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From time to time, as we all know, a sect appears in our midst announcing that the world will very soon come to an end. Generally, by some slight confusion or miscalculation, it is the sect that comes to an end. 9/24/1927


Is one religion as good as another? Is one horse in the Derby as good as another?

"Those who believe in nothing, end up believing in everything."

or "Those who believe in nothing, end up believing in anything" - paraphrase of lines in Chesterton's books.

A good novel tells us the truth about it's hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.


There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval."

{"The True Middle Ages," The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1906}


Unfortunately, 19th-century scientists were just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact, as were 17th-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation . . . . and this clumsy collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel of Science and Religion.

{Saint Thomas Aquinas, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1933, p. 88}


Creeds must disagree: it is the whole fun of the thing. If I think the universe is triangular, and you think it is square, there cannot be room for two universes. We may argue politely, we may argue humanely, we may argue with great mutual benefit; but, obviously, we must argue. Modern toleration is really a tyranny. It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must not discuss it . . . It is absurd to have a discussion on Comparative Religions if you don't compare them.

{"The History of Religions," The Illustrated London News, 10 October 1908}


Very nearly everybody, in the ordinary literary and journalistic world, began by taking it for granted that my faith in the Christian creed was a pose or a paradox. The more cynical supposed that it was only a stunt. The more generous and loyal warmly maintained that it was only a joke. It was not until long afterwards that the full horror of the truth burst upon them; the disgraceful truth that I really thought the thing was true. And I have found, as I say, that this represents a real transition or border-line in the life of apologists. Critics were almost entirely complimentary to what they were pleased to call my brilliant paradoxes; until they discovered that I really meant what I said. Since then they have been more combative; and I do not blame them.

{Autobiography, NY: Sheed & Ward, 1936, p. 180; referring to the period in which Orthodoxy was written (1908) }


Nobody can understand the greatness of the 13th century, who does not realise that it was a great growth of new things produced by a living thing. In that sense it was really bolder and freer than what we call the Renaissance, which was a resurrection of old things discovered in a dead thing.

{Saint Thomas Aquinas, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1933, p. 41}


Any number of people assume that the Bible says that Eve ate an apple, or that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Yet the Bible never says a word about whales or apples. In the former case it refers to a fish, which might imply any sort of sea-monster; and in the second, to the essential experience of fruition, or tasting the fruit of the tree, which is obviously more general and even more mystical . . . The things that look silly now are the first rationalistic explanations rather than the first religious or primitive outlines. If those original images had been left in their own natural mystery of dark fruition or dim monsters of the deep, nobody would have quarrelled with them half so much . . . But it is unfair to turn round and blame the Bible because of all these legends and jokes and journalistic allusions, which are read into the Bible by people who have not read the Bible.

{"The Bible and the Sceptics," The Illustrated London News, 20 April 1929}


It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into anything.

{Saint Thomas Aquinas, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1933, p. 174}


A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it." - Everlasting Man, 1925


Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance." - The Speaker, 12/15/00


Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity." - The Man Who was Thursday, 1908


"The simplification of anything is always sensational." - Varied Types


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, Ch.10


A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed in this planet of frogs and elephants, of crocodiles and cuttle-fish." - Maycock, The Man Who Was Orthodox


Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back." - What's Wrong With The World, 1910


A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possible be alive." - A Miscellany of Men


"[Marxism will] in a generation or so [go] into the limbo of most heresies, but meanwhile it will have poisoned the Russian Revolution." - ILN, 7/19/19


War is not 'the best way of settling differences; it is the only way of preventing their being settled for you." - ILN, 7/24/15


There is a corollary to the conception of being too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the fighting." - Everlasting Man, 1925


"The only defensible war is a war of defence." - Autobiography, 1937


"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." - ILN, 1/14/11


If you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will have no answer except slanging or silence." - Chapter 3, What's Wrong With The World, 1910


"He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative." - Varied Types


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." - ILN, 4/6/18


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." - ILN, 4/19/24


I never could see anything wrong in sensationalism; and I am sure our society is suffering more from secrecy than from flamboyant revelations." - ILN, 10/4/19


"With all that we hear of American hustle and hurry, it is rather strange that Americans seem to like to linger on longer words." - What I Saw in America


Women are the only realists; their whole object in life is to pit their realism against the extravagant, excessive, and occasionally drunken idealism of men." - A Handful of Authors


The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people." - ILN, 7/16/10


It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary." - Charles Dickens


"Theology is only thought applied to religion." - The New Jerusalem


The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden." - ILN 1-3-20


"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." - ILN 8-11-28


Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate." - The New Jerusalem, Ch. 5


The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why." - "On Christmas," Generally Speaking


The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - ILN, 6/11/10


All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water; but they naturally object to confessing them while other people, who have also committed the same crimes, sit by and laugh at them." - ILN 3/14/08


The voice of the special rebels and prophets, recommending discontent, should, as I have said, sound now and then suddenly, like a trumpet. But the voices of the saints and sages, recommending contentment, should sound unceasingly, like the sea." - T.P.'s Weekly, Christmas Number, 1910


There are some desires that are not desirable." - Orthodoxy


Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - ILN, 5/5/28


The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs." - Chapter 16, Heretics, 1905


"Properly speaking, of course, there is no such thing as a return to nature, because there is no such thing as a departure from it. The phrase reminds one of the slightly intoxicated gentleman who gets up in his own dining room and declares firmly that he must be getting home." - Chesterton Review, August, 1993


Only poor men get hanged." - ILN, 7/17/09


"Psychoanalysis is a science conducted by lunatics for lunatics. They are generally concerned with proving that people are irresponsible; and they certainly succeed in proving that some people are." - ILN, 6/23/28


"Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it." - Autobiography, 1937


"Some people leave money for the improvement of public buildings. I can leave dynamite for the improvement of public buildings." Ð ILN 3-17-06


Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly


Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London, England on the 29th of May, 1874. Though he considered himself a mere "rollicking journalist," he was actually a prolific and gifted writer in virtually every area of literature. A man of strong opinions and enormously talented at defending them, his exuberant personality nevertheless allowed him to maintain warm friendships with people--such as George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells--with whom he vehemently disagreed.

Chesterton had no difficulty standing up for what he believed. He was one of the few journalists to oppose the Boer War. His 1922 "Eugenics and Other Evils" attacked what was at that time the most progressive of all ideas, the idea that the human race could and should breed a superior version of itself. In the Nazi experience, history demonstrated the wisdom of his once "reactionary" views.

His poetry runs the gamut from the comic 1908 "On Running After One's Hat" to dark and serious ballads. During the dark days of 1940, when Britain stood virtually alone against the armed might of Nazi Germany, these lines from his 1911 Ballad of the White Horse were often quoted:

    I tell you naught for your comfort,
    Yea, naught for your desire,
    Save that the sky grows darker yet
    And the sea rises higher.

Though not written for a scholarly audience, his biographies of authors and historical figures like Charles Dickens and St. Francis of Assisi often contain brilliant insights into their subjects. His Father Brown mystery stories, written between 1911 and 1936, are still being read and adapted for television.

His politics fitted with his deep distrust of concentrated wealth and power of any sort. Along with his friend Hilaire Belloc and in books like the 1910 "What's Wrong with the World" he advocated a view called "Distributionism" that was best summed up by his expression that every man ought to be allowed to own "three acres and a cow." Though not know as a political thinker, his political influence has circled the world. Some see in him the father of the "small is beautiful" movement and a newspaper article by him is credited with provoking Gandhi to seek a "genuine" nationalism for India rather than one that imitated the British.

Heretics belongs to yet another area of literature at which Chesterton excelled. A fun-loving and gregarious man, he was nevertheless troubled in his adolescence by thoughts of suicide. In Christianity he found the answers to the dilemmas and paradoxes he saw in life. Other books in that same series include his 1908 Orthodoxy (written in response to attacks on this book) and his 1925 The Everlasting Man. Orthodoxy is also available as electronic text.

Chesterton died on the 14th of June, 1936 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England. During his life he published 69 books and at least another ten based on his writings have been published after his death. Many of those books are still in print. Ignatius Press is systematically publishing his collected writings.


Extracts, mainly from Chesterton books "Whatís Wrong with the World Today", and Heretics:


Let me, however, take a random instance. 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 disorganise society; for we are convinced

that theories do not matter.



Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something,

let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to

pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages,

is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner

of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren,

the value of Light. If Light be in itself good--" At this point

he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush

for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go

about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality.

But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people

have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light;

some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness,

because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a

lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash

municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something.

And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes.

So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day,

there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all,

and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light.

Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must

discuss in the dark.





Mr. J. A. Kensit,

for example, is under the impression that he is not a ritualist.

But the daily life of Mr. J. A. Kensit, like that of any ordinary

modern man, is, as a matter of fact, one continual and compressed

catalogue of mystical mummery and flummery. To take one instance

out of an inevitable hundred: I imagine that Mr. Kensit takes

off his hat to a lady; and what can be more solemn and absurd,

considered in the abstract, than, symbolising the existence of the other

sex by taking off a portion of your clothing and waving it in the air?

This, I repeat, is not a natural and primitive symbol, like fire or food.

A man might just as well have to take off his waistcoat to a lady;

and if a man, by the social ritual of his civilisation, had to take off

his waistcoat to a lady, every chivalrous and sensible man would take

off his waistcoat to a lady. In short, Mr. Kensit, and those who agree

with him, may think, and quite sincerely think, that men give too

much incense and ceremonial to their adoration of the other world.

But nobody thinks that he can give too much incense and ceremonial

to the adoration of this world. All men, then, are ritualists, but are

either conscious or unconscious ritualists. The conscious ritualists

are generally satisfied with a few very simple and elementary signs;

the unconscious ritualists are not satisfied with anything short

of the whole of human life, being almost insanely ritualistic.



My Dear Charles,


I originally called this book "What is Wrong," and it would

have satisfied your sardonic temper to note the number of social

misunderstandings that arose from the use of the title.

Many a mild lady visitor opened her eyes when I remarked casually,

"I have been doing 'What is Wrong' all this morning."

And one minister of religion moved quite sharply in his chair

when I told him (as he understood it) that I had to run upstairs

and do what was wrong, but should be down again in a minute.

Exactly of what occult vice they silently accused me I

cannot conjecture, but I know of what I accuse myself; and that is,

of having written a very shapeless and inadequate book, and one

quite unworthy to be dedicated to you. As far as literature goes,

this book is what is wrong and no mistake.


It is highly typical of the rabid plagiarism which now passes

everywhere for emancipation, that a little while ago it was common

for an "advanced" woman to claim the right to wear trousers;

a right about as grotesque as the right to wear a false nose.

Whether female liberty is much advanced by the act of wearing

a skirt on each leg I do not know; perhaps Turkish women might

offer some information on the point. But if the western woman

walks about (as it were) trailing the curtains of the harem

with her, it is quite certain that the woven mansion is meant

for a perambulating palace, not for a perambulating prison.

It is quite certain that the skirt means female dignity,

not female submission; it can be proved by the simplest of all tests.

No ruler would deliberately dress up in the recognised fetters

of a slave; no judge would appear covered with broad arrows.

But when men wish to be safely impressive, as judges,

priests or kings, they do wear skirts, the long, trailing robes

of female dignity The whole world is under petticoat government;

for even men wear petticoats when they wish to govern.


Mr. Blatchford, with colossal simplicity,

explained to millions of clerks and workingmen that the mother is like

a bottle of blue beads and the father is like a bottle of yellow beads;

and so the child is like a bottle of mixed blue beads and yellow.

He might just as well have said that if the father has two legs

and the mother has two legs, the child will have four legs.

Obviously it is not a question of simple addition or simple

division of a number of hard detached "qualities," like beads.

It is an organic crisis and transformation of the most mysterious sort;

so that even if the result is unavoidable, it will still be unexpected.

It is not like blue beads mixed with yellow beads; it is like blue

mixed with yellow; the result of which is green, a totally novel

and unique experience, a new emotion.


From the nature of the case it is obviously impossible

to decide whether any of the peculiarities of civilised

man have been strictly necessary to his civilisation.

It is not self-evident (for instance), that even the habit

of standing upright was the only path of human progress.

There might have been a quadrupedal civilisation, in which a city

gentleman put on four boots to go to the city every morning.

Or there might have been a reptilian civilisation, in which

he rolled up to the office on his stomach; it is impossible to say

that intelligence might not have developed in such creatures.

All we can say is that man as he is walks upright; and that woman

is something almost more upright than uprightness.


The truant is being taught all day. If the children

do not look at the large letters in the spelling-book, they need

only walk outside and look at the large letters on the poster.

If they do not care for the coloured maps provided by the school,

they can gape at the coloured maps provided by the Daily Mail.


A person with a taste for paradox (if any such shameless creature

could exist) might with some plausibility maintain concerning

all our expansion since the failure of Luther's frank paganism

and its replacement by Calvin's Puritanism, that all this expansion

has not been an expansion, but the closing in of a prison, so that

less and less beautiful and humane things have been permitted.

The Puritans destroyed images; the Rationalists forbade fairy tales.

Count Tostoi practically issued one of his papal encyclicals

against music; and I have heard of modern educationists who forbid

children to play with tin soldiers. I remember a meek little madman

who came up to me at some Socialist soiree or other, and asked me to use

my influence (have I any influence?) against adventure stories for boys.

It seems they breed an appetite for blood. But never mind that;

one must keep one's temper in this madhouse.


But there is one feature in the past which more than all

the rest defies and depresses the moderns and drives them

towards this featureless future. I mean the presence in

the past of huge ideals, unfulfilled and sometimes abandoned.

The sight of these splendid failures is melancholy to a restless

and rather morbid generation; and they maintain a strange silence

about them--sometimes amounting to an unscrupulous silence.

They keep them entirely out of their newspapers and almost entirely

out of their history books. For example, they will often tell you

(in their praises of the coming age) that we are moving on towards

a United States of Europe. But they carefully omit to tell

you that we are moving away from a United States of Europe,

that such a thing existed literally in Roman and essentially in

mediaeval times. They never admit that the international hatreds

(which they call barbaric) are really very recent, the mere

breakdown of the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire. Or again,

they will tell you that there is going to be a social revolution,

a great rising of the poor against the rich; but they never rub it

in that France made that magnificent attempt, unaided, and that we

and all the world allowed it to be trampled out and forgotten.

I say decisively that nothing is so marked in modern writing

as the prediction of such ideals in the future combined with the

ignoring of them in the past. Anyone can test this for himself.

Read any thirty or forty pages of pamphlets advocating peace

in Europe and see how many of them praise the old Popes or Emperors

for keeping the peace in Europe. Read any armful of essays

and poems in praise of social democracy, and see how many of them

praise the old Jacobins who created democracy and died for it.

These colossal ruins are to the modern only enormous eyesores.

He looks back along the valley of the past and sees a perspective

of splendid but unfinished cities. They are unfinished,

not always through enmity or accident, but often through fickleness,

mental fatigue, and the lust for alien philosophies.

We have not only left undone those things that we ought to have done,

but we have even left undone those things that we wanted to do


If I am to discuss what is wrong, one of the first things

that are wrong is this: the deep and silent modern assumption

that past things have become impossible. There is one metaphor

of which the moderns are very fond; they are always saying,

"You can't put the clock back." The simple and obvious answer

is "You can." A clock, being a piece of human construction,

can be restored by the human finger to any figure or hour.

In the same way society, being a piece of human construction,

can be reconstructed upon any plan that has ever existed.


There is another proverb, "As you have made your bed,

so you must lie on it"; which again is simply a lie.

If I have made my bed uncomfortable, please God I will make it again.

We could restore the Heptarchy or the stage coaches if we chose.

It might take some time to do, and it might be very inadvisable to do it;

but certainly it is not impossible as bringing back last Friday

is impossible. This is, as I say, the first freedom that I claim:

the freedom to restore. I claim a right to propose as a solution

the old patriarchal system of a Highland clan, if that should seem

to eliminate the largest number of evils. It certainly would

eliminate some evils; for instance, the unnatural sense of obeying

cold and harsh strangers, mere bureaucrats and policemen.

I claim the right to propose the complete independence of the small

Greek or Italian towns, a sovereign city of Brixton or Brompton,

if that seems the best way out of our troubles. It would be a way

out of some of our troubles; we could not have in a small state,

for instance, those enormous illusions about men or measures which

are nourished by the great national or international newspapers.

You could not persuade a city state that Mr. Beit was an Englishman,

or Mr. Dillon a desperado, any more than you could persuade

a Hampshire Village that the village drunkard was a teetotaller

or the village idiot a statesman. Nevertheless, I do not as a

fact propose that the Browns and the Smiths should be collected

under separate tartans. Nor do I even propose that Clapham should

declare its independence. I merely declare my independence.

I merely claim my choice of all the tools in the universe;

and I shall not admit that any of them are blunted merely because

they have been used.


My point is that the world did not tire of the church's ideal,

but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for

the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks.

Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility,

but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the

church failed it was largely through the churchmen.


Now, of this great spiritual coherence, independent of external

circumstances, or of race, or of any obvious physical thing, Ireland is

the most remarkable example. Rome conquered nations, but Ireland

has conquered races. The Norman has gone there and become Irish,

the Scotchman has gone there and become Irish, the Spaniard has gone

there and become Irish, even the bitter soldier of Cromwell has gone

there and become Irish. Ireland, which did not exist even politically,

has been stronger than all the races that existed scientifically.

The purest Germanic blood, the purest Norman blood, the purest

blood of the passionate Scotch patriot, has not been so attractive

as a nation without a flag. Ireland, unrecognized and oppressed,

has easily absorbed races, as such trifles are easily absorbed.

She has easily disposed of physical science, as such superstitions

are easily disposed of. Nationality in its weakness has been

stronger than ethnology in its strength. Five triumphant races

have been absorbed, have been defeated by a defeated nationality.


But the Christian Church was

the last life of the old society and was also the first life of

the new. She took the people who were forgetting how to make an

arch and she taught them to invent the Gothic arch. In a word, the

most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we

have all heard said of it. How can we say that the Church wishes

to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing

that ever brought us out of them.



But everywhere the religious dance came before the religious hymn,

and man was a ritualist before he could speak.


That sort of thing must be left to people who talk about

the Anglo-Saxon race, and extend the expression to America.

How much of the blood of the Angles and Saxons (whoever they were)

there remains in our mixed British, Roman, German, Dane, Norman,

and Picard stock is a matter only interesting to wild antiquaries.

And how much of that diluted blood can possibly remain in that

roaring whirlpool of America into which a cataract of Swedes,

Jews, Germans, Irishmen, and Italians is perpetually pouring,

is a matter only interesting to lunatics.


The man of this school

goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages

are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and

umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that

they practically are beasts.


As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we

may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and

of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is

centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite

in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never

be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a

collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever

without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre

it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and

is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a

signpost for free travellers.


It is surely quite clear that this modern notion that woman is a mere

"pretty clinging parasite," "a plaything," etc., arose through the sombre

contemplation of some rich banking family, in which the banker, at least,

went to the city and pretended to do something, while the banker's

wife went to the Park and did not pretend to do anything at all.

A poor man and his wife are a business partnership. If one partner

in a firm of publishers interviews the authors while the other

interviews the clerks, is one of them economically dependent?

Was Hodder a pretty parasite clinging to Stoughton? Was Marshall

a mere plaything for Snelgrove?



For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only

place of liberty. Nay, it is the only place of anarchy.

It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter

arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim.

Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules

of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter.

He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes.

I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic,

picnic feeling. There would be considerable trouble if I tried

to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. A man can wear a dressing gown

and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be

permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point.

If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on

the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them.

But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock

tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man

the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure.

It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.

The home is the one place where he can put the carpet

on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to.

When a man spends every night staggering from bar to bar or from

music-hall to music-hall, we say that he is living an irregular life.

But he is not; he is living a highly regular life,

under the dull, and often oppressive, laws of such places.

Some times he is not allowed even to sit down in the bars;

and frequently he is not allowed to sing in the music-halls.

Hotels may be defined as places where you are forced to dress;

and theaters may be defined as places where you are forbidden

to smoke. A man can only picnic at home.


Now I take, as I have said, this small human omnipotence,

this possession of a definite cell or chamber of liberty,

as the working model for the present inquiry.

Whether we can give every English man a free home of his own

or not, at least we should desire it; and he desires it.

For the moment we speak of what he wants, not of what he

expects to get. He wants, far instance, a separate house;

he does not want a semi-detached house. He may be forced

in the commercial race to share one wall with another man.

Similarly he might be forced in a three-legged race to share

one leg with another man; but it is not so that he pictures

himself in his dreams of elegance and liberty. Again, he does

not desire a flat. He can eat and sleep and praise God in a flat;

he can eat and sleep and praise God in a railway train.

But a railway train is not a house, because it is a house on wheels.

And a flat is not a house, because it is a house on stilts.

An idea of earthy contact and foundation, as well as an

idea of separation and independence, is a part of this

instructive human picture.


I take, then, this one institution as a test. As every

normal man desires a woman, and children born of a woman,

every normal man desires a house of his own to put them into.

He does not merely want a roof above him and a chair

below him; he wants an objective and visible kingdom;

a fire at which he can cook what food he likes, a door

he can open to what friends he chooses. This is the normal

appetite of men; I do not say there are not exceptions.

There may be saints above the need and philanthropists below it.

Opalstein, now he is a duke, may have got used to more than this;

and when he was a convict may have got used to less.

But the normality of the thing is enormous. To give nearly

everybody ordinary houses would please nearly everybody;

that is what I assert without apology. Now in modern England

(as you eagerly point out) it is very difficult to give nearly

everybody houses. Quite so; I merely set up the desideratum;

and ask the reader to leave it standing there while he turns

with me to a consideration of what really happens in the social

wars of our time.


Suffice it to say here that when I say

that we should instruct our children, I mean that we should do it,

not that Mr. Sully or Professor Earl Barnes should do it.

The trouble in too many of our modern schools is that the State,

being controlled so specially by the few, allows cranks and

experiments to go straight to the schoolroom when they have never

passed through the Parliament, the public house, the private house,

the church, or the marketplace. Obviously, it ought to be

the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people;

the assured and experienced truths that are put first to the baby.

But in a school today the baby has to submit to a system

that is younger than himself. The flopping infant of four

actually has more experience, and has weathered the world longer,

than the dogma to which he is made to submit. Many a school

boasts of having the last ideas in education, when it has not

even the first idea; for the first idea is that even innocence,

divine as it is, may learn something from experience.

But this, as I say, is all due to the mere fact that we are

managed by a little oligarchy; my system presupposes that men

who govern themselves will govern their children. To-day we

all use Popular Education as meaning education of the people.

I wish I could use it as meaning education by the people.


A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted

by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent

out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short.

I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor.

Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls,

but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them.

Now, the case for this particular interference was this,

that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking

and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not

be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice

in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair.

It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice.

Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions

the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion.

It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a

free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman's daughter ought,

if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister's daughter.

I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact

apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister's daughter.

I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not.


I do not propose (like some

of my revolutionary friends) that we should abolish the public schools.

I propose the much more lurid and desperate experiment that we should make

them public. I do not wish to make Parliament stop working, but rather

to make it work; not to shut up churches, but rather to open them;

not to put out the lamp of learning or destroy the hedge of property,

but only to make some rude effort to make universities fairly universal

and property decently proper.


When Lord Morley said that the House of Lords must be either

mended or ended, he used a phrase which has caused some confusion;

because it might seem to suggest that mending and ending are somewhat

similar things. I wish specially to insist on the fact that mending

and ending are opposite things. You mend a thing because you like it;

you end a thing because you don't. To mend is to strengthen.

I, for instance, disbelieve in oligarchy; so l would no more mend

the House of Lords than I would mend a thumbscrew. On the other hand,

I do believe in the family; therefore I would mend the family

as I would mend a chair; and I will never deny for a moment that

the modern family is a chair that wants mending.



In the quarrel earlier alluded to between the energetic Progressive

and the obstinate Conservative (or, to talk a tenderer language,

between Hudge and Gudge), the state of cross-purposes is at the present

moment acute. The Tory says he wants to preserve family life

in Cindertown; the Socialist very reasonably points out to him that

in Cindertown at present there isn't any family life to preserve.

But Hudge, the Socialist, in his turn, is highly vague and mysterious

about whether he would preserve the family life if there were any;

or whether he will try to restore it where it has disappeared.

It is all very confusing. The Tory sometimes talks as if he wanted

to tighten the domestic bonds that do not exist; the Socialist

as if he wanted to loosen the bonds that do not bind anybody.

The question we all want to ask of both of them is the original

ideal question, "Do you want to keep the family at all?" If Hudge,

the Socialist, does want the family he must be prepared for the

natural restraints, distinctions and divisions of labour in the family.

He must brace himself up to bear the idea of the woman having

a preference for the private house and a man for the public house.

He must manage to endure somehow the idea of a woman being womanly,

which does not mean soft and yielding, but handy, thrifty, rather hard,

and very humorous. He must confront without a quiver the notion

of a child who shall be childish, that is, full of energy,

but without an idea of independence; fundamentally as eager for

authority as for information and butter-scotch. If a man, a woman

and a child live together any more in free and sovereign households,

these ancient relations will recur; and Hudge must put up with it.


(Answer on a different subject but can be used to explain why choose Christianity over other religions):


It is like asking why a man

falls in love with one woman and not with another.



Among the many things that Leave me doubtful about the modern

habit of fixing eyes on the future, none is stronger than this:

that all the men in history who have really done anything

with the future have had their eyes fixed upon the past.

I need not mention the Renaissance, the very word proves my case.

The originality of Michael Angelo and Shakespeare began with

the digging up of old vases and manuscripts. The mildness

of poets absolutely arose out of the mildness of antiquaries.

So the great mediaeval revival was a memory of the Roman Empire.

So the Reformation looked back to the Bible and Bible times.


The coming of Islam would only have been the coming of Unitarianism

a thousand years before its time.


John Grubby, who was short and stout

And troubled with religious doubt,

Refused about the age of three

To sit upon the curateís knee.

Poems (1915) New Freethinker


It isnít that they canít see the solution. It is that they canít see the problem.

Scandal of Father Brown (1935) Point of a Pin


And Noah he often said to his wife when he sat down to dine,

I donít care where the water goes if it doesnít get into the wine.

Wine and Water (1914)


Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.

The Defendant (1901) A Defence of Penny Dreadfuls


All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.

The Defendant (1901) Defence of Slang


The rich are the scum of the earth in every country.

The Flying Inn (1914) ch. 15


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

The Man who was Thursday (1908) ch. 4


Hardy went down to botanize in the swamp, while Meredith climbed towards the sun. Meredith became, at his best, a sort of daintily dressed Walt Whitman: Hardy became a sort of village atheist brooding and blaspheming over the village idiot.

The Victorian Age in Literature (1912) ch. 2



The object of opening the mind as of opening the mouth is to close it again on something solid.
- G. K. Chesterton


Am in Birmingham. Where ought I to be?

Telegram to his wife during a lecture tour. Portrait of Barrie (C. Asquith)


I want to reassure you I am not this size, really Ė dear me no, Iím being amplified by the mike.

At a lecture in Pittsburgh. The Outline of Sanity: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (S. D. Dale)


Just the other day in the Underground I enjoyed the pleasure of offering my seat to three ladies.

Suggesting that fatness had its consolations. Das Buch des Lachens (W. Scholz)