Poem: Regina Angelorum

OUR LADY went into a strange country,
Our Lady, for she was ours,
And had run on the little hills behind the houses
And pulled small flowers;
But she rose up and went into a strange country
With strange thrones and powers.

And there were giants in the land she walked in,
Tall as their toppling towns,
With heads so high in heaven, the constellations
Served them for crowns;
And their feet might have forded like a brook the abysses
Where Babel drowns.

They were girt about with the wings of morning and evening,
Furled and unfurled,
Round the speckled sky where our small spinning planet
Like a top is twirled;
And the swords they waved were the unending comets
That shall end the world.

And moving in innocence and in accident,
She turned the face
That none has ever looked on without loving
On the Lords of Space;
And one hailed her with her name in our own country
That is full of grace.

Our Lady went into a strange country
And they crowned her queen,
For she needed never to be stayed or questioned
But only seen;
And they were broken down under unbearable beauty
As we have been.

But ever she walked till away in the last high places,
One great light shone
From the pillared throne of the king of all the country
Who sat thereon;
And she cried aloud as she cried under the gibbet
For she saw her son.

Our Lady wears a crown in a strange country,
The crown he gave,
But she has not forgotten to call to her old companions
To call and crave;
And to hear her calling a man might arise and thunder
On the doors of the grave.

~G.K. Chesterton

The Madonna between St. John the Baptist and St. Sebastian [detail], by Pietro Perugino (c 1445-1523), Italian painter, draftsman & illuminator, teacher of Raphael. Oil on panel, 1493, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence, Italy).

A Letter to Chesterton from Belloc

Reform Club, Manchester,
11 Dec. 1907.

My dear Gilbert,

I am a man afraid of impulse in boats, horses and all action though driven to it. I have never written a letter such as I am writing now, though I have desired to write some six or seven since I became a grown man. In the matter we discussed at Oxford I have a word to say which is easier to say on paper than by word of mouth, or rather, more valuable. All intellectual process is doubtful, all inconclusive, save pure deduction, which is a game if one's first certitudes are hypothetical and immensely valuable if one's first certitude is fixed, yet remains wholly dependent on that.

Now if we differed in all main points I would not write thus, but there are one or two on which we agree. One is "Vere passus, immolatus in cruce pro homine." Another is in a looking up to our Dear Lady, the blessed Mother of God.

I recommend to you this, that you suggest to her a comprehension for yourself, of what indeed is the permanent home of the soul. If it is here you will see it, if it is there you will see it. She never fails us. She has never failed me in any demand.

I have never written thus----as I say----and I beg you to see nothing in it but what I say. There is no connection the reason can seize----but so it is. If you say "I want this" as in your case to know one way or the other----She will give it you: as She will give health or necessary money or success in a pure love. She is our Blessed Mother.

I have not used my judgment in this letter. I am inclined to destroy it, but I shall send it. Don't answer it.

Yours ever
H. Belloc

My point is: If it is right She knows. If it is not right, She knows.


"In praise of play"

“IT IS not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke — that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls.”

~G.K. Chesterton:  All Things Considered.


After all, what is liberty?

SUPPOSE, for the sake of argument, that I say that to take away a poor man’s pot of beer is to take away a poor man’s personal liberty, it is very vital to note what is the usual or almost universal reply. People hardly ever do reply, for some reason or other, by saying that a man’s liberty consists of such and such things, but that beer is an exception that cannot be classed among them, for such and such reasons. What they almost in variably do say is something like this. “After all, what is liberty? Man must live as a member of a society, and must obey those laws which, etc., etc.” In other words, they collapse into a complete confession that they are attacking all liberty and any liberty; that they do deny the very existence or the very possibility of liberty. In the very form of the answer they admit the full scope of the accusation against them. In trying to rebut the smaller accusation, they plead guilty to the larger one.

 This distinction is very important, as can be seen from any practical parallel. Suppose we wake up in the middle of the night and find that a neighbor has entered the house not by the front-door but by the skylight; we may suspect that he has come after the fine old family jewellery. We may be reassured if he can refer it to a really exceptional event; as that he fell on to the roof out of an aeroplane, or climbed on to the roof to escape from a mad dog. Short of the incredible, the stranger the story the better the excuse; for an extraordinary event requires an extraordinary excuse. But we shall hardly be reassured if he merely gazes at us in a dreamy and wistful fashion and says, “After all, what is property? Why should material objects be thus artificially attached, etc., etc.?” We shall merely realize that his attitude allows of his taking the jewellery and everything else. Or if the neighbour approaches us carrying a large knife dripping with blood, we may be convinced by his story that he killed another neighbour in self-defence, that the quiet gentleman next door was really a homicidal maniac. We shall know that homicidal mania is exceptional and that we ourselves are so happy as not to suffer from it, and being free from the disease may be free from the danger. But it will not soothe us for the man with the gory knife to say softly and pensively, “After all, what is human life? Why should we cling to it? Brief at the best, sad at the brightest, it is itself but a disease from which, etc., etc.” We shall perceive that the sceptic is in a mood not only to murder us but to massacre everybody in the street.

 Exactly the same effect which would be produced by the questions of “What is property?” and “What is life?” is produced by the question of “What is liberty?” It leaves the questioner free to disregard any liberty, or in other words to take any liberties. The very thing he says is an anticipatory excuse for anything he may choose to do. If he gags a man to prevent him from indulging in profane swearing, or locks him in the coal cellar to guard against his going on the spree, he can still be satisfied with saying “After all, what is liberty? Man is a member of, etc., etc.”

~G.K. Chesterton: Eugenics and Other Evils.

Poem: Good News

BETWEEN a meadow and a cloud that sped
In rain and twilight, in desire and fear.
I heard a secret--hearken in your ear,
'Behold the daisy has a ring of red.'

That hour, with half of blessing, half of ban,
A great voice went through heaven, and earth and hell,
Crying, 'We are tricked, my great ones, is it well?
Now is the secret stolen by a man.'

Then waxed I like the wind because of this,
And ran, like gospel and apocalypse,
From door to door, with new anarchic lips,
Crying the very blasphemy of bliss.

In the last wreck of Nature, dark and dread,
Shall in eclipse's hideous hieroglyph,
One wild form reel on the last rocking cliff,
And shout, 'The daisy has a ring of red.'

~G.K. Chesterton

Poem: Behind

I SAW an old man like a child,
His blue eyes bright, his white hair wild,
Who turned for ever, and might not stop,
Round and round like an urchin's top.

'Fool,' I cried, 'while you spin round,
'Others grow wise, are praised, are crowned.'
Ever the same round road he trod,
'This is better: I seek for God.'

'We see the whole world, left and right,
Yet at the blind back hides from sight
The unseen Master that drives us forth
To East and West, to South and North.

'Over my shoulder for eighty years
I have looked for the gleam of the sphere of spheres.'
'In all your turning, what have you found?'
'At least, I know why the world goes round.'

~G.K. Chesterton


About Modern Girls

THE PRESENT POSITION of the Bright Young Thing, or Brilliant Young Cynic of a hard and realistic epoch, is so heartrendingly sad and pitiable that aged sentimentalists can only gaze at it through floods of senile tears. The cynics themselves, of course, do not believe in sentiment, but they embody a most poignant example of pathos. No orphan child, sprinkled with stage snow in a Victorian melodrama, was ever more obviously out in the cold; no Mariana in a moated grange, or highborn maiden in a palace tower, had ever so conspicuously got left.

The stages of the strange and tragic story are worthy of some sort of simple summary. To begin with, the modern cynic was in the position of a man whose father has quarrelled with his grandfather; and who is himself filled with a pious and filial yearning to quarrel with them both. The yearning is indeed pious in the sense of traditional, in so far as this family quarrel seems to be a tradition in the family. But for him the practical problem is the double problem of quarrelling with them both.  And it is not easy to quarrel with them both. If in wandering about the moated grange or the ancestral garden, he is struck with horror at the sight of some feature recalling the peculiar tastes of his grandfather in his Classical or his Pre-Raphaelite period, he may perhaps break out into curses against his ancestor, and express his disagreement with his grandfather in the most disagreeable language he can command. And just as he is beginning to enjoy himself, he will realize with a shock that he is in the shameful and unnatural position of agreeing with his father. In a desperate attempt to balance this, he will fall back on the more natural and genial occupation of recalling in detail all the more repulsive vices and follies of his own father. And then he will realize abruptly that he is only repeating the catalogue of curses and crimes once uttered by the more quavering voice of his aged grandfather.

This curious tragicomedy is always being re-enacted, especially in recent times, when any debate turns on philosophy as displayed in history.  Thus, the young man who associated himself with the famous Pacifist vote at Oxford will, of course, affirm the ideal of Internationalism, and treat Nationalism as a prehistoric superstition handed down from anthropoid ages. He may often be heard saying that arms and armaments (two rather different things) are a relic of mediaevalism, and that an internationalist of the twentieth century cannot be expected to go back to the Middle Ages.  And then, perhaps, some friend of his who happens to know something about history will point out to him that going forward to Internationalism is going back to the Middle Ages. For the very deep chasms that now divide the different nations only appeared like cracks when the mediaeval system broke up. It is absurd to class modern armaments with mediaeval armaments, for gunpowder even did more to destroy the mediaeval system than to preserve it. And the indignant intellectual cannot make up his mind whether to admire gunpowder because it was a scientific discovery or to deplore gunpowder because it is a patriotic weapon. He is dizzy with the effort to keep at an equal distance from his thirteenth-century grandfather and his seventeenth-century father. We see a compact case of this contradiction in the rather morbid talk that may be heard here and there in connexion with what is called "the next war." Oddly enough, it is the same people who always teach us, in their Outlines of History and Encyclopaedias of Everything, that everything is always getting better and better, and that even our most miserable contemporaries are more happy than their fathersit is these same people who always tell us that one slip in modern diplomacy, or one falsehood in modern journalism, may precipitate a towering and toppling horror of torture and panic far worse than anything the world has ever known before. It might well be asked, with a certain abstract curiosity, why our civilization must produce the very worst in the way of war, if it must produce the very best in the way of everything else.

I found another example of this strange parable of son, father, and grandfather in a book I happen to have read on a totally different subject. It is by Mr. Don Marquis, the eminent American writer, and contains many quaint and amusing ideas; though it rather tends to get into the rut of that sort of ridicule, by way of flippancies about Jehovah and Satan and saints and angels, which was rather funnier when it began in Voltaire than when it ended in Mark Twain. But what interests me about the book is this: that, while it resembles Mr. Shaw's Black Girl in Search of God in this sort of professional profanity, the writer is much more in earnest, and, therefore, much more lively and amusing, in emphasizing another idea, which has also been adumbrated by Mr. Shaw. I mean all that notion of Woman the Huntress, with terrified males fleeing before her nets and darts, or reluctant captives of her bow and spear. All of which is supposed to sound very modern, though in itself it is rather anti-feminist than anti-clerical. But I do not suppose it ever occurred to the anti-clerical author that this is exactly the attitude for which the world has reproached the more fanatical sort of clerics. It was precisely this "modern" view of Woman that really was expressed, and often exaggerated, by the first hermits fleeing into the desert, or the most fanatical monks only too near the borderline of the madness of the Manichees. To regard Woman wildly as an Unholy Terror, instead of rightly as a Holy Terror, was the abuse of asceticism; but it seems to have become quite useful and usual in modernity.

Here, again, the brilliant modern is bringing in as modernity something that was rather like one of the antics of antiquity; he is rushing back to his ascetical grandfather to escape from his romantic father. And the confusion in both cases is due to the same pathetic quality in his whole position. He is staggering about from century to century, because he has no real standing-ground of his own; and he has no standing-ground because he has destroyed anything on which he could stand. Modern youth has been blamed for bringing in a fashion of negro dances; but the one nigger antic I really regret is the dance which was once called "The Breakdown," which breaks down the dancing-floor and ends with the disappearance of the dancer and the dance. The objection to all this merely destructive thought is that eventually such destruction is self-destruction. The game of "breaking up the happy home," even when it is, really a bright and breezy pastime, is necessarily a brief pastime; and in the end it is the players who come out of the ruins, houseless and homeless, to become broken men. That is why the first thing to be felt for them is a profound and genuine pity; a pity that is not in the least an ironic term for patronage. As we should be genuinely sorry for tramps and paupers who are materially homeless, so we should be sorry for those who are morally homeless, and who suffer a philosophical starvation as deadly as physical starvation. Not only is it true that some of the most modern philosophers are only trying to prove that we cannot have a philosophy; it is even more true that the most modern among the physical scientists are only trying to prove that science is not physical. It would be even truer to say that some of them are trying to prove that science is not science. For science is only an old word for knowledge; and knowledge is exactly what some of the new scientists say we can never obtain. All this, right or wrong, has left that generation in an unprecedented degree unprepared with any axioms on which to act, or any tests on which it could really rely. And it is especially awkward, when the young man who has never learned anything except how to hate his own father and grandfather, is suddenly called upon to love all men like brothers.

~G.K. Chesterton:  As I Was Saying, XI.

On Turnpikes and Mediævalism

OPENING my newspaper the other day, I saw a short but emphatic leaderette entitled 'A Relic of Mediævalism.' It expressed a profound indignation upon the fact that somewhere or other, in some fairly remote corner of this country, there is a turnpike-gate, with a toll. It insisted that this antiquated tyranny is insupportable, because it is supremely important that our road traffic should go very fast; presumably a little faster than it does. So it described the momentary delay in this place as a relic of mediævalism. I fear the future will look at that sentence, somewhat sadly and a little contemptuously, as a very typical relic of modernism. I mean it will be a melancholy relic of the only period in all human history when people were proud of being modern. For though today is always today and the moment is always modern, we are the only men in all history who fell back upon bragging about the mere fact that today is not yesterday. I fear that some in the future will explain it by saying that we had precious little else to brag about. For, whatever the mediæval faults, they went with one merit. Mediæval people never worried about being mediæval; and modern people do worry horribly about being modern.

To begin with, note the queer, automatic assumption that it must always mean throwing mud at a thing to call it a relic of mediævalism. The modern world contains a good many relics of mediævalism, and most of us would be surprised if the argument were logically enforced even against the things that are commonly called mediæval. We should express some regret if somebody blew up Westminster Abbey, because it is a relic of mediævalism. Doubts would trouble us if the Government burned all existing copies of Dante's Divine Comedy and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, because they are quite certainly relics of mediævalism. We could not throw ourselves into unreserved and enthusiastic rejoicing even if the Tower of Giotto were destroyed as a relic of mediævalism. And only just lately, in Oxford and Paris (themselves, alas! relics of mediævalism), there has been a perverse and pedantic revival of the Thomist Philosophy and the logical method of the mediæval Schoolmen. Similarly, curious and restless minds, among the very youngest artists and art critics, have unaccountably gone back even further into the barbaric period than the limit of the Tower of Giotto, and are even now telling us to look back to the austerity of Cimabue and the Byzantine diagrams of the Dark Ages. These relics must be more mediæval even than mediævalism.

But, in fact, this queer phase would not cover only what is commonly called mediævalism. If a relic of mediævalism only means something that has come down to us from mediæval times, such writers would probably be surprised at the size and solidity of the relics. If I told these honest pressmen that the Press is a relic of mediævalism, they would probably prove their love of a cliché by accusing me of a paradox. But it is at least certain that the Printing Press is a relic of mediævalism. It was discovered and established by entirely mediæval men, steeped in mediæval ideas, stuffed with the religion and social spirit of the Middle Ages. There are no more typically mediæval words than those noble words of the eulogy that was pronounced by the great English printer on the great English poet; the words of Caxton upon Chaucer. If I were to say that Parliament is a relic of mediævalism, I should be on even stronger ground; for, while the Press did at least come at the end of the Middle Ages, the Parliaments came much more nearly at the beginning of the Middle Ages. They began, I think, in Spain and the provinces of the Pyrenees; but our own traditional date, connecting them with the revolt of Simon de Montfort, if not strictly accurate, does roughly represent the time. I need not say that half the great educational foundations, not only Oxford and Cambridge, but Glasgow and Paris, are relics of mediævalism. It would seem rather hard on the poor journalistic reformer if he is not allowed to pull down a little turnpike-gate till he has proved his right to pull down all these relics of mediævalism.

Next we have, of course, the very considerable historic doubt about whether the turnpike-gate is a relic of mediævalism. I do not know what was the date of this particular turnpike; but turnpikes and tolls of that description were perhaps most widely present, most practically enforced, or, at least, most generally noted, in the eighteenth century. When Pitt and Dundas, both of them roaring drunk, jumped over a turnpike-gate and were fired at with a blunderbuss, I hope nobody will suggest that those two great politicians were relics of mediævalism. Nobody surely could be more modern than Pitt and Dundas, for one of them was a great financial statesman, depending entirely on the bankers, and the other was a swindler. It is possible, of course, that some such local toll was really mediæval, but I rather doubt whether the journalist even inquired whether it was mediæval. He probably regards everything that happened before the time of Jazz and the Yellow Press as mediæval. For him mediæval only means old, and old only means bad; so that we come to the last question, which ought to have been the first question, of whether a turnpike really is necessarily bad.

If we were really relics of mediævalismthat is, if we had really been taught to thinkwe should have put that question first, and discussed whether a thing is bad or good before discussing whether it is modern or mediæval. There is no space to discuss it here at length, but a very simple test in the matter may be made. The aim and effect of tolls is simply this: that those who use the roads shall pay for the roads. As it is, the poor people of a district, including those who never stir from their villages, and hardly from their firesides, pay to maintain roads which are ploughed up and torn to pieces by the cars and lorries of rich men and big businesses, coming from London and the distant cities. It is not self-evident that this is a more just arrangement than that by which wayfarers pay to keep up the way, even if that arrangement were a relic of mediævalism.

Lastly, we might well ask, is it indeed so certain that our roads suffer from the slowness of petrol traffic; and that, if we can only make every sort of motor go faster and faster, we shall all be saved at last? That motors are more important than men is doubtless an admitted principle of a truly modern philosophy; nevertheless, it might be well to keep some sort of reasonable ratio between them, and decide exactly how many human beings should be killed by each car in the course of each year. And I fear that a mere policy of the acceleration of traffic may take us beyond the normal modern recognition of murder into something resembling a recognition of massacre. And about this, I for one still have a scruple; which is probably a relic of mediævalism.

~G.K. Chesterton: from All I Survey.

The Modern Slave

NOW I HAVE only taken the test case of Female Suffrage because it is topical and concrete; it is not of great moment for me as a political proposal. I can quite imagine anyone substantially agreeing with my view of woman as universalist and autocrat in a limited area; and still thinking that she would be none the worse for a ballot paper. The real question is whether this old ideal of woman as the great amateur is admitted or not. There are many modern things which threaten it much more than suffragism; notably the increase of self-supporting women, even in the most severe or the most squalid employments. If there be something against nature in the idea of a horde of wild women governing, there is something truly intolerable in the idea of a herd of tame women being governed. And there are elements in human psychology that make this situation particularly poignant or ignominous. The ugly exactitudes of business, the bells and clocks the fixed hours and rigid departments, were all meant for the male: who, as a rule, can only do one thing and can only with the greatest difficulty be induced to do that. If clerks do not try to shirk their work, our whole great commercial system breaks down. It is breaking down, under the inroad of women who are adopting the unprecedented and impossible course of taking the system seriously and doing it well. Their very efficiency is the definition of their slavery. It is generally a very bad sign when one is trusted very much by one's employers. And if the evasive clerks have a look of being blackguards, the earnest ladies are often something very like blacklegs. But the more immediate point is that the modern working woman bears a double burden, for she endures both the grinding officialism of the new office and the distracting scrupulosity of the old home. Few men understand what conscientiousness is. They understand duty, which generally means one duty; but conscientiousness is the duty of the universalist. It is limited by no work days or holidays; it is a lawless, limitless, devouring decorum. If women are to be subjected to the dull rule of commerce, we must find some way of emancipating them from the wild rule of conscience. But I rather fancy you will find it easier to leave the conscience and knock off the commerce. As it is, the modern clerk or secretary exhausts herself to put one thing straight in the ledger and then goes home to put everything straight in the house.

This condition (described by some as emancipated) is at least the reverse of my ideal. I would give woman, not more rights, but more privileges. Instead of sending her to seek such freedom as notoriously prevails in banks and factories, I would design specially a house in which she can be free. And with that we come to the last point of all; the point at which we can perceive the needs of women, like the rights of men, stopped and falsified by something which it is the object of this book to expose.

The Feminist (which means, I think, one who dislikes the chief feminine characteristics) has heard my loose monologue, bursting all the time with one pent-up protest. At this point he will break out and say, "But what are we to do? There is modern commerce and its clerks; there is the modern family with its unmarried daughters; specialism is expected everywhere; female thrift and conscientiousness are demanded and supplied. What does it matter whether we should in the abstract prefer the old human and housekeeping woman; we might prefer the Garden of Eden. But since women have trades they ought to have trades unions. Since women work in factories, they ought to vote on factory-acts. If they are unmarried they must be commercial; if they are commercial they must be political. We must have new rules for a new world—even if it be not a better one." I said to a Feminist once: "The question is not whether women are good enough for votes: it is whether votes are good enough for women." He only answered: "Ah, you go and say that to the women chain-makers on Cradley Heath."

Now this is the attitude which I attack. It is the huge heresy of Precedent. It is the view that because we have got into a mess we must grow messier to suit it; that because we have taken a wrong turn some time ago we must go forward and not backwards; that because we have lost our way we must lose our map also; and because we have missed our ideal, we must forget it. "There are numbers of excellent people who do not think votes unfeminine; and there may be enthusiasts for our beautiful modern industry who do not think factories unfeminine." But if these things are unfeminine it is no answer to say that they fit into each other. I am not satisfied with the statement that my daughter must have unwomanly powers because she has unwomanly wrongs. Industrial soot and political printer's ink are two blacks which do not make a white. Most of the Feminists would probably agree with me that womanhood is under shameful tyranny in the shops and mills. But I want to destroy the tyranny. They want to destroy womanhood. That is the only difference.

Whether we can recover the clear vision of woman as a tower with many windows, the fixed eternal feminine from which her sons, the specialists, go forth; whether we can preserve the tradition of a central thing which is even more human than democracy and even more practical than politics; whether, in word, it is possible to re-establish the family, freed from the filthy cynicism and cruelty of the commercial epoch, I shall discuss in the last section of this book. But meanwhile do not talk to me about the poor chain-makers on Cradley Heath. I know all about them and what they are doing. They are engaged in a very wide-spread and flourishing industry of the present age. They are making chains.

~G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World.

"Secular education"

"IT IS OBVIOUSLY most unjust that the old believer should be forbidden to teach his old beliefs, while the new believer is free to teach his new beliefs.  It is obviously unfair and unreasonable that secular education should forbid one man to say a religion is true and allow another man to say it is untrue. It is obviously essential to justice that unsectarian education should cut both ways; and that if the orthodox must cut out the statement that man has a Divine origin, the materialist must cut out the statement that he has a wholly and exclusively bestial origin."

~G.K. Chesterton:  Illustrated London News, Aug. 8, 1925.


On Private Property and Modern Education

‘The modern capitalist is more of a communist than was the old revolutionist.’

WE ALL KNOW that Mr. Smiles dedicated the modern world to Self-Help. Since then it has dedicated itself to Self-Hindrance, of the strangest sort, amounting often to self-strangulation or self-hanging; the individualistic theory of liberty having truly given it rope enough to hang itself. It is amazing to no note in how many matters the modern world started out to do one thing and has done exactly the opposite. The ethics if the economist, in the early nineteenth century exaggerated the sanctity and pride of private property. This led to a race for wealth which has not only led recently to a relapse into poverty, but to a change by which, even for the few who had more property, the property was much less private. In the nineteenth century the Northern Farmer was described as hearing the comfortable sound of “property, property, property” in the very canter of his horse’s legs. Nowadays the Northern Farmer probably travels in a motor and ploughs by machinery; I know not whether strange noises from the bowels of his iron monsters seen to resemble the words “mortgage” or “bankruptcy,” but I am pretty certain that they do not now soothe him with the dulcet dactyls of the cantering hooves. In plain fact the Northern Farmer has much less property than he had when he started out to look for it in the presence of Mr. Alfred Tennyson. And even the he has is much less private property, being sunk in the vast semi-public undertakings or international combines, over which he certainly has no control, as he had control over his horses. The same industrial individualism which set out with no thought except private property has produced a new world in which private property is hardly ever thought of, or at least not primarily as private.
I was looking at a recent collection which contains the opinions of many famous free-thinkers about Jesus Christ. It is amusing to note how all of them differ among themselves; how one of them contradicts another and the last is always repudiated by the next. And I was specially amused to note that the earlier skeptics, like Strauss, blamed Jesus of Nazareth for his contempt for commerce and capital (then the gods of the hour), while the later skeptics, like Shaw and Wells, praised the same Jesus of Nazareth for the same contempt for the same commerce, because in the interval the sceptic had turned from an earnest Individualist to an earnest Socialist. Anyhow, it was not Christ or the Christian idea that had changed; it was only all the criticisms of all their critics. And the later sceptic actually became more orthodox than the earlier sceptic, simply by going Bolshevist. This is merely an example, for the moment, of how the whole tone of the world has changed about property in relation to privacy. The modern capitalist is more of a communist than was the old revolutionist. The real Radicals had a horror of centralization, and one of the most popular and prominent of the demagogues described a Communist as a man who “always was willing to give you his penny and pocket your shilling.” The moral of this vast overturn and disappointment is obvious enough: that when private property only means private enterprise, and private enterprise only means profiteering, it will soon cease even to produce profits and become in every sense unprofitable.
The way the world has changed about private property is proved by the fact that it is regarded as a private field. Mr. Belloc and I, when we said first that we really did believe that private property should be private, were mildly chaffed, as if we were seeking solitude like hermits, or hoarding halfpence like misers. But I am not concerned with our particular thesis here, or with any such personal matters; I only mention this one as the most obvious of many examples if the modern world rushing one way and rebounding another. Another example is the tangle of education. In one sense, this is supremely the educational age. In another sense, it is supremely and especially the anti-educational age. It is the age in which the Government’s right to teach everybody’s children is for the first time established. It is also the age in which the father’s right to teach his own children is for the first time denied. It is the time in which experimentalists earnestly desire to teach a jolly little guttersnipe everything; even Criminology and Cosmic Poise and the Maya system of decorative rhythm. But it is also the time in which earnest philosophers are really doubting whether it is right to teach anybody anything; even how to avoid taking poison or falling off precipices.
But the practical difficulty of our present education is even worse. It is attempting to conduct a process, and yet it has produced a world which incessantly interrupts and reverses that process. Education is initialization; it is in its nature a progression from one thing to another; the arrangement of ideas in a certain order. A child learns to walk before he learns to skip; he learns his own alphabet before he learns the Greek alphabet. Or, if any educationist now reverses this process, he must at least have a reason for reversing it, and must therefore refuse to reverse the reversal. But the real life of our time reverses everything and no reason for anything. The real world, that roars round the poor little gutter-boy as he goes to school, is an utterly anti-educational world. If the school is really giving any education, the world is certainly engaged day and night in ruing his education. For the world gives him things anyhow, in any order, with any result; the world gives him things meant for somebody else; the world throws things at him from morning till night, quite blindly, madly, and without meaning or aim; and this process, whatever else it is, is the exact opposite of the process of education. The gutter-boy spends about three-quarters of his time getting uneducated. He is educated by the modern State School. He is uneducated by the Modern State.
Because, as I have already ventured very delicately to hint, the modern Sate is in a devil of a state. It is itself the chaos and contradiction produced by that very unbalanced race after private profit that has produced its own opposite in a sort of communal confusion. Educationists have the task of putting the school in order before anybody has put the State in order. It is arguable that we ought to put the State in order before there can really be such a thing as a State school. But I will not discuss my own remedies here, which would involve indecent allusions to a third thing called the Family; now never mentioned in respectable circles. Only I think there is something wrong with a system that thus throttles itself and cuts its own throat; a world in which we cannot even paint the town red without turning it green, or set the Thames on fire without freezing it.
~G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, May 28, 1932.

The Empire Of The Ignorant

THAT ANARCHIC FUTURE which the more timid Tories professed to fear has already fallen upon us. We are ruled by ignorant people. But the most ignorant people in modern Britain are to be found in the upper class, the middle class, and especially the upper middle class. I do not say it with the smallest petulance or even distaste; these classes are often really beneficent in their breeding or their hospitality, or their humanity to animals.

There is still no better company than the young at the two Universities, or the best of the old in the Army or some of the other services. Also, of course, there are exceptions in the matter of learning; real scholars like Professor Gilbert Murray or Professor Phillimore are not ignorant, though they are gentlemen. But when one looks up at any mass of the wealthier and more powerful classes, at the Grand Stand at Epsom, at the windows of Park-lane, at the people at a full-dress debate or a fashionable wedding, we shall be safe in saying that they are, for the most part, the most ill-taught, or untaught, creatures in these islands.

Literally Illiterate

It is indeed their feeble boast that they are not literally illiterate. They are always saying the ancient barons could not sign their own names--for they know less of history perhaps than of anything else. The modern barons, however, can sign their own names--or someone else's for a change. They can sign their own names; and that is about all they can do. They cannot face a fact, or follow an argument, or feel a tradition; but, least of all, can they, upon any persuasion, read through a plain impartial book, English or foreign, that is not specially written to soothe their panic or to please their pride. Looking up at these seats of the mighty I can only say, with something of despair, what Robert Lowe said of the enfranchised workmen: "We must educate our masters."

I do not mean this as paradoxical, or even as symbolical; it is simply tame and true. The modern English rich know nothing about things, not even about the things to which they appeal. Compared with them, the poor are pretty sure to get some enlightenment, even if they cannot get liberty; they must at least be technical. An old apprentice learnt a trade, even if his master came like any Turk and banged him most severely. The old housewife knew which side her bread was buttered, even if it were so thin as to be almost imperceptible. The old sailor knew the ropes; even if he knew the rope's end. Consequently, when any of these revolted, they were concerned with things they knew, pains, practical impossibilities, or the personal record.

But They Know

The apprentice cried "Clubs?" and cracked his neighbours' heads with the precision and fineness of touch which only manual craftsmanship can give. The housewives who flatly refused to cook the hot dinner knew how much or how little, cold meat there was in the house. The sailor who defied discipline by mutinying at the Nore did not defy discipline in the sense of falling off the rigging or letting the water into the hold. Similarly the modern proletariat, however little it may know, knows what it is talking about.

But the curious thing about the educated class is that exactly what it does not know is what it is talking about. I mean that it is startlingly ignorant of those special things which it is supposed to invoke and keep inviolate. The things that workmen invoke may be uglier, more acrid, more sordid; but they know all about them. They know enough arithmetic to know that prices have risen; the kind Levantine gentleman is always there to make them fully understand the meaning of an interest sum; and the landlord will define Rent as rigidly as Ricardo. The doctors can always tell them the Latin for an empty stomach; and when the poor man is treated for the time with some human respect (by the Coronet) it almost seems a pity he is not alive to hear how legally he died.

Against this bitter shrewdness and bleak realism in the suffering classes it is commonly supposed that the more leisured classes stand for certain legitimate ideas which also have their place in life; such as history, reverence, the love of the land. Well, it might be no bad thing to have something, even if it were something narrow, that testified to the truths of religion or patriotism. But such narrow things in the past have always at least known their own history; the bigot knew his catechism; the patriot knew his way home. The astonishing thing about the modern rich is their real and sincere ignorance--especially of the things they like.


Take the most topical case you can find in any drawing-room: Belfast. Ulster is most assuredly a matter of history; and there is a sense in which Orange resistance is a matter of religion. But go and ask any of the five hundred fluttering ladies at a garden party (who find Carson so splendid and Belfast so thrilling) what it is all about, when it began, where it came from, what it really maintains? What was the history of Ulster? What is the religion of Belfast? Do any of them know where Ulstermen were in Grattan's time; do any of them know what was the "Protestantism" that came from Scotland to that isle; could any of them tell what part of the old Catholic system it really denied?

It was generally something that the fluttering ladies find in their own Anglican churches every Sunday. It were vain to ask them to state the doctrines of the Calvinist creed; they could not state the doctrines of their own creed. It were vain to tell them to read the history of Ireland; they have never read the history of England. It would matter as little that they do not know these things, as that I do not know German; but then German is not the only thing I am supposed to know. History and ritual are the only things aristocrats are supposed to know; and they don't know them.

Smile and Smile

I am not fed on turtle soup and Tokay because of my exquisite intimacy with the style and idiom of Heine and Richter. The English governing class is fed on turtle soup and Tokay to represent the past, of which it is literally ignorant, as I am of German irregular verbs; and to represent the religious traditions of the State, when it does not know three words of theology, as I do not know three words of German.

This is the last insult offered by the proud to the humble. They rule them by the smiling terror of an ancient secret. They smile and smile; but they have forgotten the secret.

~G.K. Chesterton

"It's terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hung today."

"THE MEN whom the people ought to choose to represent them are too busy to take the jobs.  But the politician is waiting for it. He's the pestilence of modern times.  What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible.  Keep the politicians near enough to kick them.  The villagers who met under the village tree could also hang their politicians to the tree.  It's terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hung today."

~G.K. Chesterton (interview with The Cleveland Press, March 1, 1921).

Customizable shirt from Zazzle


"General ideals used to dominate politics"

"NOW, IN OUR TIME, philosophy or religion, our theory, that is, about ultimate things, has been driven out, more or less simultaneously, from two fields which it used to occupy. General ideals used to dominate literature. They have been driven out by the cry of "art for art's sake." General ideals used to dominate politics. They have been driven out by the cry of "efficiency," which may roughly be translated as "politics for politics' sake." Persistently for the last twenty years the ideals of order or liberty have dwindled in our books; the ambitions of wit and eloquence have dwindled in our parliaments. Literature has purposely become less political; politics have purposely become less literary. General theories of the relation of things have thus been extruded from both; and we are in a position to ask, "What have we gained or lost by this extrusion? Is literature better, is politics better, for having discarded the moralist and the philosopher?""

~G.K. Chesterton: Heretics.


"We are Christians and Catholics"

“WE ARE Christians and Catholics not because we worship a key, but because we have passed a door; and felt the wind that is the trumpet of liberty blow over the land of the living.”

~G.K. Chesterton:  The Everlasting Man.


"We have a censorship by the Press"

"AT present, it is not we that silence the Press; it is the Press that silences us. It is not a case of the Commonwealth settling how much the editors shall say; it is a case of the editors settling how much the Commonwealth shall know." (ILN, Oct. 19, 1907)

"BUT the modern editor regards himself far too much as a kind of original artist, who can select and suppress facts with the arbitrary ease of a poet or a caricaturist." (ILN, Oct. 26, 1907)

"THE frivolous chatter is now all in public journalism. (ILN, Feb. 1908)

"THE new method of journalism is to offer so many comments or, at least, secondary circumstances that there is actually no room left for the original facts." (ILN, Nov. 6, 1909)

"IT is by this time practically quite impossible to get the truth out of newspapers, even the honest newspapers." (ILN, Jan. 23, 1909)

"AND the papers are shouting louder and louder like demagogues, merely because their hearers are growing more and more deaf." (ILN, Dec. 8, 1928)

"WHAT I protest against is the prevailing fashion, in the Press and elsewhere, of parading all this perfectly natural indifference and ignorance as if it were a sort of  impartiality." (ILN, Apr. 12, 1930)

"THERE is no fear that a modern king will attempt to override the constitution: it is more likely that he will ignore the constitution and work behind its back. He will take no advantage of his kingly power: it is more likely that he will take advantage of his kingly powerlessness -- of the fact that he is free from criticism and publicity. For the King is the most private person of our time. It will not be necessary for anyone to fight against the proposal of a censorship of the Press. We do not need a censorship of the Press. We have a censorship by the Press." (Orthodoxy)

~G.K. Chesterton


"There was something that He hid from all men"

"JOY, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth."

~G.K. Chesterton:  Orthodoxy.


"Modern war is much greater"

"I DO NOT KNOW whether Martin Luther invented mustard gas, or George Fox manufactured tear-shells, or St. Thomas Aquinas devised a stink-bomb producing suffocation. If wars are the horrid fruits of a thing called Christianity, they are also the horrid fruits of everything called citizenship and democracy and liberty and national independence, and are we to judge all these and condemn them by... their fruits? Anyhow such a modern war is much greater than any of the wars that can be referred to religious motives, or even religious epochs. The broad truth about the matter is that wars have become more organised, and more ghastly in the particular period of Materialism."

~G.K. Chesterton:  Illustrated London News, July 26, 1930.

"The suburbs"

“I STILL hold. . .that the suburbs ought to be either glorified by romance and religion or else destroyed by fire from heaven, or even by firebrands from the earth.”

~G.K. Chesterton:  The Coloured Lands.

Poem: Bob-Up-And-Down

IRRESPONSIBLE outbreak of one who, having completed a book of enormous length on the Poet Chaucer, feels himself freed from all bonds of intellectual self-respect and proposes to do no work for an indefinite period.

“Wot ye not wher ther start a litel town,
Which that icleped is Bob-up-an-down.” --THE CANTERBURY TALES.

They babble on of Babylon,
They tire me out with Tyre,
And Sidon putting me side on,
I do not much admire.
But the little town Bob-up-and-Down,
That lies beyond the Blee,
Along the road our fathers rode,
O that’s the road for me.

In dome and spire and cupola
It bubbles up and swells
For the company that canter
To the Canterbury Bells.
But when the Land Surveyors come
With maps and books to write,
The little town Bob-up-and-Down
It bobs down out of sight.

I cannot live in Liverpool,
O lead me not to Leeds,
I’m not a Man in Manchester,
Though men be cheap as weeds:
But the little town Bob-up-and-Down,
That bobs towards the sea,
And knew its name when Chaucer came,
O that’s the town for me.

I’ll go and eat my Christmas meat
In that resurgent town,
And pledge to fame our Father’s name
Till the sky bobs up and down;
That’s played beside the Blee,
Bob-Apple in Bob-up-and-Down,
O that’s the game for me.

Now Huddersfield is Shuddersfield,
And Hull is nearly Hell,
Where a Daisy would go crazy
Or a Canterbury Bell,
Alone is fair and free,
For it can’t be found above the ground,
O that’s the place for me.

~G.K. Chesterton: The Coloured Lands.

The Coloured Lands: Fairy Stories, Comic Verse and Fantastic Pictures
• At Amazon