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

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

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

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

-Heretics (1905)

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"The Speaker" Articles

A book I published containing 112 pieces Chesterton wrote for the newspaper "The Speaker" at the beginning of his career.

They are also available for free electronically on another blog of mine here, if you wish to read them that way.




Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools"

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. Every oligarchy is merely a knot of men in the street--that is to say, it is very jolly, but not infallible. And no oligarchies in the world's history have ever come off so badly in practical affairs as the very proud oligarchies--the oligarchy of Poland, the oligarchy of Venice. And the armies that have most swiftly and suddenly broken their enemies in pieces have been the religious armies--the Moslem Armies, for instance, or the Puritan Armies. And a religious army may, by its nature, be defined as an army in which every man is taught not to exalt but to abase himself. Many modern Englishmen talk of themselves as the sturdy descendants of their sturdy Puritan fathers. As a fact, they would run away from a cow. If you asked one of their Puritan fathers, if you asked Bunyan, for instance, whether he was sturdy, he would have answered, with tears, that he was as weak as water. And because of this he would have borne tortures.

-Heretics (1905)

Monday, September 27, 2010

"The command of Christ is impossible, but it is not insane; it is rather sanity preached to a planet of lunatics."

It represents the re-assertion of a certain awful common-sense which characterised the most extreme utterances of Christ. It is true that we cannot turn the cheek to the smiter; it is true that we cannot give our cloak to the robber; civilisation is too complicated, too vainglorious, too emotional. The robber would brag, and we should blush; in other words, the robber and we are alike sentimentalists. The command of Christ is impossible, but it is not insane; it is rather sanity preached to a planet of lunatics. If the whole world was suddenly stricken with a sense of humour it would find itself mechanically fulfilling the Sermon on the Mount. It is not the plain facts of the world which stand in the way of that consummation, but its passions of vanity and self-advertisement and morbid sensibility. It is true that we cannot turn the cheek to the smiter, and the sole and sufficient reason is that we have not the pluck.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dean Koontz on Catholic humor

A quote by Dean Koontz I liked, which mentions GKC. :-) (emphasis mine)

[I would wish to post this quote anyway, but the fact that it mentions Chesterton is my excuse for putting it on this blog. lol. BTW, he also mentions Dorothy Sayers among "Catholic writers", though she was in fact an Anglican. Just wished to note that.]

The humor is entirely consistent with a spiritual world view. The most humorless people I've ever known are ardent atheists. Many Catholic writers have been howlingly funny, not least of all Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene in books like TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT, Dorothy Sayers, certainly the singular G.K. Chesterton. We once had a party, about sixty people, and half a dozen were friends who were monks. There was also an avowed atheist present. The evening was marked by much laughter and high good spirits. Near the end, the atheist said to me, in astonishment, "The monks are very funny. You must be playing a joke on us. They can't really be monks." When I assured him that monks--they were all priests as well--are usually highly accomplished, deeply educated, and nearly always amusing, he looked at me as if I were insane. He said, "But they're Catholics." At other functions, he had met and liked numerous other friends of ours, but he had no idea that many of them were Catholics--or that I was. When I noted this, his eyes widened even further. The Catholic view of the human condition is fundamentally tragic, but that does not mean that we are required to be glum. Indeed, quite the opposite. The human condition may be tragic, but we have been given a beautiful world to enjoy and the promise of eternity, and if we are open to the grace of God, we must be happy because faith and hope and happiness are the proper reaction to what we've been given. The fact that in many of my books--such as LIFE EXPECTANCY and ONE DOOR AWAY FROM HEAVEN and THE FACE and TICKTOCK--comedy is as big an element as suspense...well, that seems to me to be the natural consequence of my Catholicism! [Source]

Friday, September 24, 2010

G.F. Watts

I recently read the book G.F. Watts, which Chesterton wrote in 1904. I enjoyed it greatly (perhaps not so surprising given my love of Chesterton). But it reminded me of a couple of interesting facts I had learned before.

First, as Joseph Pearce pointed out in his biography Wisdom and Innocence:

" G.F. Watts died in the year Chesterton's biography was published, but not before he had read the book. On 5 April 1904 Frances recorded in her diary that Mrs. G.F. Watts had written Gilbert 'a charming note' saying that her husband 'is really pleased with the little book' "

So it looks like Watts himself liked GKC's book. :-)

Second, while I had known little about Watts except for GKC's book, shortly after Obama's election, I came across this article which described the influence of a painting by Watts ("Hope") on Obama. While admittedly I'm not exactly a big Obama fan, still, I thought it would be interesting to note that influence in this post.

Anyway, just to give an example of a quote from that book:

Purity is the only atmosphere for passion.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Agatha Christie on Father Brown

Agatha Christie on G.K. Chesterton's character "Father Brown":

"Father Brown has always been one of my favorite sleuths...He is one of the few figures in detective fiction who can be enjoyed for his own sake, whether you are a detective fan or not."

[Source]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chesterton the Hippie!

[OK, not really. lol. But seeing one word in the following quote was enough to give me an excuse for using that paradoxical post title, and so I had to take the opportunity while it presented itself. lol. More seriously, the quote itself, though, makes a very good point]

Somebody writes complaining of something I said about progress. I have forgotten what I said, but I am quite certain that it was (like a certain Mr. Douglas in a poem which I have also forgotten) tender and true. In any case, what I say now is this. Human history is so rich and complicated that you can make out a case for any course of improvement or retrogression. I could make out that the world has been growing more democratic, for the English franchise has certainly grown more democratic. I could also make out that the world has been growing more aristocratic, for the English Public Schools have certainly grown more aristocratic. I could prove the decline of militarism by the decline of flogging; I could prove the increase of militarism by the increase of standing armies and conscription. But I can prove anything in this way. I can prove that the world has always been growing greener. Only lately men have invented absinthe and the Westminster Gazette. I could prove the world has grown less green. There are no more Robin Hood foresters, and fields are being covered with houses. I could show that the world was less red with khaki or more red with the new penny stamps. But in all cases progress means progress only in some particular thing. Have you ever noticed that strange line of Tennyson, in which he confesses, half consciously, how very conventional progress is?—

"Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing
grooves of change."



Even in praising change, he takes for a simile the most unchanging thing. He calls our modern change a groove. And it is a groove; perhaps there was never anything so groovy.

All Things Considered (1908)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jekyll and Hyde

[Chesterton on "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"]

Though the fable may seem mad, the moral is very sane; indeed, the moral is strictly orthodox. The trouble is that most of those who mention it do not know the moral, possibly because they have never read the fable. From time to time those anonymous authorities in the newspapers, who dismiss Stevenson with such languid grace, will say that there is something quite cheap and obvious about the idea that one man is really two men and can be divided into the evil and the good. Unfortunately for them, that does not happen to be the idea. The real stab of the story is not in the discovery that the one man is two men; but in the discovery that the two men are one man. After all the diverse wandering and warring of those two incompatible beings, there was still one man born and only one man buried. Jekyll and Hyde have become a proverb and a joke; only it is a proverb read backwards and a joke that nobody really sees. But it might have occurred to the languid critics, as a part of the joke, that the tale is a tragedy; and that this is only another way of saying that the experiment was a failure. The point of the story is not that a man can cut himself off from his conscience, but that he cannot. The surgical operation is fatal in the story. It is an amputation of which both the parts die. Jekyll, even in dying, declares the conclusion of the matter; that the load of man's moral struggle is bound upon him and cannot be thus escaped. The reason is that there can never be equality between the evil and the good. Jekyll and Hyde are not twin brothers. They are rather, as one of them truly remarks, like father and son. After all, Jekyll created Hyde; Hyde would never have created Jekyll; he only destroyed Jekyll. The notion is not so hackneyed as the critics find it, after Stevenson has found it for them thirty years ago. But Jekyll's claim is not that it is the first of such experiments in duality; but rather that it must be the last.

Nor do I necessarily admit the technical clumsiness which some have alleged against the tale, merely because I believe that many of its emotions were first experienced in the crude pain of youth. Some have gone into particular detail in order to pick it to pieces; and Mr. E. F. Benson has made the (to me) strange remark that the structure of the story breaks down when Jekyll discovers that his chemical combination was partly accidental and is therefore unrecoverable. The critic says scornfully that it would have done just as well if Jekyll had taken a blue pill. It seems to me odd that any one who seems to know so much about the devil as the author of Colin should fail to recognise the cloven hoof in the cloven spirit called up by the Jekyll experiment. That moment in which Jekyll finds his own formula fail him, through an accident he had never foreseen, is simply the supreme moment in every story of a man buying power from hell; the moment when he finds the flaw in the deed. Such a moment comes to Macbeth and Faustus and a hundred others; and the whole point of it is that nothing is really secure, least of all a Satanist security. The moral is that the devil is a liar, and more especially a traitor; that he is more dangerous to his friends than his foes

-Robert Louis Stevenson (1927)

Friday, September 17, 2010

"...but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever."

Lastly, this truth is yet again true in the case of the common modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ. The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end. But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break....And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

-Orthodoxy (1908)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"...that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and civilisation potentially the end of man."

Savonarola is a man whom we shall probably never understand until we know what horror may lie at the heart of civilisation. This we shall not know until we are civilised. It may be hoped, in one sense, that we may never understand Savonarola.

The great deliverers of men have, for the most part, saved them from calamities which we all recognise as evil, from calamities which are the ancient enemies of humanity. The great law-givers saved us from anarchy: the great physicians saved us from pestilence: the great reformers saved us from starvation. But there is a huge and bottomless evil compared with which all these are flea-bites, the most desolating curse that can fall upon men or nations, and it has no name, except we call it satisfaction. Savonarola did not save men from anarchy, but from order; not from pestilence, but from paralysis; not from starvation, but from luxury. Men like Savonarola are the witnesses to the tremendous psychological fact at the back of all our brains, but for which no name has ever been found, that ease is the worst enemy of happiness, and civilisation potentially the end of man.

For I fancy that Savonarola's thrilling challenge to the luxury of his day went far deeper than the mere question of sin. The modern rationalistic admirers of Savonarola, from George Eliot downwards, dwell, truly enough, upon the sound ethical justification of Savonarola's anger, upon the hideous and extravagant character of the crimes which polluted the palaces of the Renaissance. But they need not be so anxious to show that Savonarola was no ascetic, that he merely picked out the black specks of wickedness with the priggish enlightenment of a member of an Ethical Society. Probably he did hate the civilisation of his time, and not merely its sins; and that is precisely where he was infinitely more profound than a modern moralist. He saw that the actual crimes were not the only evils: that stolen jewels and poisoned wine and obscene pictures were merely the symptoms; that the disease was the complete dependence upon jewels and wine and pictures. This is a thing constantly forgotten in judging of ascetics and Puritans in old times. A denunciation of harmless sports did not always mean an ignorant hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmful. Sometimes it meant an exceedingly enlightened hatred of what no one but a narrow moralist would call harmless. Ascetics are sometimes more advanced than the average man, as well as less.

Such, at least, was the hatred in the heart of Savonarola. He was making war against no trivial human sins, but against godless and thankless quiescence, against getting used to happiness, the mystic sin by which all creation fell. He was preaching that severity which is the sign-manual of youth and hope. He was preaching that alertness, that clean agility and vigilance, which is as necessary to gain pleasure as to gain holiness, as indispensable in a lover as in a monk. A critic has truly pointed out that Savonarola could not have been fundamentally anti-aesthetic, since he had such friends as Michael Angelo, Botticelli, and Luca della Robbia. The fact is that this purification and austerity are even more necessary for the appreciation of life and laughter than for anything else. To let no bird fly past unnoticed, to spell patiently the stones and weeds, to have the mind a storehouse of sunset, requires a discipline in pleasure, and an education in gratitude.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"...there are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds"

Behind all these things is the fact that beauty and terror are very real things and related to a real spiritual world; and to touch them at all, even in doubt or fancy, is to stir the deep things of the soul. We all understand that and the pagans understood it. The point is that paganism did not really stir the soul except with these doubts and fancies, with the consequence that we to-day can have little beyond doubts and fancies about paganism. All the best critics agree that all the greatest poets, in pagan Hellas for example, had an attitude towards their gods which is quite queer and puzzling to men in the Christian era. There seems to be an admitted conflict between the god and the man; but everybody seems to be doubtful about which is the hero and which is the villain. This doubt does not merely apply to a doubter like Euripides in the Bacchae; it applies to a moderate conservative like Sophocles in the Antigone; or even to a regular Tory and reactionary like Aristophanes in the Frogs. Sometimes it would seem that the Greeks believed above all things in reverence, only they had nobody to revere. But the point of the puzzle is this, that all this vagueness and variation arise from the fact that the whole thing began in fancy and in dreaming; and that there are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)

Monday, September 13, 2010

A couple of fans of the other half of the Chesterbelloc

Not a Chesterton post per se, but it does deal with the other half of the "ChesterBelloc", Hilaire Belloc, so it seems appropriate to include this here. Besides writing a poem about Chesterton called The Only Man I Regularly Read, as well as another defending Chesterton called Lines to a Don Belloc also wrote other poetry, and was a popular children's poet, including writing "Cautionary Tales for Children"

Anyway, a couple of fans of Belloc's poetry include J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) and Syd Barrett (of Pink Floyd).

Rowling, for instance, contributed Belloc's poem "Jim Who Ran Away From His Nurse and Was Eaten By Lion" to a book called Once Upon a Poem: Favourite Poems That Tell Stories. [Source] As Rowling states:

Belloc is one of my favourite poets for his wit, his understatement, and his profundity- but, perhaps most of all, for the lion called Ponto who ate Jim.

As for Syd Barrett, this link discusses Barrett's love of Bellocs "Cautionary Tales for Children", and also discusses the original version of the song "Matilda Mother" (based on Belloc's poetry), which, as the link describes it, "helped give the band their start"

I should perhaps point out that I do not read Harry Potter, nor have I ever listened to Pink Floyd. As for Belloc, while I have read "Cautionary Tales for Children", the other books I have read by him mainly deal with the history of the Catholic Church. That said, I did wish to make this post (which I've been meaning to) before I forgot to again. :-)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"The bigot is not the man who thinks his opponent mistaken. The bigot is the man who will not think him mistaken."

Subject to this consideration, I have often considered the common definition, or at least the common sense , of words like bigot and fanatic. The homeless intellectualism of an unhappy age often uses the terms for anybody who is sure that he is right and other people are wrong. Every sane man ought to be sure he is right; and if he is right, then those who contradict him are wrong. I have always found it best to understand by the word “bigot” a man who cannot imagine how other men can go wrong, granted that they do go wrong. If I say I am quite sure a man is wrong to be a Christian Scientist, I am simply a believer- a believer in my own beliefs. But if I say I cannot conceive how a man can become a Christian Scientist, I am a bigot. I am, in that particular and personal case, a liar. I can quite easily imagine a man falling into the error called Christian Science. It comes of two very natural modern moods- of being sick of science and of never having heard of Christianity. And if I say the Christian Scientist must be a quack looking for fees, or even a lunatic drugging himself with fictions, then I am a bigot. The bigot is not the man who thinks his opponent mistaken. The bigot is the man who will not think him mistaken.

-March 7, 1925, Illustrated London News

Saturday, September 11, 2010

"It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing."

The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised." The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. Until we picture nonentity we underrate the victory of God, and can realize none of the trophies of His ancient war. It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing until we know nothing.

-Heretics (1905)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"...It is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black."

Now, those who are acquainted with philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here on a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a color. It is not a mere absence of color; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a color. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colors; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.

Tremendous Trifles (1909)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"...two peculiarities which may be found by the curious in the works of Euclid."

A great deal is said in these days about the value or valuelessness of logic. In the main, indeed, logic is not a productive tool so much as a weapon of defence. A man building up an intellectual system has to build like Nehemiah, with the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other. The imagination, the constructive quality, is the trowel, and argument is the sword. A wide experience of actual intellectual affairs will lead most people to the conclusion that logic is mainly valuable as a weapon wherewith to exterminate logicians.

But though this may be true enough in practice, it scarcely clears up the position of logic in human affairs. Logic is a machine of the mind, and if it is used honestly it ought to bring out an honest conclusion. When people say that you can prove anything by logic, they are not using words in a fair sense. What they mean is that you can prove anything by bad logic. Deep in the mystic ingratitude of the soul of man there is an extraordinary tendency to use the name for an organ, when what is meant is the abuse or decay of that organ. Thus we speak of a man suffering from 'nerves,' which is about as sensible as talking about a man suffering from ten fingers. We speak of 'liver' and 'digestion' when we mean the failure of liver and the absence of digestion. And in the same manner we speak of the dangers of logic, when what we really mean is the danger of fallacy.

But the real point about the limitation of logic and the partial overthrow of logic by writers like Carlyle is deeper and somewhat different. The fault of the great mass of logicians is not that they bring out a false result, or, in other words, are not logicians at all. Their fault is that by an inevitable psychological habit they tend to forget that there are two parts of a logical process--the first the choosing of an assumption, and the second the arguing upon it; and humanity, if it devotes itself too persistently to the study of sound reasoning, has a certain tendency to lose the faculty of sound assumption. It is astonishing how constantly one may hear from rational and even rationalistic persons such a phrase as 'He did not prove the very thing with which he started,' or 'The whole of his case rested upon a pure assumption,' two peculiarities which may be found by the curious in the works of Euclid. It is astonishing, again, how constantly one hears rationalists arguing upon some deep topic, apparently without troubling about the deep assumptions involved, having lost their sense, as it were, of the real colour and character of a man's assumption. For instance, two men will argue about whether patriotism is a good thing and never discover until the end, if at all, that the cosmopolitan is basing his whole case upon the idea that man should, if he can, become as God, with equal sympathies and no prejudices, while the nationalist denies any such duty at the very start, and regards man as an animal who has preferences, as a bird has feathers.

-Twelve Types (1902)

"Prince Florizel is almost our favourite character in fiction; but we willingly add the proviso that if we met him in real life we should kill him."

A recent incident has finally convinced us that Stevenson was, as we suspected, a great man. We knew from recent books that we have noticed, from the scorn of 'Ephemera Critica' and Mr George Moore, that Stevenson had the first essential qualification of a great man: that of being misunderstood by his opponents. But from the book which Messrs Chatto & Windus have issued, in the same binding as Stevenson's works, 'Robert Louis Stevenson,' by Mr H. Bellyse Baildon, we learn that he has the other essential qualification, that of being misunderstood by his admirers...

...The author has most extraordinary ideas about Stevenson's tales of blood and spoil; he appears to think that they prove Stevenson to have had (we use Mr Baildon's own phrase) a kind of 'homicidal mania.' 'He (Stevenson) arrives pretty much at the paradox that one can hardly be better employed than in taking life.' Mr Baildon might as well say that Dr Conan Doyle delights in committing inexplicable crimes, that Mr Clark Russell is a notorious pirate, and that Mr Wilkie Collins thought that one could hardly be better employed than in stealing moonstones and falsifying marriage registers. But Mr Baildon is scarcely alone in this error: few people have understood properly the goriness of Stevenson. Stevenson was essentially the robust schoolboy who draws skeletons and gibbets in his Latin grammar. It was not that he took pleasure in death, but that he took pleasure in life, in every muscular and emphatic action of life, even if it were an action that took the life of another.

Let us suppose that one gentleman throws a knife at another gentleman and pins him to the wall. It is scarcely necessary to remark that there are in this transaction two somewhat varying personal points of view. The point of view of the man pinned is the tragic and moral point of view, and this Stevenson showed clearly that he understood in such stories as 'The Master of Ballantrae' and 'Weir of Hermiston.' But there is another view of the matter--that in which the whole act is an abrupt and brilliant explosion of bodily vitality, like breaking a rock with a blow of a hammer, or just clearing a five-barred gate. This is the standpoint of romance, and it is the soul of 'Treasure Island' and 'The Wrecker.' It was not, indeed, that Stevenson loved men less, but that he loved clubs and pistols more. He had, in truth, in the devouring universalism of his soul, a positive love for inanimate objects such as has not been known since St Francis called the sun brother and the well sister. We feel that he was actually in love with the wooden crutch that Silver sent hurtling in the sunlight, with the box that Billy Bones left at the 'Admiral Benbow,' with the knife that Wicks drove through his own hand and the table. There is always in his work a certain clean-cut angularity which makes us remember that he was fond of cutting wood with an axe....

...But Mr Baildon, whether from hasty reading or natural difference of taste, cannot in the least comprehend the rich and romantic irony of Stevenson's London stories. He actually says of that portentous monument of humour, Prince Florizel of Bohemia, that, 'though evidently admired by his creator, he is to me on the whole rather an irritating presence.' From this we are almost driven to believe (though desperately and against our will) that Mr Baildon thinks that Prince Florizel is to be taken seriously, as if he were a man in real life. For ourselves, Prince Florizel is almost our favourite character in fiction; but we willingly add the proviso that if we met him in real life we should kill him.

-Twelve Types (1902)

Monday, September 6, 2010

"And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters."

The hour of absinthe is over. We shall not be much further troubled with the little artists who found Dickens too sane for their sorrows and too clean for their delights. But we have a long way to travel before we get back to what Dickens meant; and the passage is along an English rambling road -- a twisting road such as Mr. Pickwick travelled. But this at least is part of what he meant: that comradeship and serious joy are not interludes in our travel, but that rather our travels are interludes in comradeship and joy, which, through God, shall endure for ever. The inn does not point to the road: the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters. And when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world.

-Charles Dickens (1906)

"We are already drifting horribly near to a New War, which will probably start on the Polish Border."

We are already drifting horribly near to a New War, which will probably start on the Polish Border. The Young Men have had nineteen years in which to learn how to avoid it. I wonder whether they do know much more about how to avoid it than the despised and drivelling Old Men of 1914. How many of the Young Men, for instance, have made the smallest attempt to understand Poland? How many would have anything to say to Hitler, to dissuade him from setting all Christendom aflame by a raid on Poland? Or have the Young Men been thinking of nothing since 1914 except the senile depravity of the Old Men of that date?

-All I Survey (1933)

Six years later, on September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany under Hitler invaded Poland, starting World War 2

Friday, September 3, 2010

"Another was that Nero was a Christian"

Some day, I think, I shall take a holiday and write a book full of opinions that I do not hold. Then shall the world see what a paradox is really like, and my enemies be confounded. I once made notes for several complete demonstrations of things I disbelieve entirely; demonstrations quite as elaborate and full of coincidences as the demonstration that Bacon wrote Shakespeare. One of them was that Shakespeare wrote Bacon. Another was that Nero was a Christian. I have no space to go into the details of it here. And if I were merely to say that Nero burnt Rome because he was a Christian, the elliptical expression might leave me open to some slight misunderstanding. My story was, I think, that he was urging militant methods which the other Christians refused to adopt. This would account both for the crime being done by him and its being attributed to them. Then, of course, there was the Christian slave-girl who scattered flowers on his grave. And there was that general real glory of the Christian Church, that it is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I do not believe that Nero was a Christian, but the arguments for it were overwhelming. I sometimes felt, in my arrogance, that I could convince almost anyone but myself.

-May 10, 1913, The Illustrated London News

"Vox populi vox Dei is not a maxim we are in any danger of overdoing.."

Vox populi vox Dei is not a maxim we are in any danger of overdoing; for the modern world has profoundly lost faith in both the two entities. But there is one sense in which the voice of the people is really like the voice of God; and that is that most of us take precious little notice of it.

-September 9, 1911, Illustrated London News

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"...that deeper sort of paradox by which two opposite cords of truth become entangled in an inextricable knot."

Now if by paradox we mean truth inherent in a contradiction, as in the saying of Christ that I have quoted, it is a very curious fact that Bernard Shaw is almost entirely without paradox. Moreover, he cannot even understand a paradox. And more than this, paradox is about the only thing in the world that he does not understand. All his splendid vistas and startling suggestions arise from carrying some one clear principle further than it has yet been carried. His madness is all consistency, not inconsistency. As the point can hardly be made clear without examples, let us take one example, the subject of education. Shaw has been all his life preaching to grownup people the profound truth that liberty and responsibility go together; that the reason why freedom is so often easily withheld, is simply that it is a terrible nuisance. This is true, though not the whole truth, of citizens; and so when Shaw comes to children he can only apply to them the same principle that he has already applied to citizens. He begins to play with the Herbert Spencer idea of teaching children by experience; perhaps the most fatuously silly idea that was ever gravely put down in print. On that there is no need to dwell; one has only to ask how the experimental method is to be applied to a precipice; and the theory no longer exists. But Shaw effected a further development, if possible more fantastic. He said that one should never tell a child anything without letting him hear the opposite opinion. That is to say, when you tell Tommy not to hit his sick sister on the temple, you must make sure of the presence of some Nietzscheite professor, who will explain to him that such a course might possibly serve to eliminate the unfit. When you are in the act of telling Susan not to drink out of the bottle labelled "poison," you must telegraph for a Christian Scientist, who will be ready to maintain that without her own consent it cannot do her any harm. What would happen to a child brought up on Shaw's principle I cannot conceive; I should think he would commit suicide in his bath. But that is not here the question. The point is that this proposition seems quite sufficiently wild and startling to ensure that its author, if he escapes Hanwell, would reach the front rank of journalists, demagogues, or public entertainers. It is a perfect paradox, if a paradox only means something that makes one jump. But it is not a paradox at all in the sense of a contradiction. It is not a contradiction, but an enormous and outrageous consistency, the one principle of free thought carried to a point to which no other sane man would consent to carry it. Exactly what Shaw does not understand is the paradox; the unavoidable paradox of childhood. Although this child is much better than I, yet I must teach it. Although this being has much purer passions than I, yet I must control it. Although Tommy is quite right to rush towards a precipice, yet he must be stood in the corner for doing it. This contradiction is the only possible condition of having to do with children at all; anyone who talks about a child without feeling this paradox might just as well be talking about a merman. He has never even seen the animal. But this paradox Shaw in his intellectual simplicity cannot see; he cannot see it because it is a paradox. His only intellectual excitement is to carry one idea further and further across the world. It never occurs to him that it might meet another idea, and like the three winds in Martin Chuzzlewit, they might make a night of it. His only paradox is to pull out one thread or cord of truth longer and longer into waste and fantastic places. He does not allow for that deeper sort of paradox by which two opposite cords of truth become entangled in an inextricable knot. Still less can he be made to realise that it is often this knot which ties safely together the whole bundle of human life.

-George Bernard Shaw (1909)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters."

We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels that is a good many other things as well. The figure in the Gospels does indeed utter in words of almost heart-breaking beauty his pity for our broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words that he utters. Nevertheless they are almost the only kind of words that the Church in its popular imagery ever represents him as uttering. That popular imagery is inspired by a perfectly sound popular instinct. The mass of the poor are broken, and the mass of the people are poor, and for the mass of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the incredible compassion of God. But nobody with his eyes open can doubt that it is chiefly this idea of compassion that the popular machinery of the Church does seek to carry. The popular imagery carries a great deal to excess the sentiment of 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.' It is the first thing that the outsider feels and criticises in a Pieta or a shrine of the Sacred Heart. As I say, while the art may be insufficient, I am not sure that the instinct is unsound. In any case there is something appalling, something that makes the blood run cold, in the idea of having a statue of Christ in wrath. There is something insupportable even to the imagination in the idea of turning the corner of a street or coming out into the spaces of a marketplace, to meet the petrifying petrifaction of that figure as it turned upon a generation of vipers, or that face as it looked at the face of a hypocrite. The Church can reasonably be justified therefore if she turns the most merciful face or aspect towards men; but it is certainly the most merciful aspect that she does turn.

-The Everlasting Man (1925)