“The wind moves the trees”

The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind. When people begin to say that the material circumstances have alone created the moral circumstances, then they have prevented all possibility of serious change. For if my circumstances have made me wholly stupid, how can I be certain even that I am right in altering those circumstances?

The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts—including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.

— Tremendous Trifles (1909).

Published in: on March 27, 2019 at 11:44 am  Leave a Comment  

“Every brick”

A city is, properly speaking, more poetic even than a countryside, for while Nature is a chaos of unconscious forces, a city is a chaos of conscious ones. The crest of the flower or the pattern of the lichen may or may not be significant symbols. But there is no stone in the street and no brick in the wall that is not actually a deliberate symbol—a message from some man, as much as if it were a telegram or a post-card. The narrowest street possesses, in every crook and twist of its intention, the soul of the man who built it, perhaps long in his grave. Every brick has as human a hieroglyph as if it were a graven brick of Babylon; every slate on the roof is as educational a document as if it were a slate covered with addition and subtraction sums. Anything which tends, even under the fantastic form of the minutiae of Sherlock Holmes, to assert this romance of detail in civilization, to emphasize this unfathomably human character in flints and tiles, is a good thing. It is good that the average man should fall into the habit of looking imaginatively at ten men in the street even if it is only on the chance that the eleventh might be a notorious thief.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on March 20, 2019 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Two kinds of ascetics

There are two kinds of ascetics in the world… The first ascetic surrenders things because he could enjoy them; he is the Catholic monk. The second ascetic surrenders things because he could not enjoy them; he is the Puritan. The first is in the tradition of the Pagan sacrifices; he sacrifices the best beast to his gods. The second slaughters only black beetles upon the altar. Briefly, the first offers to give up his goods, the second offers to give up his bads, to heaven. That is why Protestant asceticism (as in the case of total abstinence) is a thing so much more militant and regimentary; it is not left as the wild vow of one man, it is turned into ordinary ethics… The Protestant ascetic… is too good to drink wine. But any stupid monk who was a man of any humility would know that the question was: whether he was good enough to drink it.

Independent Review, January 1906.

(Hat-tip: Society of G.K. Chesterton)

Published in: on March 13, 2019 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  

“The common clay of earth”

There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religion teaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understand the common clay of earth we should understand everything.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on March 6, 2019 at 11:11 am  Leave a Comment