The Innocence of Father Brown
G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton

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The Innocence of Father Brown


detective fiction

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The Innocence of Father Brown

Copyright © Estate of G. K. Chesterton, 1911

The Blue Cross
But each of his thefts was almost a new sin, and would make a story by itself. It was he who ran the great Tyrolean Dairy Company in London, with no dairies, no cows, no carts, no milk, but with some thousand subscribers. These he served by the simple operation of moving the little milk-cans outside people’s doors to the doors of his own subscribers. [...] It is said he once repainted all the numbers in a street in the dead of night merely to divert one traveller into a trap. It is quite certain that he invented a portable pillar-box, which he put up at corners in quiet suburbs on the chance of strangers dropping postal orders into it.
Only a man who knows nothing of motors talks of motoring without petrol; only a man who knows nothing of reason talks of reasoning without strong, undisputed first principles.
He thought his detective brain as good as the criminal’s, which was true. But he fully realized the disadvantage. ‘The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic,’ he said [...]




‘I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God Himself is bound by reason.’

The other priest raised his austere face to the spangled sky and said:

‘Yet who knows if in that infinite universe –?’

‘Only infinite physically,’ said the little priest, turning sharply in his seat, ‘not infinite in the sense of escaping from the laws of truth.’

‘Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?’



‘You attacked reason,’ said Father Brown. ‘It’s bad theology.’

The Queer Feet
In the heart of a plutocracy tradesmen become cunning enough to be more fastidious than their customers. They positively create difficulties so that their wealthy and weary clients may spend money and diplomacy in overcoming them. If there were a fashionable hotel in London which no man could enter who was under six foot, society would meekly make up parties of six-foot men to dine in it. If there were an expensive restaurant which by a mere caprice of its proprietor was only open on Thursday afternoon, it would be crowded on Thursday afternoon.
His head was always most valuable when he had lost it. In such moments he put two and two together and made four million. Often the Catholic Church (which is wedded to common sense) did not approve of it. Often he did not approve of it himself. But it was a real inspiration – important at rare crises – when whosoever shall lose his head the same shall save it.



In public his appearances were always successful and his principle was simple enough. When he thought of a joke he made it, and was called brilliant. When he could not think of a joke he said that this was no time for trifling, and was called able.



The waiter stood staring a few seconds, while there deepened on every face at table a strange shame which is wholly the product of our time. It is the combination of modern humanitarianism with the horrible modern abyss between the souls of the rich and poor. A genuine historic aristocrat would have thrown things at the waiter, beginning with empty bottles, and very probably ending with money. A genuine democrat would have asked him, with a comrade-like clearness of speech, what the devil he was doing. But these modern plutocrats could not bear a poor man near to them, either as a slave or as a friend. That something had gone wrong with the servants was merely a dull, hot embarrassment. They did not want to be brutal, and they dreaded the need to be benevolent. They wanted the thing, whatever it was, to be over.

‘Yes,’ he said; ‘it must be very hard work to be a gentleman; but, do you know, I have sometimes thought that it may be almost as laborious to be a waiter.’

The Flying Stars
‘As an artist I had always attempted to provide crimes suitable to the special season or landscapes in which I found myself, choosing this or that terrace or garden for a catastrophe, as if for a statuary group. Thus squires should be swindled in long rooms panelled with oak; while Jews, on the other hand, should rather find themselves unexpectedly penniless among the light and screens of the Café Riche. Thus, in England, if I wished to relieve a dean of his riches (which is not so easy as you might suppose), I wished to frame him, if I make myself clear, in the green lawns and grey towers of some cathedral town. Similarly, in France, when I had got money out of a rich and wicked peasant (which is almost impossible), it gratified me to get his indignant head relieved against a grey line of clipped poplars, and those solemn plains of Gaul over which broods the mighty spirit of Millet.’
‘There is still youth and honour and humour in you; don’t fancy they will last in that trade. Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.’



The Invisible Man
Against this one fiery glass were glued the noses of many gutter-snipes, for the chocolates were all wrapped in those red and gold and green metallic colours which are almost better than chocolate itself; and the huge white wedding-cake in the window was somehow at once remote and satisfying, just as if the whole North Pole were good to eat.



‘I want, please,’ he said with precision, ‘one halfpenny bun and a small cup of black coffee.’ An instant before the girl could turn away he added, ‘Also, I want you to marry me.’

The young lady of the shop stiffened suddenly, and said: ‘Those are jokes I don’t allow.’

The red-haired young man lifted grey eyes of an unexpected gravity.

‘Really and truly,’ he said, ‘it’s as serious – as serious as the halfpenny bun. It is expensive, like the bun; one pays for it. It is indigestible, like the bun. It hurts.’



‘Have you ever noticed this – that people never answer what you say? They answer what you mean – or what they think you mean. Suppose one lady says to another in a country house, “Is anybody staying with you?” the lady doesn’t answer “Yes; the butler, the three footmen, the parlour-maid, and so on”, though the parlour-maid may be in the room, or the butler behind her chair. She says: “There is nobody staying with us,” meaning nobody of the sort you mean. But suppose a doctor inquiring into an epidemic asks, “Who is staying in the house?” then the lady will remember the butler, the parlour-maid, and the rest. All language is used like that; you never get a question answered literally, even when you get it answered truly.’

The Honour of Israel Gow
This note of a dreamy, almost a sleepy devilry, was no mere fancy from the landscape. For there did rest on the place one of those clouds of pride and madness and mysterious sorrow which lie more heavily on the noble houses of Scotland than on any other of the children of men. For Scotland has a double dose of the poison called heredity; the sense of blood in the aristocrat, and the sense of doom in the Calvinist.



‘Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an act of faith and it is a food. And we need a sacrament, if only a natural one. Something has fallen on us that falls very seldom on men; perhaps the worst thing that can fall on them.’

Craven’s parted lips came together to say: ‘What do you mean?’

The priest turned his face to the castle as he answered:

‘We have found the truth; and the truth makes no sense.’



The Wrong Shape
‘The modern mind always mixes up two ideas: mystery in the sense of what is marvellous, and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling; but it is simple. It is simple because it is a miracle. It is power coming directly from God (or the devil) instead of indirectly through nature or human wills. [...] If it was pure magic, as you think, then it is marvellous; but it is not mysterious. The quality of a miracle is mysterious, but its manner is simple.’



The Sins of Prince Saradine
‘I never said it was always wrong to enter fairyland. I only said it was always dangerous.’

‘Do you believe in doom?’ asked the restless Prince Saradine suddenly.

‘No,’ answered his guest. ‘I believe in Doomsday.’

The prince turned from the window and stared at him in a singular manner, his face in shadow against the sunset. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘I mean that we here are on the wrong side of the tapestry,’ answered Father Brown. ’The things that happen here do not seem to mean anything; they mean something somewhere else. Somewhere else retribution will come on the real offender. Here it often seems to fall on the wrong person.’

Father Brown had also sprung forward, striving to compose the dispute; but he soon found his personal presence made matters worse. Saradine was a French Freemason and a fierce atheist, and a priest moved him by the law of contraries. And as for the other man neither priest nor layman moved him at all. This young man with the Bonaparte face and the brown eyes was something far sterner than a puritan — a pagan. He was a simple slayer from the morning of the earth; a man of the stone age – a man of stone.
The Hammer of God
Few except the poor preserve traditions. Aristocrats live not in traditions but in fashions.



‘Don’t say anything! Oh, don’t say anything,’ cried the atheist cobbler, dancing about in an ecstasy of admiration of the English legal system. For no man is such a legalist as the good Secularist.



Immediately beneath and about them the lines of the Gothic building plunged outwards into the void with a sickening swiftness akin to suicide. There is that element of Titan energy in the architecture of the Middle Ages that, from whatever aspect it be seen, it always seems to be rushing away, like the strong back of some maddened horse. This church was hewn out of ancient and silent stone, bearded with old fungoids and stained with the nests of birds. And yet, when they saw it from below, it sprang like a fountain at the stars; and when they saw it, as now, from above, it poured like a cataract into a voiceless pit. For these two men on the tower were left alone with the most terrible aspect of the Gothic: the monstrous foreshortening and disproportion, the dizzy perspectives, the glimpses of great things small and small things great; a topsy-turvydom of stone in the mid-air. Details of stone, enormous by their proximity, were relieved against a pattern of fields and farms, pygmy in their distance. A carved bird or beast at a corner seemed like some vast walking or flying dragon wasting the pastures and villages below. The whole atmosphere was dizzy and dangerous, as if men were upheld in air amid the gyrating wings of colossal genii; and the whole of that old church, as tall and rich as a cathedral, seemed to sit upon the sunlit country like a cloudburst.



‘Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from.’

‘Do you mean that one may fall over?’ asked Wilfred.

‘I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,’ said the other priest.



The Eye of Apollo

‘As I understand it, it is a theory of theirs’, answered Flambeau, ‘that a man can endure anything if his mind is quite steady. Their two great symbols are the sun and the open eye; for they say that if a man were really healthy he could stare at the sun.’

‘If a man were really healthy,’ said Father Brown, ‘he would not bother to stare at it.’

‘It claims, of course, that it can cure all physical diseases.’

‘Can it cure the one spiritual disease?’ asked Father Brown, with a serious curiosity.

‘And what is the one spiritual disease?’ asked Flambeau, smiling.

‘Oh, thinking one is quite well,’ said his friend.



‘We are taught that if a man has really bad first principles, that must be partly his fault. But, for all that, we can make some difference between a man who insults his quite clear conscience more or less crowded with sophistries. Now, do you really think that murder is wrong at all?’

‘Is this an accusation?’ asked Kalon very quietly.

‘No,’ answered Brown, equally gently, ‘it is the speech for the defence.’



The Sign of the Broken Sword
‘When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else’s Bible? A printer reads a Bible for misprints. A Mormon reads his Bible and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his and finds we have no arms and legs. [...] Of course, he read the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted – lust, tyranny, treason. Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?’



‘Anyhow, there is this about such evil, that it opens door after door in hell, and always into smaller and smaller chambers. This is the real case against crime, that a man does not become wilder and wilder, but only meaner and meaner.’
The Three Tools of Death

‘People like frequent laughter,’ answered Father Brown, ‘but I don’t think they like a permanent smile. Cheerfulness without humour is a very trying thing.’

text checked (see note) Oct 2007; Jul 2009

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