Friday, January 31, 2014

On John Calvin

Concerning the great revolt or Reformation, Hilaire Belloc says:

“THE explosion would not have had a constructive result but for the appearance about ten years after the first Lutheran protest of a book—and behind that book a mind—which was to dominate all the future of the rebellion against Catholic unity.

"It was a book from the pen of a certain northern Frenchman, by the name of Jean Cauvin, or Chauvin, in the Latin Calvinus, whom his followers now know everywhere as John Calvin. He it was who erected a counter-church well organized and defined and therefore capable of expansion and endurance. He set up as the foundation of that church a surely developed, well expounded and argued philosophical system which is still so well known as to need no special description here. It is enough to say that he recognized only one will in the universe—the Divine Will—that he tended, therefore to ascribe not only good, but evil operations to that Will and emphasized the Divine Majesty so strongly as to get the right relations of God to man out of proportion; that he weakened in man—one may say virtually denied the power of free will, stressing out of reason (but with powerful effect) the role of predestination. Man’s good deeds, proceeding from no free will, were of no effect towards the salvation of man’s soul.

"Inspired by this general doctrine was to be organized a new Church which was actually the creation of Calvin’s mind, but which he and his followers enthusiastically built up, on the plea that it was a return to what the true Church had been in its original purity. He proposed an ecclesiastical system in which each congregation elected its minister, the corporation of ministers forming a synod or collective body summonable upon occasion and the whole body of clergy and laity so defined constituting what he called “the Church,” the whole thing being built up of individual congregations which were called “the Churches.”

"Within these the Eucharist continued in a form, the exact definition of which was still debated, but which excluded the old sacramental idea as idolatrous—in other words, Calvin’s construction destroyed and abhorred the Mass, which had been from immemorial time everywhere the central act of Christendom.

"Like all other reformers, he set up, but with more precision than many of them, the Scriptures as the sole rule of faith accepting, by a curious irony, for an absolute that which could in the nature of things have no authority at all, save for the tradition of the Catholic Church he was attacking. For no one in all these centuries would have regarded the Scriptures as possessing Divine authority or would have called them the word of God had not the Catholic Church insisted on that mystical doctrine. It was even the Church which had decided what should be and should not be included within the term of Scripture.”

~Hilaire Belloc: From The Crisis of Civilization.

Belloc lectures Chesterton on “the errors of Geneva.”
Caricature by Max Beerbohm (1872–1956)


When Bonds are Issued to Yield a Profit Out of Destruction, or Exact Interest From Non-Productive Investment, the Evil Will Eat Society Up. Denounced by Ancient Pagans and Christian Moralists Alike, Usury Has Become a Term Almost Forgotten Although Its Practice Is of Daily Experience.

I NOW go on to talk of the plague of monopoly, which is one of the very worst results of modern capitalism, and is ruining society quite as much as the burning sense of injustice suffered by the worker under capitalism. I shall speak of the monopoly of production gradually killing men’s choice in what goods they shall enjoy; the monopoly of distribution, gradually killing men’s choice of where they shall buy and of whom; the virtual monopoly of credit, through the concentration of banking and the stranglehold of the bankers on the modern capitalistic world.

But before we can understand the growing monopoly of credit we must understand “Usury”.

First, let us understand what we are talking about. The word “Usury” is used today in two very different senses. It is used to mean excessive interest on money: that is the popular meaning of the word. It is also used to mean “interest on money as distinguished from profit: any interest,” large or small, demanded for the “use of money” as distinguished from payments for goods or services and from profit on trade. This is the strict original meaning of the word “Usury” and in that sense I use it here: interest on money or credit alone.

It is a strange thing that though Usury has been denounced as an accursed sin, a destruction of society, ever since human society has existed, it has in modern times been left alone, and, until quite lately, was not seriously discussed. It was taken for granted that Usury was quite natural and would do no harm. The ancient pagan philosophers denounced it; the Christian Church denounced it vigorously from the appearance of this Church until the Reformation. All our moral theologians have denounced it. And yet, for a time, after the seventeenth century, until quite recently, Usury was more and more accepted until it became a matter of course. Only when the enormous harm that it has done was beginning to be felt was the question raised again.

Now, Usury being the taking of interest on money merely “as money”, why is that wrong or harmful? Money is a social instrument devised for the exchange of goods. Its proper function is to work as currency. It does not breed. There is no natural profit attaching to it merely as money. If you keep it back from general circulation and take advantage of having it thus in your power and say to the man who needs to buy or sell “You shall not have this necessary currency unless you pay me still more money for the use of it” you are doing wrong.

The principle of taking Usury once admitted, Usury would end by eating up society. A few dollars lent out at compound interest for a few generations would demand a tribute more than all the wealth of the world could meet. A sum of money lent at 5 per cent doubles, at compound interest, in just over 14 years. The debt increases “a thousandfold” in 144 years; in 288 years “a millionfold!” In 432 years it increases “a billionfold”—one thousand million times! One cent put out at such interest when Columbus landed would now claim over $20,000,000.

But clearly you are doing no wrong if you put your wealth into some profitable enterprise and claim a portion of the profit thereon. That is where the confusion lies.

Supposing a man own a piece of land through which, deep down, runs a rich vein of copper ore. The amount of ore that could be extracted in a year’s labor would be worth, by the time he got it to the surface, $100,000. But to get it to the surface needs instruments and reserves of food and clothing and housing and the rest of it to maintain human energy while the ore is being extracted.

The owner of the vein had nothing. He gets a partner with $500,000 and his partner buys the required machinery and reserves of food, etc., so that the work can be undertaken. He bargains to halve, at the end of the year, the value of the ore extracted: that is, $50,000: one-tenth of the amount that he has put up as capital. The other $50,000 of ore is to be kept by the owner of the land. Year after year one goes on taking his share as capitalist. He is getting to one percent on his capital. But the other man has the advantage of “his” share, which he could never have had without the help of his partner. The contract is perfectly just.

Now suppose after 20 years the mine peters out. There is no more profit to be shared and therefore the original contract comes to an end from a lack of matter.But supposing the contract were worded so that the capitalist did not get his 10 percent as part of the profit, but got it as interest on money lent: not as instruments and reserves of food, etc., lent. Then he has a perpetual claim to $50, 000 a year, payable out of wealth that is not there. This is called “interest on the unproductive loan” and such interest is Usury. To pay that tribute the borrower has to get further and further into debt or to sell other wealth of his, until he is ruined; and that is how Usury eats up society.

Now when money claims interest “merely because it is money and without reference to the way that money is used,” a large proportion of the interest must always be interest on what has become an unproductive loan. Part of the vast sums paid to the money lenders annually represents real profit, real wealth, real goods. But part will always represent, if money lending instead of partnership is at work, interest on a loan which has become, or was from the beginning unproductive.

For instance, nearly all the great war loans demand interest on an unproductive loan. The money was spent in buying goods which were consumed, not in producing more wealth, but in producing no wealth—or even in destroying wealth. It went to support soldiers and sailors who produced no wealth and often actually destroyed wealth. It went to buy guns and ammunition which produce no wealth, but were actively employed in destroying wealth. You spend $100,000 in buying guns and ammunition for knocking down in war and industrial building which, in peace, produced $5,000 worth of wealth a year; and you go on asking $5,000 interest on the money represented by worn out guns, exploded ammunition and a factory that has been destroyed.

There are other ways in which the recognition of money’s right to interest, merely because it is money, eats up society, but this one major case of the unproductive loan is sufficient to show the evil that Usury does.

When money lending (“the providing of credits,” as it is called) carries interest as a matter of course, it is an activity which devours mankind.

~Hilaire Belloc: in Social Justice, April 18, 1938.

See also:

Is Usury Still A Sin?, by Thomas Storck

The Sin of Usury, by St. Thomas Aquinas

Usury, from the Catholic Encyclopedia

Poem: On a Sundial

IN SOFT deluding lies let fools delight.
A Shadow marks our days; which end in Night.


How slow the Shadow creeps: but when 'tis past
How fast the Shadows fall. How fast! How fast!


Loss, and Possession, Death and Life are one.
There falls no shadow where there shines no sun.


Stealthy the silent hours advance, and still;
And each may wound you, and the last shall kill.


Here in a lonely glade, forgotten, I
Mark the tremendous process of the sky.
So does your inmost soul, forgotten, mark
The Dawn, the Noon, the coming of the Dark.


I that still point to one enduring star
Abandoned am, as all the Constant are.


Save on the rare occasions when the Sun
Is shining, I am only here for fun.


I am a sundial, and I make a botch
Of what is done far better by a watch.


I am a sundial, turned the wrong way round.
I cost my foolish mistress fifty pound.


Creep, shadow, creep: my ageing hours tell.
I cannot stop you, so you may as well.


I am a Sundial. Ordinary words
Cannot express my thoughts on Birds.

~Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Peril to Letters

Beauty and the Machine Age

THE VERY RAPID CHANGE through which Western Europe is passing leads me to ask a question, the answer to which I conceive to be of moment to my generation.

Is it not possible that literature—the highest of merely human arts—will perish? We have inherited it from the past (including under that term times still within living memory). Till lately we thought it secure; we took it for granted. Is it now so sure?

The whole scheme of our lives is passing through a material revolution which (though each reacts on the other) is not the cause but the effect of a moral one. But people have hardly as yet appreciated the magnitude of the change.

Nearly all our finest matter in the way of letters has been produced under conditions of sufficient isolation in communion with the processes of nature and under conditions of sufficient ‘elbow room’ in time. One might draw up a category at random of a dozen situations or a hundred each of which has produced the highest verse and prose in the past: the silent contemplation of landscape, the slow journey by foot or horse, the contrast between the small city and its neighboring fields, the entry of a boat under sails into a harbor.

Take this last example, the entry of a sailing boat into the harbor. There is, in the diversity of experience, in its majesty of movement as a rule, or again in its rarer occasions of peril and stress, but especially in its consonance with the nonmechanical, not man-made forces around the boat, a particular quality which you will never find under conditions always similar and perpetually repeated precisely because they are mechanical; which you will never find in movements whereof the major parts depend on mechanism.

Now, at this point (it is a digression but it is pertinent) many will answer:

‘What does it matter? If we live in a new world we will describe that new world just as our fathers described their world—which remained so much the same from the highest antiquity of civilization to but a few years ago. Our theme id infinite, just as their theme was infinite. We have, to excite our desire to produce, material as ample and as stimulating as anything they knew. There is no peril. Letters are safe. They will add to themselves a new and great chapter; that is all.’

To this objection I would answer:—
‘Description is not the point. Beauty is the point. How shall Beauty flourish in this new air?’

A writer who can only evoke reality is not a great writer. No one sustains the culture of mankind, or bequeaths it a great thing, because he merely registers an emotion or merely provokes one. A man speaking to men is great in proportion as he can call up the unseen, and clothe in definite substance, can incarnate, can render permanent our three dear old friends, the Good, the Beautiful, and the True—and especially the one in the middle. For while it is the business of the inspired to present the Good, and of philosophers to present the True, writers, like other artists, can at least support and complete the triple task by putting forth the Beautiful.

Well, how are you going to get that task accomplished under regular, exactly repeated, blind environments? How are you going to get it in the midst of a deafening metallic noise? How are you going to get it under conditions such that the processes stimulating you to description are too rapid for distillation of beauty as well as too violent, and, above all too mechanical?

In connection with this consider the tendency of all the modern social curve toward the destruction of leisure; not only of that occasional leisure which a man working, however hard, with his pen or at teaching or at any other liberal profession could always find in an older world, but of that more expanded leisure wherein flourished as in a native air the writer of every kind—the scholar, the romancer, the poet, the historian. It is not insignificant that the greatest historians have been men granted such full leisure by patronage or endowment or private fortune.

The time in which we live tends to destroy such amplitude of leisure not because, as its enemies vaguely say, it is a time of haste and fuss. To say that is to say something circular; to reaffirm instead of explaining. No, the time in which we live is tending to destroy the old conditions of amply sufficient leisure because it is chiefly concerned with the settling of that very difficult political problem, the insecurity and nervous ill ease of a nation occupied almost entirely in mechanical labor.

Mechanical labor, organized under highly centralized and very large groups of capital, whether these be privately owned or communally or co√∂peratively directed, is and ungrateful task. Men who never felt rebellious against the labor of the fields and the household are rebellious against industrial work. They are not happy, save in its absence, and they feel it unjust that certain among their fellow citizens can enjoy a leisure which they, bound to the industrial system, cannot enjoy. That sense of injustice it is imperative that we should remedy or the industrial machine will stop working. We are attempting to remedy it. But in doing so we are destroying the ‘social atmosphere’ of leisure. For this feeling of injustice is not so strongly felt against the very few and very large fortunes—moderate, but  sufficient  to secure leisure. Now, it was precisely this large body of moderate and secure fortunes which gave society as a whole its atmosphere of leisure. The tendency of the modern industrial system to enregiment the workers into a mechanical life for the advantage of comparatively few and very wealthy men does not  menace an unstable future.

But what is unstable and is menaced, and what does seem to have little chance of survival, is the old, widely spread leisure of that cultivated middle class which gave us most of our verse and nearly all the best of our prose, and, what is essential to both, a certain social medium, present throughout the state, in which great verse and high prose can not only have their being, but can also be judged by a sound critical sense.

Note how to-day, when men ask, in some popular competition or other, who is the greatest writer in their scale, they reply—ninety-none out of a hundred of them—with the name of some one who is producing fiction which sells on an enormous scale to a class knowing little or nothing of true leisure. Some few of these Best Sellers are excellent writers; some mediocre in their art, most quite negligible. Under the old and true tests, literature was sifted through the appreciation of a leisured class large enough to judge securely and sufficiently widespread to give its tone to the commonwealth. That organic function in the state—the critical faculty which created fame and handed down the corpus of letters to posterity—is disappearing. Perhaps it is already lost.

Now, let it be granted that this is not an evil. Let it be granted that an ignorance of, and contempt for, beauty—as for truth and for good—can do not great harm to the commonwealth. Personally, I think this modern claim a contradiction in terms; but no matter; let us for argument’s sake admit that the loss of our old sense of loveliness is an advance. There still remains the really interesting historical point, whether we are not racing toward a period in which there will be a breach of continuity with the past. We may be on the edge of such a gulf far deeper, and with an effect more drastic, than the gulf of the early Dark Ages.

It has been very well said that no period tells, with regard to itself, what posterity will want to know. That is three-quarters of the difficulty in writing history. For instance, we, when we read of the fourth or fifth centuries, are interested in race and language. But the people of the time were interested in theology, and give us most meager and contradictory accounts of language and race. Or again, when we write of the seventeenth century, and of the great social and religious changes therein, we are interested in numbers. The people of the time only occasionally referred to numbers, and that in the roughest manner and with no statistical concern in their minds. They were occupied in the consideration of powerful persons and how such would act, and in the conflict of principles. They were not much bothered by majorities. And when we try to find out how the numbers stood we are baffled.

Well, the converse is true. Not only does the past not tell us what we want to know about it, but men lose interest in great patches of the past. They get completely out of touch with it. Hitherto this only happened for comparatively brief periods, as, for instance, the eclipse of feeling for the Gothic between the mid-sixteenth century and the very end of the eighteenth century. Does it not look as though we were about to enter a world in which men would first of all cease to understand, and soon after cease to take interest in, the emotions proceeding from leisure, the emotions proceeding from a life in consonance with nonmechanical and natural processes?  Does it not look as though, after a certain amount of such indifference, we should lose all touch with, not some period of our past, but all our past? It is one of the many things which alarm me in a contemplation of the world into which I have survived.

…And that new Peril through Industrialism is symbolized by a new, inhuman noise.

I sat but a few weeks ago in an English garden of such beauty as only English gardens in South England still know. It was a deep summer evening in the late August of last year. The place was in the very depth of Hampshire field and wood, remote from any town or even village. It stood near a hamlet of a few roofs and the downs were about it. As I watched the divine bronze of the western sky drooping slowly to silence and the repose, a loud-speaker, some hundred yards away, more powerful than a company of men, bawled through its gigantic snout a Yankee nigger song of (to me, at least) a very novel barbarity. Even as this noise appalled the air there approached along the little English lane under the tall elm trees a noise increasingly in volume abominably. It recalled a machine gun, or, more closely, a riveting machine. It passed in a shattering assault of violence and hurled itself away. It was a motor bicycle; and there are a score of them within two miles of that secluded Eden, all in use perpetually.

Such murder is now everywhere admitted and received. It invades every remote acre and has taken root in the ancient solitudes. How, then, shall letters hold their own?

~Hilaire Belloc: In the New Statesman, London Independent Weekly. Republished in Littell's The Living Age, Jan. 15, 1930.

Science and Religion

THERE IS an issue set between science and religion; that is, a conflict. On this, modern men have no doubt. Now what is that issue? We must try and define it or we cannot deal with it.

There is no conflict between two abstract conceptions which may be labeled, the one “Science”, the other “Religion”. If we mean by “Science” the body of ascertained and measurable physical things, and by “Religion” a sentiment of awe towards something adored and the acceptation of moral commands recognized by all men through the conscience, the two sets of ideas can hardly conflict, because they are not in touch with one another. It is true that the body of ascertained physical things may include facts—such as madness—which preclude freewill and therefore deny morals where these facts apply; but as between the vague sentiment to which men attach the word “Religion” in general, and a body of ascertained physical facts, there is no issue.

But a conflict arises at once when we attach to religion a particular meaning including certain affirmations in contradiction to ascertained physical facts, or when we mean by “Science”, not the body of ascertained physical facts but a whole method of regarding cause and effect and the nature of the world. Of the first form of conflict the most obvious is the conflict between an historical affirmation imposed by some religion and an ascertained fact contradictory of the affirmation. For instance, if a man’s religion includes the affirmation that man first appeared on the earth six thousand years ago, there is a mass of ascertained fact which makes this statement so improbable that it may be called impossible. Of the second form of conflict, the most obvious example is the denial by the scientists (in practice) of miracle, that is, of interruption in the sequence of observed physical cause and effect.

But the real issue lies not in some logical differences of this kind, but between two opposing moods, from which proceed (and which are partly caused by them) two opposing methods of attaining Reality; of discovering Truth; of Believing. For when modern men say, “Science says this,” they mean by “Science”, not the body of ascertained fact but a whole method of arriving at truth, and what is more, a whole state of mind inimical to another state of mind, also existing in the modern world. They mean “the scientific spirit” as opposed to that other spirit, or mood, which may best be called “the religious spirit”. Between these two things there is indeed a conflict, and it will act with increasing violence until one or the other conquers, or until the two separate so thoroughly as to dominate separate sections of mankind.

The scientific spirit, then, relies on the authority of certain dogmas. These dogmas scientists rarely explain or even attempt to base upon reason. The scientists take them for granted and is angry to hear any contradiction of them. The first and most important of these dogmas is the unity or self-sufficiency of the material universe and therefore the immutability of sequence in cause and effect. The second dogma is that the only form of proof certainly acceptable to the reason of man is proof through things measurable, proof capable of repetition and therefore of test by experience. Truth this ascertained (says the scientific spirit) is certain; all other affirmations are negligible. Such is the authority from which the Scientific Spirit derives its creed.

The Religious Spirit, on the other hand, relies on a personal judgement whereby it accepts the authority of an Institution, a book, or a spiritual intuition. Its conclusions are not subject to any universal test, as are those of the scientific spirit. It says, “This institution is holy and clearly speaks with a Divine voice” or “This book contains all important truth” or “I once experienced this or that within. Such an experience stands fast and nothing external can overthrow it.”

Now as between these two, since there is conflicting authority; there is conflicting method; the scientific spirit deals with a number of isolated phenomena, as it proceeds in its investigation, sets out on a number of divergent lines. It produces the specialist who is not to be contradicted by who cannot co-ordinate his results with other specialists, save at the very beginning of his journey. The religious spirit on the other hand relies on a general judgement . The first deals in what may be called differentials, and indefinitely large and increasing number of separately acquired truths. The second deals with integration. The first tends to the error of confusing hypothesis with fact. The second  tends to strict deduction from what it is sure of, and there the error of deducing an apparently certain conclusion from insufficient premises.

An example of the first error was the affirmation of Natural Selection as the agent of growth. It was but an hypothesis; common sense could see that it was not at work in the real world (an acorn does not become an oak by natural selection) and also that it was in contradiction with the first laws of arithmetic: for with every succeeding generation selective advantage diminishes in geometrical proportion. An example of the second for of error is the statement that because men are born equal, therefore each is equally fitted to decide upon affairs of state.

The quarrel between these two moods, (1) religious appreciation or apprehension, doctrine appealing to the revelation of conscience has discovered to be supreme, and (2) doctrines derived from the unproved postulates of the Scientific Spirit, spreads, as time proceeds throughout all the activities of human life. For example, the good of the body is a thing appreciable to all and measurable by all, the physical facts in connection with it can be affirmed without hesitation and receive universal acceptance. Thus, physical pain is an evil, whatever relieves it must therefore be a good. The scientific spirit tends in this particular department to the limitation of childbearing, to the painless murder of those suffering from a painful and incurable disease.

There is no doubt whatever on the facts. They who maintain that pain must be borne, though avoidable, and that life is sacred, reply upon some authority not subject to immediate physical and universally accepted experiment. Each sort of man is equally certain of his position; each must become the mortal enemy of the other; for each is inevitably compelled to combat the activity of the other as being something abominable. He who defends the thesis that we must for spiritual reasons, submit to pain and permit others to suffer it, is abominable to the scientific spirit. He who would put to death the incurable, sterilize the unfit, sacrifice traditional morals in the effort to relieve pain, or raise the average of health, is, to his religious opponent, diabolical.

As with this example, so with all others. To the scientific spirit marriage is a contract, necessarily tending to be more and more easily terminable at will. To the religious spirit marriage is a sacrament; desecrated if it be reduced to a mere contract like other terminable human contracts. To the scientific spirit in history, the document is conclusive, tradition and our common sense are negligible. To the religious spirit in the whole known nature of man is called in as witness to fact, and the document is always suspect and weak compared with that integration. To the scientific spirit positive affirmation upon beauty and the plastic arts or upon morals is absurd. To the religious spirit such affirmation is the upholding of essential and central truth.

I have said that the conflict is certain to increase. It will increase in area and violence. Those who, from a weakness of soul, like to believe that there can be a reconciliation between such opposites have not considered the nature of the case. Those who believe that the battle is already won, do not understand their opponents. They are under-estimating their enemies. In this country, with much the greater part of men today, or at least with much the greater part of men who think clearly and closely upon these affairs, the battle does seem at lest three-quarters won by the scientific spirit, and the remainder of the action will be no more than the “cleaning up” which follows successful assault.

I make no doubt that the future upon these affairs, when we consider Western civilization as a whole, will gravely disappoint this view. The religious spirit has begun its counter-offensive. On the ultimate effect of this I will prophesy nothing. But that such a reaction is now in progress—and increasingly formidable—should be apparent to anyone who can look beyond the boundaries of his own nation.

~Hilaire Belloc: In American Review, Feb. 21-27 issue, 1934.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Election

THE OTHER DAY as I was going out upon my travels, I came upon a plain so broad that it greatly wearied me. This plain was grown in parts with barley, but as it stood high in foreign mountains and was arid, very little was grown. Small runnels, long run dry under the heat, made the place look like a desert—almost like Africa; nor was there anything to relieve my gaze except a huddle of small grey houses far away; but when I reached them I found, to my inexpressible joy, a railway running by and a station to receive me.

For those who complain of railways talk folly, and prove themselves either rich or, more probably, the hangers-on of the rich. A railway is an excellent thing; it takes one quickly through the world for next to nothing, and if in many countries the people it takes are brutes, and disfigure all they visit, that is not the fault of the railway, but of the Government and religion of these people, which, between them, have ruined the citizens of the State.

So was it not in this place of which I speak, for all the people were industrious, wealthy, kind, amenable, and free.

I took a ticket for the only town on the railway list whose history I knew, and then in a third-class carriage made entirely of wood I settled down to a conversation with my kind; for though these people were not of my blood—indeed, I am certain that for some hundreds of years not a drop of their blood has mingled with my own—yet we understood each other by a common tongue called Lingua Franca, of which I have spoken in another place and am a past master.

As all the people round began their talk of cattle, land, and weather, two men next me, or rather the one next me and the other opposite me, began to talk of the election which had been held in that delightful plain: by which, as I learnt, a dealer in herds had been defeated by a somewhat usurious and perhaps insignificant attorney. In this election more than half the voters—that is, a good third of the families in the plain—had gone up to the little huts of wood and had made a mark upon a bit of paper, some on one part, some on the other. About a sixth of the families had desired the dealer in herds to make their laws, and about a sixth the attorney. Of the rest some could not, some would not, go and make the little mark of which I speak. Many more could by law make it, and would have made it, if they had thought it useful to any possible purpose under the sun. One-sixth, I say, had made their mark for the aged and money-lending attorney, and one-sixth for the venerable but avaricious dealer in herds, and since the first sixth was imperceptibly larger than the second it was the lawyer, not the merchant, who stood to make the laws for the people. But not only to make laws: he was also in some mystic way the Persona and Representative of all the plain. The long sun-lit fields; the infinite past—Carolingian, enormous; the delicate fronds of young trees; the distant sight of the mountains, which is the note of all that land; the invasions it had suffered, the conquests it might yet achieve; its soul and its material self, were all summed up in the solicitor, not in the farmer, and he was to vote on peace or war, on wine or water, on God or no God in the schools. For the people of the plain were self-governing; they had no lords.

Of my two companions, the one had voted for the cow-buyer, but the other for the scribbler upon parchment, and they discussed their action without heat, gently and with many reasons.

The one said: "It cannot be doubted that the solidarity of society demands that the homogeneity of economic interests should be recognised by the magistrate." The other said: "The first need is rather that the historic continuity of society should be affirmed by the momentary depositaries of the executive."

For these two men were of some education, and saw things from a higher standpoint than the peasants around us, who continued to discourse, now angrily, now merrily, but always loudly and rapidly, upon the insignificant matter of their lives: that is, strong, red, bubbling wine, healthy and well-fed beef, rich land and housing, the marriage of daughters, and the putting forward of sons.

Then one of the two, who had long guessed by my dress and face from what country I came, said to me: "And you, how is it in your country?" I told him we met from time to time, upon occasions not less often than seven years apart, and did just as they had done. That one-sixth of us voted one way and one-sixth the other; the first, let us say, for a moneylender, and the second for a man remarkable for motor-cars or famous for the wealth of his mother; and whichever sixth was imperceptibly larger than the other, that sixth carried its man, and he stood for the flats of the Wash or for the clear hills of Cumberland, or for Devon, which is all one great and lonely hill.

"This man," said I, "in some very mystic way is Ourselves—he is our past and our great national memory. By his vote he decides what shall be done; but he is controlled."

"By what is he controlled?" said my companions eagerly. Evidently they had a sneaking love of seeing representatives controlled.

"By a committee of the rich," said I promptly.

At this they shrugged their shoulders and said: "It is a bad system!"

"And by what are yours?" said I.

At this the gravest and oldest of them, looking as it were far away with his eyes, answered: "By the name of our country and a wholesome terror of the people."

"Your system," said I, shrugging my shoulders in turn, but a little awkwardly, "is different from ours."

After this, we were silent all three. We remembered, all three of us, the times when no such things were done in Europe, and yet men hung well together, and a nation was vaguer and yet more instinctive and ready. We remembered also—for it was in our common faith—the gross, permanent, and irremediable imperfection of human affairs. There arose perhaps in their minds a sight of the man they had sent to be the spirit and spokesman, or rather the very self, of that golden plateau which the train was crawling through, and certainly in my mind there rose the picture of a man—small, false, and vile—who was, by some fiction, the voice of a certain valley in my own land.

Then I said to them as I left the train at the town I spoke of: "Days, knights!"—for so one addresses strangers in that country. And they answered: "Your grace, we commend you to God."

~Hilaire Belloc

On The Reading Of History

LET ME at the beginning of this short article present two facts to the reader. Neither can be disputed, and that is why I call them facts and put them in the forefront before I begin upon my theories.

The first fact is that the record of what men have done in the past and how they have done it is the chief positive guide to present action. The second fact is that most men must now receive the impression of the past through reading.

Put these two facts together and you get the fundamental truth that upon the right reading of history the right use of citizenship in England today will depend. It will of course depend upon other things as well: chiefly upon the human conscience; for if you were to pack off to an island a hundred families as ignorant as any human families can be of tradition, and wholly ignorant of positive history, those families would yet be able to create a human society and the voice of God within them would give just limits to their actions.

Still, of those factors in civic action amenable to civic direction, conscious and positively effective, there is nothing to compare with the right teaching and the right reading of history. Now teaching is today ruined. The old machinery by which the whole nation could be got to know all essential human things, has been destroyed, and the teaching of history in particular has been not only ruined but rendered ridiculous. There is no historical school properly so-called in modern England; that is, there is no organization framed with the sole object of extending and co-ordinating historical knowledge and of choosing men for their capacity to discover upon the one hand and to teach upon the other. There is nothing approaching to it in the two ancient universities, because the choice of teachers there depends upon a multitude of considerations quite separate from those mentioned, and the capacity to discover, to know, and to teach history, though it "may" be present in a tutor, will only be accidentally so present: while as for co-ordination of knowledge, there is no attempt at it. Even where very hard work is done, and, when it concerns local history, very useful work, history as a general study is not grasped because the universities have not grasped it.

History is to be had by the modern Englishman from his own reading only; and I am here concerned with the question how he shall read history with profit.

To read history with profit, history must be true, or at any rate the reader must have a power of discerning what is true in the midst of much that may be false. I will bargain, for instance, that in the summer of 1899 the great mass of men, and especially the great mass of men who had passed through the universities, were under the impression that armies had left England for the purpose of conquest in distant countries with invariable success: that that success had been unique, unsupported and always decisive, and that the wealth of the country after each success had increased, not diminished. In other words, had history been studied even by the tiny minority who have education today in England, Sir William Butler would have counted more than the Joels, and the late Mr. Barnato (as he called himself); the South African War would not have taken place in a society which knew its past.

Again, you may pick almost any phrase referring to the Middle Ages out of any newspaper
if you are a man read in the Middle Agesand you will find in it not only a definite historical falsehood with regard to the fact referred to, or the analogy drawn, but also a false philosophy.

For instance, the other day I read this phrase with regard to the burial of a certain gentleman of my neighbourhood in Sussex: "We are surely past the phase of mediaeval thought in which it was imagined that a few words spoken over the lifeless clay would determine the fate of the soul for all eternity." Just notice the myriad falsehoods of a phrase like that! I will not discuss what is connoted by the words "past the phase of mediaeval thought"
it connotes of course that the human mind changes fundamentally with the centuries, and therefore that whatever we think is probably wrong, and that what we are sure of we cannot be sure of, an absurd conclusion. I will only note the historical falsehoods. When on earth did the "Middle Ages" lay down that a "few words over lifeless clay determined the fate of the soul for all eternity"? On the contrary, the Middle Ages laid it downit was their peculiar doctrinethat it was impossible to determine the fate of the soul; that no one could tell the fate of any one individual soul; that it was a grievous sin, among the most grievous of sins, to affirm positive knowledge that any individual had lost his soul. More than this, the Middle Ages were peculiar in their insistence upon the doctrine that a man might have been very bad and might have had all the appearance of having lost his soul so far as human judgment went, and yet was liable to a midway place between salvation and damnation, and they affirmed that this midway place did not lead to either fate but necessarily to salvation and to salvation only.

Again, whatever could help the human soul to salvation was by the most rigorous theological definition of the Middle Ages applicable only before death. After death the fate of the soul was sealed, and the man once dead, the "lifeless clay" (as the journalist put it
and the Middle Ages was the only source from which he got the idea of clay at all), whether it were that of a Pope or of some random highwayman, had no effect whatsoever upon the fate of the soul. The greatest saint might have offered the most solemn sacrifice on its behalf for years, and if the soul were damned his sacrifice would have been of no avail.

I have taken this example absolutely at random. But the modern reader, apart from sentences as clearly provocative of criticism as this, is perpetually coming across references, allusions, and parallels which take a certain course of human European and English history for granted. How is he to distinguish when that course is rightly drawn from when it is wrongly drawn?

Thus in some newspaper article written by an able man, and dealing, let us say, with the territorial army, one might come across a sentence like this: "Napoleon himself used troops so raw that they were actually drilled on the march to the battlefield." That would be a perfectly true statement. Any amount of criticism of it lies in connexion with Mr. Haldane's scheme, but still it is a true piece of history. Napoleon did get raw recruits into his battalions just before any one of his famous marches began, and drill them on the way to victory. In the next column of the newspaper the reader may be presented with a sentence like this: "The captures of English by privateers in the Revolutionary War should teach us what foreign cruisers can do."

There were plenty of captures by privateers in the Revolutionary Wars; if I remember rightly, many many hundreds, all discreetly hidden from the common or garden reader until party politics necessitated their resurrection a hundred years after the event, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with modern circumstances.

Both statements are true then, and yet one can be truthfully applied today, while the other cannot.

How is the plain reader to distinguish between two historical truths, one of which is a useful modern analogy, the other of which is a ludicrously misleading one?

The reader, it would seem, has no criterion by which to distinguish what has been withheld from him and what has been emphasized; he may, from his knowledge of the historian's character or bias, stand upon his guard, but he can do little more.

There is another difficulty. It is less subtle and less common, but it exists. I mean brute lying. You do not often get the lie direct in official history; it would be too dangerous a game to play in the face of the critics, though some historians, and notably the French historian Taine, have played it boldly enough, and have stated dogmatically, as historical happenings, things that never happened and that they knew never happened. But the plain or brute historical lie is more commonly found in the pages of ephemeral journalism. Thus the other day, with regard to the Budget, I saw some financial operation alluded to as comparable with "the pulling out of Jews' teeth for money in the Middle Ages." When did anyone in the Middle Ages pull out a Jew's teeth for money? There is just one very doubtful story told about King John, and that story is told without proof by one of John's worst enemies, in a mass of other accusations many of which can be proved to be false.

Again, I turn to an Oxford History of the French Revolution, and I find the remark that the massacres of September were organized by the men from Marseilles. They were not organized by the men from Marseilles. The men from Marseilles had nothing to do with them, and the fact has been public property since the publication of Pollio and Marcel's monograph twenty years ago.

What criterion can the ordinary reader choose when he is confronted by difficulties of this sort? I will suggest to him one which seems to me by far the most valuable. It is the reading of firsthand authorities. It is all a matter of habit. When the original authorities upon which history is based were difficult to get at, when few of those in foreign tongues had been translated, and when those that had been published were published in the most expensive form, the ordinary reader had to depend upon an historian who would summarize for him the reading of another. The ordinary reader was compelled to read secondary history or none. Now secondary history is among the most valuable of literary efforts; where evidence is slight, the judgment of an historian who knows from other reading the general character of the period, is most valuable. Where evidence is abundant, and therefore confusing, the historian used to the selection and weighing of it performs a most valuable function. Still, the reader who is not acquainted with original authorities does not really know history and is at the mercy of whatever myth or tradition may be handed to him in print.

We should remember that today, even in England, original authorities are quite easy to get at. Two little books, for instance, occur to me out of hundreds: Mr. Rait's book on Mary Stuart and Mr. Archer's on the Third Crusade. In each of these the reader gets in a cheap form, in modern and readable English, the kind of evidence upon which historians base their history, and he can use that evidence in the light of his own knowledge of human nature and his own judgment of human life.

Or again, if he wants to know what the Romans really knew or said they knew about the German tribes who, as pirates, so greatly influenced the history of England, let him get Mr. Rouse's edition of Grenewey's translation of the Germania in Blackie's series of English texts; it will only cost sixpence, and for that money he will get a bit of Caesar's Gallic War and the Agricola as well. But the list nowadays is a very long one, luckily, and the lay reader has only to choose what period he would like to read up, and he will find for nearly every one first-hand evidence ready, cheap and published in a readable modern form. That he should take such first-hand evidence is the very best advice that any honest historian can give.

~Hilaire Belloc (in First and Last)

Napoleon in Wagram, by BELLANG√Č, Hippolyte.
Oil on canvas, 1841. Private collection.
(Battle of Wagram, July 5–6, 1809)

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