Selected Quotes from G.K. Chesterton
Note: for the most part the following quotes are from GKC's
column for the Illustrated London News. (He wrote the column
from 1905 until his death in 1936.) Dates, either in years
or more specific, would refer to when the column was published.
There are also two books with collections of quotes from GKC.
"The Quotable Chesterton" was edited by George J. Marlin, Richard
P. Rabatin, and John L. Swan and published by Ignatius Press.
It's mostly quotes from Chesterton's books, such as the Father Brown
series. It included a bibliography of Chesterton's writings.
"More Quotable Chesterton", was edited by the same men, and also
published by Ignatius. It consists of quotes culled from the
Illustrated London News columns.
The following quotes are my own selections from the ILN columns.
Nothing is so remote from us as the thing which is not old enough to be
history and not new enough to be news.
It is the beginning of all true criticism of our time to realize that
it has really nothing to say, at the very moment when it has invented
so tremendous a trumpet for saying it.
The Byzantines hammered away at their hard and orthodox symbols,
because they could not be in a mood to believe that men could take a
hint. The moderns drag out into lengths and reels of extravagance their
new orthodoxy of being unorthodox, because they also cannot give a
hint--or take a hint. Yet all perfect and well-poised art is really a
Believe me, it is not failing to speak out with promptitude and energy
that is the matter with you; it is having nothing consistent or
valuable to say. -- Matthew Arnold, quoted by GKC
The life of a thinking man will probably be divided into two parts--the
first in which he desires to exterminate modern thinkers, and the
second in which he desires to watch them exterminating each other. ...
Suppose, for instance, there is an old story and a new sceptic who is
skeptical of the story. We have only to wait a little while for a yet
newer skeptic who is skeptical of the skeptic. He will probably find
the old notion actually a help in his new notion.This process is an
abstract truth applying to anything, apart from agreement or
Journalism only tells us what men are doing; it is fiction that tells
us what they are thinking, and still more what they are feeling. If a
new scientific theory finds the soul of a man in his dreams, at least
it ought not to leave out his day-dreams. And all fiction is only a
diary of day-dreams instead of days. And this profound preoccupation of
men's minds with certain things always eventually has an effect even on
the external expression of the age. 
For good or evil, a line has been passed in our political history; and
something that we have known all our lives is dead. I will take only
one example of it: our politicians can no longer be caricatured. 
Correctitude implies nowadays a formal or fastidious use of words; and
what is wanted is not so much the correct as the living use of words.
It is the memory of the meaning of a word which is the life of the
The Party System was founded on one national notion of fair play. It
was the notion that folly and futility should be fairly divided between
both sides. 
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and
Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes.
The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being
corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his
revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his
tradition. Thus we have two great types--the advanced person who
rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the
ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine.
Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend
of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or
mutual check, in our Constitution. 
But those dealing in the actual manufacture of mind are dealing in a
very explosive material. The material is not merely the clay of which
man is master, but the truths of semblances of truth which have a
certain mastery over man. The material is explosive because it must be
taken seriously. The men writing books really are throwing bombs. 
What is education? Properly speaking, there is no such thing as
education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from
one generation to another. Whatever the soul is like, it will have to
be passed on somehow, consciously or unconsciously, and that transition
may be called education. ... What we need is to have a culture before
we hand it down. In other words, it is a truth, however sad and
strange, that we cannot give what we have not got, and cannot teach to
other people what we do not know ourselves. [7/5/24]
It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that
some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the
best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work
of unselfishness. [8/9/24]
When men have come to the edge of a precipice, it is the lover of life
who has the spirit to leap backwards, and only the pessimist who
continues to believe in progress. [11/8/24]
A lady mathematician, who was also something of a mystic, once talked
to me for about half an hour about what she called "The Spiral of
Progress." For her, I suppose, the dome would be surmounted neither by
a cross nor by a cock, but by a corkscrew. [2/14/25] [Continued in
later column] Only I gravely doubt
whether her sort of corkscrew will ever find its ultimate and divine
fulfillment in drawing any sort of cork. For her the heavens at which
the sacred spiral pointed were full of vast mathematical diagrams drawn
in dotted lines of stars. There was no probability that there would
appear there among the clouds that Divine Bottle for which Rabelais was
the reward of life.
This is the perpetual and pitiful tragedy of the practical man in
practical affairs. He always begins with a flourish of contempt for
what he calls theorizing and what people who can do it call thinking.
He will not wait for logic--that is, in the most exact sense, he will
not listen to reason. It will therefore appear to him an idle and
ineffectual proceeding to say that there is a reason for his present
failure. Nevertheless, it may be well to say it, and to try and make it
clear even to him. [2/29/25]
But there is another strong objection which I, one of the laziest of
all the children of Adam, have against the Leisure State. Those who
think it could be done argue that a vast machinery using electricity,
water-power, petrol, and so on, might reduce the work imposed on each
of us to a minimum. It might, but it would also reduce our control to a
minimum. We should ourselves become parts of a machine, even if the
machine only used those parts once a week. The machine would be our
master, for the machine would produce our food, and most of us could
have no notion of how it was really being produced. [3/21/25]
We all have a little weakness, which is very natural but rather
misleading, for supposing that this epoch must be the end of the
world because it will be the end of us. How future generations will get
on without us is indeed, when we come to think of it, quite a puzzle.
But I suppose they will get on somehow, and may possibly venture to
revise our judgments as we have revised earlier judgments. [8/15/25]
Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor. -- Ovid. "I see the better
way, and approve it; I follow the worse." [quoted by GKC]
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