G. K. Chesterton Collection

About the Collection

The G. K. Chesterton Collection includes over 3000 volumes connected with the life and work of the English journalist, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). It embraces virtually all the works of Chesterton (many in the first edition): novels, pamphlets, works to which he contributed a chapter or forward, works for which he did the illustrations, and a complete set of the serial G.K.’s Weekly. Also included are numerous works about Chesterton, both biographical and critical. The basis of the collection was a donation in 1973 from the Reverend Kevin Scannell. The collection is supplemented by the broad holdings of the Rare Book Collection in the works of several of Chesterton’s colleagues including Hilaire Belloc and Maurice Baring.

Original Sketches

Chesterton Sketch

The Library owns over a dozen sheets of original Chesterton sketches as well as one of his sketchbooks. Most of the sketches date from his period at the Slade School of Art, but there are several from even earlier. They were originally in the collection of the Reverend Kevin Scannell, having been given to him by Chesterton’s secretary and literary executor, Dorothy Collins.

Chesterton Papers on Microfiche

Chesterton’s papers were held in trust for many years by his secretary, Dorothy Collins, near his home in Beaconsfield, England. At her death the papers were acquired by the British Museum; this is the largest collection of Chesterton manuscripts in the world. The Kelly Library owns microfiche copies of the entire collection (over 1500 fiche): manuscripts of many published works, illustrations from Chesterton’s time at the Slade School of Art and later, correspondence with family and friends, and albums of press clippings. There are also microfiche copies of the papers of Chesterton’s wife Frances, including her plays and poems.

First edition / association copy of Greybeards at Play

Chesterton’s first work, Greybeards at Play: Literature and Art for Old Gentlemen, appeared in 1902. It is a book of three satirical poems: “The Oneness of the Philosopher with Nature,” “The Dangers Attending Altruism on the High Seas”, and “The Disastrous Spread of Aestheticism in All Classes.” The book is illustrated with Chesterton’s own sketches. It did not receive a particularly warm response from the public. Chesterton himself said of this work, “To publish a book of my nonsense verse seems to me exactly like summoning the whole of the people of Kensington to see me smoke cigarettes.”

The Library has two copies of the first edition. One of these was given by Chesterton’s uncle Arthur to Dorothy Charlotte Corbin. Arthur Chesterton was one of the five younger brothers of Chesterton’s father (and the only one of his uncles to remain in England). Chesterton’s sister-in-law describes Arthur as “an extremely charming handsome man, … always well dressed with a marvellous taste in ties and literature.”

Association copy of The Secret of Father Brown

Chesterton’s fourth collection of Father Brown mystery stories, The Secret of Father Brown, was published in 1927. The character Father Brown was based on one of Chesterton’s friends, Monsignor John O’Connor. The Library’s copy of the first edition of The Secret of Father Brown is a signed presentation copy from Chesterton to O’Connor. It includes a hand-written poem by Chesterton, “Six Detectives went fishing”.

Manuscript notes for The Surprise

Among the many works written by Chesterton but not published in his lifetime is a two-act play, The Surprise. It was eventually published in 1952 sixteen years after his death. The Library owns the manuscript notes for the play written in a school exercise notebook. The manuscript was given by Chesterton’s literary executrix, Dorothy Collins, to the Reverend Kevin Scannell who donated it to the Library.

Papers of Monsignor John O’Connor

John O’Connor (1870 – 1952) was the Catholic priest who became the model for Chesterton’s character “Father Brown”. In February 1903 O’Connor wrote to Chesterton, and the following year the two men met for the first time. They formed an immediate bond of friendship which was to last more than thirty years. In 1921 O’Connor was present at Chesterton’s reception into the Catholic Church. The papers of Monsignor O’Connor are various. They include a number of manuscripts of his poems and essays, Christmas greetings from the Chesterton’s, and a number of personal letters (including one from Cardinal Hinsley about Chesterton).

Using the Special Collections