Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Reward Of Letters

IT HAS often been remarked that while all countries in the world possess some sort of literature, as Iceland her Sagas, England her daily papers, France her prose writers and dramatists, and even Prussia her railway guides, one nation and one alone, the Empire of Monomotopa, is utterly innocent of this embellishment or frill.

No traveller records the existence of any Monomotopan quill-driver; no modern visitor to that delightful island has come across a litterateur whether in the worse or in the best hotels; and such reading as the inhabitants enjoy is entirely confined to works imported by large steamers from the neighbouring Antarctic Continent.

The causes of this singular and happy state of affairs were unknown (since the common histories did not mention them) until the recent discovery by Mr. Paley, the chief authority upon Monomotopan hieratic script, of a very ancient inscription which clearly sets forth the whole business.

It seems that an Emperor of Monomotopa, whose date can be accurately fixed by internal evidence to lie after the universal deluge and before the building of the Pyramid of Cheops, was, upon his accession to the throne, particularly concerned with the just repartition of taxes among his beloved subjects.

It would seem (if we are to trust the inscription) that in a past still more remote the taxes were so light that even the richest men would meet them promptly and without complaining, but this was at a period when the enemies of Monomotopa were at once distant and actively engaged in quarrelling among themselves. With sickening treachery these distant rival nations had determined to produce wealth and to live in amity, so that it was incumbent upon the Monomotapans not only to build ships, but actually to provide an army, and at last (what broke the camel's back) to establish fortifications of a very useless but expensive sort upon a dozen points of their Imperial coast.

Under the increasing strain the old fiscal system broke down. The poor were clearly embarrassed, as might be seen in their emaciated visages and from the terrible condition of their boots. The rich had reached the point after which it was inconvenient to them to pay any more. The middle classes were spending the greater part of their time in devising methods by which the exorbitant and intempestive demands of the collectors could be either evaded or, more rarely, complied with. In a word, a new and juster system of taxation was an imperative need, and the Emperor, who had just ascended the throne at the age of eighteen, and whom a sort of greenness had preserved from the iniquities of this world, was determined to effect the great reform.

With the advice of his Ministers (all of whom had had considerable experience in the handling of money), the Emperor at last determined that each man and woman should pay to the State one-tenth and no more of the wealth which he or she produced; those who produced nothing it was but common justice and reason to exempt, and the effect of this tardy act of justice upon the very rich was observed in the sudden increase of the death-rate from all those diseases that are the peculiar product of luxury and evil living. Paupers also, the unemployed, cripples, imbeciles, deaf mutes, and the clergy escaped under this beneficent and equable statute, and we may sum up the whole policy by saying that never was a law acclaimed with so much happy bewilderment nor subject to less expressed criticism than this.

It was, moreover, easy to estimate in this new fashion the total revenue of the State, since its produce had been accurately set down by statisticians of the utmost eminence, and one of these diverse documents had been taken for the basis of the new fiscal regime.

In practice also the collection was easy. Overseers would attend the harvest with large carts, prong the tenth turnip, hoick up the tenth sheaf of wheat, bucket out the tenth gallon of ale, and so forth. In the markets every tenth animal was removed by Imperial officers, every tenth newspaper was impounded as it left the press, and every tenth drink about to be consumed in the hostelries of the Empire was, after a simulacrum of proffering it, suddenly removed by the waiter and poured into a receptacle, the keys of which were very jealously guarded.

It was the same with the liberal professions: of the fee received by a barrister in the Criminal Courts a tenth was regularly demanded at the door when the verdict had been given and the prisoner whom he had defended passed out to execution. The tenth knock-out in the prize ring received by the professional pugilist was followed by the immediate sequestration of his fee for that particular encounter, and the tenth aria vibrating from the lips of a prima donna was either compounded for at a certain rate or taken in kind by the official who attended at every performance of grand opera.

One form of wealth alone puzzled the beneficent monarch and his Napoleonic advisers, and this was the production (for it then existed) of literary matter.

At first this seemed as simple to tax as any one of the other numerous activities upon which the Emperor's loyal and loving subjects were engaged. A brief examination of the customs of the trade, conducted by an army of officials who penetrated into the very dens and attics in which Letters are evolved, reported that the method of payment was by the measurement of a number of words.

"It is, your Majesty," wrote the permanent official of the department in his minute, "the practice of those who charitably employ this sort of person to pay them in classes by the thousand words; thus one man gets one sequin a thousand, another two byzants, a third as much as a ducat, while some who have singularly attracted the notice of the public can command ten, twenty, nay forty scutcheons, and in some very exceptional cases a thousand words command one of those beautiful pieces of stiff paper which your Majesty in his bountiful provision tenders to his dutiful subjects for acceptance as metal under diverse penalties. The just taxation of these fellows can therefore be easily achieved if your Majesty, in the exercise of his almost superhuman wisdom, will but add a schedule to the Finance Act in which there shall be set down fifteen or twenty classes of writers, with their price per thousand words, and a compulsory registration of each class, enforced by the rude hand of the police."

The Emperor of Monomotopa immediately nominated a Royal Commission (unpaid), among whose sons, nephews, and private friends the salaried posts connected with the work were distributed. This Commission reported by a majority of one ere two years had elapsed. The schedule was designed, and such litterateurs as had not in the interval fled the country were registered, while a further enactment strictly forbidding their employers to make payment upon any other system completed the scheme.

But, alas! so full of low cunning and dirty dodges is this kind of man (I mean what we call authors) that very soon after the promulgation of the new law a marked deterioration in the quality of Monomotopan letters was apparent upon every side!

The citizen opening his morning paper would be astonished to find the leading article consist of nothing more original than a portion of the sacred Scriptures. A novel bought to ease the tedium of a journey would consist of long catalogues for the most part, and when it came to descriptions of scenery would fall into the most minute and detailed category of every conceivable feature of the landscape. Some even took advantage of the new regulation so far as to repeat one single word an interminable number of times, while it was remarked with shame by the Ministers of Religion that the morals of their literary friends permitted them only to use words of one syllable, and those of the shortest kind. And this they said was the only true and original Monomotopan dialect.

Such was the public inconvenience that next year a sharper and much more drastic law was passed, by which it was laid down that every literary composition should make sense within the meaning of the Act, and should be original so far as the reading of the judge appointed for the trial of the case extended. But though after the first few executions this law was generally observed, the nasty fellows affected by it managed to evade it in spirit, for by the use of obscure terms, of words drawn from dead languages, and of bold metaphor transferred from one art to another, they would deliberately invite prosecution, and then in the witness-box make fools of those plain men, the judge and jury, by showing that this apparently meaningless claptrap could, with sufficient ingenuity, be made to yield some sort of sense, and during this period no art critic was put to death.

Driven to desperation, the Emperor changed the whole basis of the Remuneration of Literary Labour, and ordered that it should be by the length of the prose or poetry measured in inches.

This reform, however, did but add to the confusion, for while the men of the pen wrote their works entirely in short dialogue, asterisks, and blanks, the publishers, who were now thoroughly organized, printed the same in smaller and smaller type, in order to avoid the consequences of the law.

At this last piece of insolence the Emperor's mind was quickly decided. Arresting one night not only all those who had ever written, but all those who had even boasted of letters, or who were so much as suspected by their relatives of secretly indulging in them, he turned the whole two million into a large but enclosed area, and (desiring to kill two birds with one stone) offered the ensuing spectacle as an amusement to the more sober and respectable sections of the community.

It is well known that the profession of letters breeds in its followers an undying hatred of each against his fellows. The public were therefore entertained for a whole day with the pleasing sight of a violent but quite disordered battle, in which each of the wretched prisoners seemed animated by no desire but the destruction of as many as possible of his hated rivals, until at last every soul of these detestable creatures had left its puny body and the State was rid of all.

A law which carried to the universities the rule of the primary schools—to wit, that men should be taught to read but not to write—completed the good work. And there was peace.

~Hilaire Belloc: from First and Last

The Tree of Knowledge

THE NATION known to history as the Nephalo Ceclumenazenoi, or, more shortly, the Nepioi, inhabited a fruitful and prosperous district consisting in a portion of the mainland and certain islands situated in the Picrocholian Sea; and had there for countless centuries enjoyed a particular form of government which it is not difficult to describe, for it was religious and arranged upon the principle that no ancient custom might be changed.

Lest such changes should come about through the lapse of time or the evil passions of men, the citizens of the aforesaid nation had them very clearly engraved in a dead language and upon bronze tablets, which they fixed upon the doors of their principal temple, where it stood upon a hill outside the city, and it was their laudable custom to entrust the interpretation of them not to aged judges, but to little children, for they argued that we increase in wickedness with years, and that no one is safe from the aged, but that children are, alone of the articulately speaking race, truth-tellers. Therefore, upon the first day of the year (which falls in that country at the time of sowing) they would take one hundred boys of ten years of age chosen by lot, they would make these hundred, who had previously for one year received instruction in their sacred language, write each a translation of the simple code engraved upon the bronze tablets. It was invariably discovered that these artless compositions varied only according to the ability of the lads to construe, and that some considerable proportion of them did accurately show forth in the vernacular of the time the meaning of those ancestral laws. They had further a magistrate known as the Archon. whose business it was to administrate these customs and to punish those who broke them. And this Archon, when or if he proposed something contrary to custom in the opinion of not less than a hundred petitioners, was judged by a court of children.

In this fashion for thousands of years did the Nepioi proceed with their calm and ordinary lives, enjoying themselves like so many grigs, and utterly untroubled by those broils and imaginations of State which disturbed their neighbours.

There was a legend among them (upon which the whole of this Constitution was based) that a certain Hero, one Melek, being in stature twelve foot high and no less than 93 inches round the chest, had landed in their country 150,000 years previously, and finding them very barbarous, slaying one another and unacquainted with the use of letters, the precious metals, or the art of usury, had instructed them in civilization, endowed them with letters, a coinage, police, lawyers, instruments of torture, and all the other requisites of a great State, and had finally drawn up for them this code of law or custom, which they carefully preserved engraved upon the tablets of bronze, which were set upon the walls of their chief temple on the hill outside the city.

Within the temple itself its great shrine and, so to speak, its very cause of being was the Hero's tomb. He lay therein covered with plates of gold, and it was confidently asserted and strictly and unquestionably believed that at some unknown time in the future he would come out to rule them for ever in a millennial fashion—though heaven knows they were happy enough as it was.

Among their customs was this: that certain appointed officers would at every change in the moon proclaim the former existence and virtue of Melek, his residence in the tomb, and his claims to authority. To enter the tomb, indeed, was death, but there was proof of the whole story in documents which were carefully preserved in the temple, and which were from time to time consulted and verified. The whole structure of Nepioian society reposed upon the sanctity of this story, upon the presence of the Hero in his tomb, and of his continued authority, for with this was intertwined, or rather upon this was based, the further sanctity of their customs.

Things so proceeded without hurt or cloud until upon one most unfortunate day a certain man, bearing the vulgar name of Megalocrates, which signifies a person whose health requires the use of a wide head-gear, discovered that a certain herb which grew in great abundance in their territory and had hitherto been thought useless would serve almost every purpose of the table, sufficing, according to its preparation, for meat, bread, vegetables, and salt, and, if properly distilled, for a liquor that would make the Nepioi even more drunk than did their native spirits.

From this discovery ensued a great plenty throughout the land, the population very rapidly increased, the fortunes of the wealthy grew to double, treble, and four times those which had formerly been known, the middle classes adopted a novel accent in speech and a gait hitherto unusual, while great numbers of the poor acquired the power of living upon so small a proportion of foul air, dull light, stagnant water, and mangy crusts as would have astonished their nicer forefathers. Meanwhile this great period of progress could not but lead to further discoveries, and the Nepioi had soon produced whole colleges in which were studied the arts useful to mankind and constantly discovered a larger and a larger number of surprising and useful things. At last the Nepioi (though this, perhaps, will hardly be credited) were capable of travelling underground, flying through the air, conversing with men a thousand miles away in a moment of time, and committing suicide painlessly whenever there arose occasion for that exercise.

It may be imagined with what reverence the authors of all these boons, the members of the learned colleges, were regarded; and how their opinions had in the eyes and ears of the Nepioi an unanswerable character.

Now it so happened that in one of these colleges a professor of more than ordinary position emitted one day the opinion that Melek had lived only half as long ago as was commonly supposed. In proof of this he put forward the undoubted truth that if Melek had lived at the time he was supposed to have lived, then he would have lived twice as long ago as he, the professor, said that he had lived. The more old-fashioned and stupid of the Nepioi murmured against such opinions, and though they humbly confessed themselves unable to discover any flaw in the professor's logic, they were sure he was wrong somewhere and they were greatly disturbed. But the opinion gained ground, and, what is more, this fruitful and intelligent surmise upon the part of the professor bred a whole series of further theories upon Melek, each of which contradicted the last but one, and the latest of which was always of so limpid and so self-evident a truth as to be accepted by whatever was intelligent and energetic in the population, and especially by the young unmarried women of the wealthier classes. In this manner the epoch of Melek was reduced to five, to three, to two, to one thousand years. Then to five hundred, and at last to one hundred and fifty. But here was a trouble. The records of the State, which had been carefully kept for many centuries, showed no trace of Melek's coming during any part of the time, but always referred to him as a long-distant forerunner. There was not even any mention of a man twelve foot high, nor even of one a little over 93 inches round the chest. At last it was proposed by an individual of great courage that he might be allowed to open the tomb of Melek and afterwards, if they so pleased, suffer death. This privilege was readily granted to him by the Archon. The worthy reformer, therefore, prised open the sacred shrine and found within it absolutely nothing whatsoever.

Upon this there arose among the Nepioi all manner of schools and discussions, some saying this and some that, but none with the certitude of old. Their customs fell into disrepute, and even the very professors themselves were occasionally doubted when they laid down the law upon matters in which they alone were competent—as, for instance, when they asserted that the moon was made of a peculiarly delicious edible substance which increased in savour when it was preserved in the store-rooms of the housewives; or when they affirmed with every appearance of truth that no man did evil, and that wilful murder, arson, cruelty to the innocent and the weak, and deliberate fraud were of no more disadvantage to the general state, or to men single, than the drinking of a cup of cold water.

So things proceeded until one day, when all custom and authority had fallen into this really lamentable deliquescence, fleets were observed upon the sea, manned by men-at-arms, the admiral of which sent a short message to the Archon proposing that the people of the country should send to him and his one-half of their yearly wealth for ever, "or," so the message proceeded, "take the consequences." Upon the Archon communicating this to the people there arose at once an infinity of babble, some saying one thing and some another, some proposing to pay neighbouring savages to come in and fight the invaders, others saying it would be cheaper to compromise with a large sum, but the most part agreeing that the wisest thing would be for the Archon and his great-aunt to go out to the fleet in a little boat and persuade the enemy's admiral (as they could surely easily do) that while most human acts were of doubtful responsibility and not really wicked, yet the invasion, and, above all, the impoverishment of the Nepioi was so foul a wrong as would certainly call down upon its fiendish perpetrator the fires of heaven.

While the Archon and his great-aunt were rowing out in the little boat a few doddering old men and superstitious females slunk off to consult the bronze tablets, and there found under Schedule XII these words: "If an enemy threaten the State, you shall arm and repel him." In their superstition the poor old chaps, with their half-daft female devotees accompanying them, tottered back to the crowds to persuade them to some ridiculous fanaticism or other, based on no better authority than the non-existent Melek and his absurd and exploded authority.

Judge of their horror when, as they neared the city, they saw from the height whereon the temple stood that the invaders had landed, and, having put to the sword all the inhabitants without exception, were proceeding to make an inventory of the goods and to settle the place as conquerors. The admiral summoned this remnant of the nation, and hearing what they had to say treated them with the greatest courtesy and kindness and pensioned them off for their remaining years, during which period they so instructed him and his fighting men in the mysteries of their religion as quite to convert them, and in a sense to found the Nepioian State over again; but it should be mentioned that the admiral, by way of precaution, changed that part of the religion which related to the tomb of Melek and situated the shrine in the very centre of the crater of an active volcano in the neighbourhood, which by night and day, at every season of the year, belched forth molten rock so that none could approach it within fifteen miles.

~Hilaire Belloc: from On Something

The Odd People

THE PEOPLE of Monomotapa, of whom I have written more than once, I have recently revisited; and I confess to an astonishment at the success with which they deal with the various difficulties and problems arising in their social life.

Thus, in most countries the laws of property are complex in the extreme; punishable acts in connexion with them are numerous and often difficult to define.

In Monomotapa the whole thing is settled in a very simple manner: in the first place, instead of strict laws binding men down by written words, they appoint a number of citizens who shall have it in their discretion to decide whether a man's actions are worthy of punishment or no; and these appointed citizens have also the power to assign the punishment, which may vary from a single day's imprisonment to a lifetime. So crimeless is the country, however, that in a population of over thirty millions less than twenty such nominations are necessary; I must, however, admit that these score are aided by several thousand minor judges who are appointed in a different manner.

Their method of appointment is this: it is discovered as accurately as may be by a man's manner of dress and the hours of his labour and the size of the house he inhabits, whether he have more than a certain yearly revenue; any man discovered to have more than this revenue is immediately appointed to the office of which I speak.

The power of these assessors is limited, however, for though it is left to their discretion whether their fellow-citizens are worthy of punishment or not, yet the total punishment they can inflict is limited to a certain number of years of imprisonment. In old times this sort of minor judge was not appointed in Monomotapa unless he could prove that he kept dogs in great numbers for the purposes of hunting, and at least three horses. But this foolish prejudice has broken down in the progress of modern enlightenment, and, as I have said, the test is now extended to a general consideration of clothes, the size of the house inhabited, and the amount of leisure enjoyed, the type of tobacco smoked, and other equally reasonable indications of judicial capacity.

The men thus chosen to consider the actions of their fellow-citizens in courts of law are rewarded in two ways: the first small body who are the more powerful magistrates are given a hundred times the income of an ordinary citizen, for it is claimed that in this way not only are the best men for the purpose obtained, but, further, so large a salary makes all temptation to bribery impossible and secures a strict impartiality between rich and poor.

The lesser judges, on the other hand, are paid nothing, for it is wisely pointed out that a man who is paid nothing and who volunteers his services to the State will not be the kind of a man who would take a bribe or who would consider social differences in his judgments.

It is further pointed out by the Monomotapans (I think very reasonably) that the kind of man who will give his services for nothing, even in the arduous work of imprisoning his fellow-citizens, will probably be the best man for the job, and does not need to be allured to it by the promise of a great salary. In this way they obtain both kinds of judges, and, oddly enough, each kind speaks, acts, and lives much as does the other.

I must next describe the methods by which this interesting and sensible people secure the ends of their criminal system.

When one of their magistrates has come to the conclusion that on the whole he will have a fellow-citizen imprisoned, that person is handed over to the guardianship of certain officials, whose business it is to see that the man does not die during the period for which he is entrusted to them. When some one of the numerous forms of torture which they are permitted to use has the effect of causing death, the official responsible is reprimanded and may even be dismissed. The object indeed of the whole system is to reform and amend the criminal. He is therefore forbidden to speak or to communicate in any way with human beings, and is segregated in a very small room devoid of all ornament, with the exception of one hour a day, during which he is compelled to walk round and round a deep, walled courtyard designed for the purpose of such an exercise. If (as is often the case) after some years of this treatment the criminal shows no signs of mental or moral improvement, he is released; and if he is a man of property, lives unmolested on what he has, and that usually in a quiet and retired way. But if he is devoid of property, the problem is indeed a difficult one, for it is the business of the police to forbid him to work, and they are rewarded if he is found committing any act which the judges or the magistrates are likely to disapprove. In this way even those who have failed to effect reform in their characters during their first term of imprisonment are commonly—if they are poor—re-incarcerated within a short time, so that the system works precisely as it was intended to, giving the maximum amount of reformation to the worst and the hardest characters. I should add that the Monomotapan character is such that in proportion to wealth a man's virtues increase, and it is remarkable that nearly all those who suffer the species of imprisonment I have described are of the poorer classes of society.

Though they are so reasonable, and indeed afford so excellent a model to ourselves in most of their social relations, the people of Monomotapa have, I confess, certain customs which I have never clearly understood, and which my increasing study of them fails to explain to me.

Thus, in matters which, with us, are thought susceptible of positive proof (such as the taste and quality of cooking, or the mental abilities of a fellow-citizen) the Monomotapans establish their judgment in a transcendental or super-rational manner. The cooking in a restaurant or hotel is with them excellent in proportion, not to the taste of the viands subjected to it, but to the rental of the premises. And when a man desires the most delicious food he does not consider where he has tasted such food in the past, but rather the situation and probable rateable value of the eating-house which will provide him with it. Nay, he is willing—if he understands that that rateable value is high—to pay far more for the same article than he would in a humbler hostelry.

The same super-rational method, as I have called it, applies to the Monomotapan judgment of political ability; for here it is not what a man has said or written, nor whether he has proved himself capable of foreseeing certain events of moment to the State, it is not these characters that determine his political career, but a mixture of other indices, one of which is that his brothers shall be younger than himself, another that when he speaks he shall strike the palm of his open left hand with his clenched right hand in a particular manner by no means commonly or easily acquired; another that he shall not wear at one and the same time a coat which is bifurcated and a hat of hemispherical outline; another that he shall keep silence upon certain types of foreigners who frequent the markets of Monomotapa, and shall even pretend that they are not foreigners but Monomotapans; and this index of statesmanship he must preserve under all circumstances, even when the foreigners in question cannot speak the Monomotapan language.

Some years ago it was required of every statesman that he should, for at least so many times in any one year, extravagantly praise the virtues of these foreign merchants, and particularly allude to their intensely unforeign character; but this custom has recently fallen into abeyance, and silence upon the subject is the most that is demanded.

A further social habit of this people which we should find very strange and which I for my part think unaccountable is their habit of judging the excellence of a literary production, not by the sense or even the sound of it, but by the ink in which it is printed and the paper upon which it is impressed. And this applies not only to their letters but also to their foreign information, and on this account they should (one would imagine) obtain but a very distorted view of the world. For if a good printer prints with excellent ink at five shillings a pound, and with beautiful clear type upon the best linen paper, the statement that the British Islands are uninhabited, while another in bad ink and upon flimsy paper and with worn type affirms that they contain over forty million souls, the first impression and not the second would be conveyed to the Monomotapan, mind. As a fact, however, they are not misinformed, for this singular frailty of theirs (as I conceive it to be) is moderated by one very wise countervailing mental habit of theirs, which is to believe whatever they hear asserted more than twenty-six times, so that even if the assertion be conveyed to them in bad print and upon poor paper, they will believe it if they read it over and over again to the required limits of reiterations.

No people in the world are fonder of animals than this genial race, but here again curious limits to their affection are to be discovered, for while they will tear to pieces some abandoned wretch who beats a llama with a hazel twig for its correction, they will see nothing remarkable in the tearing to pieces of an alpaca goat by dogs specially trained in that exercise.

Generally speaking, the larger an animal is, the warmer is the affection borne it by these people. Fleas and lice are crushed without pity, blackbeetles with more hesitation, small birds are spared entirely, and so on upwards until for calves they have a special legislation to protect and cherish them. At the other end of the scale, microbes are pitilessly exterminated.

Divorce is not common in Monomotapa. But such divorces as take place are very rightly treated differently, according to the wealth of the persons involved. Above a certain scale of wealth divorce is only granted after a lengthy trial in a court of justice; but with the poor it is established by the decree of a magistrate who usually, shortly after pronouncing his sentence, finds an occasion to imprison the innocent party. Moreover, the poor can be divorced in this manner, if any magistrate feels inclined to exercise his power, while for the divorce of the rich set conditions are laid down.

I should add that the Monomotapans have no religion; but the tolerance of their Constitution is nowhere better shown than in this particular, for though they themselves regard religion as ridiculous, they will permit its exercise within the State, and even occasionally give high office and emoluments to those who practise it.

We have, indeed, much to learn in this matter of religion from the race whose habits I have discovered and here describe. Nothing, perhaps, has done more to warp our own story than the hide-bound prejudice that a doctrine could not be both false and true at the same time, and the unreasoning certitude, inherited from the bad old days of clerical tyranny, that a thing either was or was not.

No such narrowness troubles the Monomotapan. He will prefer—and very wisely prefer—an opinion that renders him comfortable to one that in any way interferes with his appetites; and if two such opinions contradict each other, he will not fall into a silly casuistry which would attempt to reconcile them: he will quietly accept both, and serve the Higher Purpose with a contented mind.

It is on this account that I have said that the Monomotapans regard religion as ridiculous. For true religion, indeed (as they phrase it), they have the highest reverence; and true religion consists in following the inclinations of an honest man, that is, oneself; but "religion in the sense of fixed doctrine," as one of their priests explained to me, "is abhorrent to our free commonwealth." Thus such hair-splitting questions as whether God really exists or no, whether it be wrong to kill or to steal, whether we owe any duties to the State, and, if so, what duties, are treated by the honest Monomotapans with the contempt they deserve: they abandon such speculation for the worthy task of enjoying, each man, what his fortune permits him to enjoy.

But, as I have said above, they do not persecute the small minority living in their midst who cling with the tenacity of all starved minds to their fixed ideas; and if a man who professes certitude upon doctrinal matters is useful in other ways, they are very far from refusing his services to the State. I have known more than one, for instance, of this old-fashioned and bigoted lot who, when he offered a sum of money in order to be admitted to the Senate of Monomotapa, found it accepted as readily and cheerfully as though it had been offered by one of the broadest principles and most liberal mind.

Let no one be surprised that I have spoken of their priests, for though the Monomotapans regard religion with due contempt, it does not follow that they will take away the livelihood of a very honest class of people who in an older and barbaric state of affairs were employed to maintain the structure of what was then a public worship. The priesthood, therefore, is very justly and properly retained by the Monomotapans, subject only to a few simple duties and to a sacred intonation of voice very distressing to those not accustomed to it. If I am asked in what occupation they are employed, I answer, the wealthier of them in such sports and futilities as attract the wealthy, and the less wealthy in such futilities and sports as the less wealthy customarily enjoy. Nor is it a rigid law among them that the sons of priests should be priests, but only the custom—so far, at least, as I have been able to discover.

~Hilaire Belloc: from First and Last

Epitaph on a Politician Himself

Here richly, with ridiculous display,
The Politician’s corpse was laid away.
While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged
I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.

Another on the Same

This, the last ornament among the peers,
Bribed, bullied, swindled and blackmailed for years:
But Death’s what even Politicians fail
To bribe or swindle, bully or blackmail.

On Another Politician

The Politician, dead and turned to clay,
Will make a clout to keep the wind away.
I am not fond of draughts, and yet I doubt
If I could get myself to touch that clout.

On Yet Another

Fame to her darling Shifter glory gives;
And Shifter is immortal while he lives.

Epitaph Upon Himself

Lauda tu Ilarion audacem et splendidum,
Who was always beginning things and never ended ‘em.

~Hilaire Belloc

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