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."

Search This Blog

Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Mad World of Mr Petre

The Manchester Guardian reviews Mr Petre, a novel by Hilaire Belloc with twenty-two drawings by G.K. Chesterton

''We look for some fun when Mr Belloc and Mr Chesterton get together, and their latest collaboration may send us back to the "EmanueI Burden" of something over twenty years ago. Indeed, in Mr Chesterton's admirable illustrations the contours of Mr Petre recall sometimes the earlier protagonist. Of course Mr Belloc and Mr Chesterton are serious persons, and their fun is at bottom, as Matthew Arnold might say, a criticism of life. It is not life, but there is some analogy with it in this exposure of human folly and credulity. It appears that we shall not be wiser a generation hence than we are now.

The story begins in 1953 with the return of Mr Peter Blagden from New York, and for a page or two the irony seems to be held in reserve; we have time to think that Mr Belloc could, if he would, give us a very interesting "ordinary" novel. But Mr Blagden loses his memory completely, and from no particular cause; chances combine to identify him with Mr Petre, the great American millionaire. So he becomes involved in enormous transactions, and on the strength of an occasional "Exactly" or "I quite understand" his reputation as the most astute man of his time becomes assured. He puts up at the Splendide (or, as the proof-reader leaves it on one occasion the Savoy), and so courted is he that he must bolt to the country sometimes for breathing space.

If he buys everybody follows, and his chance expression of opinion breaks up a luncheon party, everybody rushing for the telephone. Perhaps the loss of memory is a little arbitrary in its working, but it is a good device for the display of Mr Belloc's scornful irony. For, of course, everything that Mr Petre says and does is idiotic. A man reputed to have fifty million pounds must be a master-mind, and financiers feel that they must crawl before him or be ruined.

It is a mad world, an abominable but comical world in which the knaves are also fools. Tremendous transactions are entered upon, and though Mr Belloc disclaims the technical equipment of the economist, one is convinced that he would make a good City Editor. Probably, though, the City would be treated as an Augean stable. The financiers appear as rogues that no sane person can take seriously. Mr Petre piles up millions and doesn't know what to do with them; he becomes quite bitter about it. His memory returns and the real John Petre turns up.

Finance has had its trouncing and now comes law. Our law is as absurd as our finance. The unfortunate American, consumed with indignation and determined to punish the impostor, is baffled by it. Naturally the case got to the House of Lords, and the final judgement was delivered by Ermyntrude, Viscountess Boole, the Lord Chancellor. Mr Peter Blagden is left considering what disposal of the money will do the least harm.

Mr Chesterton's drawings are capital, and indicate a precise appreciation of his friend's ironies.''

The Manchester Guardian, 05 June 1925

Thursday 15 May 2014

Belloc predicts death of Protestantism...

The Mansion House, Dublin

Cutting a potentially long story short I would like to say that this Blog promotes all of Belloc's output: be it good, bad or indifferent. With this in mind, some readers may be slightly offended by the following post. But Belloc wouldn't be Belloc if he wasn't, on occasion, provocative!

''Protestantism is hopelessly dead and has nothing left but a fossil difficult of digestion and incapable of propagation, according to the famous author, Hilaire Belloc, who was speaking yesterday [16 October 1913] at the eleventh annual conference of The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin.

Mr. Belloc, who was speaking on the place of the Catholic Church in the modern world, continued by prophesying that the coming years would see the Catholic Church prevail amongst religions, not least because Freemasonry had grown old and become ridiculous, while Jewish finance, for so many generations a secret enemy, had been dragged out into the open.

Cardinal Logue, the primate of All Ireland, presided over the conference which drew a large number of other members of the Catholic hierarchy and members of the clergy to its sessions.

Other speeches focused on the issue of housing the poor, with reference to the Church Street tenement collapse, and on a Catholic interpretation of the labour movement.''

Source - RTE online historical archive.

Sunday 11 May 2014

More on the Path to Rome....

The following e-book is available from:


And here is a taster from the Introduction:

''Perhaps there are more people than might be thought who would, like Laurie Lee, wish to leave their day-to-day life behind them for a little while and simply ‘walk out one midsummer morning’. And carry on walking....... 

Or like Patrick Leigh Fermor, set out from Holland in 1934, meaning to mix only with chance acquaintances but finding himself ambling down the Danube on a horse borrowed from a Count. 

Or like Hilaire Belloc, stride off down the wooded valley of the Moselle on a summer evening in 1901 with a quart of wine, a large piece of bread, half a pound of smoked ham, two newspapers and a sketch-book to begin ‘a kind of pilgrimage’ across Europe ‘on foot where one is a man like any other man, with the sky above one, and the road beneath, and the world on every side and time to see all’. 

It must be done with kindness, of course, and not be escapism or a sneaking away from life’s responsibilities. It is the call of ‘the journey’: a significant progress which - in other words and in another sense - may be called a pilgrimage. 

But ‘the journey’ need have nothing to do with faiths or churches. It was there long before that – as Homer portrayed. Deep inside is the instinct to ‘go a-roaming’, to travel unsystematically (as the dictionary would have it), to recognise a compulsion which lies dormant behind the most settled of lives. To follow the ways of the vagabond, the nomad, the rover; tramp the highways and byways and see what turns up. 

All wishful thinking, you might say. There’s no room in the modern world to move freely across frontiers; to operate outside the organised group; to make a personal journey. 

That would be wrong. There’s more room than ever before. You just need to take the first step. 

And ‘the journey’ is more than just wandering. It has in it poetry, philosophy, a celebration of life. And what better time for anyone to begin such a journey but in early June when the paths through the meadows are lined with flowers and a summer’s promise beckons. The year might be 1901 or 1934 or 2008. 

Hilaire Belloc’s journey began in the French frontier town of Toul in the evening of 6th June 1901 and reached Rome twenty-three days later on the 29th June 1901. The feat of walking 800 miles through eastern France, across the Swiss/Italian Alps and down through Lombardy, Tuscany and Latium is immortalised in The Path to Rome published in 1902.''

Walking with Mr Belloc: The Path to Rome
A Walk from Toul to the Tiber
e-book published March 2011
8 Chapters 9 Maps 223 Pages

Tuesday 6 May 2014

James V. Schall, S. J. on Hilaire Belloc - 'The Certain Loss'.

Constantine - Algeria

Belloc, in his essay "On a Lost Manuscript," in On Nothing, speaks whimsically of some pages that he lost in a cab, evidently a horse cab as he speaks of "a trap door on the top of the roof", on Vigo Street in London, "at the corner." He did not exactly lose his essay, but unaccountably left it in the cab. He even went to Scotland Yard to try to see if some honourable cabbie had turned it in, only to be told that "cabmen very rarely brought back ... written things, but rather sticks, gloves, rings, purses, parcels, umbrellas, and the crushed hats of drunken men."

This lost essay was to have appeared on page 127 of On Nothing and was one that Belloc had worked upon until it was near perfect. He had kept it with him a whole year, rewriting, improving. It never left his side (he had no hard disc with a back-up). It crossed the Pyrenees seven times and the Mediterranean twice. Belloc even tells of fording the "Sousseyou", holding it high out of the water. Thus far, I have not been able to locate this river.

Belloc informs us of where he began to write this essay -- "... it was in Constantine, upon the Rock of Citra, where the storms came howling at you from Mount Atlas and where you feel yourself part of the sky." Oddly enough, I had just written an essay, (Crisis, November, 1996), about the seven Trappist monks from their Monastery in the same Atlas Mountains in Algeria, monks who were, last Easter, slaughtered by Muslim cadre.

And the only thing I vaguely recalled about Constantine was that I had some time ago read an essay of Albert Camus in which the city of Constantine appeared. I went to my shelves to see if I could find the reference. It turned out to be in an essay in Camus' Lyrical and Critical Essays, "entitled, "A Short Guide to Towns without a Past." I thought to myself both "What a wonderful title!" and "How could you have a 'long' history of towns without a past?"

This is what Camus said about Constantine, the place where Belloc wrote his lost essay, feeling himself "part of the sky": "In Constantine, you can always stroll around the bandstand. But since the sea is several hundred kilometers away, there is something in the people you meet there. In general, and because of this geographical location, Constantine offers fewer attractions, although the quality of its ennui is rather more delicate." One wonders what Belloc, that vital man, would have made of the notion of "delicate ennui"?

Belloc's lost manuscript was begun on the 17th of January in 1905. He was sitting where, as he unexpectedly recalled, the Numidian king Massinissa (210-149 B.C.) had come in "riding through the only gate of the city, sitting his horse without stirrups or bridle." Where is this from, I wonder, Livy? In any case, over his shoulder, an Arab was trying to read what Belloc was writing but could not understand the words; however, "the Muses understood and Apollo, which were its authors almost as much as I." Belloc was most pleased with his essay, the subject of which seems to have been the consequences to the Mediterranean costal trade because of the opening of Suez, an unlikely subject for such lofty sentiments, to be sure, but with Belloc almost any topic sufficed to reach the highest things..

Belloc's essay is really, of course, about losing things, about the fact, that as far as we know, things can indeed be lost. We are sometimes loathe to face this fact. He realized that he could never replace his essay; not even he could remember what he wrote or how he wrote it. He was aware of theories that would suggest that someday, in the future, beyond this life, perhaps, we could read this essay again, hear it praised for its worth -- "I will not console myself with the uncertain guess that things perished are in some way recoverable beyond the stars...."

This was not a skepticism about our destiny. Belloc, I think, must be understood in a way different from those of a more Platonic bent. He was too vividly aware of the loveliness of things and their passingness to be lightly put off by the prospects of future delight or knowledge. Thus, early in the essay, he writes, poignantly, "You all know how, coming eagerly to a house to see someone dearly loved, you find in their place on entering a sister or a friend who makes excuses for them...." (On reading this touching sentence grammatically, it again brings to mind an exchange I once had about the English use of the apparently singular "someone" with the plural modifying pronoun "their").

Clearly, Belloc does not end his essay in flaming hope. He does not maintain, however, that the possibility of seeing his essay again, possibly his loved ones again, is vain. He concludes, "It may be so. But the loss is certain."

Is this the "delicate ennui" that Camus experienced in Constantine suddenly appearing in Belloc? At first sight, it might seem so. But, as I said, this essay, the one not lost, is about losing things. Every day we see infinite things we shall never see again. Every day we compose essays in our minds we shall never write. We accustom ourselves, as we probably should, to notice mostly the things that might recur. We are not wrong to hope that "beyond the stars" we can recover what is lost.

But the first thing we must do is know that we have lost something. We must have enough love of reality, including the sticks, umbrellas, and the "crushed hats of drunken men", enough expectation "to come eagerly into a house" to know that someone is not there, something is lost. Only when we begin with this vivid realization of loss can we begin to hope. "It may be so. But the loss is certain."

As Belloc wrote on the Rock of Citra, in Constantine, "a town without a past", he recalled that the Numidian King Massinissa had ridden through the single gate of this city "sitting his horse without stirrups or bridle" -- so it was, after all, a town with a history.

One of Belloc's essays is lost; not even Scotland Year could find it. This loss is certain, because another of his essays, not on the "effect of the piercing of the Suez Canal upon coastwise trade in the Mediterranean", is not lost. I will not, in the end, say that "nothing was lost." I will say that the certainty that something is lost must be our beginning. "You all know how, coming eagerly to a house to see someone dearly loved, you find in their place on entering...."

But the loss alone is certain.

From Schall on Belloc, Generally Speaking, June, 1997.