Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London in 1874, son of Edward Chesterton and Marie Louise Grosjean. His parents provided him a sheltered and happy childhood, encouraging interests in art and literature. Chesterton was a slow developer, not talking until he was three and not reading until he was eight. But once he attained the skill, Chesterton was a passionate reader for the rest of his life.
Noticeably intelligent but often absent-minded, Chesterton struggled with organized schooling. He thought first that he would become an artist, but discovered as an adult that he had a greater talent for writing. After leaving college he worked for a publisher reading manuscripts, while in his leisure time he set about seeing where his pen would take him. After publishing several essays and articles in magazines, he began contributing regular columns to two newspapers, The Speaker and Daily News. This launched him into the career that he felt most at home in: journalism.
But his writing expanded beyond newspapers. In 1900 he published his first books, two anthologies of poetry. While still in his twenties, his evident talent led to an invitation to write a book about Robert Browning (1903), which to this day is considered an outstanding study of the poet and his work.
Originally believing himself to be agnostic, Chesterton's study of Browning led him to "work out a religion for himself," helped by the beliefs of his wife, Frances Blogg, whom he married in 1901. From this point Chesterton became a decided Christian and argued for Christianity in his writing. He penned the line, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." He wrote a book titled The Everlasting Man (1925), which had a profound influence on the young C. S. Lewis, who until then was agnostic himself.
Chesterton can easily be called one of the most prolific authors of his time. Chesterton scholar Dale Ahlquist enumerated the author's contributions thus:
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. . . . He wrote over 4000 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.
Most of Chesterton's imaginative contributions belong to the Edwardian era. An important part of Chesterton's writing was literary studies, which stretched the length of his career. Among others, he wrote two important works about Charles Dickens, and an impressive study of Victorian literature titled, The Victorian Age in Literature. He also wrote a masterful book introducing readers to the study of Geoffrey Chaucer (1832), and studies of George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy, William Blake, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Chesterton lived long enough to be disturbed by the rise of Hitler's anti-Semitism. Immediately recognizable throughout his adult life for his extreme rotundity, Chesterton did not enjoy good health in his later years. He died of heart and kidney failure at his home in Beaconsfield, England in 1936. For his monumental contributions in writing, he has been called by some the greatest thinker and writer of the 20th century.