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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Saturday 30 March 2013

'He only apparently suffered. Hence also the denial of the Resurrection.' - 'The Albigensian Attack'.

By Eric Gill

Given the Cathar denial of the Resurrection I thought that it would be appropriate, at this time of year, to post Belloc's essay (Chapter Five of 'The Great Heresies') regarding the 'The Albigensian Attack'. 

 "In the heart of the Middle Ages, just when they were working up to their most splendid phase, the great thirteenth century, there arose and was for the moment completely defeated a singular and powerful attack upon the Catholic Church and all the culture for which it stood.

This was an attack, not only on the religion that made our civilization, but on that civilization, itself; and its general name in history is "The Albigensian Heresy."

In the case of this great struggle we must proceed as in the case of all our other examples by first examining the nature of the doctrine which was set up against the body of truth taught by the Catholic Church.

The false doctrine of which the Albigensians were a main example has always been latent among men in various forms, not only in the civilization of Christendom but wherever and whenever men have had to consider the fundamental problems of life, that is, in every time and place. But it happened to take a particularly concentrated form at this moment in history. It was then the false doctrines we are about to examine stood out in the highest relief and can be most clearly appreciated. By what its effects were when it was thus at its highest point of vitality we can estimate what evils similar doctrines do whenever they appear.

For this permanent trouble of the human mind has swollen into three great waves during the Christian period, of which three the Albigensian episode was only the central one. The first great wave was the Manichean tendency of the early Christian centuries. The third was the Puritan movement in Europe accompanying the Reformation, and the sequel of that disease, Jansenism. The first strong movement of the sort was exhausted before the end of the eighth century. The second was destroyed when the definite Albigensian movement was rooted out in the thirteenth century. The third, the Puritan wave, is only now declining, after having worked every kind of evil.

Now what is this general tendency or mood which, from its earliest name, was called Manichean, which, in its most clear-cut form with which we are about to deal, is called the Albigensian, and which we know in modern history as Puritanism? What is the underlying motive power which produces heresies of this kind?

To answer that main question we must consider a prime truth of the Catholic Church itself, which has shortly been put in this form: "The Catholic Church is founded upon the recognition of pain and death." In its more complete form the sentence should rather run "The Catholic Church is rooted in the recognition of suffering and mortality and her claim to have provided a solution for the problem they present." This problem is generally known as "The problem of evil."

How can we call man's destiny glorious and heaven his goal and his Creator all good as well as all powerful when we find ourselves subject to suffering and to death?

Nearly all young and innocent people are but slightly aware of this problem. How much aware of it they may be depends upon what fortunes they have, how early they may have been brought into the presence of loss by death or how early they may have suffered great physical or even mental pain. But sooner or later every human being who thinks at all, everyone not an idiot, is faced by this Problem of Evil; and as we watch the human race trying to think out for itself the meaning of the universe, or accepting Revelation thereon, or following warped and false partial religions and philosophies, we find it always at heart concerned with that insistent question: "Why should we suffer? Why should we die?"

Various ways out of the torturing enigma have been proposed. The simplest and basest is not to face it at all; to turn one's eyes away from suffering and death; to pretend they are not there, or, when they are thrust upon us so insistently that we cannot keep up the pretence, why then to hide our feelings. And it is part also of this worst method of dealing with the problem to boycott mention of evil and suffering and try to forget them as much as one can.

Another way less base, but equally contemptible intellectually, is to say there is no problem because we are all part of a meaningless dead thing with no creative God behind it: to say there is no reality in right and wrong and in the conception of beatitude or of misery.

Another nobler way, which was the favourite way of the high pagan civilization from which we sprang the way of the great Romans and the great Greeks is the way of Stoicism. This might vulgarly be termed "The philosophy of grin-and-bear-it." It has been called by some academic person or other "The permanent religion of humanity," but it is indeed nothing of the sort; for it is not a religion at all. It has at least the nobility of facing facts, but it proposes no solution. It is utterly negative.

Another way is the profound but despairing way of Asia of which the greatest example is Buddhism: the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get rid of the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe.

What the Catholic solution is we all know. Not that the Catholic Church has proposed a complete solution of the mystery of evil, for it has never been either the claim or the function of the Church to explain the whole nature of all things, but rather to save souls. But the Catholic Church has on this particular problem a very definite answer within the field of her own action. She says first that man's nature is immortal, and made for beatitude; next that mortality and pain are the result of his Fall, that is, of his rebellion against the will of God. She says that since the fall our mortal life is an ordeal or test, according to our behaviour, in which we regain (but through the merits of our Saviour) that immortal beatitude which we had lost.

Now the Manichean was so overwhelmed by the experience or prospect of suffering and by the appalling fact that his nature was subject to mortality, that he took refuge in denying the omnipotent goodness of a Creator. He said that evil was at work in the universe just as much as good; the two principles were always fighting as equals one against the other. Man was subject to the one just as much as to the other. If he could struggle at all he should struggle to join the good principle and avoid the power of the bad principle, but he must treat evil as an all-powerful thing. The Manichean recognized an evil god as well as a good god, and he attuned his mind to that appalling conception.

Such a mood bred all sorts of secondary effects. In some men it would lead to devil worship, in many more to magic, that is a dependence on something other than one's own free will, to tricks by which we might stave off the evil power or cheat it. It also led, paradoxically enough, to the doing of a great deal of evil deliberately, and saying either that it could not be helped or that it did not matter, because we were in any case under the thrall of a thing quite as strong as the power for good and we might as well act accordingly.

But one thing the Manichean of every shade has always felt, and that is, that matter belongs to the evil side of things. Though there may be plenty of evil of a spiritual kind yet good must be wholly spiritual. That is something you find not only in the early Manichean, not only in the Albigensian of the Middle Ages, but even in the most modern of the remaining Puritans. It seems indissolubly connected with the Manichean temper in every form. Matter is subject to decay and is therefore evil. Our bodies are evil. Their appetites are evil. This idea ramifies into all sorts of absurd details. Wine is evil. Pretty well any physical pleasure, or half-physical pleasure, is evil. Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil and so on. Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us.

Hence derive the main lines which were completed in detail as the Albigensian movement spread. Our bodies are material, they decay and die. Therefore it was the evil god that made the human body while the good god made the soul. Hence also our Lord was only apparently clothed with a human body. He only apparently suffered. Hence also the denial of the Resurrection.

Because the Catholic Church was strongly at issue with an attitude of this kind there has always been irreconcilable conflict between it and the Manichean or Puritan, and that conflict was never more violent than in the form it took between the Albigensians and the organized Catholic Church of their day (the eleventh and twelfth centuries) in the west of Europe. The Papacy, the hierarchy and the whole body of Catholic doctrine and established Catholic sacraments, were the target of the Albigensian offensive.

The Manichean business, whenever it appears in history, appears as do certain epidemic diseases of the human body. It comes, you hardly know whence. It is found cropping up in various centres, increases in power and becomes at last a sort of devastating plague. So it was with the great Albigensian Fury of 800 and 900 years ago. Its origins are therefore obscure, but we can trace them.

The eleventh century, the years between 1000 and 1100, may be called the awakening of Europe. Our civilization had just passed through fearful trials. The West had been harried, and in some places Christendom almost extinguished, by droves of pagan pirates from the North, the at first unconverted and later only half-converted Scandinavians. It had been shaken by Mongol raiders from the East, pagans riding in hordes against Europe from the Plains of North Asia. And it had suffered the great Mohammedan attack upon the Mediterranean, which attack had succeeded in occupying nearly all Spain, had permanently subdued North Africa and Syria and threatened Asia Minor and Constantinople.

Europe had been under siege but had begun to beat off its enemies. The Northern pirates were beaten and tamed. The newly civilized Germans attacked the Mongols and saved the Upper Danube and a borderland to the east. The Christian Slavs organized themselves farther east again. There were the beginnings of the kingdom of Poland. But the main battleground was Spain. There, during this eleventh century, the Mohammedan power was beaten back from one fluctuating border to another further south, until long before the eleventh century was over the great bulk of the Peninsula was recaptured for Christian rule. With this material success there went, and was a cause as well as an effect, a strong awakening of the intelligence in philosophical disputation and in new speculations on physical science. One of those periods had begun which appear from time to time in the story of our race, when there is, so to speak, "spring in the air." Philosophy grew vigorous, architecture enlarged, society began to be more organized and the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to extend and codify their powers.

All this new vitality was working for vigour in heresy as well as in orthodoxy. There began to appear from the East, cropping up now here, now there, but in general along lines of advance towards the West, individuals or small communities who proposed and propagated a new and, as they called it, a purified form of religion.

These communities had some strength in the Balkans, apparently before they appeared in Italy. They seem to have acquired some strength in North Italy before they appeared in France, although it was in France that the last main struggle was to take place. They were known by various names; Paulicians, for instance, or a name referring them to a Bulgarian origin. They were very generally known as "The Pure Ones." They themselves liked to give themselves that epithet, putting it in the Greek form and calling themselves "Cathari." The whole story of this obscure advance of peril from the east of Europe has been so lost in the succeeding blaze of glory when, during the thirteenth century, Christendom rose to the summit of its civilization, that the Albigensian origins are forgotten and their obscurity is accentuated by the shade which that later glory throws them into. Yet it was an influence both widespread and perilous and there was a moment when it looked as though it was going to undermine us altogether. Church Councils were early aware of what was going on, but the thing was very difficult to define and seize. At Arras, in Flanders, as early as 1025, a Council condemned certain heretical propositions of the kind. In the middle of the century again, in 1049, there was another more general condemnation issued by a Council held at Rheims, in Champagne.

The whole influence hung like a miasma or poisonous mist, which moves over the face of a broad valley and settles now here, now there. It began to concentrate and take strong form in southern France, and that was where the final and decisive clash between it and the organized force of Catholic Europe was to take place.

The heresy was helped on its way to definition and strength by the effect of the first great crusading march, which stirred up all Europe and let in a flood of new influences from the East as well as stimulating every kind of activity in the West. That march, as we have seen on a previous page, coincided with the very end of the eleventh century. Jerusalem was captured in 1099. It was with the succeeding century, the twelfth (A.D. 1100-1200), that its effect was manifest. It was a time already greatly in advance of its predecessors. The universities were coming into being, so were their representative bodies called parliaments, and the first of the pointed arches arose, the "Gothic." All the true Middle Ages began to appear above ground. In such an atmosphere of vigour and growth the Cathari strengthened themselves, as did all the other forces around them. It was in the early part of this XIIth century that the thing began to get alarming, and already before the middle of the period the northern French were urging the Papacy to act.

Pope Eugenius sent a Legate into southern France to see what could be done, and St. Bernard, the great orthodox orator of that vital period, preached against them. But no force was used. There was not any true organization arranged to meet the heretics, although already far-seeing men were demanding a vigorous action if society were to be saved. At last the peril became alarming. In 1163 a great Church Council held at Tours fixed a label and a name whereby the thing was to be known. Albigensian was that name, and has been kept ever since.

It is a misleading title. The Albigensian district (known in French as "Albigeois") is practically the same as the department of Tarn, in the central French mountains: a district the capital of which is the town of Albi. No doubt certain of the heretic missionaries had come from there and had suggested this name, but the strength of the movement was not up here in the ill populated hills, but down in the wealthy plains towards the Mediterranean, in what was called the Langue d'Oc, a wide district of which the great city of Toulouse was the capital. Already a score of years before this Council of Tours had fixed a label and a name on the now subversive movement Peter of Bruys had been preaching the new doctrines in the Langue d'Oc, and with him a companion called Henry had wandered about preaching them at Lausanne, in what is today Switzerland, and later in Le Mans in northern France. It is to be noted that the population were so exasperated with the first of these men that they seized him and burnt him alive.

But as yet there was no official action against the "Albigensians" and they were still allowed to develop their strength rapidly for years on years in the hope that spiritual weapons would be enough to meet them. The Papacy was always hoping against hope that there would be a peaceful solution. In 1167 came a turning point. The Albigensians, now fully organized as a counter-church (much as Calvinism was organized as a counter-church four hundred years later), held a general council of their own at Toulouse and by the time the ominous political fact appeared that the greater part of the small nobles, who formed the mass of the fighting power in the centre of France and the south, lords of single villages, were in favour of the new movement. Western Europe in those days was not organized as it is now in great centralized nations. It was what is called "feudal." Lords of small districts were grouped under overlords, these again under very powerful local men who were the heads of loosely joined, but none the less unified, provinces. A Duke of Normandy, a Count of Toulouse, a Count of Provence, was in reality a local sovereign. He owned deference and fealty to the King of France, but nothing more.

Now the mass of the smaller lords in the south favoured the movement, as many another heretical movement has been favoured since by the same class of men, because they saw a chance of private gain at the expense of the Church's landed estates. That had always been the main motive, in these revolts. But there was another motive, which was the growing jealousy felt in the south of France against the spirit and character of Northern France. There was a difference in speech and a difference in character between the two halves of what was nominally the one French monarchy. The northern French began to clamour again for the suppression of the southern heresy, and thus fanned the flame. At last, in 1194, after Jerusalem had been lost, and the Third Crusade had failed to recover it, the thing came to a head. The Count of Toulouse, the local monarch, in that year took sides with the heretics. The great Pope, Innocent III, at last began to move. It was high time: indeed, it was almost too late. The Papacy had advised delay in a lingering hope of attaining spiritual peace by preaching and example: but the only result of the delay was that it allowed the evil to grow to dimensions in which it imperilled all our culture.

How much that culture was imperilled can be seen from the main tenets which were openly preached and acted upon. All the sacraments were abandoned. In their place a strange ritual was adopted, mixed up with fire worship, called "The Consolation," in which it was professed that the soul was purified. The propagation of mankind was attacked; marriage was condemned, and the leaders of the sect spread all the extravagances which you find hovering round Manicheism or Puritanism wherever it appears. Wine was evil, meat was evil, war was always absolutely wrong, so was capital punishment; but the one unforgivable sin was reconciliation with the Catholic Church. There again the Albigensians were true to type. All heresies make that their chief point.

It was obvious that the thing must come to the decision of arms, for now that the local government of the south was supporting this new highly organized counter-church, if that counter-church grew a little stronger all our civilization would collapse before it. The simplicity of the doctrine, with its dual system of good and evil, with its denial of the Incarnation and the main Christian mysteries and its anti-sacramentalism, its denunciation of clerical wealth and its local patriotism all this began to appeal to the masses in the towns as well as to the nobles. Still, Innocent, great Pope though he was, hesitated as every statesman-like man tends to hesitate before the actual appeal to arms; but even he, just before the end of the century, adumbrated the necessity of a crusade.

When fighting came, it would necessarily be something like a conquest of the southern, or rather south-eastern, corner of France between the Rhône and the mountains, with Toulouse as its capital, by the northern barons.

Still the crusade halted. The turn of the century had passed before Raymond Count of Toulouse (Raymond VI), frightened at the threat from the north, promised to change and withdraw his protection from the subversive movement. He even promised to exile the leaders of the now strongly organized heretical counter-church. But he was not sincere. His sympathies were with his own class in the south, with the mass of fighting men, his supporters, the small lords of the Langue d'Oc, who were deep in the new doctrines. St. Dominic, coming out of Spain, became by the force of his character and the directness of his intention, the soul of the approaching reaction. In 1207 the Pope asked the King of France, as sovereign and overlord of Toulouse, to use force. Nearly all the towns of the south-east were already affected. Many were wholly held by the heretics, and when the Papal Legate, Castelnau, was murdered presumably with the complicity of the Count of Toulouse the demand for a crusade was repeated and emphasized. Shortly after this murder the fighting began.

The man who stood out as the greatest leader in the campaign was a certain not very important, rather poor lord of a northern manor a small but fortified place called Monfort, one long day's march on the way to Normandy from Paris.

You may see the ruins of the place still standing in the dense wooded country round about. It lies somewhat to the north of the main road between Paris and Chartres: an abrupt, rather isolated little hill in the midst of tumbled country. To that little isolated and fortified hill the name of "the strong hill," mont fort, had been attached, and Simon took his name from that ancestral lordship.

When the fighting began Raymond of Toulouse was at his wit's end. The king of France was becoming more powerful than he had been. He had recently confiscated the estates and all the overlordship of the Plantagenets in northern France. John, the Plantagenet king of England, French speaking as was the whole of the English upper class of the day, was also (under the King of France) Lord of Normandy and of Maine and of Anjou, and through the inheritance of his mother of half the country south of the Loire: Aquitaine. All the northern part of this vast possession from the Channel right away down to the central mountains had fallen at one blow to the King of France when John of England's peers had condemned him to forfeiture. Raymond of Toulouse dreaded the same fate. But he was still lukewarm. Though he marched with the Crusaders against certain of his own cities in rebellion against the Church, at heart he desired the northerners to be beaten. He had already been excommunicated once. He was excommunicated again at Avignon in 1209, the first year of the main fighting.

That fighting had been very violent. There had been shocking carnage and sack of cities, and there had already appeared the one thing which the Pope most feared: the danger of a financial motive coming in to embitter the already dreadful business. The lords of the north would naturally demand that the estates of the conquered heretics should be carved out among them. There was still an effort at reconciliation, but Raymond of Toulouse, probably despairing of ever being let alone, prepared to resist. In 1207 he was declared an outlaw of the Church, and like John his possessions were declared forfeited by Feudal law.

The critical moment of the whole campaign came in 1213. It is probable that the forces of the northern French barons would have been too strong for the southerners if Raymond of Toulouse could not get allies. But two years after his final excommunication for forfeiture, very powerful allies suddenly appeared on his side in the field. It seemed certain that the tide would be turned and that the Albigensian cause would win. With its victory the kingdom of France would collapse, and the Catholic Cause in Western Europe. That short group of years therefore, was decisive for the future. It was in those years that a great coalition, led by the now despoiled John and backed by the Germans, marched against the King of France in the north and failed. The King of France managed against great odds to win the victory of Bouvines near Lille (29th of August, 1214). But already, the year before, another decisive victory by the Northern Lords in the South against the Albigensians had prepared the way.

The new allies coming to the aid of the Count of Toulouse were the Spaniards from the south side of the Pyrenees, the men of Aragon. There was an enormous host of them led by their king, young Peter of Aragon, the brother-in-law of Raymond of Toulouse. A drunkard, but a man of fearful energy, he was one who was not incompetent at times to conduct a campaign. He led something like one hundred thousand men first and last (a number which includes camp followers) across the mountains directly to the relief of Toulouse.

Muret is a little town to the south-west of Raymond's capital, standing on the Garonne above stream, a day's march from Toulouse itself. The huge Spanish host which had no direct interest in the heresy itself but a strong interest in weakening the power of the French, was encamped in the flat country to the south of the town of Muret. As against them the only active force available was one thousand men under Simon de Monfort. The odds seemed ridiculous one to one hundred. It was not nearly as bad as that of course because the thousand men were picked, armed, mounted nobles. The mounted forces in the Spanish host were probably not more then three or four times as great, the rest of the Spanish body being foot men, and many of them unorganized. But even so the odds were sufficient to make the result one of the most astonishing things in history.

It was the morning of the 13th of September, 1213. The thousand men on the Catholic side, drawn up in ranks with Simon at their head, heard Mass in the saddle. The Mass was sung by St. Dominic himself. Only the leaders, of course, and a few files could be present in the church itself where all remained mounted, but through the open doors the rest of the small force could watch the Sacrifice. The Mass over, Simon rode out at the head of his little band, took a fetch round to the west and then struck with a sudden charge at the host of Peter, not yet properly drawn up and ill-prepared for the shock. The thousand northern knights of Simon destroyed their enemies altogether. The Aragonese host became a mere cloud of flying men, completely broken up, and no longer in being as a fighting force. Peter himself was killed.

Muret is a name that should always be remembered as one of the decisive battles of the world. Had it failed, the campaign would have failed. Bouvines would probably never have been fought and the chances are that the French monarchy itself would have collapsed, splitting up into feudal classes, independent of any central lord.

It is one of the many distressing things in the teaching of history to note that the capital importance of the place and of the action that was fought there is still hardly recognized. One American author has done it full justice in a most able book: I refer to Mr. Hoffman Nickerson's volume The Inquisition. I know of no other English monograph on this subject, though it ought to be in the forefront of historical teaching. Had Muret been lost, instead of being miraculously won, not only would the French monarchy have been weakened and Bouvines never won, but almost certainly the new heresy would have triumphed. With it our culture of the West would have sunk, hamstrung, to the ground.

For the country over which the Albigensians had power was the wealthiest and the best organized of the West. It had the highest culture, commanded the trade of the Western Mediterranean with the great port of Narbonne, it barred the way of all northern efforts southward, and its example would have been inevitably followed. As it was the Albigensian resistance collapsed. The northerners had won their campaign and the south was half ruined in wealth and weakened in power of revolution against the now powerful central monarchy in Paris. That is why Muret should count with Bouvines as the foundation of that monarchy and with it of the high Middle Ages. Muret opens and seals the thirteenth century the century of St. Louis, of Edward of England and of all the burgeoning of the occidental culture.

As for the Albigensian heresy itself, it was attacked politically both by civil and by clerical organizations as well as by arms. The first Inquisition arose from the necessity of extirpating the remnants of the disease. (It is significant that a man pleading his innocence had only to show that he was married to be acquitted of the heresy! It shows what the nature of the heresy was.)

Under the triple blow of loss of wealth, loss of military organization, and a thoroughly organized political rooting out this Manichean thing seemed in a century to have disappeared. But its roots ran underground, where, through the secret tradition of the persecuted or from the very nature of the Manichean tendency, it was certain to re-arise in other forms. It lurked in the central mountains of France itself and cognate forms lurked in the valleys of the Alps. It is possible to trace a sort of vague continuity between the Albigensian and the later Puritan groups, such as the Vaudois, just as it is possible to trace some sort of connection between the Albigensian and the earlier Manichean heresies. But the main thing, the thing which bore the Albigensian name the peril which had proved so nearly mortal to Europe had been destroyed.

It had been destroyed at dreadful cost; a high material civilization had been half ruined and memories of hatred which lingered for generations had been founded. But the price had been worth the paying for Europe was saved. The family of Toulouse was re-admitted to its titular position and its possessions did not fall to the French crown until much later. But its ancient independence was gone, and with it the threat to our culture which had so nearly succeeded."

Chapter Five of Hilaire Belloc's The Great Heresies.

Thursday 28 March 2013

A Belloc poem for Good Friday...

Eric Gill - Crucifixion

Our Lord and Our Lady

They warned Our Lady for the Child
That was Our Blessed Lord,
And She took Him into the desert wild,
Over the camel's ford.

And a long song She sang to Him
And a short story told:
And she wrapped Him in a woollen cloak
To keep Him from the cold.

But when Our Lord was grown a man
The rich they dragged Him down,
And they crucified Him in Golgotha,
Out and beyond the town.

They crucified Him on Calvary,
Upon an April day;
And because He had been Her little Son
She followed Him all the way.

Our Lady stood beside the Cross,
A little space apart,
And when She heard Our Lord cry out
A sword went through her heart.

They laid Our Lord in a marble tomb,
Dead, in a winding sheet.
But Our Lady stands above the world
With the white moon at her feet.

     "Our Lord and Our Lady", from Verses, published 1910.


Monday 25 March 2013

Belloc during Holy Week, 1912: 'I have become a Protestant...'

Belloc’s jaded vision of parliamentary politics inspired two more satirical novels, Mr Clutterbuck’s Election and A Change in the Cabinet, published in 1908 and 1909 respectively. These were written in haste and in haphazard fashion, most of the former being dictated at a stretch in Holy Week, possibly to mollify the effects of abstinence. For the first time, Belloc wrote to Maurice Baring on 13 April 1908, he had given up drinking beer or wine in Holy Week:

...partly to see what this is like, partly in memory of the Passion, and partly to strengthen my will which has lately had bulgy spots on it.

I have now gone through thirty six hours of this ordeal, and very interesting and curious it is...The mind and body sink to a lower plane and become fit for contemplation rather than for action: the sense of humour is also singularly weakened.

In later years Belloc extended his abstinence to the whole of Lent, drinking crates of ginger beer instead of his customary Burgundy. ‘I have become a Protestant and am drinking no wine during Lent, with the most terrible results to my soul which is in permanent despair,’ he wrote to Chesterton in 1912. ‘I now see what a fool everybody is, a truth which, until now the fumes of fermented liquor had hidden from me.’

It is a little curious, considering that he had spent most of Holy Week writing a satirical novel, that Belloc should confess to Baring that abstinence had ‘singularly weakened’ his sense of humour. Perhaps this explains why Mr Clutterbuck’s Election does not rate amongst Belloc’s better books. Perhaps, indeed, the novel would have been better, and funnier, if he had waited until Easter. A Change in the Cabinet was written in similar haste. Belloc told Wilfrid Scawen Blunt that it ‘was run up in such a scramble (seven days) without a touch of the pen & so purely for money that I was ashamed of it, & when the press let off by blaming it I agreed’. Blunt, however, had enjoyed the book and, possibly prompted by his friend’s positive response, Belloc moderated his self-criticism. ‘But the later reviews are much more favourable & your letter puts me in heart again.’

An extract from Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc (London: Harper Collins, 2002) page 130 by Joe Pearce.

Joe’s Blog: Ink Desk

Tuesday 12 March 2013

In the Peaks of Europe - The Secret of “The Path to Rome” ...

Rome is rather a topical subject at the moment and so I thought that the following article would be apposite. 

It's been submitted by Brendan Cotter, who joined us on the recent Hilaire Belloc outing in Amberley. It's the best chronological analysis of the The Path to Rome that I have encountered. 

I feel that Brendan is slightly harsh on Belloc's penitential 'dispensations'. After all, the whole walk was a massive act of penitence. But, no matter, we are very grateful to Brendan for his original observations on The Path to Rome

Hilaire Belloc wrote this travelogue of his journey, all on foot, which started in Toul (where he had once been an artilleryman in the French Army) progressed through Switzerland and ended in Rome.

En route Belloc provides us with witty and astute observations on the villages, towns, and people he encountered on his gruelling pilgrimage before the First World War. 

“The Path to Rome” in 2013

When Hilaire Belloc arrived in Milan by train on Sunday the 16th of June 1901 all was not going well on his historic 750 mile walking pilgrimage to Rome (his personal act of ultramontanism). He was only half-way and had run out of money. He had been plagued with a painful left knee, which developed at Flavigny after only 20 miles, and lasted beyond Schangau in Switzerland. He had then been defeated by a blizzard from a direct crossing of the Alps by way of the Gries Pass (8,100 ft).

But he made it, and in 2013 the feast of Ss Peter & Paul (on the 29th June) again falls on a Saturday which is the very day of the week, in 1901, that Belloc marched triumphantly into Rome to complete his journey.

Thus it will be possible, this year, to follow The Path to Rome day by day on the same day of the week (reading an average nine pages a day) and the experience can be enlivened by "visiting" all the places named on satellite maps.

Hilaire Belloc in Popular Culture

Joseph Hilaire Pierre Rene Belloc (“Hilary” to his friends) has his place in popular culture. In 1066 and All That (1930) he appears as “Thomas a Belloc.” In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 and set in 1936) “Rene Belloq” was the French archaeologist competing with Indiana Jones. Again, “Hilaire Belloc” appears in a set of Will’s Cigarette cards 40 Famous British Authors issued in 1937, along with John Drinkwater and Lady Eleanor Smith (but lacking W. H. Auden, E. M. Forster, Robert Graves and Virginia Woolf.)

The Day of Departure

The Path to Rome itself does not make it clear what year it refers to, let alone the days of the week or dates (only the month of June is mentioned). It was published in 1902, but the biographies leave no doubt that it records the events of the year before. The one indisputable date is that Belloc arrived in Rome on the 29th June which in 1901 was on a Saturday.

Indeed, there is a certain mystery surrounding the actual day of departure. Belloc says that Corpus Christi was on his third full day. It is a moveable feast being the Thursday after Trinity Sunday and in 1901 it was on the 6th of June. That would accord with the book itself which states that he left Toul “at the very beginning of June” and, on that basis, his starting date would have been Monday the 3rd of June.

But Robert Speaight, in The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957), states that on the evidence of letters written at the time Belloc had already been to Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi before he set out. So, according to Speaight, Belloc would have started on Thursday the 6th of June 1901.

The Number of Days on the Road

This conflict points to something seriously adrift. A close reading of the text working backwards from his arrival in Rome on Saturday the 29th of June 1901, and constructing a daily diary by reference to maps, indicates twenty six days on the road in whole or in part. The conclusion is that Belloc must have set out from Toul on the evening of Tuesday the 4th of June 1901.

Twenty six days on the road would fit better with Belloc’s aim to average thirty miles a day: seven hundred and fifty miles in twenty six days is twenty nine miles a day. Whilst the same distance in two days less would have been a feat which it is suggested would have been beyond even Hilaire Belloc.

Twenty nine miles a day (more than the marathon in distance) day after day for the best part of a month was a prodigious achievement, even allowing for a certain amount of “cheating.” In the days when students commonly walked between London and Oxford it was Hilaire Belloc’s proud boast that (together with Anthony Henley to whom he dedicated “Danton”) he held the student record for the fifty six miles from Carfax to Marble Arch in eleven hours thirty minutes. That distance would take the average experienced walker at least two full days. On walking holidays rest days are considered essential and Belloc had none. Furthermore he included a lot of hill and mountain walking where the challenge is vertical rather than horizontal and he had problems with his bad knee, the weather and, at times, in finding his way.

Again, Belloc originally had his passage home booked for the 1st of July and it would have been an impossible schedule to attempt to walk seven hundred and fifty miles over difficult country in twenty four days from the 6th of June. Speaight somehow manages to calculate the number of days from the 6th of June to the 29th of June to be twenty two. But the first and last days must both be counted and the number of days on the road on his account would have been twenty four.

Further, of course, the twenty six days on the road which can be identified in the book itself, if calculated from the 6th of June, would have taken Belloc well beyond the all-important 29th of June deadline for his destination in Rome for the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, and if calculated from Monday 3 June would have got him there a day early (none of which is borne out by the narrative).

Clues as to Days and Dates

The only real points of reference in the book are the places where Belloc happened to be at the time, but there are some clues in the text as to the actual days and dates all of which fit with a start date of Tuesday the 4th of June rather than Monday the 3rd of June or Thursday the 6th of June:

· In Thaon-les-Vosges he is told that the branches of bracken placed before doors of houses are to welcome the Corpus Christi procession which surely points it to being Wednesday the 5th of June (the eve of the Feast on the 6th of June).
  • At Undervelier he finds virtually the whole village turning out for Vespers. This is more likely to have been Sunday the 9th of June than mid-week, as it would have been if he had set out on the 6th of June. 
  • At Schangau he incautiously lets slip that it is his eighth day. A calculation from 4 June would place him there on Tuesday the 11th of June and that fits exactly with a back-calculation from the 29th of June. 
  • The next day (Wednesday the 12th of June) at Brienz he says that it is not yet mid-June, whilst a departure date of the 6th of June would put him there on Friday the 14th of June which was arguably mid-June (the 15th of June 1901 was the Bellocs’ fifth wedding anniversary). 
  • As he approaches San Quirico after leaving Siena Belloc says that “The third sun that I now saw rising would shine upon the City.” Calculating back from the 29th of June that day was Wednesday the 26th of June. 

The Catholicity of Belloc

In the book Belloc shows interest in some of the finer points of religious practice. Upon Glovelier he bestows his benediction as of right as a pilgrim. He argues with an outspoken imaginary reader “Lector” that it is not the sin of simony to do so as that would be the false assumption of powers of office.

Lector: “For Heaven’s sake!”

The “auctor/lector” passages in the book can be quite fun and more examples are incorporated in this article-sometimes out of context. Although personally sensitive to criticism, Belloc himself was a man of strong views. For him El Greco was a “disgusting lunatic” and in The Path to Rome he condemned the guides at Meiringen touting for visits to the Reichenbach Falls for “vulgarity and beastliness”. On leaving Parliament he is reported to have said “…I have been relieved to be quit of the dirtiest company it has ever been my misfortune to keep.”).

He hears the Angelus ringing in Charmes at noon, and at the inn at the Ballon d'Alsace he says grace before the meal. Earlier he had noted that the woman hurrying past him on the way to Mass at Rupt was carrying a prayer book called The Roman Parishioner:

Lector: "Pray dwell less on your religion."

Auctor: “Pray take books as you find them"

In Giromagny he is puzzled by the number of priests all saying Mass there and asks Lector if he can explain.

Lector: “I can. It was the season of the year and they were swarming.”

He makes a point of hearing Mass in the Ambrosian Rite in the crypt of Milan cathedral. In his bedroom at Lugano there is a picture of the pope “looking cunning.”

Belloc could be quite disrespectful about his religion and once scandalised the Jesuits by remarking that if the Church taught that the sacred host changed into an elephant he would believe it. He also had a liking for superstitious practices which, even if harmless, are discouraged by the Church thus:

  • On the way to Ulrichen he touched iron when he met a priest. 
  • In Como cathedral he watched 2 candles race to extinction as a sign of permission to break his vow to walk every step of the way and take the train to Milan - "...I admitted the miracle and confessed the finger of Providence." 
  • On entering the City of Rome he was careful to do so with his right foot "...lest I should bring further misfortune upon that capital of all our fortunes." 

Regarding his superstition Belloc’s son in law Reginald Jebb, in Testimony to Hilaire Belloc (1956), says that “the superstitious side to Belloc’s nature was difficult to account for…and sat strangely upon one of such robust reasoning power and such directness in his dealings with life.”)

But in the face of all this detail Belloc makes no mention of the more mundane Catholic practices of Sunday Mass, Friday abstinence from meat, fasting from midnight before Holy Communion or refraining from Servile Work on the Sabbath, all of which applied in his day.

The reason seems to be that if he did set out on Tuesday the 4th of June 1901 then Corpus Christi would have been on his third day out - the very day Hilaire Belloc forever the insomniac and early riser just for once, worn out by covering fifty miles in his first 24 hours, overslept till the middle of the morning in “a great bed” in Thaon-les-Vosges:

Lector: “My brother often complains of insomnia. He is a policeman.”

Auctor: “Indeed? It is a sad affliction”

Lector: “Yes, indeed.”

Auctor: “Indeed, yes.”

Lector: “I cannot go on like this”

The Cover-up

Whilst his biographer Robert Speaight claims that Belloc went to Mass on Corpus Christi before setting out on his pilgrimage, Belloc himself gives a totally different account. He says that the feast was on his third full day out, but in calculating and reaching the third day he discounts the day of his departure with the excuse that he set out in the evening. That took him to Friday the 7th of June when he went to Mass at Rupt (after breaking his fast on bread, wine and coffee.) However that was also the First Friday of the month which he fails to mention and a Day of Abstinence, a practice upon which Belloc is curiously silent throughout his book.

His own explanation looks like an elaborate cover-up for missing Mass on a Holyday of Obligation and thereafter on two of the Sundays on the road. Of course Belloc went to Mass on the way whenever he could - Como, Milano, Lucca and Siena were cathedral cities where morning Mass could be expected more or less every hour on the hour. Otherwise he would arguably have been entitled to a dispensation as a traveller with “just reason” as he would have been unaware of local arrangements (nowadays Canon 1248 of the Code of Canon Law speaks of “grave cause” as a just reason and cites as an example the lack of a sacred minister.) However it is doubtful whether Belloc would have qualified then or now as he had arrived at Thaon overnight, been told about the significance of the branches of bracken, had the time to familiarise himself with Mass times and could have arranged a morning call.

Lector “It does not seem to me that this part … is very entertaining”

Auctor “I know but what can I do?”

Originally Belloc planned to go to Mass every day as he went along. But on his first day out in the first village he reached he found to his chagrin that Mass was already over. When he got to Rome and presented himself at the church of Our Lady of the People, just within the Gates of the Piazza del Popolo, Mass was finishing and Belloc complained (tongue in cheek) that he had to wait a full twenty minutes for the next.

In practice the only certain way of getting to Mass on a pilgrimage is to go with a group which includes a priest. Still it would have been embarrassing for the great Catholic writer who was not addressing a sympathetic Catholic audience to be seen to have fallen down on the basics of his religion. Hence the need for some subterfuge.

Lector: “I am sorry to have provoked all this.”

Auctor: “Not at all! Not at all! I trust I have made myself clear.”

Evidence of a Cover-up

There is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence that Hilaire Belloc tried to cover his tracks,both within the book and extrinsically. According to Joseph Pearce, in Old Thunder (2002), only one of the letters that Belloc wrote to his wife Elodie along the way was dated and that was the first one (dated the 18th of June 1901:

Auctor: “That means nothing.”

Lector: “Shut Up!”

On any showing Friday the 7th of June 1901 was the First Friday of the month but Belloc does not mention the promise of the Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary Alocoque in 1675 of the grace of final repentance to those who receive Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays as an act of reparation for the sins of others. Nor does he on this or on any of the Fridays that he was on the road mention the obligation to abstain from meat. A diary of his journey reveals that he had eggs beaten up with ham at the inn at the Ballon d’Alsace on Friday the 7th of June. Furthermore, on Friday the 14th of June he and his guide put bread and ham in their bags before setting off at 3 am for his attempt on the Gries Pass and on Friday the 21th of June he was buying sausage in Viterbo.

As for Abstinence, Belloc seemed to subsist on a staple diet of sausage, bacon and ham. Robert Speaight recounts that when among Catholics he would sometimes “ride lightly to the rules” and provides the anecdote that one Friday morning in a country house having ascertained that all present were Catholics he helped himself to a large slice of ham.

Belloc never wrote an autobiography (“no gentleman writes about his private life”) and there is no mention of working notes or maps for the journey to Rome by any of the biographers who had access to his papers. Yet Reginald Jebb recounts that Belloc always kept “everything” with the whole family from time to time gathering round the oak dining table to sort out and file papers when it all got too much for his secretary.

Joseph Pearce quotes Arnold Lunn in “And Yet So New” (1958) as saying that Belloc told him that he had sold the copyright in The Path to Rome for “a ridiculously small sum.” In the Preface to a selection of his works A Picked Company (1915) the publishers say that “The omission of any passage from The Path to Rome is due to copyright difficulties.”

Belloc’s Credibility

According to St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) “a voluntary utterance contrary to intellectual conviction” is morally wrong. To a degree Belloc undermines his own credibility by quoting with approval (in the valley of the Serchio on the way to Sillano) a line from Francis Bacon (1561-1626) that it is both “permissible and pleasurable to mix a little falsehood with one’s truth.” Belloc himself goes on “…yet it is much more delectable, and far worthier of the immortal spirit of man to soar into the empyrean of pure lying…” (Indeed he could have gone even further by quoting from Moliere’s La Tartuffe (1664) “ce n’est pas pecher que pecher en silence” (to sin in secret is not to sin at all.)

Lector: “What is all this?”

Auctor: “It is a parenthesis.” 

Lector: “It is good to know the names of the strange things one meets on one’s travels.”

In The Silence of the Sea (1941) Belloc said that “The moment a man talks to his fellows he begins to lie.” In connection with his editorship of “Land and Water” in the First World War he said “It is sometimes necessary to lie damnably in the interests of the nation.” Something known in law enforcement circles as “noble cause corruption.”

Again, when he deals with the heretic woodcutter on the way to Moutier, who refused him coffee, Belloc goes off down the road composing rhymes against all heretics and says that he added “a Mea Culpa and Confession of Sin, but I shall not print it here,” making him sound like a man struggling with his conscience.

Generally, Belloc was known to be careless of the truth. His history books were said to be full of schoolboy howlers and blunders which he repeated with mendacious glee in his literary feud with Dr G. G. Coulton, arguing that the truth of the broad picture was more important than the accuracy of fine detail.

In The Path to Rome Belloc mis-spells many place names - giving Thayon for Thaon, Gothard for Gotthard, Secugnango for Secugnago, Compagiamo for Camporgiano, Decimo for Diecimo which makes them hard to find on maps.

Speaight describes a scene at the Cambridge Union on the 15th of November 1924 when Mgr. Ronald Knox proposed a motion “That History should serve patriotism rather than truth.” Belloc opposed, facetiously suggesting that a little truth might be introduced here and there. Then Dr. Coulton rose to accuse Belloc of the falsification of history, and the previously light-hearted debate descended into something of a pantomime before the astonished students as the distinguished guest speakers became more and more irate.

The Structure of “The Path to Rome”

Again, there is something very odd about the whole structure of the book from the overlong beginning to the abrupt end. According to Reginald Jebb The Path to Rome was turned down by twenty publishers and Speaight says that on its publication there were criticisms that it was "uneven" and "too long." The layout with the continuous text broken intermittently by a line of asterisks to mark more of a change of direction in thought than any lapse of time, and the failure to mention the day of the week let alone the date or even the year all point to an elaborate cover up for Belloc’s failure to observe the basics of his religion, largely through no fault of his own.

There are no chapters - yet the twenty six days on the road in a book of some two hundred and fifty pages would make a natural choice of a chapter a day, headed up with the start and finish points. Belloc’s earlier works Danton (1899) Paris (1900) and Robespierre (1901) all followed the conventional format of Chapters in a list of Contents, as did most of his output subsequently.

Furthermore the seventeen pages of “stories” are pure padding. A. N. Wilson in Hilaire Belloc (1984) explains the inclusion of the story of Charles Amieson Blake as a complete contrast to Belloc’s own somewhat nomadic and chaotic lifestyle. But one well-loved, much-thumbed, heavily annotated, underlined, highlighted and eventually sellotape-bound personal copy of The Path to Rome has a number of unmarked passages. These include the Stories of The Great Barrel, The Acolyte of Rheims, The Oracle, The Old Sailor, Sir Charles Amieson Blake, The Duke of Sussex, Mr Hard and that of Mankind.

The inclusion of these “stories” with the excuse that they take the place of miles of foot-slogging boredom, serves to break up the continuity of the text and leave the reader in the air. Much the same goes for the eight maps Belloc provides. Having at one point begged the reader to study them closely, Belloc elsewhere remarks “…what can it profit you to know these geographical details? Believe me, I write them down for my own gratification, not yours.” A sideways look at them in the context of a secret agenda shows them as a useful puzzling distraction: particularly as in one he shows altitude in lighter and in others in darker shade. The one missing map which would be really useful would be from Toul in Lorraine to Rome showing the straight line through Belfort, Porrentruy, Bellinzona, Lugano, Como, Milano, Piacenza, Lucca and Siena, and passing successively through French, German and Italian-speaking Switzerland, and then Lombardy and Tuscany.

The Consequences of Exposure

Belloc was lucky not to be found out over his confabulation and dissimulation in view of his later literary feuds with H. G. Wells and Dr. Coulton, both of whom would presumably have welcomed the ammunition. Perhaps his friend G. K. Chesterton knew and said nothing about it. Certainly Fr Brown’s intuitive methods would have sensed Belloc’s “catholicity” as an explanation for the inconsistencies in the book, described by Chesterton (before his conversion) as a “flaming and reverberating folly produced by the buoyancy of a rich intellect.”

Johnny “Beachcomber” Morton a fellow-traveller and a Catholic, would almost certainly have recognised and probably experienced the difficulty of compliance on the road and Belloc’s rather relaxed view towards it. In Hilaire Belloc-a Memoir (1957) on p.115 he remarks “I cannot imagine that any other man who had walked from Toul to Rome would have talked so little about it.” Perhaps providing more circumstantial evidence.

Pearce records that Ronald Knox had set himself the task of indexing the book under more than three hundred heads. Nothing seems to have come of this and it is a matter of speculation that Belloc, with something to hide, discouraged him.

Lector: “Let us be getting on.”

Auctor: “By all means, and let us consider more enduring things.”

Human Kindness

One could draw greater attention to the many acts of kindness given freely to Belloc on his travels without reference to any particular religious persuasion or practice:

  • Thus there was the commercial traveller who, seeing his exhaustion, gave up his bed for Belloc at the inn just within the Swiss frontier beyond the last French town of Delle. 
  • In Piacenza at the “Moor’s Head” when Belloc emerged from the unseasonably “cold, brutish and wet” plain of Lombardy he was well looked after as he acknowledges: “He was a good man the innkeeper of this palace. He warmed me at his fire in his enormous kitchen and I drank Malaga to the health of his cooks.” 
  • Then there was the “Tavern Brawl” at the Red Inn at Medesano when a knife was produced and the brave little inn-keeper intervened on Belloc’s behalf. 
  • Finally, “long past Sette Vene… (at) an inn with trellis outside making an arbour…the master served me with good food and wine…and out of so many men he was the last man whom I thanked for a service until I passed the gates of Rome.” 

A Revised Assessment of “The Path to Rome”

The unfortunate end result of the layout of the book (the lack of chapters, the unnecessary maps and various diversions) is to obscure Belloc's bold plan to walk in a straight line to Rome over the Vosges and Jura mountains and then the Alps and Apennines. By ignoring the course of roads and rivers which followed the natural contours of the land he was able to enjoy tremendous vistas of the landscape in the Peaks of Europe.

His impressions of the Italian Lakes and his first stunning view of the “sublime invasion” of the Alps from the heights of the Weissenstein (the fifth and last ridge of the Jura) produce some of his finest descriptive prose:

“I saw between the branches of the trees in front of me a sight in the sky that made me stop breathing…One saw the sky beyond the edge of the world getting purer as the vault rose. But right up-a belt in that empyrean-ran peak and field and needle of intense ice, remote, remote from the world. Sky beneath them and sky above them, a steadfast legion, they glittered as though with the armour of the immovable armies of Heaven. Two days’ march, three days’ march away, they stood up like the walls of Eden. I say it again, they stopped my breath. I had seen them.”

Lector: “Pray are we to have more of that fine writing?”

The Path to Rome is full of fine writing but the awful “stories” and diversions invite the reader to skip the pages they cover and lose track of the time and place. Together with detailed descriptions of the private vow-breaking, his bad knee and lack of funds it all serves the hidden agenda of Auctor to distract Lector’s attention from his failure to observe the basic requirements of his religion. The technique is one of careful selection and suppression - “I forget the village, I forget the girl, but the wine was Chambertin.”

Auctor: “…remember, Lector, that the artist is known not only by what he puts in but by what he leaves out.”

Lector: “That is all very well for the artist, but you have no business to meddle with such people.”

Auctor: “How then would you write such a book if you had the writing of it?”

Lector: “I would not introduce myself at all; I would not tell stories at random…and I would certainly not have the bad taste to say anything upon religion.” 

As it is the format of The Path to Rome tends to leave the reader with a disjointed impression of a number of encounters and adventures along the way: such as the early morning scene in the sunshine outside Flavigny where the obliging young baker serves Belloc with coffee, brandy and bread at a “fine oak table;” the touching moment at the inn at the Ballon D’Alsace when the lady of the house and her three daughters all curtsied to Belloc in unison before retiring to bed; the vertiginous railway bridge at Ursanne; the horse-holding incident at Schangau; the scramble over the Brienzer Grat; the foiled crossing of the Alps; the searchlights and torpedo boats on Lake Lugano; the wrongful arrest at Calestano; the tavern brawl at the Red Inn at Medesano; his rides in an ox-cart on the way to Acquapendente and, then, a horse-buggy after San Lorenzo on the way to Bolsena.

The positive side Belloc’s secret agenda of concealment meant that he refrained from any mention of current affairs - Queen Victoria had died only a few months before he set out and he omits the identity of the pope (Leo XIII.) The perhaps unintentional result is to produce a timeless quality for his journey which enhances the appeal of its heroic optimism and intense introspection.

The Path to Rome has remained constantly in print as “a classic, born of something far deeper than the experience it records” (Speaight) and was clearly written for posterity including “…all you also who in the mysterious designs of Providence may not be fated to read it for some very long time to come…”.

Lector: “Why on earth did you write this book?”

Auctor: “For my amusement.”

Lector: “And why do you suppose I got it?” 

Auctor: “I cannot conceive…”        

'... and as to what may be in this book, do not feel timid nor hesitate to enter. There are more mountains than mole-hills ...'


Tuesday 5 March 2013

Hilaire Belloc Day in Amberley, Sussex...

Chris Hare in full flow

We enjoyed a wonderful day in Amberley, Sussex, a week last Saturday. It started with Chris Hare's  presentation on the great writer which captured, as well as one could hope, the essence of the man in the space of about sixty minutes. The meeting was well attended by around seventy people and our hosts, the staff at the George and Dragon, were very hospitable. The George is a splendid venue for talks. This medieval pub has a lovely, and atmospheric, function room which can comfortably seat a sizeable gathering. If there is one criticism of this particular hostelry it's that they don't sell Harveys (my favourite Sussex pint). But I was able to satiate my appetite for its earthy flavour later in the day. On a weightier note, we will be publishing excerpts from Chris' talk in due course.

After the talk we walked into the village via the Downs. It was cold, but dry, and although the valley was not in full bloom or (for that matter) any bloom at all nothing could detract from its soft beauty.

The walkers!

Amberley Village is a very interesting corner of England although because it is beautiful and within commuting distance of London, needless to say,  the real locals moved out years ago. This is largely a bad thing. One of the few advantages is that the Yuppies, who have moved in, have spent significant sums on maintaining the character of a number of properties.

The assembled mob
Architecturally speaking, everything seems to blend together in a most pleasing manner. The over-worked Chris Hare shared his knowledge of the village and the local castle. We were truly regaled with stories of Sussex past. This very much coloured our encounter with a truly beautiful part of the County.

Amberley Castle. You can just see the toilet chute at the bottom of the wall!
By the end of our ramble we had truly worked up a healthy thirst and there are few better places in England to quench it than the Sportsman Inn. From the pub, one can enjoy stunning views of the Amberley Wild Brooks: a wetland site of special scientific interest in the flood plain of the River Arun. The Brooks are managed as a nature reserve by the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The wet woodland and marsh form an excellent habitat for all sorts of different birds, insects and plants. In fact over half of Britain's indigenous aquatic plants can be found here. It was also here that the composer John Ireland found inspiration, in 1921, for his piano piece the 'Amberley Wild Brooks'.

Hannah, clearly enjoying the view of the Brooks
Inside the Sportsman the conversation was wide ranging. Dare I say it, the locals were at first surprised and then amused (in an enigmatic way!). The good thing about Belloc is that he attracts people who refuse to be pigeon holed into the square pegs of Mundane Britain. This virtually guarantees entertaining conversation wherever Bellocians gather.

Sid, are you related?
After enhancing the cultural life of the pub we returned to the The George and Dragon where we polished off the day with English Folk music and the occasional Scots Gaelic song. All in all a good time was had by all and we look forward to gallivanting in, and around, Gumber Corner (Belloc's favourite) this coming May. Here is a poetic appetiser penned by HB:

Lift up your hearts in Gumber, laugh the Weald And 
you most ancient Valley of Arun sing. 
Here am I homeward from my wandering, 
Here am I homeward and my heart is healed. 
If I was thirsty, I have heard a spring. 
If I was dusty, I have found a field.

The dying art of posing