Question: "Who was G. K. Chesterton?"
Answer: Gilbert Keith Chesterton was one of the most prolific and highly respected writers of the twentieth century. He was born in London in 1874. Chesterton wrote poems, essays, reviews, novels, and short stories and was an energetic defender of Christianity. He is known today as the “apostle of common sense” because of his wit and ability to relate truth in down-to-earth ways.
Standing 6’4” and weighing in at a hefty 300 lbs, Chesterton was as imposing physically as he was intellectually. As to his size, he claimed to be the politest gentleman in the world, for when he stood to offer his seat to a lady, three could sit in the space he had occupied. Chesterton was regarded as a champion among logicians and critical thinkers, and he was a formidable debater and Christian apologist who faced such notable opponents as Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Clarence Darrow. Shaw, an outspoken critic of the Christian faith, still appreciated Chesterton: “The world is not grateful enough for Chesterton,” he wrote.
Rather than pursuing a traditional education, Chesterton enrolled in an art academy. His literary career began when he was asked to write a series of articles on art criticism. According to Chesterton biographer Dale Ahlquist, “He wrote a hundred books, contributions to 200 more, hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, five plays, five novels, and some two hundred short stories, including a popular series featuring the priest-detective, Father Brown. In spite of his literary accomplishments, he considered himself primarily a journalist. He wrote over 4,000 newspaper essays, including 30 years worth of weekly columns for the Illustrated London News, and 13 years of weekly columns for the Daily News. He also edited his own newspaper, G. K.’s Weekly” (“Who is this Guy and Why Haven’t I Heard of Him?” www.chesterton.org/who-is-this-guy, accessed 4/17/23).
A devout Roman Catholic, Chesterton tackled the growing trends toward agnosticism, atheism, determinism (a belief that man has no free will), and moral relativism. He was also quick to criticize the darker sides of capitalism and communism. So effective were his arguments favoring Christianity that a brilliant young scholar named C. S. Lewis renounced his atheism after reading Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man. In Lewis’s autobiographical Surprised by Joy, he said of Chesterton, “I had never heard of him and had no idea of what he stood for; nor can I quite understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me. It might have been expected that my pessimism, my atheism, and my hatred of sentiment would have made him to me the least congenial of all authors. It would almost seem that Providence, or some second cause of a very obscure kind, quite overrules our previous tastes when it decides to bring to minds together. Liking an author may be as involuntary and improbable as falling in love” (Surprised by Joy, Geoffrey Bles, 1955, ch. XII).
The noted French scholar Etienne Gilson wrote, “Chesterton was one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed; he was deep because he was right; and he could not help being right; but he could not either help being modest and charitable, so he left it to those who could understand him to know that he was right, and deep; to the others, he apologized for being right, and he made up for being deep by being witty. That is all they can see of him” (quoted by Pearce, J., Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton, Ignatius Press, 2016, ch. 17).
Gilbert Keith Chesterton disliked snobbery, logical fallacies, breaches in reasoning, empty rhetoric, decadence, freedom without responsibility, and dishonesty. He was, in the purest sense, a “writer’s writer,” for his works spanned nearly all literary genres; among his admirers were Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Jorge Luis Borges, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and Orson Welles.
Chesterton is good reading for those who are confused by godless propaganda and humanistic philosophies. And his example of maintaining friendships with people with whom he profoundly disagreed is worthy of emulation.
Among Chesterton’s more memorable quotes are the following:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”
“Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”
“I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.”
“There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.”
“Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.”