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G.K. Chesterton

CritiqueWorks • VIEWS & QUOTES

Chesterton photoG.K. CHESTERTON, undated
Biographical details ▽ Biographical details △

London, England, 1874

Beaconsfield, England, 1936

Places lived
London; Beaconsfield, England


Novels, stories, essays, poetry, plays, criticism, biography

Literary, mystery, fantasy, satire

Writing language

Greatest lists ▽ Greatest lists △

The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)


The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)


"The Blue Cross" (1910)

Story Collections

The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)

British Literature

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)

Crime and Mystery

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)

On books, writers and writing


The shabby and inconspicuous governess of Charlotte Brontë, with the small outlook and the small creed, had more commerce with the awful and elemental forces which drive the world than a legion of lawless minor poets.

"Charlotte Brontë", Varied Types

The fact is, that the whole mass of [Robert Louis] Stevenson's spiritual and intellectual virtues have been partly frustrated by one additional virtue—that of artistic dexterity. If he had chalked up his great message on a wall, like Walt Whitman, in large and straggling letters, it would have startled men like a blasphemy. But he wrote his light-headed paradoxes in so flowing a copy-book hand that everyone supposed they must be copy-book sentiments. He suffered from his versatility, not, as is loosely said, by not doing every department well enough, but by doing every department too well.

"Stevenson", Varied Types

The truth is that [Leo] Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. ...The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.

"Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity", Varied Types

For [Elizabeth Barrett] Browning was a great poet, and not, as is idly and vulgarly supposed, only a great poetess. The word poetess is bad English, and it conveys a particularly bad compliment. Nothing is more remarkable about Mrs. Browning's work than the absence of that trite and namby-pamby elegance which the last two centuries demanded from lady writers. Wherever her verse is bad it is bad from some extravagance of imagery, some violence of comparison, some kind of debauch of cleverness. Her nonsense never arises from weakness, but from a confusion of powers. If the phrase explain itself, she is far more a great poet than she is a good one.

"Elizabeth Barrett Browning", Varied Types


Whatever the word "great" means, [Charles] Dickens was what it means.

No man encouraged his characters so much as Dickens. "I am an affectionate father," he says, "to every child of my fancy." He was not only an affectionate father, he was an overindulgent father. The children of his fancy are spoilt children. They shake the house like heavy and shouting schoolboys; they smash the story to pieces like so much furniture.

The pessimists are aristocrats like [Lord] Byron; the men who curse God are aristocrats like [Algernon Charles] Swinburne. But when those who starve and suffer speak for a moment, they do not profess merely an optimism, they profess a cheap optimism; they are too poor to afford a dear one. They cannot indulge in any detailed or merely logical defence of life; that would be to delay the enjoyment of it. These higher optimists, of whom Dickens was one, do not approve of the universe; they do not even admire the universe; they fall in love with it. They embrace life too close to criticize or even to see it. Existence to such men has the wild beauty of a woman, and those love her with most intensity who love her with least cause.

Dickens stands first as a defiant monument of what happens when a great literary genius has a literary taste akin to that of the community. For this kinship was deep and spiritual. Dickens was not like our ordinary demagogues and journalists. Dickens did not write what the people wanted. Dickens wanted what the people wanted.

Charles Dickens


For there are two types of great humorist: those who love to see a man absurd and those who hate to see him absurd. Of the first kind are [François] Rabelais and [Charles] Dickens; of the second kind are [Jonathan] Swift and [George] Bernard Shaw.

Geooge Bernard Shaw


[William Makepeace Thackeray] did not know the way things were going: he was too Victorian to understand the Victorian epoch. He did not know enough ignorant people to have heard the news.

[Algernon Charles Swinburne] was, if ever there was one, an inspired poet. I do not think it the highest sort of poet. And you never discover who is an inspired poet until the inspiration goes.

The Victorian Age in Literature

On other topics


...the corruption of the priesthood occurred at the precise moment in which it changed from a minority organised to impart knowledge into a minority organised to withhold it. The great danger of decadence in journalism is almost exactly the same. Journalism possesses in itself the potentiality of becoming one of the most frightful monstrosities and delusions that have ever cursed mankind. This horrible transformation will occur at the exact instant at which journalists realise that they can become an aristocracy.

"The New Priests"


The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.

"Tolstoy", Varied Types


For religion all men are equal, as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King.... It has often been said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.

Charles Dickens


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.


It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.

"Spiritualism", All Things Considered


The Puritan is only strong enough to stiffen; the Catholic is strong enough to relax.

Geooge Bernard Shaw


Neither reason nor faith will ever die; for men would die if deprived of either. The wildest mystic uses his reason at some stage; if it be only by reasoning against reason. The most incisive sceptic has dogmas of his own; though when he is a very incisive sceptic, he has often forgotten what they are.

"Anti-Religious Thought In The Eighteenth Century"


CritiqueWorks • VIEWS & QUOTES