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G. K. Chesterton

Gilbert Keith Chesterton came to my attention in recent days because his words seem to attract me so often when looking for an appropriate quote to support a point in my essays.

While going to school at LSU as an English major, I recall the Victorian English authors Arnold, Carlyle, Newman, and Ruskin, but the name Chesterton eludes me.  Well, perhaps that’s because he lived so long and was lumped in with a different group of writers. Anyway, apparently I didn’t take the course that covered him.

Although born in the Victorian Period, 1874, he lived and wrote well into the Twentieth Century, 1936.  Perhaps he’s considered a member of the Modernism Period (1901-1939).  I don’t recall taking a course by that name.

At any rate, I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Chesterton other than through his quotes.  Of course I decided to do a little research.  How could I not when some of his bon mots include, “Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up,” or “Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere,” or “Beware  no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.”  These few words carry the weight of wisdom and humor.

The hats worn by Gilbert were diverse: writer, lay theologian, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, and orator.

Being that Chesterton wrote around eighty books, several hundred poems, about two hundred short stories, four thousand essays and several plays, I won’t attempt to categorize or summarize his works but rather tell you a little about the man himself.

Chesterton was born in London, attended Slade School of Art and took classes in literature, but did not achieve a degree in either field.  He instead went to work at a publishing house for several years where he simultaneously became a freelance literary and art critic.  He married Frances Blogg and remained married to her for life.  He became a weekly opinion columnist which he continued for over thirty years.  The young Chesterton was baptized into the Church of England, became fascinated with the occult, was led back to Anglicanism by his wife, and then became a Roman Catholic calling the Anglican Church a “pale imitation.”

Chesterton was 6’ 4” and weighed nearly 300 pounds which he often covered with a cape and crumpled hat.  He usually carried a swordstick in hand with a cigar hanging from his lips.  He was forgetful, often forgetting where he was supposed to be going, missing trains, or being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he was extremely clumsy.

He loved to debate his friends George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russel, and Clarence Darrow, all of whom bemoaned his death in 1936.

If you wish to learn more about Mr. Chesterton, I suggest you go to The American Chesterton Society (http://www.chesterton.org/) or G. K. Chesterton’s Works on the Web (http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/).

I’ll cut my ramblings short and give you a few more of Mr. Chesterton’s words with the hope you’ll pursue a greater knowledge of this fellow whom I seemed to have overlooked.

We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.

When learned men begin to use their reason, then I generally discover that they haven't got any.

Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.

Fairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.

It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.

If there were not God, there would be no atheists.

These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.

Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much.

Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.

Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil.

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.

I must admit I feel a little foolish knowing so little about Mr. Chesterton…and a little humbled by his four thousand essays.