G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

Overview
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG
Order of St. Gregory the Great
The Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great , was established on September 1, 1831, by Pope Gregory XVI, seven months after his election.It is one of the five orders of knighthood of the Holy See...

 (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) was an English writer. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views...

, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction. Chesterton has been called the "prince of paradox". Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 magazine, in a review of a biography of Chesterton, observed of his writing style: "Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out." For example, Chesterton wrote "Thieves respect property.
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Quotations

Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.

The Speaker (1900-12-15)

Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.

Twelve Types (1903) Charles II

The center of every man's existence is a dream. Death, disease, insanity, are merely material accidents, like a toothache or a twisted ankle. That these brutal forces always besiege and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel.

Twelve Types (1903) "Sir Walter Scott"

The simplification of anything is always sensational.

Varied Types (1903)

He is only a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of the Conservative.

Varied Types (1903)

Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, what there is particularly immortal about yours?

The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

"Bosh," he said, "On what else is the whole world run but immediate impressions? What is more practical? My friend, the philosophy of this world may be founded on facts, but its business is run on spiritual impressions and atmospheres."

The Club of Queer Trades (1905) Ch. 2 "The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation"

Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction...for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it.

The Club of Queer Trades (1905) Ch. 4 "Speculation of the House Agent"
Encyclopedia
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG
Order of St. Gregory the Great
The Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great , was established on September 1, 1831, by Pope Gregory XVI, seven months after his election.It is one of the five orders of knighthood of the Holy See...

 (29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936) was an English writer. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views...

, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction. Chesterton has been called the "prince of paradox". Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

 magazine, in a review of a biography of Chesterton, observed of his writing style: "Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories—first carefully turning them inside out." For example, Chesterton wrote "Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it."

Chesterton is well known for his reasoned apologetics
Apologetics
Apologetics is the discipline of defending a position through the systematic use of reason. Early Christian writers Apologetics (from Greek ἀπολογία, "speaking in defense") is the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of reason. Early Christian writers...

 and even some of those who disagree with him have recognized the universal appeal of such works as Orthodoxy
Orthodoxy (book)
Orthodoxy is a book by G. K. Chesterton that has become a classic of Christian apologetics. Chesterton considered this book a companion to his other work, Heretics...

 and The Everlasting Man
The Everlasting Man
The Everlasting Man is a two-part history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity, by G. K. Chesterton. Published in 1925, it is to some extent a deliberate rebuttal of H. G. Wells’ Outline of History, which embraced the evolutionary origins of humanity and denied the divinity of Jesus...

. Chesterton, as a political thinker, cast aspersions on both progressivism
Progressivism
Progressivism is an umbrella term for a political ideology advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes. Progressivism is often viewed by some conservatives, constitutionalists, and libertarians to be in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.The...

 and conservatism
Conservatism
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

, saying, "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." Chesterton routinely referred to himself as an "orthodox"
Orthodoxy
The word orthodox, from Greek orthos + doxa , is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion...

 Christian, and came to identify such a position more and more with Catholicism, eventually converting to Roman Catholicism from High Church
Anglo-Catholicism
The terms Anglo-Catholic and Anglo-Catholicism describe people, beliefs and practices within Anglicanism that affirm the Catholic, rather than Protestant, heritage and identity of the Anglican churches....

 Anglicanism
Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

. George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, Chesterton's "friendly enemy
Frenemy
"Frenemy" is a portmanteau of "friend" and "enemy" that can refer to either an enemy disguised as a friend or to a partner who is simultaneously a competitor and rival. The term is used to describe personal, geopolitical, and commercial relationships both among individuals and groups or institutions...

" according to Time, said of him, "He was a man of colossal genius". Biographers have identified him as a successor to such Victorian authors as Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold was a British poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator...

, Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era.He called economics "the dismal science", wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator.Coming from a strict Calvinist family, Carlyle was...

, John Henry Cardinal Newman
John Henry Cardinal Newman
John Henry Newman, D.D., C.O. , also referred to as Cardinal Newman and Blessed John Henry Newman, was an important figure in the religious history of England in the 19th century...

, and John Ruskin
John Ruskin
John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political...

.

Life


Born in Campden Hill
Campden Hill
Campden Hill is an area of high ground in west London between Notting Hill, Kensington and Holland Park.The area is characterised by large Victorian houses. It is also the site of reservoirs established in the 19th century by the Grand Junction Waterworks Company and the West Middlesex Waterworks...

 in Kensington
Kensington
Kensington is a district of west and central London, England within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. An affluent and densely-populated area, its commercial heart is Kensington High Street, and it contains the well-known museum district of South Kensington.To the north, Kensington is...

, London, Chesterton was educated at St Paul's School. He attended the Slade School of Art in order to become an illustrator and also took literature classes at University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

 but did not complete a degree at either. In 1896 Chesterton began working for the London publisher Redway, and T. Fisher Unwin, where he remained until 1902. During this period he also undertook his first journalistic work as a freelance art and literary critic. In 1901 he married Frances Blogg, to whom he remained married for the rest of his life. In 1902 he was given a weekly opinion column in the Daily News, followed in 1905 by a weekly column in The Illustrated London News, for which he would continue to write for the next thirty years.

According to Chesterton, as a young man he became fascinated with the occult
Occult
The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus , referring to "knowledge of the hidden". In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g...

 and, along with his brother Cecil
Cecil Chesterton
Cecil Edward Chesterton was an English journalist and political commentator, known particularly for his role as editor of The New Witness from 1912 to 1916, and in relation to its coverage of the Marconi scandal....

, experimented with Ouija boards. However, as he grew older, he became an increasingly orthodox Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

, culminating in his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922.

Chesterton early showed a great interest and talent in art. He had planned to become an artist and his writing shows a vision that clothed abstract ideas in concrete and memorable images. Even his fiction seemed to be carefully concealed parables. Father Brown
Father Brown
Father Brown is a fictional character created by English novelist G. K. Chesterton, who stars in 52 short stories, later compiled in five books. Chesterton based the character on Father John O'Connor , a parish priest in Bradford who was involved in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism in 1922...

 is perpetually correcting the incorrect vision of the bewildered folks at the scene of the crime and wandering off at the end with the criminal to exercise his priestly role of recognition and repentance. For example, in the story The Flying Stars, Father Brown entreats the character Flambeau
Flambeau (character)
M. Hercule Flambeau is a fictional character created by English novelist G. K. Chesterton who appears in the five volumes of in total 48 short stories, of the Father Brown series. His name is the French word for a flaming torch....

 to give up his life of crime: "There is still youth and honour and humour in you; don't fancy they will last in that trade. Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down. The kind man drinks and turns cruel; the frank man kills and lies about it. Many a man I've known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber of the rich, and ended stamped into slime."

Chesterton was a large man, standing 6 in 4 in (1.93 m) and weighing around 21 st (133.4 kg; 294 lb). His girth gave rise to a famous anecdote. During World War I a lady in London asked why he was not 'out at the Front
Front (military)
A military front or battlefront is a contested armed frontier between opposing forces. This can be a local or tactical front, or it can range to a theater...

'; he replied, 'If you go round to the side, you will see that I am.' On another occasion he remarked to his friend George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

: "To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England". Shaw retorted, "To look at you, anyone would think you have caused it". P. G. Wodehouse
P. G. Wodehouse
Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE was an English humorist, whose body of work includes novels, short stories, plays, poems, song lyrics, and numerous pieces of journalism. He enjoyed enormous popular success during a career that lasted more than seventy years and his many writings continue to be...

 once described a very loud crash as "a sound like Chesterton falling onto a sheet of tin."

Chesterton usually wore a cape and a crumpled hat, with a swordstick
Swordstick
A swordstick or cane-sword is a cane incorporating a concealed blade. The term is typically used to describe European weapons from around the 18th century, but similar devices have been used throughout history, notably the Japanese shikomizue and the Ancient Roman dolon.- Popularity :The swordstick...

 in hand, and a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Chesterton had a tendency to forget where he was supposed to be going and miss the train that was supposed to take him there. It is reported that on several occasions he sent a telegram to his wife Frances from some distant (and incorrect) location, writing such things as "Am at Market Harborough
Market Harborough
Market Harborough is a market town within the Harborough district of Leicestershire, England.It has a population of 20,785 and is the administrative headquarters of Harborough District Council. It sits on the Northamptonshire-Leicestershire border...

. Where ought I to be?" to which she would reply, "Home." As a result of these memory problems and of Chesterton being extremely clumsy as a child, there has been speculation that Chesterton had undiagnosed developmental dyspraxia.

Chesterton loved to debate, often engaging in friendly public disputes with such men as George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

, Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 and Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow
Clarence Seward Darrow was an American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, best known for defending teenage thrill killers Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks and defending John T...

. According to his autobiography, he and Shaw played cowboy
Cowboy
A cowboy is an animal herder who tends cattle on ranches in North America, traditionally on horseback, and often performs a multitude of other ranch-related tasks. The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of...

s in a silent movie that was never released.

Death


Chesterton died of congestive heart failure on the morning of 14 June 1936, at his home in Beaconsfield
Beaconsfield
Beaconsfield is a market town and civil parish operating as a town council within the South Bucks district in Buckinghamshire, England. It lies northwest of Charing Cross in Central London, and south-east of the county town of Aylesbury...

, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

. His last known words were a greeting spoken to his wife. The homily
Homily
A homily is a commentary that follows a reading of scripture. In Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox Churches, a homily is usually given during Mass at the end of the Liturgy of the Word...

 at Chesterton's Requiem Mass
Requiem
A Requiem or Requiem Mass, also known as Mass for the dead or Mass of the dead , is a Mass celebrated for the repose of the soul or souls of one or more deceased persons, using a particular form of the Roman Missal...

 in Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral
Westminster Cathedral in London is the mother church of the Catholic community in England and Wales and the Metropolitan Church and Cathedral of the Archbishop of Westminster...

, London, was delivered by Ronald Knox
Ronald Knox
Ronald Arbuthnott Knox was an English priest, theologian and writer.-Life:Ronald Knox was born in Kibworth, Leicestershire, England into an Anglican family and was educated at Eton College, where he took the first scholarship in 1900 and Balliol College, Oxford, where again...

 on June 27, 1936. Knox said, "All of generation has grown up under Chesterton's influence so completely that we do not even know when we are thinking Chesterton." He is buried in Beaconsfield
Beaconsfield
Beaconsfield is a market town and civil parish operating as a town council within the South Bucks district in Buckinghamshire, England. It lies northwest of Charing Cross in Central London, and south-east of the county town of Aylesbury...

 in the Catholic Cemetery. Chesterton's estate was probate
Probate
Probate is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person by resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under the valid will. A probate court decides the validity of a testator's will...

d at £28,389, approximately equivalent to £1.3 million in 2005.

Near the end of his life he was invested by Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI
Pope Pius XI , born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, was Pope from 6 February 1922, and sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929 until his death on 10 February 1939...

 as Knight Commander with Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great
Order of St. Gregory the Great
The Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great , was established on September 1, 1831, by Pope Gregory XVI, seven months after his election.It is one of the five orders of knighthood of the Holy See...

 (KC*SG). The Chesterton Society has proposed that he be beatified
Beatification
Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a dead person's entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name . Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process...

.

Writing



Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essay
Essay
An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The definition...

s, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer. He was a columnist for the Daily News, the Illustrated London News
Illustrated London News
The Illustrated London News was the world's first illustrated weekly newspaper; the first issue appeared on Saturday 14 May 1842. It was published weekly until 1971 and then increasingly less frequently until publication ceased in 2003.-History:...

, and his own paper, G. K.'s Weekly
G. K.'s Weekly
G. K.'s Weekly was a British publication founded in 1925 by G. K. Chesterton, continuing until his death in 1936. It contained much of his later journalism, and extracts from it were published as The Outline of Sanity....

; he also wrote articles for the Encyclopædia Britannica
Encyclopædia Britannica
The Encyclopædia Britannica , published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia that is available in print, as a DVD, and on the Internet. It is written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert...

, including the entry on Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

  and part of the entry on Humour
Humour
Humour or humor is the tendency of particular cognitive experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement...

 in the 14th edition (1929). His best-known character is the priest-detective Father Brown
Father Brown
Father Brown is a fictional character created by English novelist G. K. Chesterton, who stars in 52 short stories, later compiled in five books. Chesterton based the character on Father John O'Connor , a parish priest in Bradford who was involved in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism in 1922...

, who appeared only in short stories, while The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare is a novel by G. K. Chesterton, first published in 1908. The book is sometimes referred to as a metaphysical thriller.-Plot summary:...

 is arguably his best-known novel. He was a convinced Christian long before he was received into the Catholic Church, and Christian themes and symbolism appear in much of his writing. In the United States, his writings on distributism
Distributism
Distributism is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Catholic thinkers as G. K...

 were popularized through The American Review
The American Review
- 19th century :The American Review, alternatively known as The American Review: A Whig Journal and The American Whig Review, was a New York City-based periodical in the 19th century...

, published by Seward Collins
Seward Collins
Seward Bishop Collins was an American New York socialite and publisher. By the end of the 1920s, he was a self-described "fascist".-Biography:...

 in New York.

Of his nonfiction, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906) has received some of the broadest-based praise. According to Ian Ker (The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845–1961, 2003), "In Chesterton's eyes Dickens belongs to Merry
Merry England
"Merry England", or in more jocular, archaic spelling "Merrie England", refers to an English autostereotype, a utopian conception of English society and culture based on an idyllic pastoral way of life that was allegedly prevalent at some time between the Middle Ages and the onset of the Industrial...

, not Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

, England" ; Ker treats Chesterton's thought in Chapter 4 of that book as largely growing out of his true appreciation of Dickens, a somewhat shop-soiled property in the view of other literary opinions of the time.

Chesterton's writings consistently displayed wit and a sense of humour. He employed paradox, while making serious comments on the world, government, politics, economics, philosophy, theology and many other topics.

Much of Chesterton's work remains in print, including collections of the Father Brown detective stories. Ignatius Press
Ignatius Press
Ignatius Press, named for Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, is a Catholic publishing house based in San Francisco, California, USA. It was founded in 1978 by Father Joseph Fessio SJ, a Jesuit priest and former pupil of Pope Benedict XVI...

 is currently in the process of publishing a Complete Works.

Views and contemporaries



Chesterton's writing has been seen by some analysts as combining two earlier strands in English literature. Dickens' approach is one of these. Another is represented by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

 and George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, whom Chesterton knew well: satirists and social commentators following in the tradition of Samuel Butler, vigorously wielding paradox as a weapon against complacent acceptance of the conventional view of things.

Chesterton's style and thinking were all his own, however, and his conclusions were often opposed to those of Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

 and George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

. In his book Heretics, Chesterton has this to say of Wilde: "The same lesson [of the pessimistic pleasure-seeker] was taught by the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion; but the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people. Great joy does not gather the rosebuds while it may; its eyes are fixed on the immortal rose which Dante saw." More briefly, and with a closer approximation of Wilde's own style, he writes in Orthodoxy concerning the necessity of making symbolic sacrifices for the gift of creation: "Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde."

Chesterton and Shaw were famous friends and enjoyed their arguments and discussions. Although rarely in agreement, they both maintained good-will toward and respect for each other. However, in his writing, Chesterton expressed himself very plainly on where they differed and why. In Heretics he writes of Shaw:
After belabouring a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr. Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be progressive at all. Having come to doubt whether humanity can be combined with progress, most people, easily pleased, would have elected to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations and go in for progress for its own sake. If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby.

Shaw represented the new school of thought, modernism
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

, which was rising at the time. Chesterton's views, on the other hand, became increasingly more focused towards the Church. In Orthodoxy
Orthodoxy (book)
Orthodoxy is a book by G. K. Chesterton that has become a classic of Christian apologetics. Chesterton considered this book a companion to his other work, Heretics...

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

This style of argumentation is what Chesterton refers to as using 'Uncommon Sense' — that is, that the thinkers and popular philosophers of the day, though very clever, were saying things that were nonsensical. This is illustrated again in Orthodoxy: "Thus when Mr. H. G. Wells says (as he did somewhere), "All chairs are quite different", he utters not merely a misstatement, but a contradiction in terms. If all chairs were quite different, you could not call them "all chairs." Or, again from Orthodoxy:
The wild worship of lawlessness and the materialist worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless — one because he must not grasp anything, and the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan's will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite's will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is — well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads.


"All healthy men, ancient and modern, Western and Eastern, hold that there is in sex a fury that we cannot afford to inflame; and that a certain mystery must attach to the instinct if it is to continue delicate and sane." In the middle of his epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse he famously states:

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


Another contemporary and friend from schooldays was Edmund Bentley
Edmund Clerihew Bentley
E. C. Bentley was a popular English novelist and humorist of the early twentieth century, and the inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of humorous verse on biographical topics...

, inventor of the clerihew
Clerihew
A clerihew is a whimsical, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. One of his best known is this :* It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it pokes fun at mostly famous people...

. Chesterton himself wrote clerihews and illustrated his friend's first published collection of poetry, Biography for Beginners (1905), which popularized the clerihew form. Chesterton was also godfather to Bentley's son, Nicolas
Nicolas Bentley
Nicolas Clerihew Bentley was a British author and illustrator famous for his humorous cartoon drawings in books and magazines in the 1930s and 1940s...

, and opened his novel The Man Who Was Thursday with a poem written to Bentley.

Chesterton faced accusations of anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

 during his lifetime and subsequently. In a work of 1917, titled “A Short History of England,” Chesterton considers the year of 1290, when by royal decree, Edward I expelled Jews from England, an edict not rescinded until 1655. In writing of the official expulsion and banishment of 1290, Chesterton writes that Edward I was “just and conscientious” a monarch never more truly representative of his people than when he expelled the Jews, “as powerful as they are unpopular.” Chesterton writes Jews were “capitalists of their age” so that when Edward “flung the alien financiers out of the land,” he acted as “knight errant,” and “tender father of his people.” In The New Jerusalem, Chesterton made it clear that he believed that there was a "Jewish Problem" in Europe, in the sense that he believed that Jewish culture (not Jewish ethnicity) separated itself from the nationalities of Europe. He suggested the formation of a Jewish homeland as a solution, and was later invited to Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 by Jewish Zionists who saw him as an ally in their cause.

The Wiener Library
Wiener Library
The Wiener Library is the world's oldest institution devoted to the study of the Holocaust, its causes and legacies. Founded in 1933 as an information bureau that informed Jewish communities and governments worldwide about the persecution of the Jews under the Nazis, it was transformed into a...

 (London's archive on anti-semitism and Holocaust history) has defended Chesterton against the charge of anti-Semitism: "he was not an enemy, and when the real testing time came along he showed what side he was on." Chesterton, like Belloc, openly expressed his abhorrence of Hitler's rule almost as soon as it started.

The Chesterbelloc

See Also G. K.'s Weekly
G. K.'s Weekly
G. K.'s Weekly was a British publication founded in 1925 by G. K. Chesterton, continuing until his death in 1936. It contained much of his later journalism, and extracts from it were published as The Outline of Sanity....

.


Chesterton is often associated with his close friend, the poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc
Hilaire Belloc
Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc was an Anglo-French writer and historian who became a naturalised British subject in 1902. He was one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century. He was known as a writer, orator, poet, satirist, man of letters and political activist...

. George Bernard Shaw coined the name Chesterbelloc for their partnership, and this stuck. Though they were very different men, they shared many beliefs; Chesterton eventually joined Belloc in his natal Catholicism, and both voiced criticisms towards capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 and socialism
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

. They instead espoused a third way: distributism
Distributism
Distributism is a third-way economic philosophy formulated by such Catholic thinkers as G. K...

. G. K.'s Weekly
G. K.'s Weekly
G. K.'s Weekly was a British publication founded in 1925 by G. K. Chesterton, continuing until his death in 1936. It contained much of his later journalism, and extracts from it were published as The Outline of Sanity....

, which occupied much of Chesterton's energy in the last 15 years of his life, was the successor to Belloc's New Witness, taken over from Cecil Chesterton
Cecil Chesterton
Cecil Edward Chesterton was an English journalist and political commentator, known particularly for his role as editor of The New Witness from 1912 to 1916, and in relation to its coverage of the Marconi scandal....

, Gilbert's brother who died in World War I.

Literary legacy

  • Chesterton's The Everlasting Man
    The Everlasting Man
    The Everlasting Man is a two-part history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity, by G. K. Chesterton. Published in 1925, it is to some extent a deliberate rebuttal of H. G. Wells’ Outline of History, which embraced the evolutionary origins of humanity and denied the divinity of Jesus...

     contributed to C. S. Lewis
    C. S. Lewis
    Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

    's conversion to Christianity. In a letter to Sheldon Vanauken
    Sheldon Vanauken
    Sheldon Vanauken is an American author, best known for his autobiographical book A Severe Mercy , which recounts his and his wife's friendship with C. S. Lewis, their conversion to Christianity and dealing with tragedy...

     (14 December 1950) Lewis calls the book "the best popular apologetic I know", and to Rhonda Bodle he wrote (31 December 1947) "the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man." The book was also cited in a list of 10 books that "most shaped his vocational attitude and philosophy of life."
  • Chesterton's 1906 biography of Charles Dickens
    Charles Dickens
    Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian period. Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity and fame than had any previous author during his lifetime, and he remains popular, having been responsible for some of English literature's most iconic...

     was largely responsible for creating a popular revival for Dickens's work as well as a serious reconsideration of Dickens by scholars.
  • Chesterton's novel The Man Who Was Thursday
    The Man Who Was Thursday
    The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare is a novel by G. K. Chesterton, first published in 1908. The book is sometimes referred to as a metaphysical thriller.-Plot summary:...

     inspired the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins
    Michael Collins (Irish leader)
    Michael "Mick" Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the...

     with the idea: "if you didn't seem to be hiding nobody hunted you out."
  • Chesterton's column in the Illustrated London News
    Illustrated London News
    The Illustrated London News was the world's first illustrated weekly newspaper; the first issue appeared on Saturday 14 May 1842. It was published weekly until 1971 and then increasingly less frequently until publication ceased in 2003.-History:...

     on September 18, 1909 had a profound effect on Mahatma Gandhi. P. N. Furbank
    P. N. Furbank
    Philip Nicholas Furbank FRSL is an English writer, scholar and critic, and a professor of the Open University.-Works:...

     asserts that Gandhi was "thunderstruck" when he read it, while Martin Green notes that "Gandhi was so delighted with this that he told Indian Opinion
    Indian Opinion
    The Indian Opinion was a newspaper established by Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. The publication was an important tool for the political movement led by Gandhi and the Natal Indian Congress to fight racial discrimination and win civil rights for the Indian immigrant community in South...

     to reprint it."
  • The author Neil Gaiman
    Neil Gaiman
    Neil Richard Gaiman born 10 November 1960)is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book...

     has stated that The Napoleon of Notting Hill was an important influence on his own book Neverwhere
    Neverwhere
    Neverwhere is an urban fantasy television series by Neil Gaiman that first aired in 1996 on BBC Two. The series is set in "London Below", a magical realm coexisting with the more familiar London, referred to as "London Above". It was devised by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry, and directed by Dewi...

    , and used a quote from it as an epigraph to that novel. Gaiman also based the character Gilbert, from the comic book The Sandman, on Chesterton.
  • Argentine author and essayist Jorge Luis Borges
    Jorge Luis Borges
    Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo , known as Jorge Luis Borges , was an Argentine writer, essayist, poet and translator born in Buenos Aires. In 1914 his family moved to Switzerland where he attended school, receiving his baccalauréat from the Collège de Genève in 1918. The family...

     cited Chesterton as a major influence on his own fiction. In an interview with Richard Burgin
    Richard Burgin
    For the American writer, see Richard Burgin Richard Burgin was a Polish-American violinist, best known as associate conductor and the concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra .-Early life:...

     during the late 1960s, Borges said, "Chesterton knew how to make the most of a detective story."

List of major works


  • The Napoleon of Notting Hill
    The Napoleon of Notting Hill
    The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a novel written by G. K. Chesterton in 1904, set in a nearly unchanged London in 1984.Although the novel is set in the future, it is, in effect, set in an 'alternate reality' of Chesterton's own period, with no advances in technology or changes in the class system or...

     (1904) text CSE.dmu.ac.uk
  • Heretics (1905) ISBN 978-0-766-17476-4
  • Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1906)
  • The Man Who Was Thursday
    The Man Who Was Thursday
    The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare is a novel by G. K. Chesterton, first published in 1908. The book is sometimes referred to as a metaphysical thriller.-Plot summary:...

     (1908) Manybooks.net
  • Orthodoxy
    Orthodoxy (book)
    Orthodoxy is a book by G. K. Chesterton that has become a classic of Christian apologetics. Chesterton considered this book a companion to his other work, Heretics...

     (1908) Doubleday, 1991. ISBN 978-0-385-01536-3
  • The Ballad Of The White Horse
    The Ballad of the White Horse
    The Ballad of the White Horse is a poem by G. K. Chesterton about the idealized exploits of the Saxon King Alfred the Great, published in 1911. Written in ballad form, the work is usually considered the last great traditional epic poems ever written in the English language...

     (1911)
  • Manalive
    Manalive
    Manalive is a book by G. K. Chesterton detailing a popular theme both in his own philosophy, and in Christianity, of the 'holy fool', such as in Dostoevsky's The Idiot and Cervantes' Don Quixote.-Plot summary:...

     (1912)
  • Father Brown
    Father Brown
    Father Brown is a fictional character created by English novelist G. K. Chesterton, who stars in 52 short stories, later compiled in five books. Chesterton based the character on Father John O'Connor , a parish priest in Bradford who was involved in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism in 1922...

     short stories (detective fiction)
  • Eugenics and Other Evils (1922)
  • Saint Francis of Assisi (1923), Doubleday, 1987. ISBN 978-0-385-02900-1
  • The Everlasting Man
    The Everlasting Man
    The Everlasting Man is a two-part history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity, by G. K. Chesterton. Published in 1925, it is to some extent a deliberate rebuttal of H. G. Wells’ Outline of History, which embraced the evolutionary origins of humanity and denied the divinity of Jesus...

     (1925)
  • Saint Thomas Aquinas (1933), Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 978-0-385-09002-5

Further reading

  • Ahlquist, Dale. G. K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense (2003)
  • Braybrooke, Patrick, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1922.
  • Cooney, A., G.K. Chesterton, One Sword at Least, Third Way Publications, London, 1999. ISBN 0-9535077-1-8
  • Coren, M
    Michael Coren
    Michael Coren is an English-Canadian columnist, author, public speaker, radio host and television talk show host. He hosted the television talk show The Michael Coren Show on the Crossroads Television System from 1999 to 2011 when he moved to the Sun News Network to host an evening talk show, The...

    ., Gilbert: The Man Who Was G. K. Chesterton, Paragon House, New York, 1990.
  • ffinch, M., G. K. Chesterton, 1986
  • Kenner, H
    Hugh Kenner
    William Hugh Kenner , was a Canadian literary scholar, critic and professor.Kenner was born in Peterborough, Ontario on January 7, 1923; his father taught classics...

    ., Paradox in Chesterton, 1947.
  • Ker, Ian (2011), G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199601283
  • Ker, Ian. G.K. Chesterton: A Biography (Oxford University Press; 2011)
  • Lauer, Quentin, G.K. Chesterton: Philosopher Without Portfolio, Fordham University Press
    Fordham University Press
    The Fordham University Press is a publishing house, a division of Fordham University, that publishes primarily in the humanities and the social sciences...

    , New York City, New York, 1991 ISBN 0-8232-1199-1
  • McLuhan, Marshall
    Marshall McLuhan
    Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar—a professor of English literature, a literary critic, a rhetorician, and a communication theorist...

     "G.K. Chesterton: A Practical Mystic" (Dalhousie Review 15 (4), 1936)
  • McNichol, J., The Young Chesterton Chronicles, Book One: The Tripods Attack!", Sophia institute Press, Manchester, NH, 2008. ISBN 978-1933184265
  • Paine, R., The Universe and Mr. Chesterton, Sherwood Sugden, 1999. ISBN 0893855111
  • Pearce, J
    Joseph Pearce
    Joseph Pearce is an English-born writer, and Writer in Residence and Professor of Literature at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida; previously he had a comparable position, from 2001, at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He is known for a number of literary biographies, many of...

    , Wisdom and Innocence – A Life of G.K.Chesterton, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1996. ISBN 0-340-67132-7
  • Sullivan, John, "G.K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal", Paul Elek, London, 1974. ISBN 0-236-17628-5
  • Ward, M., Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Sheed & Ward, 1944.
  • Williams, Donald T. Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (2006)

External links



Works

  • Works in audio format from LibriVox
    LibriVox
    LibriVox is an online digital library of free public domain audiobooks, read by volunteers and is probably, since 2007, the world's most prolific audiobook publisher...

    . Retrieved 2010-10-28
  • Works at Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

    . Retrieved 2010-10-28
  • Works by G. K. Chesterton at Wikilivres. Retrieved 2010-10-28
  • Works at the Online Books Page. Retrieved 2010-10-28