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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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Laughing at the Microbe - Sean Fitzpatrick...



Covid-19 will most likely prove one of those demarcating events in history that will be prefixed with “pre” and “post.” Until then, these are without doubt days of blind trust. No one is quite sure what is going on, but doubt is not a popular public disposition. With sorrow for those who have suffered due to the virus, is it too early to chuckle at pandemic absurdities?

A friend told me recently, “It’s okay to laugh at our tragicomic world. That’s how the Anglo-American mind best deals with absurdity. The French scoff; the Spanish weep; the Russians brood; the Irish sing; the Italians fight. We chuckle.” And so, with a healthy, Anglo-American, Catholic chuckle, let us turn to a tiny poem of titanic import by Hilaire Belloc, entitled “The Microbe.”

The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all,
But many sanguine people hope
To see him through a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tails with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots,
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty separate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen—
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us that they must be so…
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

Never, ever doubt Mr. Belloc’s clairvoyance for our calamities—from Islamic extremism to the New Paganism, and now Covidism.

Socrates said somewhere that the humor associated with the ridiculous denotes self-ignorance. I’m not a virologist; neither am I a humorist. But I think I do have a sense of humor. If this virus is bringing anything out in its more ridiculous manifestations, it is the ignorance people have of who they are and what life is all about. As Belloc’s poem amusingly captures, these are days of doubt, of profound self-ignorance. It is no wonder, then, that so much of our newly adopted behaviors seem ridiculous.

G. K. Chesterton weighs in with his bulky brilliance on what’s wrong with the world—and it’s us. “Man is an exception,” Chesterton writes, “whatever else he is. If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.”

Let’s not go off our heads and allow this disease to make diseases out of us.

Are the orders, the closures, the distancing, the isolating, and the hysteria all for the sake of the right thing? Is the focus on the value of life, or the fear of death? To be, or not to be? No one is sure—yet the question remains. Uncertainty is airborne, just like the microbe. Blessed are they that have not seen yet believe. Covid-19 has brought out something like faith in an invisible earthly entity even as it shuttered the churches. Man seems to have found wisdom in the fear of the microbe instead of the Lord.

Again, from Chesterton: “Death, disease, insanity, are merely material accidents, like a toothache or a twisted ankle. That these brutal forces always besiege and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel.”

The reactions to the current microbial crisis are augmented by a growing doubt concerning the meaning of life itself. Human society is not necessarily built upon health. “The most dangerous thing in the world,” says Chesterton, “is to be alive; one is always in danger of one’s life.” But that doesn’t mean we should live in fear of losing our lives. It’s ridiculous to live that way, and Catholics should respond with a chuckle.

It may be ridiculous—even funny, in some ways—but humor is, by some theories, the recognition of incongruity. For all the uncertainty, there is certainly a good deal of contagious incongruity going around. The coronavirus might make its survivors both stronger and stranger. Or perhaps just more estranged.

You thought cellphones were atomizing? Try adding a mask to that picture, as well as personal space lines painted on the floor like traffic lines and the abolition of the handshake. How much further can we go? (W.H.O. knows.) In the meantime, never doubt the limits of man’s unsurety.

The microbe has shown us that we are becoming a people of the government, by the government, and for the government in the misunderstanding that big government will somehow keep us from perishing from the earth. Though all of this is an error of materialism, based on over-reliance, secularism, and spiritual and intellectual social distancing, the funny thing is that there is a type of materialism that we must all live with and be sick with together, according to G.K.C., if we are to thrive as a culture:

No one has even begun to understand comradeship who does not accept with it a certain hearty eagerness in eating, drinking, or smoking, an uproarious materialism which to many women appears only hoggish. You may call the thing an orgy or a sacrament; it is certainly an essential. It is at root a resistance to the superciliousness of the individual. Nay, its very swaggering and howling are humble. In the heart of its rowdiness there is a sort of mad modesty; a desire to melt the separate soul into the mass of unpretentious masculinity. It is a clamorous confession of the weakness of all flesh. No man must be superior to the things that are common to men. This sort of equality must be bodily and gross and comic. Not only are we all in the same boat, but we are all seasick.

All things should be taken with a sense of humor, which is to say, with common sense. Humor is a basis for sanity as it provides relief and balance. It keeps us healthy. The populace is refreshed more readily by arrant absurdities than academic analyses. Chestertonian hat-chases in the wind bestow the hilarious and humbling reminder that though man is the steward of nature, he is subject to it at the same time. This is one of the deftest jokes of humanity. And one of the deepest jokes of humanity is death, as Mr. Chesterton reminds us in his poem “The Skeleton.”

Surely, friends, I might have guessed
Death was but the good King’s jest,
It was hid so carefully.

As we all know, there’s no getting out of this alive. Scientists will not find the meaning of life under their microscopes, and we should face death without a metaphorical mask so our smile can be seen. There are certainly things in life that we should never doubt even though nobody is sure about them—and we should also not be afraid that we will never be sure. Some things, like life and death, are meant to be mysteries.

We’re all sick. We’re all dying. And that’s alright. It’s even amusing. We should be prudent, of course, in these dangerous days and be a good neighbor to all. At the same time, though, let’s not forget this: it’s not a sin to laugh, knowing that the microbe will not laugh last. The last word, however, goes to Mr. Belloc:

Physicians of the Utmost Fame
Were called at once; but when they came
They answered, as they took their Fees,
“There is no cure for this disease.”


Sean Fitzpatrick is a senior contributor to Crisis. He's a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Saint Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, Penn. with his wife and family of four.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

A strange Belloc experience...





In 1985 A.N.Wilson published his biography of Hilaire Belloc. As part of his research he visited Julian Jebb (Belloc’s grandson) who was then living at Belloc’s old home, Kingsland. Wilson arrived with a BBC camera crew. Jebb allowed them full access to the house, including Belloc’s private chapel:

There are few houses in England, certainly few writers’ houses, which have a more potent atmosphere than King’s Land, with its chapel on the first floor, where he so often prayed, and where the Mass was so often said. The wall is papered with those little cards given out at Requiems, asking for prayers for the repose of the departed. And central to the chapel is the old piece of black-rimmed writing paper on which Belloc has inscribed his wife’s name. It is grimy with his frequent fingering, for he touched and kissed it as often as he prayed here.
The camera crew came into the house. I felt awkward about their going anywhere near the chapel, but Julian, who felt in some degree oppressed by his grandfather, as by the Catholic faith, was all the more eager to bring to that hallowed place the glare of artificial light and the intrusion of a microphone. However often they tried to make their electrical equipment in the chapel at King’s Land work, it failed. Either the lights popped, or the sound failed, usually both. The electricity of HB and of Elodie was much stronger than the electricity of the BBC. I felt, too, not merely the Bellocs, but the old Catholic Thing fighting back against the intrusion of the modern.

Monday, 16 March 2020

They might strike root again...






"There is only one consideration which may lighten somewhat the burden of what seems inevitable. It is this: that, just as we could not forsee the sudden tidal wave which has swept over us, so the future, even the immediate future, may check the ruin of our home, of our most ancient life. Some incalculable further change may stop the further process of disintegration. it is not conceivable - but often enough the inconceivable happens. Disaster and decline might destroy the machine and so save, before they had disappeared, the last stocks and found some new repose they might strike root again."


Hilaire Belloc - The County of Sussex (1936)



Monday, 3 February 2020

Never before seen letter sent by Belloc from the Reform Club...




The letter, above, was kindly sent to me by a reader of the Blog in South America.


Alceu Amoroso Lima (1893-1983) was a Brazilian literary critic, professor and journalist.

Xikito Ferreira writes:

''Before converting to Catholicism Alceu was already a fond reader of G K Chesterton’s essays.Chesterton’s enthusiasm for life somehow was absorbed by his young admirer. In fact several other Brazilian intellectuals, like Gilberto Freire, were deeply influenced by GK. One of the topics that interested Alceu was distributism, much to do with a difficulty Alceu was undergoing:he had been admitted to the management of Tecidos Cometa, the family mills in Petropolis. Many of the 1.000 workers at the factory struggled to sustain their families, and the young man tended to take their side, what naturally became an issue with his father. So Alceu wrote to Chesterton and to Hilaire Belloc asking for their orientation....''

Xikito is hoping to visit England this Summer. We look forward to seeing him.


Sunday, 26 January 2020

Hilaire Belloc Society AGM. 30th of November 2019.




Sarah Maitland-Jones and Chris Hare (the vice-chairman of the Hilaire Belloc Society). Sarah is displaying an illustration by her distant cousin Donald Maxwell. 


The AGM of The Hilaire Belloc Society took place on Saturday the 30th of November at 5.15Pm. It was held at at the Sidney Walter Centre in Worthing. All the existing officers, of the Society, were re-elected.

During the meeting we had the pleasure of listening to Sarah Maitland-Jones. Sarah's relative, Donald Maxwell, illustrated one of Belloc's books and she kindly brought one of his illustrations to the AGM. Most of Maxwell's thirty or more self-illustrated books were about voyages in (Europe, 
Mesopotamia, Palestine, and India) and later about the sights of Southern England. He also illustrated books by many other authors. including Rudyard Kipling.

In the evening much fun was had at the end of Belloc, Broadwood and Beyond end of project celebration!







Monday, 13 January 2020

SEA SONGS AND SHANTIES....



SEA SONGS AND SHANTIES:
FREE LUNCHTIME CHARITY CONCERT

DUCK POND SAILORS * Wellington Wailers * SECRET SHORE SINGERS

https://friendsofthesouthdowns.org.uk/about-us/how-we-do-it/secretshore/

ST MARY DE HAURA CHURCH, SHOREHAM BY SEA, West Sussex BN43 5DQ.

11.30AM SATURDAY 25TH JANUARY 2020.

An opportunity to raise your voices and to raise funds for Olly's Future & RNLI Lifeboats.

http://www.ollysfuture.org.uk/





Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Hilaire Belloc Society AGM 2019

Belloc in Brighton 1935



The AGM of The Hilaire Belloc Society will be taking place on Saturday the 30th of November at 5.15Pm. It will be held at at the Sidney Walter Centre, Sussex Rd, Worthing BN11 1DS. It will be followed, from 7.00 PM onwards, by the Belloc, Broadwood and Beyond end of project celebration. This will be an evening of song, feasting and fun There will be a Bar, but please bring your own soft drinks and food.


The agenda for the meeting will be as follows:

Item 1) Meeting to be opened by our distinguished Vice Chairman Chris Hare.

Item 2) Apologies for absence.

Item 3) Round up of the year (and a bit!) with Chris. 

Item 4) Possible activities for next year.

Item 3) Treasurer's report. 

Item 4) Election of Officers. 

Item 5) AOB. 

Retreat to the Bar!