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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Tuesday 16 April 2024

Hilaire Belloc: an afternoon of four illustrated talks, exploring the life and career of this great son of Sussex.

'Bleak House' - the Belloc family home in Slindon

Saturday 27th July, 2pm - 5.30pm, (with coffee breaks). Guided walk to follow afternoon talks. Coronation Hall, Reynolds Lane, Slindon. BN18 0QT. Disabled access. Guided walk approx. two hours, moderate climb, no disabled access.

Four speakers with four different takes on Belloc. David Arscott, well known Sussex publisher and author reflects on Belloc's Sussex writings. Roderick Blythe, a Belloc descendant, will give a personal appreciation of his esteemed forebear. Playwright, Ann Feloy, will discuss how she went about turning Belloc's famous Sussex book, The Four Men, into a stage play. Chris Hare will look at the politics and philosophy of Belloc and wonder if his warnings from the 1920s have come to fruition in the 2020s. 

For tickets, please follow the following link.

After the talks Chris will lead an optional walk around Belloc's boyhood haunts of Slindon and Halnaker (there is no extra charge for the walk). For those wishing to do the walk only it will cost £7.50 (for this option please email Chris at sussexhistory.hare@gmail.com).

Jake, who runs The Forge cafe in the village (next door to the Coronation Hall) is happy to serve evening meals and also happy for us to do a bit of singing should we be so inclined. Please let Chris know if you are interested in this particular aspect of the day's proceedings.

Monday 8 April 2024

Classic children’s poems have been given a trigger warning by a publisher because they may be “harmful” to modern readers, The Telegraph can reveal...

Classic children’s poems have been given a trigger warning by a publisher because they may be “harmful” to modern readers, The Telegraph can reveal.

Prolific author Hilaire Belloc's popular comic verse, including 1907’s Cautionary Tales For Children, has been republished by Pan Macmillan with a new cautionary note.

A trigger warning printed in the collection of humorous children’s poems warns that the rhymes may be “hurtful or indeed harmful” to modern-day readers.

The disclaimer alerts readers to potentially troubling “phrases and terminology” in the collection which includes animal-themed verse and parody poems such as Jim: Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion.

The warning about harmful language “prevalent at the time” when historic works were written follows a new trend in publishing which has seen cautionary notes printed in reissued works by Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl.

Illustrations from the Hilaire Belloc children's poem The Llama CREDIT: BASIL T BLACKWOOD

Printed in the opening pages of the Belloc collection put out by Pan Macmillan, the publisher warns that the text has not been edited and is therefore “true to the original in every way and is reflective of the language and period in which it was originally written”.

It adds: “Readers should be aware that there may be hurtful or indeed harmful phrases and terminology that were prevalent at the time this book was written and in the context of the historical setting of this book.”

The publisher adds in the lengthy disclaimer that “Macmillan believes changing the text to reflect today’s world would undermine the authenticity of the original, so has decided to leave the text in its entirety”.

However, the publishing house states that retaining the original language of the author does not constitute an endorsement of the “characterisation, content or language” in Belloc’s poems.

Illustrations from the poem The Crocodile CREDIT: BASIL T BLACKWOOD

Belloc was born in 1870 to a French father but raised in Sussex. He later served as Liberal MP in Salford.

A friend of G K Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw, he was an Anglo-French and Catholic outsider, whose work spanned travel writing, histories, religious essays, political tracts, and poetry.

He is also known for illustrated collections of comic poems, including Cautionary Tales For Children, spanning rhymes about characters suffering absurd consequences for mild infractions.

Other volumes include The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and More Beasts (For Worse Children), which are filled with amusing poems about animals.

These three collections have been combined into one volume by Pan Macmillan and covered by the trigger warning about “harmful” language.

Cautionary Tales includes a zoo keeper being called “fat”, while the 1896 collection Book of Beasts makes reference to “the Kurd” and “little Turk”, and More Beasts makes a rhyme of “the woeful superstitions of the East”.
‘Generalised anxiety’

Chris Hare, the vice chairman of the Hilaire Belloc society and author of the work Hilaire Belloc: Politics of Living, has criticised the use of warnings.

He told The Telegraph: “It’s what we see today, a huge sense of caution and a generalised anxiety about saying the wrong thing.

“We live in an age where people are permanently anxious about causing offence.

“Since the Second World War, we have lived in quite a coddled society. It’s no longer the school of hard knocks, but the school of comfy living.

“Belloc himself saw this coming, a time when old ideas of morality have faded and nobody has any idea what might be right or wrong, so they worry about what might cause offence.

“I think he wouldn’t be surprised by this, although he would likely be saddened if it was because of his children’s poetry.”

Pan Macmillan has been approached for comment.

Craig Simpson - Daily Telegraph 6 April 2024 • 2:24pm

Tuesday 21 November 2023

A Sussex Belloc - an anthology of poetry and prose...


The works of Hilaire Belloc are out of copyright – and local author David Arscott has seized the moment to produce an illustrated anthology of the master’s copious writings in celebration of his beloved South Country. Here you’ll find all of his Sussex verse, extracts from his history of the county, essays on the land and its people and extracts from his best loved book, The Four Men.
To buy A Sussex Belloc at £8.50 post-free, send a cheque to David Arscott at 1 Friars Walk,
Lewes BN7 2LE or email him at sussexbooks@aol.com to arrange a bank transfer.

David’s companion volume, A Sussex Kipling, is also available at the same price.

'Hilaire Belloc: The Politics of Living' book review...


Hilaire Belloc: The Politics of Living, Chris Hare, Blacker Limited, 2023, pp. 164, £15.

‘When I am dead, I hope it may be said: “His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”’ When Hilaire Belloc penned his own epitaph he still had three decades of life ahead of him with little reason to worry seriously about posterity. Reading those words now in the seventieth anniversary year of his passing, they still amuse but seem far from prophetic. Of the more than 150 books he wrote, almost none are in print by mainstream publishers. Other than a dedicated following among Catholic traditionalists, he is read mostly for his Cautionary Tales for Children and some anthologised verse. As for the sins that have sullied Belloc’s reputation, the least pardonable is his anti-Semitism.

Belloc has found admirable biographers in the likes of A. N. Wilson and Joseph Pearce and Chris Hare does not attempt in this persuasively reasoned study a further retelling of his life. Instead, he approaches his subject thematically. Through a series of discreet but related essays we are presented with critical reflections on Belloc’s private thoughts and public writings on a range of matters. Thus we have Belloc on religion, on politics, on war and peace, on mortality and, inescapably, on Jews. There is also an insightful interpretation of Belloc’s picaresque novel The Four Men.

A powerful motif across the chapters is Belloc the eternal outsider. Born in France but raised in Britain, he was at home and a stranger in both countries. As a young volunteer in the French military his fellow soldiers referred to him as ‘the Englishman’. Fiercely proud of his adopted home in the English south coast county of Sussex his Franco-Catholicism set him apart from its rustic folk. There was an element of self-sabotage about his situation. He privately supped at the tables of a social elite he publicly affected to despise. For all his desire for belonging, his restlessness took him on long travels far from his neglected family.

In a sharply perceptive chapter, Hare shows how Belloc was not even entirely at one with the Catholic Church of which he was such a staunch apologist. His was a religion less of intellectual doctrine than felt sentiment, especially in the ritual of the sacrament. For all his faith in Catholicism as the foundation of Western civilisation, Belloc had an abiding fascination with paganism. It was more than passing sentiment that caused him while sailing off the south coast of England to rhapsodise about ‘The Holy Moon’.

That veneration of the natural world pervades the most revered of Belloc’s novels, The Four Men. The tale of a quartet of travellers who make their way on foot across Sussex, is, as Hare observes, a celebration of a landscape threatened by change. In reconnecting with their home county, the wanderers are imbued with a sense of belonging planted deep in its chalky soil. Hare includes a quotation from Belloc that again alludes to a spiritual belief system unbound by orthodox Catholicism: ‘if a man is part of and is rooted in one steadfast piece of earth, which has nourished him and given him his being, and if he can on his side lend it glory and do it service, it will be a friend to him for ever, and he has outflanked Death in a way.’

Did Belloc’s mourning of a landscape and way of life being lost to time make him a reactionary or a radically forward thinker? Hare deftly teases out the contradictions of his subject, showing how he can be read in different ways. Take his lamentation for a South Downs ceding to tourism, urbanisation and commercial farming. ‘Which of us could have thought, when we wandered, years ago, in the full peace of summer Weald, or through the sublime void of the high Downs, that the things upon which we had been nourished since first we could take joy in the world would be thus rapidly destroyed in our own time, dying even before we ourselves die?’ That utterance could have come as easily from a contemporary environmentalist as an Edwardian curmudgeon. Yet there is no sense in its fatalism that Belloc anticipated the conservationist agenda of our own era in a way true of fellow authors such as W. H. Hudson whose wandering across the South Downs also led him to warn of a disappearing countryside.

As for his own passing, Hare suggests Belloc retained a sense of humour and stoicism as he neared death. Some of the testimonies included in the book possibly imply otherwise. Such is true of a statement made by early biographer J. B. Morton who witnessed in person the way that Belloc ‘when trapped into exposing his deeper feelings, regained his balance, as it were, before you had noticed what happened.’ Belief in an eternal life did not entirely reconcile Belloc to the grief that came from the early death of his wife Elodie and the sacrifice of a son to each of the World Wars.

If, as Hare argues, Belloc can still at times sound modern, then he was in other respects on the wrong side of history. His regressive attitude towards women’s rights, not discussed in the pages of the book, is a case in point. So too most obviously is his anti-Semitism. Hare is admirably dispassionate in his assessment, setting out the cases for both the prosecution and defence and allowing the reader to reach their own decision. The book does not hold back in detailing Belloc’s infatuation with Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Belloc gushed over Il Duce’s ‘excellent experiment’ in governance, proclaiming it a successful defence of a European civilisation otherwise crumbling into decline and ruin. Instrumental in that collapse were, in Belloc’s mind, the ‘international financiers’ of no national affiliation who conspired to cause scandals and wars for their own commercial profit. Hare could also have mentioned Belloc’s insistence on the guilt of Jewish artillery officer Alfred Dreyfus decades after the French government had overturned his notorious conviction for treason. On the side of the defence is the fact that Belloc was an early and outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler’s regime in Germany. Here Hare wisely reminds us of A. N. Wilson’s observation that there was a wilful blindness towards the affinities between Nazi political doctrine and his own prejudices.

Hilaire Belloc: The Politics of Living is an astute and highly readable study that illuminates its subject in all his complexities. What it may lack in original research it more than compensates for in the suppleness and depth of its analysis.

Clive Webb is Professor of Modern American History at the University of Sussex. His book Vietdamned: How the World’s Greatest Minds Put America on Trial, will be published by Profile Books.

This review has been taken from The London Magazine.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Monday 25th September at West Worthing Baptist Church, 45 South St, Worthing BN14 7LU.

Chris Hare will be giving the following free talk on the evening of Monday 25th September at West Worthing Baptist Church, 45 South St, Worthing BN14 7LU.

Hilaire Belloc: the paradox of belief -

'Hilaire Belloc is not much remembered today, and when he is, it is usually for his comic verse for children, or his outspoken views, many of which are now very unfashionable. In this talk I will look at Belloc's religious, spiritual, and mystical beliefs. He was a devout Roman Catholic, who would broach no compromise with 'modernism.' Yet he also wrote movingly about the elemental power of the natural world, in particular, the sea and the moon. He regarded the finding of springs from which great rivers flow to the sea as a 'holy' experience. He was greatly concerned with both the decline of Christianity, as he saw it, and the threat posed by materialist lifetstyles on creation. A modern audience may be surprised to find Belloc less archaic than they expect, but instead speaking to very modern concerns about social justice, the environment, but most of all, on the safe passage of the human soul.'

The talk starts at 7.45pm.

Monday 31 July 2023

'Hilaire Belloc: the politics of living' by Chris Hare (published by History People UK) - reviewed by Mike Hennessy (the Chairman of the Hilaire Belloc Society)...


Chris Hare has done us all a great service by writing on Belloc.  His book, Hilaire Belloc: the politics of living, which came out late last year, ought to serve as a welcome invitation to those readers of today who have not yet taken up any of Belloc’s works. For reasons quite complex and largely unjustified, Belloc’s reputation has fallen significantly below that of his Catholic and other contemporaries over the last few decades.  We have just passed the seventieth anniversary of Belloc’s death (on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16 July 1953) and there was no discernible murmur of recognition or commemoration.  Apart from an ongoing general rustle of appreciation among those who recall with affection his comic verse (mainly the Cautionary Tales for Children), and especially among younger generations, he is almost unknown.  Thankfully, he is probably still well enough known among the people of his beloved County of Sussex, more so than anywhere else in the UK (which would please him), in large part because of the enthusiastic endeavours of Chris Hare and his friends who keep his memory alive there; and his name can still be found bruited about online among fervent co-religionists (especially in the US) who cling to some of his more political and polemical works with avidity.  But outside these groups he is but a dimly remembered name.

Perhaps this is the fate of most of those men who are greater than any one of their books, or even greater than the sum of all their writings. Sublime works often live on, carrying their creator in their wake as something more than just a name. In Belloc’s case, it is impossible to point to any of his books and say: “Here is the entire man!”.  Even placing perhaps his three greatest single works on top of each other – The Path to Rome, The Four Men and The Cruise of the Nona – I would assert that the pile reaches barely to Belloc’s waist.  One finds the real Belloc through a wide reading of his variegated works and then becomes enchanted by him, perhaps even more so than with his writings; those books then remain one of the best ways to keep company with him and to hear him speak. There is wisdom, humour, beauty, wit and understanding in his books; but behind all of these things, giving them spirit and substance is the figure, the personality: Belloc himself – a man, with faults of course, but with great gifts, who lived a life of travel, tragedy, some disillusionment and much intellectual combat, and who met with exhaustion at the end.  Belloc is why we read Belloc (which makes him stand out from many other authors, whose writings I may admire or feel deeply about, for whom I feel only a gentle warmth at best).

And Chris Hare has done a particular service by showing us this man – Ecce homo! – in a personal and affectionate way that I believe no-one has done so well since the superb memoir written by J B Morton only a few years after Belloc’s death. For he has weaved a very personal note through Belloc’s life and writings and delivered a candid exposition of the man which should charm even the sceptic and quite possibly the foe.

For Chris Hare, whom I must here admit to having known for pretty much 20 years through membership of the Hilaire Belloc Society, sets out in his short introduction to the book some of his own circumstances which echo Belloc’s – his disillusionment with party politics and, more importantly his own family’s tragedy – and how through the latter in particular he has been drawn closer to Belloc whose writings helped support and sustain him at critical times.  In many ways, the introduction sets the tone for the book as a whole – it is an admirable precis of the author’s intentions and is both candid and clear.  Given the way in which some of Belloc’s works (often not his best, and ironically some of his most dated) are considered close to Holy Writ by that aforementioned clique of Catholic controversialists – and given how disparaged he has been by many of those who ought to have loved him most (other co-religionists, now rather liberal and priggish), Chris Hare’s admission that he has come not to apologise for Belloc but to write of him “warts and all” is very welcome and – frankly, in the context – disarming.

The book is set out thematically – it is not intended as a biography, as Chris Hare makes clear at the outset – and deals with the personality of Belloc, his faith and early founding in classical literature, history and myth, his love and evocation of landscape and the importance to him of sacred places, his engagement with world of politics, as an MP and as a writer, speaker and thinker, his widely-held reputation as an anti-Semite, his experience of and response to the conflicts of the Boer War, Great War and Second World War, and finally his declining years and how he foresaw so vividly in his writings as a young man the loss and waning of powers that accompanies the journey into old age.  Almost every page carries at least one, often extended, citation either from one of Belloc’s books or letters, or a description of an encounter with Belloc from a contemporary.  When I would give a talk on Belloc, I would similarly festoon my speech with extensive excerpts: there is no better encounter with the man now than through the medium of his prose and verse and through the reminiscences of those who met him in life. We are not just our own narratives, we are our voice and thoughts, our aspect and our gait; and our words and the recounting of our encounters with others will reveal more about ourselves than any summary of biographical details can.

And Chris Hare has chosen these excepts with care and with an eye – and ear (Belloc’s own writings can read beautifully) – for how well they reflect upon the themes he has set out, and in particular for how, even within something as dry as Belloc’s political thinking, there is still a man, feeling and breathing and giving life to what might otherwise seem at times but dusty words. 

His chapter on landscape and place, which focuses on The Four Men, was one in which I particularly delighted – not least because of all of Belloc’s single works it is the one which most captured my sensibilities while a young man at university and to this day remains that which is most imprinted upon my spirit.  This fictional, almost dream-like, narrative of an autumnal walk across Sussex by the four men of the title, Grizzlebeard, the Sailor, the Poet and Myself (an Everyman of sorts) is deeply embedded in that blessed County’s countryside in the years just before the Great War – to such an extent that, as Chris Hare rightly points out, its landscape is in many ways the fifth companion of the book: such is the evocation of place in this story by turns whimsical, melancholic, riotous, satirical, elegiac, comic and poetic, that the reader feels in a very particular way that he is accompanying the four men across the fields, through the woods and down the lanes (and into the inns!) of the story with a vividness that very few other books can give.

And this rootedness in place allows all the discursive twists and turns of the conversation between the characters to somehow remain tethered to the real – so that, just as the reader can feel the chill drizzle of the evening or smell the woodfires, he can also feel the emotions that are poured out in the companions’ tales together.  As Chris Hare points out elsewhere in the book, while Sussex was a very special place for Belloc – from his childhood memories of Nomansland near Slindon to his dozen-or-so married then more numerous widowed years at Kingsland, Shipley, many of Belloc’s essays feature a sacred or holy or blessed place sometimes reached only in dreams – an adumbration, or foreshadowing, of Paradise: of that patria of final peace and rest and happiness, reference to which in those last lines of the Benediction hymn, O Salutaris Hostia, would bring Belloc to the point of tears.  Place, its evocation and suggestiveness, features prominently in another chapter of this book, entitled “An enduring faith”, which intelligently explores the tensions within and nuances of Belloc’s faith and spiritual temperament.

Whereas significant attention has been given to Belloc’s political, social, economic and to some extent historical thought, less has been written about his other works.  In so many ways, there is a lot still to unpack from these less didactic writings, material that often seems casual (like his essays) but into which he poured himself and his thoughts and feelings in a very intense way.  And, more suggestively than explicitly, Chris Hare’s book opens up that possibility of new avenues of approach to Belloc the man – renewing, or revivifying the knowledge and memory of him and his works, to try and explain how they can sustain and feed the spirit and mind, of how a man now seventy years dead can yet still keep us company along a road much of which will have been familiar to him, through the pangs of youth, the quiet joys of settled life, and towards our final end, a journey with all of its accompanying joys, frustrations, small triumphs and sometimes deep tragedies.


Mike Hennessy

July 2023

In order to purchase a copy of this book please go to:  www.historypeople.co.uk