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, 7 October 2020

Belloc and Poland...





DEAR SIR,

Homage to Hilaire Belloc would be incomplete that omitted mention of his friendship to Poland. With that “Catholic conscience of history” which impregnates all his writings, Belloc, long before the first World War, sensed the tragic consequences for Europe of Poland’s absence from the comity of free nations. He was in Poland only twice—in 1912, when gathering material for his book on The Campaign of 1812, and again in the ‘thirties. Of this latter journey he recorded his impressions in Return to the Baltic, published in 1938. His knowledge of history and his acquaintance with ethnic and cultural realities, which in Central and Eastern Europe before 1914 were af the uttermost variance with the political map, no doubt reinforced his Polish sympathies and convictions.”Catholic Poland,” he wrote in The Campaign of 1812, “by all her inheritance and traditions leans on Western Europe” ) it was one of the “most highly differentiated nations in Europe ; this nation, however, was partitioned ; it was a crime, he said (writing in 1912), “from which so much of our own near future is to develop.” To a map of Poland accompanying this book, with frontiers between Germany, Russia and Austria cutting across the Polish national entity, Belloc added a line marking an “approximate limit of Polish language and culture” in the West. With prophetic insight he drew almost the ,Polish-German frontier which Roman Dmowski, the great Polish statesman who headed the Polish Delegation, demanded in 1919 at the Peace Conference of Paris. Although the experts of the Peace Conference, including Sir William (later Lord) Tyrrell, accepted the bulk of the Polish demands, the passionate and ill-advised intervention of Lloyd George considerably changed the proposed frontiers to the detriment of Poland. In his Return to the Baltic Belloc recalls this incident and comments : “That solution was advised by the experts who understood their business ; it was turned down by ignorant politicians . . . who had for the Poles an antipathy almost as strange as their lack Of European knowledge was profound and wide.”

If Belloc was asking justice for Poland it was also because, as he stated in The Two Maps of Europe, published in 1915, a rearranged map of Europe would be in accordance with the ideals and interests of the Allies. “It is essential to Prussia,” he said, “that no really independent Poland should re-arise, even mutilated. . . . It is a matter of life and death to the Allies to prevent the re-establishment of Prussian power, with its ideal of domination over others.” In his pamphlet, The Catholic and the War (1940), he repeated his warning almost word for word, and added : “Unfortunately, the English did not understand the situation.”

In many of his writings Belloc stresses the historic services Poland rendered to Europe. “Poland is a bastion,” he says in Return to the Baltic, “. . . It saved us in the Battle of Warsaw as it saved us more than two hundred years earlier in the Battle of Vienna. . . . When Pilsudski won his famous battle he . . . saved everything east of the Rhine. . . . It looks as though the Germans may not have been saved for a much better fate. It looks as though another barbarism, almost as bad as the modern barbarism of Moscow, were to take place of the German culture.”

When in 1935 a Warsaw journal, Pologne Litteraire, published a special number devoted to Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, Belloc contributed an article in which he wrote : “Until he, Pilsudski, gathered power into his hands, the conception of Poland in the English mind was indeterminate in outline and faint in substance. The few years during which he ruled gave body to that vague impression, and firmness to that outline ; he made Poland real for the educated classes in England—even the politicians.” But, in order “not to exaggerate this effect,” Belloc underlined that Poland “still remained remote from the English mind,” and he analysed the .converging factors of this inability to grasp the significance of Poland. First, “the English public schools, in which the governing classes of a nation essentially aristocratic are trained, pay very little attention to history outside their own country.” A second cause of this lack of appreciation was “the attitude of the English mind towards nations of Catholic culture.” There were also the factors of time and language.

Five years later, when Poland again lay partitioned between Germany and Russia, certain voices were heard in this country recommending a negotiated peace with Germany. One was that of Lloyd George. Another was that of Lord Beaverbrook who, on March 31st, 1940, in an article in the Sunday Express, stated that he had “no interest in rescuing Poland and Czechoslovakia from the gutter, dusting them and setting them upon pedestals again with guns in their hands to be knocked down once more.” The present writer was then editor of Free Europe. He asked Hilaire Belloc to state a more realistic and more Christian British point of view. A magnificent article was received and published on April 19th. Its conclusion was : “If England abandons Poland she abandons her own power and place in the future. The test is Poland.”

The British, as it is obvious from obituary articles devoted to Hilaire Belloc, differ in their opinions as to the wisdom of his politics. The Poles consider that the main trend of his diagnosis of Europe is correct and his prescriptions are wise. Poles will always gratefully remember this English writer and thinker for his constant love for their country and deep understanding of the genius of their nation.

Yours faithfully,

Shepperton, Middlesex. K. M. SMOGORZEWSKI.

Letter printed in the Tablet. 

Published on Justice4Poland.com



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