Chesterton Day by Day


IF a modern philanthropist came to Dotheboys Hall I fear he would not employ the simple, sacred and truly Christian solution of beating Mr. Squeers with a stick. I fancy he would petition the Government to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into Mr. Squeers. I think he would every now and then write letters to the newspapers reminding people that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, there was a Royal Commission to inquire into Mr. Squeers. I agree that he might even go the length of calling a crowded meeting in St. James's Hall on the subject of the best policy with regard to Mr. Squeers. At this meeting some very heated and daring speakers might even go the length of alluding sternly to Mr. Squeers. Occasionally even hoarse voices from the back of the hail might ask (in vain) what was going to be done with Mr. Squeers. The Royal Commission would report about three years afterwards and would say that many things had happened which were certainly most regrettable, that Mr. Squeers was the victim of a bad system that Mrs. Squeers was also the victim of a bad system; but that the man who sold Squeers' cane had really acted with great indiscretion and ought to be spoken to kindly. Something like this would be what, after four years, the Royal Commission would have said; but it would not matter in the least what the Royal Commission had said, for by that time the philanthropists would be off on a new tack and the world would have forgotten about Dotheboys Hall and everything connected with it. By that time the philanthropists would be petitioning Parliament for another Royal Commission; perhaps a Royal Commission to inquire into whether Mr. Mantalini was extravagant with his wife's money; perhaps a commission to inquire into whether Mr. Vincent Crummles kept the Infant Phenomenon short by means of gin.

Introduction to 'Nicholas Nickleby.'



THE Germans have not conquered very much in history as a whole. About fifty years ago they beat the French and fifty years before that the French very soundly beat them. If we see history as a whole there is no more doubt that the French people is the more military than there is that the German people is the more musical. Germany is a great and splendid nation; and there are millions of sensible German patriots grappling with the sins and follies which are part of her problem.

'Illustrated London News.'


IF votes for women do not mean mobs for women they do not mean what they were meant to mean.

'What's Wrong with the World.'


THERE is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad, but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers, but creative artists very seldom.



OUR modern mystics make a mistake when they wear long hair or loose ties to attract the spirits. The elves and the old gods when they revisit the earth really go straight for a dull top-hat. For it means simplicity, which the gods love.

'Charles Dickens.'


WOMEN have been set free to be Bacchantes. They have been set free to be virgin martyrs; they have been set free to be witches. Do not ask them now to sink so low as the higher culture.

'All Things Considered.'


THE sin and sorrow of despotism is not that it does not love men, but that it loves them too much and trusts them too little.

'Robert Browning.'


A PHILOSOPHER cannot talk about any single thing, down to a pumpkin, without showing whether he is wise or foolish; but he can easily talk about everything without anyone having any views about him, beyond gloomy suspicions.

'G. F. Watts.'


CHATTERING finch and water-fly
Are not merrier than I
Here among the flowers I lie
Laughing everlastingly.
No I may not tell the best;
Surely, friends, I might have guessed
Death was but the good King's jest,
It was hid so carefully.

'The Skeleton'


ENGLAND is still ruled by the great Barnacle family. Parliament is still ruled by the great Barnacle trinity -- the solemn old Barnacle, who knew that the Circumlocution Office was a protection; the sprightly young Barnacle, who knew that it was a fraud; and the bewildered young Barnacle who knew nothing about it. From these three types our Cabinets are still exclusively recruited. People talk of the tyrannies and anomalies which Dickens denounced as things of the past like the Star Chamber. They believe that the days of the old brutal optimism and the old brutal indifference are gone for ever. In truth, this very belief is only the continuance of the old stupid optimism and the old brutal indifference, We believe in a free England and a pure England, because we still believe in the Circumlocution Office account of this matter. Undoubtedly our serenity is widespread. We believe that England is really reformed, we believe that England is really democratic, we believe that English politics are free from corruption. But this general satisfaction of ours does not show that Dickens has beaten the Barnacles. It only shows that the Barnacles have beaten Dickens.

'Charles Dickens.'


WHEN a man begins to think that the grass will not grow at night unless he lies awake to watch it, he generally ends either in an asylum or on the throne of an emperor.

'Robert Browning.'


THIEVES respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosophers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fullness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people's.

'The Man who was Thursday.'


THE lunatic is the man who lives in a small world but thinks it is a large one; he is a man who lives in a tenth of the truth, and thinks it is the whole. The madman cannot conceive any cosmos outside a certain tale or conspiracy or vision. Hence the more clearly we see the world divided into Saxons and non-Saxons, into our splendid selves and the rest, the more certain we may be that we are slowly and quietly going mad. The more plain and satisfying our state appears, the more we may know that we are living in an unreal world. For the real world is not satisfying. The more clear become the colours and facts of Anglo-Saxon superiority, the more surely we may know we are in a dream. For the real world is not clear or plain. The real world is full of bracing bewilderments and brutal surprises. Comfort is the blessing and the curse of the English, and of Americans of the Pogram type also. With them it is a loud comfort, a wild comfort, a screaming and capering comfort; but comfort at bottom still. For there is but an inch of difference between the cushioned chamber and the padded cell.

'Charles Dickens.'


I NEVER said a word against eminent men of science. What I complain of is a vague popular philosophy which supposes itself to be scientific when it is really nothing but a sort of new religion and an uncommonly nasty one. When people talked about the Fall of Man, they knew they were talking about a mystery, a thing they didn't understand. Now they talk about the survival of the fittest: they think they do understand it, whereas they have not merely no notion, they have an elaborately false notion of what the words mean.

'The Club of Queer Trades.'


THE only way of catching a train I have ever discovered is to miss the train before.

'Tremendous Trifles.'


MANY people have wondered why it is that children's stories are so full of moralizing. The reason is perfectly simple: it is that children like moralizing more than anything else, and eat it up as if it were so much jam. The reason why we, who are grown up, dislike moralizing is equally clear: it is that we have discovered how much perversion and hypocrisy can be mixed with it; we have grown to dislike morality not because morality is moral, but because morality is so often immoral. But the child has never seen the virtues twisted into vices; the child does not know that men are not only bad from good motives, but also often good from bad motives. The child does not know that whereas the Jesuit may do evil that good may come, the man of the world often does good that evil may come. Therefore, the child has a hearty, healthy, unspoiled, and insatiable appetite for mere morality; for the mere difference between a good little girl and a bad little girl. And it can be proved by innumerable examples that when we are quite young we do like the moralizing story. Grown-up people like the "Comic Sandford and Merton," but children like the real "Sandford and Merton."

'Daily News.'


ONE of the few gifts that can really increase with old age is a sense of humour. That is the whole fun of belonging to an ancient civilization like our own great civilization of Europe. In my vision I see Europe still sitting on her mighty bull, the enormous and mystic mother from whom we come, who has given us everything from the 'Iliad' to the French Revolution. And from her awful lips I seem to hear the words

'Think of me, old Mother Scrubbs,
A-joining these 'ere totty clubs:
Fancy me deserting the pubs
At my time of life

'Illustrated London News.'



IF anyone wishes to see the real rowdy egalitarianism which is necessary (to males at least) he can find it as well as anywhere in the great old tavern disputes which come down to us in such books as Boswell's 'Johnson.' It is worth while to mention that one name especially, because the modern world in its morbidity has done it a grave injustice. The demeanour of Johnson, it is said, was 'harsh and despotic.' It was occasionally harsh, but it was never despotic. Johnson was not in the least a despot. Johnson was a demagogue, he shouted against a shouting crowd. The very fact that he wrangled with other people is a proof that other people were allowed to wrangle with him. His very brutality was based on the idea of an equal scrimmage like that of football. It is strictly true that he bawled and banged the table because he was a modest man. He was honestly afraid of being overwhelmed or even overlooked. Addison had exquisite manners and was the king of his company. He was polite to everybody, but superior to everybody; therefore he has been handed down for ever in the immortal insult of Pope : --

Like Cato give his little Senate laws
And sit attention to his own applause.

Johnson, so far from being king of his company, was a sort of Irish Member in his own Parliament. Addison was a courteous superior and was hated. Johnson was an insolent equal, and therefore was loved by all who knew him and handed down in a marvellous book which is one of the mere miracles of love.

'What's Wrong with the World.'


BRAVE men are all vertebrates: they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle.

'Tremendous Trifles.'


THE teetotaller has chosen a most unfortunate phrase for the drunkard when he says that the drunkard is making a beast of himself. The man who drinks ordinarily makes nothing but an ordinary man of himself. The man who drinks excessively makes a devil of himself. But nothing connected with a human and artistic thing like wine can bring one nearer to the brute life of Nature. The only man who is, in the exact and literal sense of the words, making a beast of himself is the teetotaller.

'Charles Dickens.'



THE abyss between Christ and all His modern interpreters is that we have no record that He ever wrote a word, except with His finger in the sand. The whole is the history of one continuous and sublime conversation. It was not for any pompous proclamation, it was not for any elaborate output of printed volumes; it was for a few splendid and idle words that the cross was set up on Calvary and the earth gaped, and the sun was darkened at noonday.

'Twelve Types.'


SO with the wan waste grasses on my spear,
I ride for ever seeking after God.
My hair grows whiter than my thistle plume
And all my limbs are loose; but in my eyes
The star of an unconquerable praise:
For in my soul one hope for ever sings,
That at the next white corner of a road
My eyes may look on Him.

'The Wild Knight.'


AN error is more menacing than a crime, for an error begets crimes. . . A free lover is worse than a profligate. For a profligate is serious and reckless even in his shortest love; while a free lover is cautious and irresponsible even in his longest devotion.

'Tremendous Trifles.'


IF the barricades went up in our streets and the poor became masters, I think the priests would escape, I fear the gentlemen would; but I believe the gutters would be simply running with the blood of philanthropists.

'Charles Dickens.'


PESSIMISM says that life is so short that it gives nobody a chance; religion says that life is so short that it gives everybody his final chance.

Introduction to 'Nicholas Nickleby.'


IN short, one Pankhurst is an exception, but a thousand Pankhursts are a nightmare, a Bacchic orgy, a witch's sabbath. For in all legends men have thought of women as sublime separately, but horrible in a crowd.

'What's Wrong with the World.'


INDIVIDUALLY, men may present a more or less rational appearance, eating, sleeping, and scheming. But humanity as a whole is changeful, mystical, fickle, delightful. Men are men, but Man is a woman.

'The Napoleon of Notting Hill.'


I SHOULD not be at all surprised if I turned one corner in Fleet Street and saw a queer looking window, turned another corner and saw a yet queerer looking lamp; I should not be surprised if I turned a third corner and found myself in Elfland.

'Tremendous Trifles.'



HISTORIC Christianity has always believed in the valour of St. Michael riding in front of the Church Militant, and in an ultimate and absolute pleasure, not indirect or utilitarian, the intoxication of the Spirit, the wine of the blood of God.

'George Bernard Shaw.'


WHEN a man really tells the truth, the first truth he tells is that he himself is a liar.

'What's Wrong with the World.'

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