Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Monday, 28 July 2014

Belloc and the War...


On the 28th of July 1914 His Imperial and Apostolic Majesty Kaiser Franz Joseph (the real German Kaiser, as opposed to the Prussian upstart in Berlin) declared war on the Serbian Nation. The rest is history. This came after the famous ultimatum delivered to the Serbs by the Austrians. Belloc's view, as expressed in The Cruise of the Nona, was that the document was formulated in Berlin as it possessed (as he saw it) the bellicose hallmarks of Prussian arrogance.

Belloc had a lot to say about the First World War, primarily through his own weekly journal Land and Water. It was a rather slanted view of the War and, I suspect, it was State funded. I further suspect that Winston Churchill had a hand in it. He was instrumental in whipping up anti-German hysteria in the run up to the War: notably with reference to the alleged German spy rings which were supposed to be operating in England at the time. Belloc and Churchill got on, for a while, and even bottled wine together in Kingsland.

Aside from that, Land and Water is a bloody good read. I hope to focus on his War writings, in more detail, over the coming weeks.




Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Follow the Stagers as they follow the Path to Rome...


Two hardy young men are currently following The Path to Rome. Their journey can be followed on their Blog: Hoofprints of the Stag.

The last time I checked they were in Italy heading towards Lucca. I envy them. Belloc wrote of Lucca: 'everything...is good'. It's probably Tuscany's best kept secret, although it was a little bit faded the last time I was there. The walled city has a Roman and Medieval heart with lots of cobbled lanes and cultural treats. In the words of Henry James: "overflowing with everything that makes for ease, for plenty, for beauty, for interest and good example".

Bon voyage!




Sunday, 22 June 2014

On Usury...


Usury does not mean high interest. It means any interest, however low, demanded for an unproductive loan. It is not only immoral [on which account it has been condemned by every moral code-----Pagan-----Mohammedan-----or Catholic] but it is ultimately destructive of society. It has only been the rule of our commerce to take usury since the breakup of Europe following on the Reformation. Usury will destroy our society, but meanwhile there is no escape from it. We are coming near the end of its maleficent action, not through awaking to its evils but because it is reaching the end of its resources. The Great War loans, which are almost entirely usurious, have powerfully accelerated this process.

The modern world is organized on the principle that money of its nature breeds money. A sum of money lent has, according to our present scheme, a natural right to interest. That principle is false in economics as in morals. It ruined Rome, and it is bringing us to our end.

Supposing a man comes to you and says: "There is a field next to mine which is a very good building site; if I put up a good little house on it I shall be able to let that house at a net profit-----all rates, taxes and repairs paid-of
£100 a year. But I have no capital with which to build this house. The field will cost £50 and the house £950. Will you lend me £1,000, so that I can buy the field, put up the house, and enjoy this nice little income?" You would presumably answer, "Where do I come in? You get your £100 a year all right; but you only get it by my aid, and therefore I ought to share in the profits. Let us go fifty-fifty. You take £50 every year as your share for your knowledge of the opportunity and for your trouble, and hand me over the other £50. That will be five percent on my money, and I shall be content."

This answer, granted that property is a moral right, is a perfectly moral proposition. The borrower accepting that proposition certainly has no grievance. For a long time [theoretically, forever] you could go on drawing five percent on the money you lent, with a conscience at ease.

Now let us suppose that man comes to you and says: "I know the case of a man in middle age who has been suddenly stricken with a terrible ailment. Medical aid costing £1,000 will save his life, but he will never be able to do any more work. He has an annuity of £100 a year to keep him alive after the operation and subsequent treatment. Will you lend the £I,000? It will be paid back to you on his death, for his life has been insured in a lump payment for the amount of £I,000." You answer: "I will lend £1,000 to save his life, but I shall require of him half his annuity, that is £50 a year, for every year he may live henceforward; and he must scrape along as best he can on the remaining £50 of his annuity." That answer would make you feel a cad if you have any susceptibilities left, and if you have not-----having already become a cad through the action of what the poet has called "the soul's long dues of hardening and decay"-----it would be a caddish action all the same, though you might not be disturbed by it.

It seems therefore that there are conditions under which you may legitimately and morally lend £1,000 at five percent in perfect security of conscience, and others in which you cannot.

Now look at the matter from another angle.

When the American city of Boston was founded, three hundred years ago, a man in London proposing to emigrate thither left gold to the value of £1,000 with a London goldsmith, under a bond that the goldsmith might use the money until he or his heirs should demand it, but with the proviso that five percent on the capital should accrue at compound interest until it was withdrawn. The emigrant did not reappear. The goldsmith's business developed, as so many of them did, into a sort of bank as the seventeenth century wore on. By the beginning of the eighteenth it was a bank in due form, and its successor today is part of one of the great banking concerns of our time. The original deposit has gone on "fructifying," as the phrase goes, with the liability piling up, but no one claiming it.

At last, in this year 1931, an heir turns up and proves his title. The capital sum into which this modest investment of a thousand pounds at five percent has grown is to be paid over to him under an order of the court. Do you know how much it will come to?-----More than twice the annual revenue of the United States today.

Let us take a less fantastic example, and perhaps it will be more convincing. Supposing a man to have lent £10,000 on mortgage at six percent upon an English gentleman's estate at the beginning of the American War of Independence, in 1776: the said estate to pay £600 a year to the lender. The debt is not pressed. The embarrassed gentleman is allowed to add to the principal the annual payments due, so that the whole sums up at the rate of six percent compound interest.

That is not at all an impossible supposition. Do you know what the mortgage-holder could demand of that estate today? Nearly five million pounds a year!

Neither of these examples could arise in practice because the law forbids such prolonged accumulation, but the very fact that the law has been compelled to do so, is proof that there is something wrong with the current notion everywhere acted upon, that money "earns" a certain rate of interest and has a moral right to it without regard to the way in which the capital is employed.

For what is common to all these illustrations is the patent fact that interest on a loan may, under some circumstances of time or extent, be a demand for an impossible tribute. It may under some circumstances be a tribute which is not morally due, because it does not represent an extra production of wealth due to the original investment. It is under some circumstances a demand for wealth which is not connected with the produce of the original investment, and the payment of which is therefore not a payment of part profit, but a payment to be made, if possible, out of whatever other wealth the debtor can obtain; and a tribute which, beyond a certain point, cannot even be paid at all, because the wherewithal to pay it is not present in society.

What are those circumstances? What are the conditions distinguishing a demand for payment of interest which is legitimate in morals from a demand which is illegitimate?

The distinction lies between a demand for part of the product of a productive loan, which is moral, and the immoral demand for either (1) interest on an unproductive loan, or (2) interest greater than the annual increment in real wealth which a productive loan creates. Such a demand "wears down"-----"eats up"-----"drains dry" the wealth of the borrower, and that is why it is called Usury. A derivation inaccurate in philology, but sound in morals, rightly connects "usura" "usury," with the idea of destroying, "using up," rather than with the original idea of "usus," "a use."

Usury, then, is a claiming of interest upon an unproductive loan, or of interest greater than the real increment produced by a productive loan. It is the claiming of something to which the lender has no right, as though I should say: "Pay me ten sacks of wheat a year for the rent of these fields" after the fields had been swallowed up by the sea, or after they had fallen to producing annually much less than ten sacks of wheat.

I must here reluctantly introduce a colloquial meaning of the word "Usury" which confuses thought. People talk of "usurious interest" meaning very high interest. It is obvious how the confusion arose. Very high interest is commonly greater than the real wealth produced even by a productive loan, and to demand it is, in effect, to demand more than the produce of the original loan; but there is nothing in the rate of interest per se which renders such interest usurious. You may demand one hundred percent on a loan and be well within your moral rights.

For instance, a small claim which was producing 500 ounces of gold a year has a sudden opportunity for producing 200 times as much, 100,000 ounces, if capital the equivalent of only 1,000 ounces can be obtained for development. The lender of that new capital is under no moral obligation to give all the vastly increased profits as a present to the borrower. He can legitimately claim his portion; he might well ask for half the new produce, that is 50,000 ounces per annum, 500 percent on his loan, for that very high interest would only come to half the new wealth produced. To ask for that 500 percent would not be an exaction of tribute from wealth that was not present, nor for wealth that was not created by the capital invested.

Strictly speaking, then, usury has nothing to do with the amount of interest demanded, but with the point whether there is or is not produced by the capital invested an increment at least equal to the tribute demanded.

If authority is asked for so obvious a position in morals it may be found in every great moral system sanctioned by the religious and permanent social philosophies adopted by men. Aristotle 1 forbids it, St. Thomas forbids it. The Mohammedan system of ethics condemns it [and in practice condemns it unintelligently because it forbids many loans that are useful]. 2 In particular we have the luminous decision of the Fourth Lateran Council [1215].

So far, so good. Next let us note the very interesting development of modern times since the break-up of our common European moral and religious system at the Reformation. After that disaster usury gradually became admitted. It grew to be a general practice sanctioned by the laws, and the payment of it enforced by the civil magistrate. In England it was under the reign of Cecil, in the year 1571, that interest, though limited to ten percent, became legal without regard to the use made of the loan. The birth year of what may be called "Indiscriminate Usury" is 1609, when, under Calvinism, the Bank of Amsterdam started on its great career of stimulating fortunate capacity and ruining the unfortunate. In general the governments which broke away from the unity of Christendom one after the other introduced legalized usury, and thus got a start over the conservative nations which struggled to maintain the old moral code. To the new moral, or rather immoral, ideas thus introduced we owe the rapid development of banking in the "reformed" nations, the financial hold they acquired and maintained for three centuries. Everyone at last fell into line, and today Usury works side by side with legitimate profit, and, confused with it, has become universal throughout what used to be Christian civilization. It is taken for granted that every loan shall bear interest, without inquiring whether it be productive or unproductive. The whole financial side of our civilization is still based on that false conception. [emphasis added]

A very interesting essay might be written upon the ultimate fruits of such a conception in our own time. Were it ever written a good title for it would be, "The End of the Reign of Usury." For it is becoming pretty clear that the inherent vice of the system under which long ago the Roman Imperial social scheme broke down is beginning to break down our own international financial affairs. With this difference, however: that they broke down from private usury, we from public.

But that is by the way; to return to our muttons. Usury being a demand for money that is not there [a tribute levied, not upon the produce of capital, but upon a margin beyond that produce, or even upon no produce at all], Usury being therefore, when once it is universally admitted, at first a machine for ultimate draining of all wealth into the hands of lenders and for reducing the rest of the community to economic servitude at last; Usury being at last a system which must break down of its own weight-----when the demand made is greater than all productivity can meet-----why, it may be asked, has it been practiced with success for so long? Why does it seem to be at the root of so vast a progress in production throughout the world?

That it has been in use successfully for all these generations, ever since it was solidly established in general practice during the seventeenth century, no one can deny. Nor can anyone deny that it has accompanied [and, I think, been largely the cause of] the great modern expansion in production. And here arises one of those apparent contradictions between a plain mathematical truth and the results of its negation in practice, of which experience is full. Persuaded by such appearances [for they are appearances only, and deceptive], most men abandon the abstract consideration and are content with the practical result. It is on this account that even so late in the day as this the mere mention of the word "Usury" and a discussion of its ethics has about it the savor of something ridiculous.

Not so long ago everyone would have told you that to adopt the attitude I am adopting here was to write oneself down a crank. The conclusions to which every clear mind must come in the matter were not even considered, but brushed aside as imperfect notions proper to early and uncritical ages when men had not thought out economics or any other science.

The increasing, though still small number of educated men who are growing suspicious of such contempt for the immemorial past and for the moral traditions of Christendom will give these objections less weight than they were given a generation ago; but they still have overwhelming weight with the general. If you say today, "Usury is wrong," or even, "Usury is dangerous," or even no more than, "Usury must in the long run break down," all but a very few will, even today, refuse to follow this discussion of the matter. Most of the careless and all the foolish will put you into the company of those who think the earth is flat.

The error is theirs, not ours; yet their error has, as I have said, solid practical backing; for Usury has worked successfully. Productivity has been vastly increased since Usury took root. The last three hundred years have been centuries of immense expansion, and the leaders of it have been precisely those who first threw Christian morals overboard.

What is the explanation? The explanation lies in three considerations:
First, when Usury is universally permitted and enforced, it becomes only part of a general activity for the accumulation of capital with the object of investment. In the days when Usury was illegal and punished, the accumulation of capital for investment was hampered. Incidentally, those days were also days in which the production of wealth upon an increasing scale was not regarded as the end of man. But at any rate, from the purely economic point of view, the ceasing to inquire how capital would be used, the laying it down as a rule that all capital had a right to interest, no matter how it was invested, obviously tended to make accumulation more rapid, and incidentally, to make men keener to ferret out opportunities for productive as well as for unproductive lending.

With that, of course, though from other causes, went the increase of men's powers over nature, the curve of which rose more and more steeply, and perhaps is still rising-----though there are signs of fatigue and of interference with that process from causes other than economic, in spite of the rapid accumulation of further scientific knowledge and of its economic application.
This increase in our powers over nature is the second reason why the false action of Usury has been masked for so long. The economic evil of Usury stimulated and accompanied great economic advantage of accumulation for Production, and this legitimate use of money had its opportunity given it by a flood of geographical discovery and new achievements in Physical Science.
The third reason why Usury has not yet worked out its full ill effect is that it has long been automatically checked by repeated breakdowns which wiped out usurious claims. Capital unproductively lent failed to receive its tribute and had to be written off. It is true that Usury on such capital is commonly the last thing to be written off; 3 but written off it is continually, and this intermittent pruning of the unearned tribute has prevented the real character of that tribute from appearing in its full force.

The nineteenth century in particular, and still more the beginning of the twentieth century, is crowded with examples of these breakdowns-----myriads of them. Money is invested in a particular enterprise. The enterprise does not fulfil expectations. Though the money no longer earns legitimate interest, debentures are raised, the guaranteed interest on which is strictly Usury. For some time this interest is paid, but over and over again you find that at last even the debenture interest cannot be paid. The whole concern lapses, and the usurious tribute can no longer be exacted. You may see the process at work today in many departments of the textile industry. The mill gets into difficulties; a loan is raised from the bank; interest is promised on the loan, though there is no surplus wealth over and above the cost of production. The interest is met from outside sources; but the process cannot go on forever, and there comes a time when the bank has to write the loan off as a bad debt. As the bank is making money out of other successful and profitable investments it continues to flourish, it continues to make money, its total income increases, and that part which it has lost through the breakdown of Usury is hidden in the general productive scheme; the usurious character of certain receipts is not distinguished from the legitimate character of the majority. But whenever a society shows signs of economic decay, the real nature of Usury, thus submerged and hidden in prosperous times, necessarily appears above the surface.

Mr. Orage many years ago, writing in his paper, The New Age, gave in this connection one of the numerous vivid illustrations of the affair, with that genius of his for exposition which ought to have made him famous. He took the example of an oasis of date-palms in the desert, the water-supply of which is got at by very primitive means. There comes a financier who lends money for development. The capital is productively used; artesian wells are sunk; the water-supply is largely increased; a better organization of the date-cultivation is begun; the produce of the oasis rapidly grows from year to year; the profits legitimately demanded by the financier are a part of the total extra annual wealth, the presence of which has been due to his enterprise. All are well-to-do; everything flourishes.

Then, whether through fatigue, or through war or pestilence, or variations in the external market, or some calamity of climate, things begin to go wrong. The annual wealth produced by the oasis declines. But the interest on the money lent must still be paid. As the cultivators get more and more embarrassed they borrow in order to pay that interest, and there comes a time of "overlap," during which, paradoxically enough, the banker appears to be more and more prosperous, though the community which supplies him is getting less and less so. But it is mere arithmetic that the process must come to an end. There will arrive a moment after which the cultivator can no longer find the money to pay the interest, which has long since ceased to be morally due. Mere coercion under an all-powerful police system has got the last penny out of him. The "overlap" between real prosperity and apparent-----merely financial or paper-----prosperity ceases; and the temporary wealth enjoyed by the lender comes to an end, as had previously come to an end the real prosperity of the borrower.

In other words, great banking prosperity in any particular period may be, and commonly is, the proof of all-round prosperity in that period; but it is not necessarily nor always so. The one is not an inevitable adjunct of the other.
To these general conclusions there is another objection which anyone reasonably well acquainted with history will at once make:

"You tell us" [says the objector] "that in other times when the Faith was universally held-----times which you perhaps think healthier, but which were certainly much less wealthy and had to deal with, not only a simpler, but a much smaller population-----Usury was forbidden. That is quite true. But when you go on to argue that there is therefore an essential difference between that time and our time, or rather the recent past which you call 'the reign of Usury,' a different ethic prevailing now from what prevailed then, you are wrong. You are confusing that which is forbidden with that which is not done. It is true that the moral code of Christendom in Catholic times forbade Usury and punished it; even as late as the Provinciales of Pascal men felt moral indignation against Usury, and right on to the end of the eighteenth century the punishment for Usury continued to play a part in the courts of justice and appeared in the codes of law wherever the Church had power. But in point of fact Usury has always existed, because it always must. It is impossible to draw the line between the productive and the unproductive loan. The money which I lend a sick man may so put him to rights as to make him productive again, and may therefore be regarded as indirectly a productive loan, though unproductive in original intention. The money borrowed by a spendthrift for his pleasures may, on his death, immediately after, before he has had time to waste it, pass to a thrifty heir who invests it productively. Such considerations have always worked strongly upon men's minds. That is why you find Usury plentifully existing in times and societies where it was morally condemned.

"Further, even were it possible [which surely as a rule it is not] to draw an exact line between the productive and the unproductive loan, there are all sorts of ways of evading the prohibition to take interest upon an unproductive one: to evade the duty of discovering whether the loan be productive or no. For instance, the Catholic governments, quite as much as the Protestant, issued what the French called 'Rentes'-----promises made by government to pay annual incomes. Henry IV of France, after his conversion, was especially active in this form of borrowing. Philip II of Spain, the very champion of Catholicism, sank up to his neck in embarrassment due to borrowing at high interest-----borrowing, by a pretty irony, from the very people who were destroying his revenue. A government going to war-----that is, about to spend money in an activity commonly unproductive-----begged financiers to buy of it annual claims upon the revenue; and there is no difference at all between that and the modern habit of issuing a government loan. Then there was the obvious method of signing a bond for money and receiving less than the sum mentioned in the bond. Thomas Cromwell, of pious memory, was a zealot in this practice, at a time when the full Catholic morals about Usury were still taken for granted. Much earlier, in the true Middle Ages, princes were perpetually borrowing for their wars-----principally from the newly arisen Italian banking system; and earlier still, when Usury was the exceptional, but chartered and legal privilege of the Jews and a source of immense revenue to the Christian princes under whom they lived, the practice was openly admitted. Usury therefore has always gone on in human society. It always will go on; discussions upon it are academic and futile."

To this I answer that plain reasoning upon practical matters is never futile. If I say that an over-consumption of alcohol is bad for the human frame, especially in age, it is no answer to give me examples of topers who have to ninety. The evil effect of over-drinking is there, demonstrable and, to any honest mind, unquestioned. It is a mere question of experiment and experience and the use of reason applied to the same. Where true conclusions are apparently contradicted by experience they are so contradicted by other forces which do not make the truth any the less true. [emphasis added]

So with this truth about Usury. As long as its impoverishing effects are masked or counter-balanced by stronger forces at work, they are neglected. But they are in existence all the same, and always active. To know that a truth is there, even when it is hidden, is of great practical use; such knowledge is a thing to be kept in reserve for action when the critical hour comes in which it must be applied.

Next it should be pointed out that there is all the difference in the world between a system in which an immoral principle is admitted and one in which, though the immorality is practiced, the principle is denied. There is, and presumably always will be, plenty of adultery, murder, swindling, and the rest, present in society; but the society in which the rights of property are admitted, in which marriage is sacred and to which the taking of human life is abhorrent, is very different from one where the sexes are promiscuous, or where Communism prevails, or where killing for private revenge or whim is an accepted pastime. To murder a bore, to run off with your neighbour's wife, even to pick a man's pocket, are still in our society abnormalities: abnormalities which we old-fashioned people ascribe to the Fall of Man, but which the most exuberant Pelagian will at least not deny to take place. There is all the difference in the world between a society in which such lapses continue, or are even tolerated, and one in which they are called good. [emphasis added]

Man stands on two legs; but he can lean on one or on the other. Thus [to take an example I develop in another essay] society in the department of law must insist both upon justice and upon order; and undoubtedly in any civilized society justice tends to be sacrificed to order. But there is all the difference in the world between the atmosphere and character of a society in which injustice is held more abominable than disorder and one in which disorder is held more abominable than injustice. Two parts of one chemical element to four parts of another will give you a certain product. Change the proportions, and quite a different product appears. A society in which Usury, though practiced, is held immoral [not wholly, I admit, to the advantage of economic development] is quite a different thing from a society where Usury is held to be moral. A society in which the lender assumes it to be his moral duty to examine the object of a loan before he considers its profit to himself is different from a society in which he is not expected to do so. A world in which interest upon the unprofitable loan is detested and the Usurer is a villain is quite another society from one in which men have ceased to ask whether a loan be profitable or unprofitable; and this again is a different society from one such as ours, where interest on any loan is demanded as a sort of sacred moral right with which the productivity or lack of productivity of the loan has nothing to do.

Well, then, since to every evil there should be a remedy, what should we say about Usury today? Since I am boasting that this discussion is practical, what about practice?

Let us suppose our opponent convinced; let him make reply: "I agree that Usury is an evil. What is more, I am inclined to agree that we are beginning to feel its evil effects throughout the world today at long last-----principally through the enormous example of the great war loans. What then are we to do about it all?"

To this I answer in my turn that nothing immediate can be done. You cannot pull out a vital part of any existing social structure. The whole world today reposes upon banking, the whole system of investment renders inquiry about the productive or unproductive quality of an investment normally impossible.

There are especial private cases where you can judge the distinction clearly, and in those cases good men tend to act upon it [as in the case of loans to individuals of our private acquaintance], for the human conscience is at work all the time, even in the most corrupt and complex of societies. But in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand the distinction is impossible. A man is at pains to save. He must use his savings under a system where interest without examination is normal and all the infinite details of a world-wide system of production, distribution, and exchange have so long been based on the acceptation of Usury-----as well as on the much larger calculation of legitimate profit-----that the two can no more be divided in practice today than can the mixed colours in a dyer's vat. If I go off for six months and leave money on deposit at my bank I can hardly ask what the bank is going to do with the money; and if I did they could not tell me. No one could say how much of it goes to feeding beasts on a fur farm in Canada; how much to a young man who is getting an overdraft on his securities and spending it in riotous living; how much to the development of a useful mine in the Andes. What sane man would hesitate to put his regular little self-denials into savings certificates, or his modest £1000 into a War Loan-----that crying instance of Usury? The system must go on till we break, and even the word "break" is inaccurate. If history is any guide, the true word should rather be "decay." Pleasing thought.

I did well to call this book Essays of a Catholic and not Catholic Essays. For if it became a matter of Catholic discipline that men should not today touch that unclean thing, the interest-bearing unproductive loan, discipline would stand self- condemned. The ecclesiastical order could not be obeyed. If by such an analysis as I am here engaged in I were to involve any of my fellow Catholics in the peculiar conclusions reached, I should be doing a very bad turn, not only to the common sense of my fellows, but to their sense of humour as well.

Nevertheless, as the scent manufacturer has it, "Un jour viendra,"-----"A day will come."

[Mr. Belloc closed with the same phrase in Greek, but most browsers do not have an ancient Greek font installed, so I deleted the last line of this essay to avoid the appearance of gibberish.]

1. When I was first stammering out my elements as a boy at Oxford, a learned professor assured us in his lecture that the text of Aristotle must have become corrupt, because he could never have said so silly a thing as to call usury wrong. What St. Thomas called it I will wager he never knew.
2. I found in Tunis three years ago that the Mohammedan olive planter wanting to raise a loan for the development of his estate could not get the money from his fellow Mohammedans, but had to borrow from Europeans.
3. Witness the continued interest still paid on bank overdrafts by our failing industries. Another excellent example of the writing off of usurious interest is the scaling down of the French and Italian debts to America.


On Usury, 1931.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

“The Penalties of Truth”: The Haunting Lost Opportunity of Hilaire Belloc's Traveller...

Lord Byron

It is often the case, well known to the close readers of Hilaire Belloc's varied essays, that he surprises us with some of his profoundest reflections and most memorable formulations in those lighter essays of his so full of banter and irony; or even in his brief, magnanimous considerations of other prose writers and poets, such as Dr. Samuel Johnson or Lord Byron, neither of whom was a Catholic.

Therefore, before more closely considering his gravely earnest, but also unexpectedly purifying and cumulatively edifying essay, “The Opportunity,”[1] I wish to illustrate my above contention by mentioning a few of Hilaire Belloc's fresh and enlivening words about Poetry and then about the Faith, as they are found in one of the other essays in his book, Short Talks with the Dead and Others. It is of Belloc's brief essay, “Talking of Byron,”[2] that I speak.

Speaking of how George Gordon Byron (1798-1824) was received by his English contemporaries and how and why he should thus also be received and understood a hundred years later by Englishmen of the first part of the twentieth century, Belloc says:

His verse resounded in the English mind by an accord; just as a piece of music will call up an intimate enthusiasm, wherein is no hesitation but complete communion. The appreciation of such verse, all will admit, has been lost to modern England. The modern mania for self-praise would rather choose to say, not that the faculty has been lost, but that greater powers had been acquired; and that the lesser emotions of our fathers had been thrown aside. “The foreigners” (that mania would suggest) “may pick up our leavings. We have outgrown these puerilities.” (32—my emphasis added)

Belloc is not content to let this topic rest with this sort of self-satisfied conclusion. He will resume his inquiry and challenge:

But wait a moment. What was it in Byron which so moved the men of his time—who were English-speaking and knew nothing but English? That something in his verse did move them is abundantly proved. What was it?

In the first place, it was the marriage of intelligence with the magic of words.

That there is no poetry without magic [in the general, loose sense of an alluring incantation with a mysteriously haunting effect] all will (I repeat) agree. Magic is the essence of poetry as it is, still more truly, the essence of religion [but not in the sense of a finite creature's trying to manipulate the divine!]. Magic is that essential we release when we come to the core of things; and if there be no magic in a religious ritual or a piece of verse, that ritual, that verse, are dead; they have not touched the nerve of reality.


But whereas the magic of religion is actual, the magic of words is symbolic. There is no magic in words which are not understood. The words are symbols, referring the mind to things experienced. (32—my bold emphasis added; the italics are in the original)


Giving us an illustration of his specific meaning, Belloc says:

Thus if you read the words “...and it was dawn upon the sea,” the words have no message to one who has not seen, or has not at least some hereditary memory of, that miracle [or divine “magic”?]. Even the music of words and the mystical effect of cadence refer to an emotion experienced, apart from the music and the cadence. (32-33—my emphasis added)

Returning to Byron himself and the quality of his verse, Belloc again delights in concreteness:

Now Byron perpetually strikes that note of experience: the experience of men living as the English of his time mostly lived, and as France, Italy and Spain still mostly live [as of 1926]. He struck or recalled or evoked the emotions of men to whom a mechanical industrial life was either unknown or imperfect or irksome. Thus it is the fashion [now] to decry that superb passage upon the sea which begins, “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll,” but I will bargain that any man not sophisticated, using the sea, and hearing those lines for the first time, will immediately respond. The magic in Byron is, then, a consonance with things experienced by men who sailed the sea in ships, not defiling it with engines; by men who saw the landscape of England also then undefiled; by men who slept well, ate well and could drink. It is verse written for men very much alive and normally alive. It is verse written for men who are full of emotion; not jaded, nor needing a spur. Here was a man who expressed what men felt, could not themselves express, but desired to hear expressed. He therefore fulfilled the true function of the poet. For the poet, though divine, is a servant [like Christ Himself]. He is the god [like Apollo himself in the Myth, who served a mere mortal] in the [very hospitable and winsomely just] house of Admetus; and not all his fellowship with heaven would make him [Apollo] what he is did he not bring to birth the struggling song, as yet undelivered in his fellow-men. (33—my emphasis added)

May we remember this image “to bring to birth the struggling song...in his fellow-men.”

Belloc says that “Byron united the power to achieve this [experienced and eloquently expressed emotion] with the use of the human intellect.” and “That, perhaps, is what our decadence cannot forgive.” (34—my emphasis added)

In what at first appears to be a digression or yet a further note of contrast and disapprobation, Belloc draws us into his deeper and important excursus:

We have come commonly to say, in modern England at any rate, that there is between the Intelligence and Vision an incompatible quarrel. This mortal folly (for it is no less) colours all our thought.

You see it in the most important field of all, the fundamental region, that of religion. Men go about talking as though there were between the Vision of transcendental truth and Intelligence, not only a quarrel but an actual contradiction. They are too ignorant to know that the two have been set up together by our ancient masters [e.g., “fides quaerens intellectum”] as the twin and consonant pillars of human life. They are too weak to achieve any such harmony themselves [between Faith and Reason].

You see that modern folly appearing, again, in the preference of humour to wit: for wit is founded upon intelligence but humour upon the neglect of it.

You see it in the muddled worship of what are still called “philosophies”; system succeeding system, and each new system [as in Hegel's?] held to be profound in proportion to its incomprehensibility.

You see it in the very mathematic of our day; where mysteries true, but beyond our faculties, are emphasized not because they should make a humble man admit the limitation of human reason, but because they make small, proud men imagine that the reason is not supreme in its own sphere. (34—my emphasis)

After this preparation, Hilaire Belloc gives a further Catholic Witness:

All our time is tainted with the contempt of the only faculty whereby man can see and be certain. Yes, even those who think themselves to be rationalists among us are conspicuous by their inability to erect a system of the world, and by their mere piecemeal reaction against the one system which still holds the field—and will forever: The Faith.” (35)

With this underlying affirmation as his stable presupposition, he then returns to summarize the special strengths of Byron:

Byron was intelligent and continuously intelligent, and all his verse was rational; nor did he ever subordinate sense to sound, nor common sense to emotion....At any rate, he never lapses into those two vile weaknesses with which our moderns are paralytically possessed: the itch for mere emotion and the impotence of obscurity....Make you, also, no error on this: the time in which we live [circa 1926] is a time of confusion, not untouched by despair, very weary and awaiting change. Byron will survive our time and will stand among the very great poets of England. Our misapprehension of him is due to our change, not Poetry's; and our change has been for the worse. But we shall recover, and his star will reappear with the dissipation of these nasty mists. (35-37—my bold emphasis added; the italics are in the original)

What Hilaire Belloc has said about “The Faith” (35) in this magnanimous essay on Lord Byron and his poetry will be a worthy introduction to his subsequent essay called “The Opportunity,” one of whose sudden messages will prompt a professed Catholic to consider the nature of the Catholic Witness he has borne, and also more stringently and guilelessly to examine his own well-formed Conscience. Belloc's own conviction and sustained public witness to that conviction is that there is only “one system [of the world] which still holds the field—and will for ever: The Faith.”(35) But, who of us lesser men adequately bears witness to that Faith? That is to say, especially given “the penalties of Truth,” (62) as Belloc has also so poignantly said and himself has experienced: namely, the penalties we often receive for living and speaking the truth, to include the truth we see and speak about ourselves, thus imparting wounds to our faithful memory and to our sincere conscience when we realize, for example, the extent and the consequences of our cowardice and or our spiritual sloth.

The setting of “The Opportunity” is Oxford University almost thirty years after 1897, when three men who were once students together are again in conversation and having a sort of private reunion, before “all [three] were to go up to London together the next morning” (58)—by train:

They were nearly contemporaries; round about fifty....The eldest was a squire of the country between the Wye and the Severn, wealthy, hating publicity; keen on two things Arabic and fishing. The second was a lawyer who had made for himself a very great newspaper name indeed and was shallow and ill-bred, but also bitter; a little mollified that night by the return to places of his youth, and those who had been his companions. The third it would be difficult to describe. He might be called a traveller—though that is no profession [although we are all “Wayfarers” in this World or, in the Latin, “Viatores,” and in contradistinction to “Comprehensores” in Vita Aeterna, or in Lumine Gloriae, as the Christians say]. (58)

We also learn that the Traveller was “an only son” who was left a good portion of wealth by his father, in trust; moreover, he was “a bachelor” who used his inherited income “in wandering about,” and sometimes writing keen articles and “an occasional book, very well written.” (58-59) Even after the purchasing power of his income went down after World War I, he kept up his rather leisurely life and travels, and “he travelled as far afield as before, only much less comfortably, preferring novelty to ease” and, “luckily for him, he had no expensive taste.” (59) Not even in wine!

Some more details of the three companions are worthy for us to hear, as well. The Squire was “a large lumpish man, rather bald,” and he “spoke slowly with the hesitation of a scholar.” (59) The Lawyer will likely now invite our closer attention, for he was “voluble and had upon his face, which was otherwise strong, though shifty, the marks of many years of excess.” (59) The Traveller, as we might now expect, receives a longer description and characterization—and he looks not, or thinks not, at all like Belloc himself, it would seem:

The traveller was tall and lean with one of those hatchet faces which promise more energy than they really possess. He had very piercing eyes, a firm, thin mouth, and believed, so far as England was concerned, everything he read in print; for he had not been born quite into the gentry and he had not got his foothold firm; nor did he want to get it so. On the countries he had visited, other than England, he trusted his own experience. (59—my emphasis added)

Belloc then stuns us with a one-sentence paragraph: “Each of these men, being a man, had a worm at his heart, eating it out.” (59—my emphasis added)

Where could Belloc be leading us now, and what were these burdens within? And how might they be healed and regenerated? Or perhaps even first expiated?

That we might especially consider the Traveller, we should first only briefly convey the load—the suffering and the sacrifice—the other two most inwardly bore, though in different ways:

The squire had this worm in his heart. He was well married with fine, healthy children; the son married in his turn and well married; of the three daughters one also well married, the other two, young, happy and advancing in womanhood. He was in no way encumbered, in no way harassed by any external thing. But he had once desired with passionate desire, and through his own lack of courage he had failed to seize opportunity.

The woman still lived; he still met her often enough. His soul was, as it were, doubled. [And hence in Duplicity or Deceit?] One deadened, despairing part of it, lived on year after year in realities; the other lived by itself in visions. For though he had missed his opportunity, and though he certainly desired after a fashion in which he was not himself at all desired, yet that hidden influence which alone can build a bridge between two souls, had built such a bridge; therefore his failure [of courage] to seize his opportunity all those years ago now rightly tortured him, and therefore he had some substance to go upon in his false world of imaginings [and “visions”], compared with which his world of realities was a despair. (59-60—my bold emphasis added; the italics were in the original)

What a plight our Belloc has presented in his vivid depiction. What an alluring temptation “to live the lie” the Squire must have had —even when he considers his own loyal wife and his four children. This is within the matter of High Tragedy, as it appears. And there is no mention of The Faith or its resources of Grace. For “nature”—especially “an emotionally tormented, wounded human nature” is not enough here—even for the discipline of abstinence, in the strict sense of word: “giving up a lesser good for a greater good.”

What should we now expect in the case of the Lawyer, who has already been somewhat darkly and equivocally characterized? Belloc gives us his answer and a disillusioning depiction of ambition:

The worm at the lawyer's heart was of a meaner kind, but very sharp in the tooth. He had always had as his goal, from the first day when he had begun to make noise in the University as a boy [freshman], a sort of vulgar triumph: an easy priority [sought for in the spirit of pride?]. He had imagined that his life would continue to be a life of that kind; but life (and the Commons [The House of Commons]) undeceived him. He had to eat dirt steadily from his twenty-fifth year. He did not know, when he began, how heavy was the price of publicity. He had desired it and he had purchased it piecemeal; but at every step with humiliation, with a swallowing of insult; with the restraint of vengeance; under the sneer of those who were at one moment or another always his masters, and under such a sense of dependence (now that he was at the very summit) as bent him down, like twenty pounds of lead swung around his neck. (60—my emphasis added)

After this depiction of the Lawyer's cumulative disillusionment and embittering plight, Belloc shows us also how the Lawyer tried to break out of this humiliation and asphyxiation:

There is only one way out of that prison (voluntarily entered but, once entered, not to be evaded) and that way is debauch. He [the Lawyer and Member of Parliament] had very freely used such a key. Therefore to the despair of the soul were added increasing fits of physical depression, which are the wages of debauch. (61—my emphasis added)

We come then to learn how the Lawyer also had had his decisive opportunity which also resulted in a missed opportunity, his “lost opportunity” (61)—and “how it haunted him” still! (61) It had to do with a chance to make a large amount of money easily and quickly, and just before his thirtieth year in age. As he then already had delusively thought of the potential rewards, he imagined that:

He would never have had to climb, he would never have had to lick other men's boots or to swallow insult, or to suffer any of his wounds along the way; he might even have kicked the House of Commons from under his feet and become a free and honourable man. For mark you, adventurers of this sort have in them always a lingering appetite for freedom and for the honour they have lost. But he [the Lawyer] to whom calculation, intrigue and the nasty analysis of men's weaknesses had been a special combined talent, lost the opportunity through miscalculation, through a misunderstanding of men. He had made a sideslip in financial intrigue. He still earned a very large income; but to this day he was still hopelessly in debt. (61—my emphasis added)

After the former two men grappled with temporal and secular affairs, or with material and financial matters, the Traveller will add a different set of insights; and his own poignant, lost opportunity will be presented in a more compact vignette, while also making us think of the heart of Belloc himself and his sacramental glimpses of goodness and beauty while at sea under sail:

The case of the third man, the traveller, was simpler. The worm at his heart was the loss of a religious vision. To put it plainly, he had once seen, not paradise, but the light that shines from paradise, and had been called to a certain effort, to witness to the Faith: the reward of which would have been—at last—secure beatitude. To him, a man inspired by great hill ranges, and with his mind full of landfalls caught suddenly from out at sea, beatitude was natural and a need. He had had his opportunity. He had lost it; not through lack of courage, heavy as are the penalties of Truth, but through sloth [Acedia, or Accidie—one of the Seven Deadly Sins, as well]. An effort [as a Catholic Witness] had been required of him in that decisive moment long ago: a certain tearing apart of habits; a virile decision; a firm grasping of the helm and a twist of it. But he had postponed, lingered, waited—and the opportunity was gone. (61-62—my emphasis added)

Those who have read widely in the writings of Belloc—prose and verse—and also know a little more about his own personal life and his abiding sorrows cannot not think of him in this last poignant passage and of how he might have considered his own potentially culpable Acts of Omission, especially in light of his many long discussions with Father Vincent Joseph McNabb, O.P., his beloved friend and spiritual guide and consoler.

At any rate, the passage of responsible reflection should conduce to our own examination, especially as to how we have ourselves been a faithful Witness to the Faith: by our example, by our words and gestures and silence; and how we might have failed, not only by our Acts of Commission, but by our ungenerous or slothful (and evasive) Acts of Omission.

But Belloc's essay will lead us on to another set of surprises, because, while the three men are together for their brief reunion and reminiscences, we discover that “Each in his heart wished that the talk [about “the chances of life” and “the oddity of fortune”] had taken another turn and [each also] hungered for the opportunity each had missed.” (62). They were, in effect, wanting their youth again.

As the three men assembled the next morning for the train to London, “each remembered what had been in his heart the night before [but, regrettably, never shared during their otherwise intimate reunion and discourse]: in each the lost opportunity of youth had been stabbed into life” (63) again, however, by the brash and casual, yet very haunting words of a tall young student the previous night, when he so unexpectedly burst into their “vacant college sitting-room at Oxford” (58) in order to retrieve a book he sought. The young man had spontaneously, bluntly, and mysteriously said, and even in a kind of archaic colloquialism or dialect, as well: “Ye're all of ye wanting your youth, is it? Ye'll have it!” (63—my emphasis added) Then, with abruptness, “he shut the door noisily behind him.” (63) That young student's sudden words were later called “that insane ejaculation” (63) and he himself was merely referred to as “their mad visitor” (63), but both forms of his presence truly haunted them, at least the Lawyer and the Traveller, although “they were both Englishmen and both men of control.” (63), says Belloc's narrator, with a hint of irony.

Now we encounter another surprise, immediately. For, nonetheless, in the case of the Lawyer and Traveller,

Each gave a suppressed cry, for each had become young, the faces were the faces each had known nearly thirty years before. When the squire put down his newspaper in his turn he was more perturbed, for he was less experienced, and he caught the air for a moment with his hands as though he felt a sort of dizziness. He saw their faces and they saw his, the easy, the eager, the ready untouched faces of those distant years. (64—my emphasis added)

It was as if a certain innocence and freshness and purity had returned, and as a gift, and a momentarily shared gift, at last. And we recall how often in his writings Hilaire Belloc relates Memory and Vision: especially the memory of childhood and youth, and the yearning and expectant vision of plenitude and of beatitude that would also endure and not evanesce.

But, our Belloc will keep us suspended a little longer and deal with sobering temporal matters and the usual reactions of somewhat secularist men, before he gives us a last surprise:

Now such is the action of men in [temporal] society, of men long mixed with other men and long corrupt, that no one of these three betrayed what each [in his skepticism] believed to be a passing illusion. But as their conversation continued each grew convinced that indeed a miracle had taken place; that something had interrupted the iron sequence of time, and that opportunity had been restored. Each in his heart went through a violent revolution, looking forward now and no longer looking backward. Each had the eyes of the soul fixed intently upon the Opportunity which now would come again. It would come! The second chance would come! (64—my emphasis added)

As we first wonder where our guide is leading us, we see how rapt in effervescence these three only partly attentive men become. For they show forth almost a “charismatic Enthusiasm” and are not so alert to what was traditionally called the Donum Timoris—the Holy Ghost's indispensable Gift of Fear (to chasten our easy and lax Presumption):

Each was in a mood so exalted that the immediate results of such prodigious things did not affect him; each felt a confidence that not only their own time, but all time had rolled backward. In each there was a growing certitude that the years between had been [morally] imagined as a sort of warning [!]; that their lives had been dreamt lives, and that [quite delusively!] they themselves and all England were still young: that it was still 1897.

Again on the principle that “contrast clarifies the mind”—at least the mind of the reader—Belloc now depicts the resurgent caution of the Lawyer and his adversative “But”:

But the lawyer, more accustomed to proof, put a test to himself. The woods [as he observed them from the train] were the same and the river; but they would pass a station that he knew (he might have looked at the date on the newspaper and verified their contents, but even his strict mind was bewildered). He said to himself, “I shall recognise the old station at Didcot.” He was wrong there. For at the junction of the line a pointsman [who regulated the track-connections] made a mistake, and they all three went through that door which I who am writing this and you who are reading it will have to pass. (64-65—my emphasis added)

(So, too, was it the case today in 2013 with those eighty persons who were on the train in Spain—even as wholly unprepared or at least partly unprovided-for Viatores—on their pilgrimage way to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela for the High Feast of Saint James the Greater. For, as we now know, they were suddenly to die en route in an unexpected derailment of their own pilgrimage-train.)

Belloc simply, but soberly, added these words: “It was a Death much more noisy and violent, but on the whole less painful, than most.” (65)

While we are recovering from the shock of this sudden contingency—and still perhaps considering the reality of the Particular Judgment and the Final Verdict of Truth as an inescapable part of the Four Last Things—Belloc goes on to give us more details of the sudden, and perhaps unprepared-for death—that his message might seep in a little more for his attentive reader:

There was a grinding and a heaving and a jarring, a little momentary sharp pain, then flames of which they did not feel the burning. Their bodies, when these were recovered, could not be recognised by the features [not even of their distinctive young faces!], but only by the clothes. (65)

Belloc's narrator finally reveals a part of his own acquaintance with at least one of the three men as he becomes more differentiated about their individual burials and the surrounding obsequies, in reverence to their bodies:

That of the squire was, I am glad to say, sent back to his native fields and buried in the same vault with his father and grandfather, who had been, to start with, a small moneylender in Hereford. That of the lawyer was buried down at his country place, where there were copper beeches and rhododendrons; also there was a memorial service [significantly unspecified] for him at St. Margaret's [an Anglican church?], to which I was asked, but I did not go [for reasons also unspecified]. The traveller was buried near by the accident: and why not? [Was it in consecrated ground?] But they read a nice paper about him at the Royal Geographical Society [as they had earlier analogously done in France with Blessed Charles de Foucauld (d. 1 December 1916), concerning his courageous, early-20th-century geographical book on Morocco, before, that is, his own deep, missionary conversion to the Catholic Faith]. (65—my emphasis added)

One may detect the subtle irony in the heartfelt passage above, without thereby being adequately prepared for Belloc's own final sentence in his essay, emphatically set off as another one-sentence paragraph. After all this preparation and revelation, he only says at the end: “And of such is the kingdom of this world.” (65—my emphasis added)

Will we now also recognize, like Belloc, that this is not enough?

What, however, is our own responsive and faithfully stable, alternate Criterion?

Belloc, for sure and by means of his deft indirection, has given us many motives to pray for a provided-for death, and to pray with fidelity and our loyal love for the great Gift of Final Perseverance—itself a “Magnum Donum,” as we should know, “desursum descendens.”


CODA


In his later essay, “On Rasselas” (173-183), which should be read and savored in its revealing fullness, Belloc leaves the reader with more wisdom and encouragement. First speaking of first editions of a great work of literature and then, specifically, of Dr. Johnson's Rasselas itself, he says:

I do not agree with those who pretend that first editions are a vanity. Great wealth will divert them from their proper function and place, as it will divert anything in these days [circa 1926]....as it [“great wealth”] will add folly and pretense and false luxury to such admirable things as the sailing of a boat and hunting. But the first edition of a great book is a thing to be revered. It carries with it (I know not why) something of immediate contact with the author, and of the air in which it was written....But to go back to Rasselas—every man ought to read Rasselas, and every wise man will read it half-a-dozen times in his life. Indeed, a man would do well to read it once a year at least; for never was wisdom better put, or more enduringly; and if it be true that the test of a book [as Maurice Baring also says about the balm of Dostoievski] is the mood in which we lay it down, then this book must have as high marks as anything ever written in English and, therefore, the highest marks of anything ever written in the world. (173-174)

To support his seemingly exaggerated praise—and his admirably generous tribute and gratitude—Belloc then makes an apt contrast with Voltaire's Candide:

It [Rasselas] came out a few years before Candide, and men customarily contrast the one against the other; giving, of course, by far the higher place to Voltaire. But here, in my judgment, they err; for I will stoutly maintain the commonplace that a work of art is not to be judged wholly or even generally by its effect as a work of art, but is rather to be judged by its whole social effect upon man....There is also the prime question whether the book be noble or ignoble, moral or immoral, whether it does good or harm; and our most general judgment must depend upon the old test imposed on us by the ancients, the mood in which we lay it down....No good man is the better for having read Candide, but every man is the better for having read Rasselas. (174-175)

So, too, would be the case a fortiori, in the grateful judgment of this writer, were we to read attentively in the rich corpus of Hilaire Belloc's writings—his verse and prose, his non-fiction and his fiction, to include such unique and magnanimous, comic works such as The Mercy of Allah (1922), which is, like Rasselas, an Apologue: a Moral Tale of great and ascetic effectiveness.

As a sort of footnote, Belloc adds an insight about the incisive, as well as the rhythmically flowing style of substance and lucid concision in Dr. Johnson:

Johnson nearly always, and especially in Rasselas, puts all there is to say of a considered judgment—and a true one—into the antithetical form, than which no better medium has ever been discovered for condensing and preserving a conclusion....Johnson's [“economy” of style] is like strong soup: a concentration of nourishment....[And after giving a lengthy, illustrative passage from Rasselas, Belloc further says:] I would maintain upon this long extract (and I could pick out a dozen as good in the short work) that it has these four qualities—What it says is (1) true, (2) important, (3) of good moral effect, and (4) packed. (175-176—my emphasis added)

As is so with the added, sometimes elegiac, Catholic Witness of Hilaire Belloc, to include Belloc's own reverent Johnsonian sense of “the melancholy Truth to which my heart bears witness.” (183—my emphasis added) Do we agree?

Despite his poignant elegiac doubts at times, may Hilaire Belloc's abidingly yearning hope come to be finally and indefectibly fulfilled, the Visio and the Communio: the “Vision of transcendental truth” (34) and “complete Communion” (32) and, thus, “at last—secure beatitude.” (61-62, his italics)


--Finis-- © 2013 Robert D. Hickson




[1]    Hilaire Belloc, “The Opportunity,” in his 1926 anthology, Short Talks with the Dead and Others ( London: Sheed & Ward, 1926), pp. 58-65. Further references to the passages of this book will be in the main text above, in parentheses.
[2]    Ibid., pp. 31-37. Later in the book, on pages 173-183, is Belloc's profoundly appreciative essay, “On Rasselas,” which very reverently considers Dr. Johnson's Prose Moral Tale, Rasselas, a short work suffused with wisdom and eloquence. It is a work of Ascetical Natural Theology, too, about a young man's coming of age. After seeing and then holding in his hands a First Edition of Rasselas (1759), Belloc said, in his essay's first paragraph: “I bowed down and adored.” (173)

Monday, 2 June 2014

Sussex Guided Walks and History Heritage Days...
















SUMMER PROGRAMME 2014
SUSSEX GUIDED WALKS AND HISTORY
      HERITAGE DAYS, WITH CHRIS HARE MA
www.historypeopleuk.org.uk

Guided walks with Chris Hare, £5 per person

Sunday 13th July, 11am – 12.30pm.
Chichester Walls Walk.
Meet at the northern entrance of Chichester railway station.
Chichester is one of very few towns in England that still retains its city walls – even more impressively, while other towns have walls dating back to medieval times, Chichester’s walls date back to Roman times. This walk will transport you back over nearly two thousand years of history, recalling the decay of the Roman city and its subsequent rebuilding and refortification in medieval times. You will hear how the French seized the city during the reign of King John, and how Parliamentary forces laid siege to Chichester during the English Civil War.

Sunday 13th July, 2.30 – 4.00pm.
Chichester: historic streets and buildings.
Meet by the statue of St. Richard by the Cathedral entrance off West Street.
Despite the appearance of being a Georgian town, most of the city’s buildings were refronted in the eighteenth century, hiding their true antiquity. Much of Chichester remains Tudor and medieval. This walk begins at the Cathedral – a building that has suffered fire, earthquake and being hit be a lightning bolt! This walk will include the great homes of city merchants, such as Edes House and Pallant House, and the great civic and commercial buildings of the city, such as the Butter Market and the Corn Exchange. Your ‘second guide’ will be W.H.Hudson, whose visit to the city in 1899, led him to write an account of Chichester that scandalised the city!

Sunday 20th July, 11am – 12.30pm.
Burpham: Anglo-Saxon Fortress
Meet outside the George and Dragon (the only pub in the village).
What secrets this little downland village still retains! Few people today, walking through Burpham on a country hike or having a meal at the George and Dragon, would guess that Burpham was once a great Anglo-Saxon fortress during the reign of Alfred the Great. Nor would they know what celebrated writers lie buried in its ancient churchyard. Truly, there are surprises a plenty in Burpham, including the legends of the Leper’s Path and of Jack Upperton the Highwayman. You will be surprised how much you learn about the heritage of England in this one walk!

Sunday 20th July, 2.30 – 4.00pm
Arundel: Castle, River, and Town.
Meet at Arundel railway station.
“Since William rose, and Harold fell, there have been Earls at Arundel,” so proclaims a local ditty that celebrates the fact that for nearly one thousand years, since the days of the Norman Conquest, great earls, and latterly, dukes, have resided in the castle at Arundel. Not surprisingly, many dramatic moments in English history have been played out in the town and more than one noble lord ended his life facing the executioner’s axe! We will explore the backstreets of Arundel, unfolding many fascinating tales from the days when Arundel was a port town with a reputation that was not always savoury!

 Heritage History Days - £20

These Heritage History Days will be held in the convenient surroundings of Worthing’s Sidney Walter Centre. Each day will include illustrated talks and discussions, with free hand-outs to take home. There will be breaks for tea and coffee, with reasonably priced lunches available from the local pub, The Swan, between 1 and 2pm. For more information about lunches look at www.coxinns.com/theswan  Tea, coffee and biscuits will be supplied free at the Sidney Walter Centre. Those not wishing to buy a lunch at the Swan are welcome to bring a packed lunch.

Saturday 26th July,  10am – 4pm
Smuggling Days in Sussex – a true and deadly history
Sidney Walter Centre, Sussex Road, Worthing. BN11 1DS
Welcome to the Wild West, that is the Wild West Sussex of the eighteenth century! Violent skirmishes between dragoons and smugglers in the 1740s at Goring and Arundel led to fatalities on both sides. The brutal murder of thirteen year old Richard Hawkins by smugglers in 1747 led to the gang finally being brought to justice. Not all smugglers were murderers, many turned to the ‘wicked trade’ as a result of poverty and were seen as ‘Robin Hood’s’ by local people. This day will include the stories of John Olliver, the ‘Mad Miller’ of Highdown, of William Cowerson of Steyning, and of George Ransley of Romney Marsh and his notorious gang of smugglers known as ‘The Roaring Ransleys’. The day will include a look at the causes of smuggling and why it so quickly declined after 1840.

Saturday 2nd August, 9.30am – 6pm
Edwardian Sussex and the First World War + screening of ‘Oh, Water a Lovely War’.
Sidney Walter Centre, Sussex Road, Worthing. BN11 1DS, film screening, Pier Pavilion, Worthing.
This is a very special day. In the morning, Chris will talk about life in Edwardian Sussex in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, and then chart the terrible impact of the war on local communities. In the afternoon Chris, and Worthing Journal editor, Paul Holden, will be leading tours on Worthing Pier, as part of a day of commemorative events to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of hostilities on 4th August 1914. At 3.15pm there will be a special screening of ‘Oh, What a Lovely War,’ which will include the live performance of First World War songs. Tickets for the screening are on sale for £10, but the ticket price is included in the cost of this Heritage History Day.
The morning session at the Sidney Walter Centre will take a close look at life in the years leading up to war, including the impact of militant suffragettes, and the campaign to eradicate drunkenness – seen as a scourge of Sussex towns at that time. The terrible impact of war will then be considered, not just the terrible loss of life, but also the social changes that the war brought in its wake: the decline of the old rural culture, with its ancient customs and traditions.
Starting at 1pm on Worthing Pier, Chris and Paul will use an illustrative timeline, laid out on the pier, to chart the chronology  of the First World War and the major events happening locally. The screening of ‘Oh, What a Lovely War’ will include ‘extras’, such as live performances from the Southwick Players and soldiers songs of the time. There will be an interval at 4.30pm, with the screening ending at 6pm. There will also be a ‘surprise’ ending!

Saturday 6th September, 10.30am – 4.30pm
A Day out at Glynde and Mount Caburn
Meet at the Trevor Arms, next to Glynde railway station. BN8 6SS
Glynde, near Lewes is a very precious survival – a Sussex village that still feels alive – a working village, with a pub and a village shop, all bristling with history. For centuries the Morleys and then the Trevors were the resident gentry. Glynde Place – a gracious Elizabethan country house was, and still remains, the seat of the local landowner, Viscount Hampden. There is much to explore and discover in the village, including the unusual Georgian parish church and the old blacksmith’s shop that appears to be straight out of ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
After lunch we will venture up onto Mount Caburn – which enjoys one of the most splendid views to be found on the South Downs. Caburn is steeped in the mystery of prehistoric times and, despite, numerous archaeological excavations, still refuses to give up its secrets. The evidence of human activity on Caburn dates back 4000 years, although the earthwork embankment and ditch date from 400 BC. Was it a hillfort or a place of ritual where religious rites were performed?
In more recent times, John Ellman of Glynde, pastured his famous South Downs breed of sheep here over two hundred years ago. At Caburn fact, folklore and fiction seem to roll together with effortless ease.

To end the day, Chris will give a talk at the Trevor Arms on the turbulent life of Herbert Morley of Glynde, who was a key figure on the Parliamentary side in Sussex during the English Civil War and spent twenty years fighting for his beliefs against both King Charles and, later, Cromwell.



Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Mad World of Mr Petre



The Manchester Guardian reviews Mr Petre, a novel by Hilaire Belloc with twenty-two drawings by G.K. Chesterton

''We look for some fun when Mr Belloc and Mr Chesterton get together, and their latest collaboration may send us back to the "EmanueI Burden" of something over twenty years ago. Indeed, in Mr Chesterton's admirable illustrations the contours of Mr Petre recall sometimes the earlier protagonist. Of course Mr Belloc and Mr Chesterton are serious persons, and their fun is at bottom, as Matthew Arnold might say, a criticism of life. It is not life, but there is some analogy with it in this exposure of human folly and credulity. It appears that we shall not be wiser a generation hence than we are now.

The story begins in 1953 with the return of Mr Peter Blagden from New York, and for a page or two the irony seems to be held in reserve; we have time to think that Mr Belloc could, if he would, give us a very interesting "ordinary" novel. But Mr Blagden loses his memory completely, and from no particular cause; chances combine to identify him with Mr Petre, the great American millionaire. So he becomes involved in enormous transactions, and on the strength of an occasional "Exactly" or "I quite understand" his reputation as the most astute man of his time becomes assured. He puts up at the Splendide (or, as the proof-reader leaves it on one occasion the Savoy), and so courted is he that he must bolt to the country sometimes for breathing space.

If he buys everybody follows, and his chance expression of opinion breaks up a luncheon party, everybody rushing for the telephone. Perhaps the loss of memory is a little arbitrary in its working, but it is a good device for the display of Mr Belloc's scornful irony. For, of course, everything that Mr Petre says and does is idiotic. A man reputed to have fifty million pounds must be a master-mind, and financiers feel that they must crawl before him or be ruined.

It is a mad world, an abominable but comical world in which the knaves are also fools. Tremendous transactions are entered upon, and though Mr Belloc disclaims the technical equipment of the economist, one is convinced that he would make a good City Editor. Probably, though, the City would be treated as an Augean stable. The financiers appear as rogues that no sane person can take seriously. Mr Petre piles up millions and doesn't know what to do with them; he becomes quite bitter about it. His memory returns and the real John Petre turns up.

Finance has had its trouncing and now comes law. Our law is as absurd as our finance. The unfortunate American, consumed with indignation and determined to punish the impostor, is baffled by it. Naturally the case got to the House of Lords, and the final judgement was delivered by Ermyntrude, Viscountess Boole, the Lord Chancellor. Mr Peter Blagden is left considering what disposal of the money will do the least harm.

Mr Chesterton's drawings are capital, and indicate a precise appreciation of his friend's ironies.''

The Manchester Guardian, 05 June 1925


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Belloc predicts death of Protestantism...


The Mansion House, Dublin

Cutting a potentially long story short I would like to say that this Blog promotes all of Belloc's output: be it good, bad or indifferent. With this in mind, some readers may be slightly offended by the following post. But Belloc wouldn't be Belloc if he wasn't, on occasion, provocative!

''Protestantism is hopelessly dead and has nothing left but a fossil difficult of digestion and incapable of propagation, according to the famous author, Hilaire Belloc, who was speaking yesterday [16 October 1913] at the eleventh annual conference of The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin.

Mr. Belloc, who was speaking on the place of the Catholic Church in the modern world, continued by prophesying that the coming years would see the Catholic Church prevail amongst religions, not least because Freemasonry had grown old and become ridiculous, while Jewish finance, for so many generations a secret enemy, had been dragged out into the open.

Cardinal Logue, the primate of All Ireland, presided over the conference which drew a large number of other members of the Catholic hierarchy and members of the clergy to its sessions.

Other speeches focused on the issue of housing the poor, with reference to the Church Street tenement collapse, and on a Catholic interpretation of the labour movement.''

Source - RTE online historical archive.