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 23 October 2012

The Measure of Literary Giants - An Interview with Joseph Pearce...

IgnatiusInsight.com: A few years ago you wrote Literary Converts, which is a series of biographical vignettes of late-nineteenth-century and twentieth-century converts and their ties to one another. How is your new book, Literary Giants, Literary Catholics, different from that earlier book? What is the central focus, or goal, of Literary Giants, Literary Catholics?

Pearce: The earlier book was an integrated narrative history of the twentieth century, detailing the network of minds (and grace) that animated the Catholic Literary Revival. The new book discusses some of the key writers of this Revival in greater detail.

IgnatiusInsight.com: In the introduction you bring up two themes that you indicate inform the whole of the book: the conversion of culture and the evangelizing power of beauty. How do you think Literary Giants, Literary Catholics and your other books support and foster these two themes?

Pearce: It seems to me that our sick, decaying and wayward modern culture can be converted by the power of Reason (theology, philosophy, apologetics and catechetics), Love (the example of sanctity in action) and Beauty (the power of art, architecture, music, film and literature). Although these three areas of cultural engagement overlap, and indeed are united in Truth, they represent distinct approaches to changing the world in which we live. I see my vocation as a writer, speaker and teacher to be in the third of these areas. The awesome power of beauty to convert and evangelize the modern world needs to be unleashed through the employment of cultural apologetics: converting the culture with culture itself. I hope that my latest book will succeed in bringing souls to the truth by leading them through beauty to Beauty Himself.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Literary Giants, Literary Catholics has a strong apologetic quality. Is it your most overt work of apologetics, in the general sense of defending and explaining Catholicism?

Pearce: Many of my earlier works were biographies of major Catholic literary figures in which my role was to tell the story of their lives in an objective manner. In such books, as in such lives, the truth emerges from the lessons learned from the experience of the protagonists. In the new book I concentrate on the deep Christian content in the works of these writers. This has enabled me to explore the Catholic dimension in greater detail than was possible in the biographies. As such, it can be said to be more overtly a work of apologetics than my previous work.

IgnatiusInsight.com: One of the longest chapters is titled "Tradition and Conversion in Modern English Literature." What is the paradoxical relationship between the two and why is that relationship so important?

Pearce: We live in a world of chronological snobbery in which it is presumed superciliously that the present is always superior to the past purely because it is assumed that society is always progressing from an ignorant past to an "enlightened" future.

How anyone can believe such drivel after the horrors of the past century is astonishing. From the killing fields of World War One to the Holocaust of World War Two; from the bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden to the Gulag Archipelago of Soviet Russia and the institutionalized murder of Mao's China; not to mention the mass infanticide of abortion; from any perspective the past century has been the bloodiest and most murderous in the whole of humanity's bloodstained history. Against this destructive "progressive" backdrop, we see the resurrection of Tradition: the power of the Past to make sense of the Present. The paradoxical relationship between Tradition and Conversion lies in the fact that conversion requires a rejection of post-Enlightenment "tradition" in order to embrace the older and authentic Tradition of Christendom. The paradox resides in the necessity of rejecting a lesser tradition to embrace a greater.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Several of the essays are on a topic you've written much about in other books, including two biographies: the Chesterbelloc. Although so closely identified with one another, Chesterton and Belloc were actually quite different in nearly every way, weren't they? What are some of the respective strengths and weaknesses of each man as author and apologist?

Pearce: The new book examines these two great writers at greater depth than was possible in either biography. It is true that Chesterton and Belloc differed in many ways. Chesterton lived almost exclusively in a world of ideas, dreaming of action; Belloc married the world of ideas with the world of action, from his travels in Europe and America to his turbulent years as a Member of Parliament. Chesterton's charity embraced the command to love our enemy; Belloc's bellicosity sometimes seemed to justify the desire of the "Sailor" in one of his poems that "all my enemies go to hell"! On the deepest level, however, Chesterton and Belloc were united in their robust defense of the Faith. I look at the complex relationship between these two great men in a chapter of Literary Giants, Literary Catholics entitled "The Chesterbelloc: Examining the Beauty of the Beast".

This interview was conducted with Joe Pearce on the 28th of June, 2005. Joe Pearce's blog can be found at:


On a separate note the Hilaire Belloc Blog would like to congratulate Mr Pearce on his recent appointment:

'I am delighted to announce that I have accepted a new position with Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire (www.thomasmorecollege.edu). I have been appointed as a Visiting Fellow and as Writer-in-Residence and will commence teaching in the coming Fall semester. I have a long-standing friendship with, and admiration for, William Fahey, the College President, and Christopher Blum, the Dean, both of whom I have known since their days at Christendom College. I am truly delighted and very excited to be part of the same Faculty as these wonderfully learned and devoutly orthodox men. I'm also excited to be part of such a dynamic hub at the centre of the New Evangelization. Thomas More College is not only a Catholic liberal arts school of the first rank and highest order but is also associated with Crisis Magazine and Sophia Institute Press. I feel that I am entering into the very heart of all that is best in contemporary Catholicism and will be joining a band of culture warriors who are defending the Faith robustly against the rising tide of secular fundamentalism. I hope I prove worthy to fight in their ranks.

On a sadder note, my move to Thomas More College ends my eleven year association with Ave Maria University in Florida. I have deep respect for the Faculty at AMU and wish them every success in the future.'

Thursday 18 October 2012

Ars Taedica - James V. Schall S.J.

My young friend, Gregory Doolan, has a very excellent collection of Belloc books. He does not have, however, very many of Belloc's books of essays, none of the "On" books, for example, though he does have a couple of different collections of Belloc's shorter pieces. Normally, I hesitate to borrow a book I genuinely covet, but finally the other evening, without necessarily revealing this darker side of my own otherwise happy nature -- I figure ex-students should be smart enough to have already figured it out -- I did borrow Hilaire Belloc, Stories, Essays, and Poems (London: Dent, 1938). The book Mr. Doolan had was a 1957 hardback, an enlarged reprint copy, the Everyman's Library Edition, with an Introduction by J. B. Morton. On the title page, the book bears the name of "Francis Sample, Cathedral College." I have no idea where Cathedral College might be. Mr. Doolan must have found this collection in a used book store some place. If there is anything I like to see in ex-students of mine, besides their being aware of the darker sides of human nature, including my own, it is a diligence in haunting used book stores.

Two days after I borrowed this book, I took it with me to read on the Washington Metro returning to the Rosslyn Station across the Potomac from Georgetown. The first short piece I read was called "Mrs. Markham on the Police." It was really a funny account of a certain Mrs. Markham talking to her children. One of my Denver cousins in fact is a "Mrs. Markham", but bears no other similarity to this English lady explaining to her children why we have police, even though, in England, they only can use truncheons -- "No, my dear, we (English) do not give them (police) arms because we think it would be cruel and unjust. But we let them have a thick stick called a truncheon, with which they can hit people upon the head as hard as ever they like, to make them obey." You will understand the high metaphysical quality of Belloc's work by the next question Mrs. Markham's son Tommy asks her, "What do they do, Mamma, when, after the policemen have hit and hit and hit with their truncheons, and yet people will not obey?" -- a query worthy of an Augustine.

The second item I read was an essay entitled "The Art of Boring." I must confess almost breaking into tears on the Metro as I read it, so funny it was. I am very conscious of the outlandish effect on other absorbed Metro riders of an elderly gentleman bursting sporadically into laughter while reading an otherwise innocuous book. I still get what are called giggles when I think about it.

What made the essay doubly funny to me, as I read it, was its similarity of thesis to what is known as the Reverse Peter Principle. The Peter Principle, as you recall, states, more or less, that we rise to the level of our incompetence so that, in effect, every job is filled by an incompetent, a principle that, more than others I have seen, helps to explain our current political scene. However, let us suppose that, by manipulating this principle, you are shrewd enough to prevent yourself from rising to the level of your own incompetence. You simply want to stay at a level you are comfortable with. The way you do it is, on the occasion of your being considered to be Department Head or Associate Vice President or District Manager, you manage to do something so outlandish, like, say, suddenly cut off all your hair, or you begin to light your pipe with a sun glass  On observing your behaviour, the already incompetents in charge quietly pass you over.

Belloc's "Art of Boring" is not unmindful of and probably was inspired by the famous essay of the Roman Poet Horace on "The Bore" and on how difficult it is to get rid of him. This is where Belloc suggests that what he is talking about, in Latin, is "Ars Taedica" -- taedium means weariness or loathing, hence boring. What is at issue for Belloc is not whether you yourself are boring to others, but whether you can deliberately be boring to others, either to pay them back or to accomplish some other worthy purpose -- hence the similarity to the Reverse Peter Principle.

"The Art of Boring" is a handbook on how to go about boring other people. Belloc tells us that many books and essays are written complaining of bores, but he recalls none to tell us how to acquire this useful art. Many bores, of course, are unconscious of the quality of their ability to bore other people to death. But positively to choose to bore, you must practice and have some skill. There are rules for boring others.

First you have to recognize the signs that the phenomenon is present. "The first sign is an attention in the eye of the bored person to something trivial other than yourself." You will notice the genius of Belloc's writing when you try to ask whether the pronoun "yourself" here was deliberately intended to refer also to "something trivial." To make his point, Belloc remarks that "if while you are talking to him his eye is directed to a person aiming a gun at him, that is not a sign of boredom." On the other hand, if his eye is caught by a "little bird" or "a passing cloud", this is a sign that he is bored with you. Two other signs of boredom are 1) when the other keeps interspersing interjections that have nothing to do with what you are talking about, and 2) when the bored person suddenly begins to talk to someone else in the midst of your discourse with him.

Just as any topic can be made boring, so can any topic be made interesting. The trick is to know how to make something vitally interesting dull. One way is the monotonous tone of your voice. A second way is to bring in a lot of useless detail and to branch off into all directions. Belloc gives the following example of hesitating over a date as a brilliant way for someone who wants to bore another to proceed: "'It was in July 1921 -- no, now I come to think of it, it must have been 1920, because --' (then tell them why it must have been 1920). 'No, now I think of it, it must have been 1921' (then tell them why it was 1921) -- 'or was it 1922? Anyway, it was July, and the year doesn't matter; the whole point is the month.'" Belloc calls this simply "a capital beginning, especially the last words, which indicate to the bored one that you have deliberately wasted his time to no purpose."

We make the same boring approach with a name, or by introducing many superfluous words and adjectives. Moral and artistic digressions are also helpful in boring someone to death. Belloc's reasonings here are enormously amusing: "Stop in the middle of the thing and add to the agony by explaining that you don't mind a man's getting drunk, or that you do mind it, or that you have no objections to such building as you are describing, or what not: for your private opinions in art and morals are the most exquisitely boring things in he world and you can't bring them up too much." A particularly fine way to bore someone else, Belloc adds, is to forget the end of a story you are telling. You could also led your listener up to a major question and ask eloquently, "What do you think to be the answer?" Then you forget the answer.

Belloc addresses the case of people who are adept at recognizing our boringness so that they try to defend themselves against it. It takes considerable skill on the part of the borer to defeat this sort of counter-attack by the boree. Suppose the borer is speaking dryly and at length of Rio to the bored listener. The latter fights back by announcing that he too knows Rio. He then starts giving back what he knows to the borer. How does the one intending to bore deflect such a one approach? Two ways are open. One is to complain that you are being interrupted. The other is to wait till the other's knowledge of Rio is exhausted, then continue right on as before.

A skilled defender against a boring person can also try this: he can wait patiently till the borer (who, remember, is deliberately trying to bore) finishes his point. The bored man can wait a moment and then ask the bore to go on, as if he had not known the boring story was finished. The proper way to defend against this defence, Belloc thinks, is for the one inflicting the boring story simply to repeat it.

If the boree tries to walk away from the borer, it will often work, but this is a sign of defeat. The borer's proper response, and it takes a brave man to do this, is to follow the bored man walking away, corner him, and continue with the boring story as if nothing has happened.

Belloc gives two fine points about how to be boring. The first is to put long pauses into one's conversations and dare the other to break it. Just as the boree is about to interrupt, recommence the boring story. "The other way is talking half incomprehensibly, mumbling, and the rest of it -- then, when the boree impatiently asks you to repeat, do it still less clearly." This method, Belloc adds, "never fails."

In the end, Belloc thinks that this fine art of boring others (ars taedica) probably cannot be learned with rules and precepts. Then he adds, with exquisite irony in the light of all that he has said about names and dates, "perhaps I have written in vain." That is to say, in setting out deliberately to bore us with an essay on "the art of boring," he has in fact delighted us by reminding us how utterly boring we can be.

From Generally Speaking, November, 1997.

Schall on Belloc James V. Schall, S. J.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Shipley Mill Becomes the Belloc Memorial

A Thoroughly English Event

THE spirit of Hilaire Belloc himself seemed to preside over the opening last Saturday of the newly-restored Shipley Mill which is peculiarly appropriate memorial to a great Catholic writer.

"In she month of May in my own country all the woods are new," he once wrote. Not only were the woods new but the sky was blue, the sun shone and, most fortunate of all, a strong breeze kept the windmill which he had loved so well busily grinding barley throughout the proceedings.

As Mr. J. B. Morton, who for years was Belloc's friend, made the opening speech the shadow of the majestically turning sweeps moved rhythmically across the blossoming apple trees and surrounding pastures.
It was a light hearted, thoroughly English event. Belloc himself would have appreciated it to the full.

Some 300 to 400 of his friends—old and new—had gathered for the occasion. Some £800 (of which readers to my page 4 column donated a handsome part) had been raised by voluntary subscription and to this the West Sussex County Council had added a large sum to make possible the repair and restoration of the mill.

On the platform the brief opening ceremony was presided over by Belloc's son-in-law, Mr. Reginald Jebb, and Mr. Hilary Belloc, son of the poet and author, who had come over from America. The new plaque above the mill door reads  "Let this be a memorial to Hilaire Belloc who garnered a harvest of wisdom and sympathy for young and old." Edmond Warre, Belloc's old friend, had given the plaque and chosen the words for it.

The mill stands beside King's Land, Belloc's home for so many years. Henceforth it will have as its guardian the County Council and will be open to the public.

Unlike most modern memorials it is at once both beautiful and useful. And like so much of BelIoc's own written work, it looks back nostalgically to the past, adds a touch of romance to the present and is set against a background which is unchanging and unchangeable.

From the archive of the Catholic Herald 16th May 1958.


Wednesday 3 October 2012

Central London Talk coming up soon...

Mike Hennessy in reflective mode. Do I see a superficial resemblance?

The veteran Bellocian Mike Hennessy has agreed to give a talk on Belloc and his parliamentary career next month. Mike has researched Belloc's parliamentary speeches extensively and is well placed to do so as he works at the Palace of Westminster. We look forward to what promises to be a most entertaining evening. Here are the details:

‘Belloc and Parliament’
Michael Hennessy
(A meeting organised by the Belloc Society)

Tuesday the 27th of November at 7.30pm
Venue: The Spying Room, The Morpeth Arms, Millbank, Pimlico (nearest tube Pimlico).

The Belloc Society is pleased to announce that Michael Hennessy will be giving a talk on Hilaire Belloc MP and his parliamentary contributions during the early part of the last century. Belloc was one of the great Catholic writers of the 20th Century.  

If you would like to made aware of future meetings please send an e-mail message to hilaire.belloc.923@facebook.com or send a friend request to www.facebook.com/hilaire.belloc.923