial that there is good in the world, the denial that life is basically good.
    • Quentin Lauer, in G. K. Chesterton: Philosopher Without Portfolio (1988), p. 77
  • The meeting between Chesterton and Il Duce occurred in 1929, ten years before the war, at a time when, whatever his other faults, Mussolini had reintroduced a mark spirit of optimism and freshness to an Italy that had formerly been pessimistic and stagnant. Throughout the 1920s, Chesterton thought he saw in the Italian leader qualities that might have offset certain evils in Britain. It is important to keep in mind that whatever the misreadings of fascism, Chesterton always had some quite specific British problem in view when he praises Mussolini.
    • Robert Royal, on admiration by Chesterton of Benito Mussolini and his influence on Europe, in "The Pearl of Great Price", his Introduction to "The Resurrection of Rome" (1930) in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (1990) by Vol. XXI, p. 272
  • For Chesterton… British public rhetoric was more than a mere style: "The motive is the desire to disguise a thing even when expressing it." To his mind, the dictator's words, even if his actions were as bad or worse than those of the parliamentarians, were morally and stylistically superior. At least they said openly what was being done openly. The British rhetoric, for Chesterton, was one with the decayed British liberalism that allowed exploitation of workers by plutocrats who were never rebuked by government or the courts. If nothing else, Mussolini's language was a bracing alternative.
    Gazing back across the horrors of World War II, it is hard for us to imagine how good men like Chesterton, whatever their objections to British liberalism, could admire Mussolini, though several prominent intellectuals and politicians did. Many of us have family members or friends who fought or died to stop the fascist darkness, and we find it difficult to sympathize with Chesterton's desire to be fair to Mussolini. Mussolini's thuggish violence, of course, Chesterton and others rejected. But their admiration was an index of the scale of reform they thought needed.
    • Robert Royal, in "The Pearl of Great Price", his Introduction to "The Resurrection of Rome" (1930) in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (1990) by Vol. XXI, p. 274

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