The Universe According to G. K. Chesterton: A Dictionary of the Mad, Mundane and Metaphysical

The Universe According to G. K. Chesterton: A Dictionary of the Mad, Mundane and Metaphysical

by G. K. Chesterton

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This quirky, original compilation serves up the eccentric wit and thought-provoking aphorisms of one of the 20th century's liveliest and most articulate minds. Illustrated with several of the author's distinctive drawings.  See more details below


This quirky, original compilation serves up the eccentric wit and thought-provoking aphorisms of one of the 20th century's liveliest and most articulate minds. Illustrated with several of the author's distinctive drawings.

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The Universe According to G. K. Chesterton

A Dictionary of the Mad, Mundane and Metaphysical

By G. K. CHESTERTON, Dale Ahlquist

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-32102-8


G. K. Chesterton on Definitions

Definitions are very dreadful things: they do the two things that most men, especially comfortable men, cannot endure. They fight; and they fight fair. ("The Church of the Servile State," Utopia of Usurers)

To define a thing is literally and grammatically to limit it. (Daily News, Feb. 7, 1902)

I have generally found dictionary definitions extraordinarily bad. (Illustrated London News, Jan. 8, 1927)

The word that has no definition is the word that has no substitute. ("The Dickens Period," Charles Dickens)

For it is generally difficult to destroy, or even to defy, a thing that we cannot define. (Illustrated London News, June 8, 1929)

The mere meaning of words is now strangely forgotten and falsified. ("The Chartered Libertine," A Miscellany of Men)

For in truth I believe that the only way to say anything definite is to define it, and all definition is by limitation and exclusion; and that the only way to say something distinct is to say something distinguishable; and distinguishable from everything else. In short, I think that a man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying. (Illustrated London News, Dec. 15, 1934)

If once we begin to quibble and quarrel about what words ought to mean, or can be made to mean, we shall find ourselves in a mere world of words, most wearisome to those who are concerned with thoughts. ("The Hound of Heaven," The Common Man)

I have dared to go in for definitions. (Illustrated London News, Jan. 3, 1914)

Chesternitions: A Chesterton Dictionary


abortion: the mutilation of womanhood and the massacre of men unborn. ("The Meanness of the Motive," Eugenics and Other Evils)

absent-minded: good-natured. ("The Six Philosophers," The Man Who Was Thursday)

absent-mindedness: present-mindedness on something else. ("Another Fantastic Suburb," Return to Chesterton)

actor: a bundle of masks. ("The Paradise of Thieves," The Wisdom of Father Brown)

addiction: the point where the one incidental form of pleasure, which comes from a certain article of consumption, becomes more important than all the vast universe of natural pleasure, which it finally destroys. ("Lunacy and Letters," Lunacy and Letters)

adventure: an inconvenience rightly considered. ("On Running After One's Hat," All Things Considered)

advertisement: temptation; a loud evasion used in favor of bad wine and bad milk; the windy weakness of vanity; an attack upon the eyes and ears, the senses and the soul; rich people asking for more money. (The Temptation of St. Anthony; Illustrated London News, June 30, 1928, Feb. 6, 1926; G.K.'s Weekly, Aug. 7, 1926; "The Philosophy of Sightseeing," The New Jerusalem)

aesthete: an erotomaniac; a man whose pleasures are principally in artistic feeling; the mild man who matches a russet waistcoat with olive trousers, rather than the man (perhaps the equally lovely man) who matches a golden waistcoat with crimson trousers; a man who 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 wallpaper, he gets a curtain or a divorce. ("The Miser and his Friends," A Miscellany of Men;Illustrated London News, Dec. 25, 1909)

aesthetic: a certain type or tint of beauty—the somewhat mixed, melancholy, and tentative; the arrangement of effects rather than the primary creation of them. (Illustrated London News, Dec. 25, 1909)

agnostic: one whose dogma is that there is no dogma. ("Ibsen," A Handful of Authors)

agnosticism: the ancient confession of ignorance; a decision in favor of indecision; the more priggish form of humility; the negative side of mysticism. ("The Myth of the Mayflower," Fancies vs. Fads; America, Oct. 11, 1930; Daily News, Nov. 2, 1912; "The Puritan," George Bernard Shaw)

alcohol: our general word for the essence of wine and beer and such things, that comes from a people (the Arabs) who have made a war upon them. ("Wine When it is Red," All Things Considered)

alphabet: a set of symbols, like heraldry. (Illustrated London News, Nov. 20, 1915)

amateur: a man who loves a thing so much that he not only practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well, who must love the toils of the work more than any other man can love the rewards of it. ("Browning and His Marriage," Robert Browning)

America: the land of Edison and quick lunches. (Illustrated London News, Feb. 10, 1906)

American: a curious compound of impudence and sensitiveness. ("The Strange Crime of John Boulnois," The Wisdom of Father Brown)

amusement: a narcotic. (Illustrated London News, May 3, 1930)

anachronism: the pedantic word for eternity; an artistic truth that telescopes time and history together. (Illustrated London News, Dec. 25, 1926)

anarchist: a man who will not accept any authority, who treats the community around him as something to which he does not belong. (Daily News, Jan. 21, 1911)

anarchy: the perpetual doing of small, indefensible things; that condition of mind or methods in which you cannot stop yourself; the loss of that self-control which can return to the normal. (Illustrated London News, Nov. 21, 1908; "The Anarchy from Above," Eugenics and Other Evils)

anger: knowing what you don't want more than what you do. (Century Magazine, Nov. 1912)

Anglo-Saxon: a race that is an entire myth, that not only has no existence, but has not even any very lucid verbal meaning. (Daily News, April 14, 1906)

anti-sentimentalism: a rather priggish and a rather snobbish form of sentimentalism. (Illustrated London News, Aug. 20, 1927)

anthropologist: a student of prehistoric man who has his own stone axe to grind. (Illustrated London News, Sept. 10, 1927)

anthropology: the study of anthropoids; the disproportionate disposition, in popular science, to turn the study of human beings into the study of savages. ("The Permanent Philosophy," St. Thomas Aquinas)

anthropomorphism: the notion that primitive men attributed phenomena to a god in human form in order to explain them, because his mind in its sullen limitation could not reach any further than his own clownish existence. ("Science and the Savages," Heretics)

architecture: the most practical and the most dangerous of the arts; the alphabet of giants; the largest system of symbols ever made to meet the eyes of men; the art of putting buildings together so that they will stand up and even stand still; the most arresting and obvious of the denials which the higher reason really offers to the merely evolutionary vision of formlessness and change; the most solid and striking assertion of man's sublime ambition of finality. (BBC talk, Jan. 1933; Illustrated London News, July 19, 1924; Feb. 14, 1925)

argument: differing in order to agree; the most dazzling and delightful of all human games. (Illustrated London News, April 1, 1911; Daily News, Nov. 18, 1901)

aristocracy: the governing class governed by a perfectly simple principle of keeping all the important things to themselves, and giving the papers and the people unimportant things to discuss; the drift or slide of men into a sort of natural pomposity and praise of the powerful, which is the most easy and obvious affair in the world; a priesthood without a god. (Illustrated London News, Mar. 15, 1930; "The Eternal Revolution," Orthodoxy; "The Mirror of Christ," St. Francis of Assisi)

art: the signature of man; a symbol that expresses very real spiritualities under the surface of life; a thing of glimpses. ("The Man in the Cave," "Man and Mythologies," The Everlasting Man; "The Domesticity of Detectives," The Uses of Diversity, "Ibsen," A Handful of Authors)

artist: a person of exquisite susceptibilities; the man who is able to say what everyone else means; a person who can get good out of wine without even drinking it, or out of gold without ever spending it; a person who communicates something. He may communicate it more or less quickly; he may communicate it to a smaller or larger number of people. But it is a question of communication and not merely of what some people call expression. Or rather, strictly speaking, unless it is communication it is not expression. ("The Secret of a Train," Tremendous Trifles;The Observer, Feb. 26, 1911; Illustrated London News, Oct 17, 1925; Nov. 27, 1926)

artistic: to have the intellect and all its instruments on the spot and ready to go to the point. ("The Domesticity of Detectives," The Uses of Diversity)

asceticism: the appetite for what one does not like; in the religious sense, the repudiation of the great mass of human joys because of the supreme joyfulness of the one joy, the religious joy; the idea that truth alone is satisfying. ("Prologue," Four Faultless Felons; "Francis," Varied Types)

assumption: something you do not doubt. You can, of course, if you like, doubt the assumption at the beginning of your argument, but in that case you are beginning a different argument with another assumption at the beginning of it. Every argument begins with an infallible dogma; and that infallible dogma can only be disputed by falling back on some other infallible dogma; you can never prove your first statement, or it would not be your first. (Daily News, June 22, 1907)

astrology: the view that the stars are personal beings, governing our lives. ("The Aristotelian Revolution," St. Thomas Aquinas)

Atheism: the reversal of a subconscious assumption in the soul, the sense that there is a meaning and a direction in the world it sees; the notion of impersonal power; the most daring of all dogmas for it is the assertion of a universal negative. ("The End of the World," The Everlasting Man; Illustrated London News, Dec. 2, 1916; "Charles II," Twelve Types)

atheist: a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification; a man who is not interested in anything except attacks on atheism. ("Babies and Distributism," "Frozen Free Thought," The Well and the Shallows)

authority: that which is necessary for the granting of liberties: e.g., man is free, not because there is no God, but because he needs a God to set him free. By authority he is free. ("The Chartered Libertine," A Miscellany of Men)

automobile: a way of going very quickly when I am bored in London to bore somebody else in Yorkshire. (Daily News, Jan. 5, 1907)

axiom: a first principle which is unproved but which begins all proofs. (Illustrated London News, July 10, 1915)


baby: the Kingdom of God; the most beautiful thing on earth. ("The Orthodox Barber," Tremendous Trifles; "Christianity and Rationalism," The Clarion, 1904)

baptism: birth through a Holy Spirit. ("The Paradoxes of Christianity," Orthodoxy)

barbarian: the enemy of civilization, willfully at war with the principles by which human society has been made possible hitherto; the man who cannot love—no, nor even hate—his neighbor as himself; the man who does not believe in chivalry in war or charity in peace; and, above all, who does not believe in modesty in anything. Whatever he does, he overdoes. ("The War on the Word," "The Refusal of Reciprocity," The Appetite of Tyranny; Illustrated London News, July 31, 1920)

barbarism: the destruction of all that men have ever understood, by men who do not understand it. (Illustrated London News, Aug. 5, 1933)

barber: a member of that stern, rugged, heroic race that exists to tell men of their baldness, as priests to tell them of their sins. (Illustrated London News, Apr. 24, 1909)

beer: primarily a liquid refreshment for the quenching of thirst; and our fathers thought no more of the peril of its slight stimulation than we think of the peril of the slight nervous effect of tea. In Bavaria, where nobody ever dreamed that beer could be forbidden, beer is a very light and mild brew shared by husbands, wives and children in harmless picnics. In Chicago, where beer is forbidden, beer has acted as a sort of dynamite of revolution and has turned a racketeer into a dictator. (Illustrated London News, Mar. 24, 1923; Aug. 1, 1931)

beauty: precise proportion. (Illustrated London News, May 31, 1924)

beggar: someone who is manifestly sent by heaven to make the comfortable classes uncomfortable; a man who offers you the opportunity to fulfill your own ideals; any person, in any position, who has nothing but thanks to give for a service. ("The Return of the Romans," The Resurrection of Rome; Illustrated London News, Feb. 25, 1911)

Bible: the strange small book from which all Christianity came. ("Authority and the Adventurer," Orthodoxy)

Big Ben: the arrogant clock-tower of Parliament. ("The Eye of Apollo," The Innocence of Father Brown)

bigotry: an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition; the anger of men who have no opinions. ("The Bigot," Lunacy and Letters; "Concluding Remarks," Heretics)

biology: the history of animals, and especially of the uniformity of animals. (Illustrated London News, Jan. 22, 1921)

birth control: less birth and no control; a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control. ("Obstinate Orthodoxy," The Thing; "The Surrender upon Sex," The Well and the Shallows)

birthday: a glorification of the idea of life. (Illustrated London News, Nov. 28, 1908)

blackmail: the most morbid of human things because it is a crime concealing a crime; a black plaster on a blacker wound. ("The Absence of Mr. Glass," The Wisdom of Father Brown)

blasphemy: regarding in a commonplace manner something which other and happier people regard in a rapturous and imaginative manner; the cold contempt for God; trying to say (at the same time) that God does not exist, and that He ought to be ashamed of existing, or possibly that he ought to be ashamed of not existing; an artistic effect that depends on belief. (If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.); taking things too lightly. (William Blake; Dublin Review, Jan.–Mar., 1935; The End of the Moderns," The Common Man; "Introductory Remarks," Heretics; "A Plea for Hasty Journalism," The Apostle and the Wild Ducks)

booing: boisterous interruptions of art. (Daily News, Nov. 19, 1904)

book: a sacred object. ("Lunacy and Letters," Lunacy and Letters)

Bohemian: the eccentric or slovenly or straggling camp of followers of the arts, who exhibit dubious manners and dubious morals. ("Browning in Italy," Robert Browning)

Bolshevist: a man who has taken this transcendental truth of human equality from the people who knew what it really meant, and proceeded to act on the assumption that it must be true and that it must not be transcendental. (G.K.'s Weekly, Oct. 16, 1926)

boredom: irreverence for the present; the next condition to death. (Illustrated London News, July 30, 1930; "A Defence of Bores," Lunacy and Letters)

bridge: a road across a river; that which springs out with wings of stone into the void and takes hold on a new land. (New Witness, June 14, 1918; Illustrated London News, Aug. 24, 1912)

broadminded: living on prejudices and never looking at them. (Illustrated London News, May 5, 1928)

bully: the man who acts on the assumption that he will not have to fight. (Daily News, Dec. 12, 1908)

bureaucracy: the system based on the idea that all men must be so stupid that they cannot manage their own affairs and also so clever that they can manage each other's. (Illustrated London News, Sept. 27, 1919)

business: militarism without the military virtues. ("The Drift from Domesticity," The Thing)

businessman: the middle man. (New Witness, Jan. 6, 1916)


cad: a man who cannot be courteous even when he tries to be. (Illustrated London News, Oct. 3, 1914)

Calvinism: a very cruel form of fatalism; the most non-Christian of Christian systems. ("The Outline of Liberty," The Common Man; "The Vengeance of the Flesh," Eugenics and Other Evils)

Calvinist: a Catholic whose imagination had been in some way caught and overpowered by the one isolated theological truth of the power and knowledge of God; and he offered to it human sacrifice, not only of every human sentiment, but of every other divine quality. ("The Idols of Scotland," The Thing)

camel: the enormous unnatural friend of man; the prehistoric pet. He is never known to have been wild and might make a man fancy that all wild animals had once been tame. ("The Other Side of the Desert," The New Jerusalem)

camouflage: in the art of war, to paint things with invisibility; in the art of peace, a French word for humbug. (Century Magazine, Dec. 1922)

campaigning: electioneering; endless self-gratification and self-display. (G.K.'s Weekly, Aug. 15, 1935)

cannibalism: eating boiled missionary; a religious exercise, and, like most religious exercises, highly distasteful and frequently neglected. ("The Roots of Sanity," The Thing; Illustrated London News, Aug. 19, 1911)


Excerpted from The Universe According to G. K. Chesterton by G. K. CHESTERTON, Dale Ahlquist. Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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