Archive for May 29th, 2009

Today is the birthday of one of the most gifted (and most quoted) essayists of the 19th century, G. K. Chesterton. His more well-known books include The Napoleon of Notting Hill, Heretics, The Man Who Was Thursday, Orthodoxy, The Ball and the Cross, What’s Wrong With the World, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. When he converted to Roman Catholicism he saw that priests learned more about depravity by hearing confessions than anyone else — and that became the basis for his famous “Father Brown” mysteries. He was brilliant, quick witted, and hilarious. Everybody has a favorite Chestertonism, so its dumb to try to pick out the “best” ones, but here are a few pretty good ones:

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

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

“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”

“Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.”

“What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.”

“The aesthete aims at harmony rather than beauty. If his hair does not match the mauve sunset against which he is standing, he hurriedly dyes his hair another shade of mauve. If his wife does not go with the wall-paper, he gets a divorce.”

“When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.”

“Do not enjoy yourself. Enjoy dances and theaters and joy-rides and champagne and oysters; enjoy jazz and cocktails and night-clubs if you can enjoy nothing better; enjoy bigamy and burglary and any crime in the calendar, in preference to the other alternative; but never learn to enjoy yourself.”

My favorite Chesterton story comes from his years-long “war of words” with playwright and skeptic George Bernard Shaw. Chesterton was a very large man and Shaw never tired of gigging him about his girth. Once, at a party, Shaw came over to Chesterton who was entertaining a small group of listeners and said, “By the way, Chesterton, I see that you’re pregnant and was wondering what will you name the baby?” Chesterton never hesitated, “Well, if it’s a boy we’re going to call him George and if it’s a girl, we’ll call her Betty, but if it’s just gas, we plan to call it George Bernard Shaw.”

[Visit this page for more Chesterton]

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