Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Immortality

HERE and there, scattered rarely among men as men are now, you will find one man who does not pursue the same ends as his fellows; but in a peculiar manner leads his life as though his eyes were fixed upon some distant goal or his appetites subjected to some constant and individual influence.

Such a man may be doing any one of many things. He may be a poet, and his occupation may be the writing of good verse, pleased at its sound and pleased as well by the reflection of the pleasure it will give to others. Or he may be devoted, and follow a creed, a single truth or a character which he loves, and whose influence and glory he makes it his business to propagate. Or he may be but a worker in some material, a carver in wood, or a manager of commercial affairs, or a governor and administrator of men, and yet so order his life that his work and his material are his object: not his gain in the end─not his appreciable and calculable gain at least─nor his immediate and ephemeral pleasures.

Such men, if you will examine them, will prove intent upon one ultimate completion of their being which is also (whether they know it or not) a reward, and those who have carefully considered the matter and give it expression say that such men are out a-hunting for Immortality.

Now what is that? There was a man, before the Normans came to England, who sailed from the highest Scandinavian mountains, I think, towards these shores, and landing, fought against men and was wounded so that he was certain to die. When they asked him why he had undertaken that adventure, he answered: "That my name might live between the lips of men."

The young, the adventurous, the admired─how eagerly and how properly do they not crave for glory. Fame has about it a divine something as it were an echo of perfect worship and of perfect praise, which, though it is itself imperfect, may well deceive the young, the adventurous, and the admired. How great to think that things well done and the enlargement of others shall call down upon our names, even when all is lost but the mere names, a continuous and an increasing benediction. Nay, more than this: how great to think of the noise only of an achievement, and to be sure that the poem written, the carving concluded, or the battle won, the achievement of itself, though the name of the achiever be perished or unknown, shall awake those tremendous echoes.

But wait a moment. What is that thing which so does and so desires? What end does it find in glory? It is not the receiver of the benefit; it will not hear that large volume of recognition and of salute. Twist it how you will no end is here, nor in such a pursuit is the pursuer satisfied.

It is true that men who love to create for themselves imaginary stuff, and to feed, their cravings, if they cannot with substance then with dreams, perpetually pretend a satisfaction in such acquirements which the years as they proceed tell them with increasing iteration that they do not feel. The young, the adventurous, the admired, may at first be deceived by such a glamour, and it is in the providential scheme of human affairs, and it is for the good of us all that the pleasing cheat should last while the good things are doing. Thus do substantial verse and noble sculpture and building whose stuff is lasting and whose beauty is almost imperishable, rise to the advantage of mankind─but oh! there is no lasting in the dream.

There comes a day of truth inwardly but ineradicably perceived, when such things, such aspirations, are clearly known for what they are. Of all the affections that pass, of all those things which being made by a power itself perishable, must be unmade again, some may be less, others more lasting, but not one remains for ever.

Nor is this all. What is it, I say, which did the thing and suffered the desire? Not the receiver, still less the work achieved, it was the man that so acted and so desired; and that part of him which was affected thus we call the Soul. Then, surely (one may reason) the soul has, apt to its own nature, a completion which is also a reward, and there is something before it which is not the symbol or the cheat of perfect praise, but is perfect praise; there is surely something before it which is not the symbol or the cheat of life, but life completed.

Now stand at night beneath a clear heaven solemn and severe with stars, comprehend (as the great achievement of our race permits us now to do) what an emptiness and what a scale are there, and you will easily discover in that one glance, or you will feel at least the appalling thing which tempts men to deny their immortality.

There is no man who has closely inquired upon this, and there is none who has troubled himself and admitted a reasonable anxiety upon it, who has not well retained the nature of despair. Those who approach their fellow-beings with assertion and with violence in such a matter, affirming their discovery, their conviction, or their acquired certitude, do an ill service to their kind. It is not thus that the last things should be approached nor the most tremendous problem which man is doomed to envisage be propounded and solved. Ah! the long business in this world! The way in which your deepest love goes up in nothingness and breaks away, and the way in which the strongest and the most continuous element of your dear self is dissipated and fails you in some moment; if I do not understand these things in a man nor comprehend how the turn of the years can obscure or obliterate a man's consciousness of what his end should be, then I act in brute ignorance, or what is much worse, in lack of charity.

How should you not be persuaded, ephemeral intelligence? Does not every matter which you have held closely enough and long enough escape you and withdraw? Is not that doom true of things which were knit into us, and were of necessity, so to speak, prime parts of our being? Is it not true of the network and the structure which supports whatever we are, and without which we cannot imagine ourselves to be? We ourselves perish. Of that there is no doubt at all. One is here talking and alive. His friends are with him: on the time when they shall meet again he is utterly not there. The motionless flesh before his mourners is nothing. It is not a simulacrum, it is not an outline, it is not a recollection of the man, but rather something wholly gone useless. As for that voice, those meanings in the eyes, and that gesture of the hand, it has suddenly and entirely ceased to be.

Then how shall we deny the dreadful conclusion (to which how many elder civilizations have not turned!) that we must seek in vain for any gift to the giver for any workers' wage, or, rather, to put it more justly, for a true end to the life we lead. Yet it is not so. The conclusion is more weighty by far that all things bear their fruit: that the comprehender and the master of so much, the very mind, suffers to no purpose and in one moment a tragic, final, and unworthy catastrophe agrees with nothing other that we know. It is not thus of the good things of the earth that turn kindly into the earth again. It cannot be thus with that which makes of all the earth a subject thing for contemplation and for description, for understanding, and, if it so choose─for sacrifice.

Those of our race who have deliberately looked upon the scroll and found there nothing to read, who have lifted the curtain and found beyond it nothing to see, have faced their conclusions with a nobility which should determine us; for that nobility does prove, or, if it does not prove, compels us to proclaim, that the soul of man which breeds it has somewhere a lasting home. The conclusion is imperative.

Let not any one pretend in his faith that his faith is immediately evident and everywhere acceptable. There is in all who pretend to judgment a sense of the doubt that lies between the one conviction and the other, and all acknowledge that the scales swing normally upon the beam for normal men. But they swing─and one is the heavier.

The poets, who are our interpreters, know well and can set forth the contrast between such intimations and such despair.

The long descent of wasted days
To these at last have led me down:
Remember that I filled with praise
The meaningless and doubtful ways
That lead to an eternal town.

Moreover, since we have spoken of the night it is only reasonable to consider the alternate dawn. The quality of light, its merry action on the mind, the daylit sky under whose benediction we repose and in which our kind has always seen the picture of its final place: are these then visions and deceits?

~Hilaire Belloc: in On Something.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Europe and the Faith: Chap. X. Conclusion

THE grand effect of the Reformation was the isolation of the soul.

This was its fruit: from this all its consequences proceed: not only those clearly noxious, which have put in jeopardy the whole of our traditions and all our happiness, but those apparently advantageous, especially in material things.

The process cannot be seen at work if we take a particular date─especially too early a date─and call it the moment of the catastrophe. There was a long interval of confusion and doubt, in which it was not certain whether the catastrophe would be final or no, in which its final form remained undetermined, and only upon the conclusion of which could modern Europe with its new divisions, and its new fates, be perceived clearly. The breach with authority began in the very first years of the sixteenth century. It is not till the middle of the seventeenth century at least, and even somewhat later, that the new era begins.

For more than a hundred years the conception of the struggle as an oecumenical struggle, as something affecting the whole body of Europe, continued. The general upheaval, the revolt, which first shook the West in the early years of the sixteenth century─to take a particular year, the year 1517─concerned all our civilization, was everywhere debated, produced an universal reaction met by as universal a resistance, for three generations of men. No young man who saw the first outbreak of the storm could imagine it even in old age, as a disruption of Europe. No such man lived to see it more than half way through.

It was not till a corresponding date in the succeeding century─or rather later─not till Elizabeth of England and Henry IV. of France were dead (and all the protagonists, the Reformers on the one side, Loyola, Neri, on the other, long dead) not till the career of Richelieu in the one country and the beginnings of an aristocratic Parliament in England were apparent, that the Reformation could clearly be seen to have separated certain districts of our civilization from the general traditions of the whole, and to have produced, in special regions and sections of society, the peculiar Protestant type which was to mark the future.

The work of the Reformation was accomplished, one may say, a little after the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. England in particular was definitely Protestant by the decade 1620-1630─hardly earlier. The French Huguenot body, though still confused with political effort, had come to have a separate and real existence at about the same time. The Oligarchy of Dutch merchants had similarly cut off their part of the Low Countries from imperial rule, and virtually established their independence. The North German Principalities and sundry smaller states of the mountains (notably Geneva), had definitely received the new stamp. As definitely France, Bohemia, the Danube, Poland and Italy and all the South were saved.

Though an armed struggle was long to continue, though the North Germans were nearly recaptured by the Imperial Power and only saved by French policy, though we were to have a reflex of it here in the Civil Wars and the destruction of the Crown, and though the last struggle against the Stuarts and the greater general war against Louis XIV. were but sequels to the vast affair, yet the great consequence of that affair was fixed before these wars began. The first third of the seventeenth century launches a new epoch. From about that time there go forward upon parallel lines the great spiritual and consequent temporal processes of modern Europe. They have yet to come to judgment, for they are not yet fulfilled: but perhaps their judgment is near.

These processes filling the last three hundred years have been as follows: (1) A rapid extension of physical science and with it of every other form of acquaintance with demonstrable and measurable things. (2) The rise, chiefly in the new Protestant part of Europe (but spreading thence in part to the Catholic) of what we call today "Capitalism," that is, the possession of the means of production by the few, and their exploitation of the many. (3) The corruption of the principle of authority until it was confused with mere force. (4) The general, though not universal, growth of total wealth with the growth of physical knowledge. (5) The ever widening effect of skepticism, which, whether masked under traditional forms or no, was from the beginning a spirit of _complete_ negation and led at last to the questioning not only of any human institutions, but of the very forms of thought and of the mathematical truths. (6) With all these of course we have had a universal mark─the progressive extension of despair.

Could anyone look back upon these three centuries from some very great distance of time, he would see them as an episode of extraordinary extension in things that should be dissociated: knowledge and wealth, on the one hand, the unhappiness of men upon the other. And he would see that as the process matured, or rather as the corruption deepened, all its marks were pushed to a degree so extreme as to jeopardize at last the very structure of European society. Physical science acquired such power, the oppression of the poor was pushed to such a length, the reasoning spirit in man was permitted to attain such a tottering pitch of insecurity, that a question never yet put to Europe arose at last─whether Europe, not from external foes, but from her own inward lesion may not fail.

Corresponding to that terrible and as yet unanswered question─the culmination of so much evil─necessarily arises this the sole vital formula of our time: "Europe must return to the Faith, or she will perish."

* * * * *

I have said that the prime product of the Reformation was the isolation of the soul. That truth contains, in its development, very much more than its mere statement might promise.

The isolation of the soul means a loss of corporate sustenance; of the sane balance produced by general experience, the weight of security, and the general will. The isolation of the soul is the very definition of its unhappiness. But this solvent applied to society does very much more than merely complete and confirm human misery.

In the first place and underlying all, the isolation of the soul releases in a society a furious new accession of _force_. The break-up of any stable system in physics, as in society, makes actual a prodigious reserve of potential energy. It transforms the power that was keeping things together with a power driving separably each component part: the effect of an explosion. That is why the Reformation launched the whole series of material advance, but launched it chaotically and on divergent lines which would only end in disaster. But the thing had many other results.

Thus, we next notice that the new isolation of the soul compelled the isolated soul to strong vagaries. The soul will not remain in the void. If you blind it, it will grope. If it cannot grasp what it appreciates by every sense, it will grasp what it appreciates by only one.

On this account in the dissolution of the corporate sense and of corporate religion you had successive idols set up, worthy and unworthy, none of them permanent. The highest and the most permanent was a reaction towards corporate life in the shape of a worship of nationality─patriotism.

You had at one end of the scale an extraordinary new tabus, the erection in one place of a sort of maniac god, blood-thirsty, an object of terror. In another (or the same) a curious new ritual observance of nothingness upon every seventh day. In another an irrational attachment to a particular printed book. In another successive conceptions: first, that the human reason was sufficient for the whole foundations of human life─that there were no mysteries: next, the opposite extravagance that the human reason had no authority even in its own sphere. And these two, though contradictory, had one root. The rationalism of the eighteenth century carried on through the materialism of the nineteenth, the irrational doubts of Kant (which included much emotional rubbish) carried on to the sheer chaos of the later metaphysicians, with their denial of contradictions, and even of being. Both sprang from this necessity of the unsupported soul to make itself some system from within: as the unsupported soul, in an evil dream, now stifles in strict confinement and is next dissolved in some fearful emptiness.

All this, the first interior effect of the Reformation, strong in proportion to the strength of the reforming movement, powerful in the regions or sects which had broken away, far less powerful in those which had maintained the Faith, would seem to have run its full course, and to have settled at last into universal negation and a universal challenge proffered to every institution, and every postulate. But since humanity cannot repose in such a stage of anarchy, we may well believe that there is coming, or has already begun, yet another stage, in which the lack of corporate support for the soul will breed attempted strange religions: witchcrafts and necromancies.

It may be so. It may be that the great debate will come up for final settlement before such novel diseases spread far. At any rate, for the moment we are clearly in a stage of complete negation. But it is to be repeated that this breaking up of the foundations differs in degree with varying societies, that still in a great mass of Europe, numerically the half perhaps, the necessary anchors of sanity still hold: and that half is the half where directly by the practice of the Faith, or indirectly through a hold upon some part of its tradition, the Catholic Church exercises an admitted or distant authority over the minds of men.

The next process we note is─by what some may think a paradox─also due to the isolation of the soul. It is the process of increasing knowledge. Men acting in a fashion highly corporate will not so readily question, nor therefore so readily examine, as will men acting alone. Men whose major results are taken upon an accepted philosophy, will not be driven by such a need of inquiry as those who have abandoned that guide. In the moment, more than a thousand years ago, when the last of the evangelizing floodtide was still running strongly, a very great man wrote of the physical sciences: "Upon such toys I wasted my youth." And another wrote, speaking of divine knowledge: "All the rest is smoke."

But in the absences of faith, demonstrable things are the sole consolation.

There are three forms in which the human mind can hold the truth: The form of Science, which means that we accept a thing through demonstration, and therefore cannot admit the possibility of its opposite. The form of Opinion, which means that we accept a thing through probability, that is through a partial, but not complete demonstration, and therefore we do not deny the possibility of the opposite. The form of Faith, where we accept the thing without demonstration and yet deny the possibility of its opposite, as for instance, the faith of all men, not mad, in the existence of the universe about them, and of other human minds.

When acknowledged and defined Faith departs, it is clear that of the remaining two rivals, Opinion has no ground against Science. That which can be demonstrated holds all the field. Indeed, it is the mark of modern insufficiency that it can conceive of no other form of certitude save certitude through demonstration, and therefore does not, as a rule, appreciate even its own unproved first principles.

Well, this function of the isolated soul, inquiry and the necessity for demonstration for individual conviction through measurement and physical fixed knowledge, has occupied, as we all know, the three modern centuries. We all are equally familiar with its prodigious results. Not one of them has, as yet, added to human happiness: not one but has been increasingly misused to the misery of man. There is in the tragedy something comic also, which is the perpetual puzzlement of these the very authors of discovery, to find that, somehow or other, discovery alone does not create joy, and that, somehow or other, a great knowledge can be used ill, as anything else can be used ill. Also in their bewilderment, many turn to a yet further extension of physical science as promising, in some illogical way, relief.

A progression in physical science and in the use of instruments is so natural to man (so long as civic order is preserved) that it would, indeed, have taken place, not so rapidly, but as surely, had the unity of Europe been preserved. But the destruction of that unity totally accelerated the pace and as totally threw the movement off its rails.

The Renaissance, a noble and vividly European thing, was much older than the Reformation, which was its perversion and corruption. The doors upon modern knowledge had been opened before the soul, which was to enter them, had been cut off from its fellows. We owe the miscarriage of all our great endeavor in this field, not to that spring of endeavor, but to its deflection. It is a blasphemy to deny the value of advancing knowledge, and at once a cowardice and a folly to fear it for its supposed consequences. Its consequences are only evil through an evil use, that is, through an evil philosophy.

In connection with this release of powerful inquiry through the isolation of the soul, you have an apparently contradictory, and certainly supplementary effect: the setting up of unfounded external authority. It is a curious development, one very little recognized, but one which a fixed observance of the modern world will immediately reveal; and those who come to see it are invariably astonished at the magnitude of its action. Men─under the very influence of skepticism─have come to accept almost any printed matter, almost any repeated name, as an authority infallible and to be admitted without question. They have come to regard the denial of such authority as a sort of insanity, or rather they have in most practical affairs, come to be divided into two groups: a small number of men, who know the truth, say, upon a political matter or some financial arrangement, or some unsolved problem; and a vast majority, which accepts without question an always incomplete, a usually quite false, statement of the thing because it has been repeated in the daily press and vulgarized in a hundred books.

This singular and fantastic result of the long divorce between the non-Catholic mind and reason has a profound effect upon the modern world. Indeed, the great battle about to be engaged between chaos and order will turn largely upon this form of suggestion, this acceptation of an unfounded and irrational authority.

Lastly, there is of the major consequences of the Reformation that phenomenon which we have come to call "Capitalism," and which many, recognizing its universal evil, wrongly regard as the prime obstacle to right settlement of human society and to the solution of our now intolerable modern strains.

What is called "Capitalism" arose directly in all its branches from the isolation of the soul. That isolation permitted an unrestricted competition. It gave to superior cunning and even to superior talent an unchecked career. It gave every license to greed. And on the other side it broke down the corporate bonds whereby men maintain themselves in an economic stability. Through it there arose in England first, later throughout the more active Protestant nations, and later still in various degrees throughout the rest of Christendom, a system under which a few possessed the land and the machinery of production, and the many were gradually dispossessed. The many thus dispossessed could only exist upon doles meted out by the possessors, nor was human life a care to these. The possessors also mastered the state and all its organs─hence the great National Debts which accompanied the system: hence even the financial hold of distant and alien men upon subject provinces of economic effort: hence the draining of wealth not only from increasingly dissatisfied subjects over-seas, but from the individual producers of foreign independent states.

The true conception of property disappears under such an arrangement, and you naturally get a demand for relief through the denial of the principle of ownership altogether. Here again, as in the matter of the irrational _tabus_ and of skepticism, two apparently contradictory things have one root: Capitalism, and the ideal inhuman system (not realizable) called Socialism, both spring from one type of mind and both apply to one kind of diseased society.

Against both, the pillar of reaction is peasant society, and peasant society has proved throughout Europe largely coördinate with the remaining authority of the Catholic Church. For a peasant society does not mean a society composed of peasants, but one in which modern Industrial Capitalism yields to agriculture, and in which agriculture is, in the main, conducted by men possessed in part or altogether of their instruments of production and of the soil, either through ownership or customary tenure. In such a society all the institutions of the state repose upon an underlying conception of secure and well-divided private property which can never be questioned and which colors all men's minds. And that doctrine, like every other sane doctrine, though applicable only to temporal conditions, has the firm support of the Catholic Church.

* * * * *

So things have gone. We have reached at last, as the final result of that catastrophe three hundred years ago, a state of society which cannot endure and a dissolution of standards, a melting of the spiritual framework, such that the body politic fails. Men everywhere feel that an attempt to continue down this endless and ever darkening road is like the piling up of debt. We go further and further from a settlement. Our various forms of knowledge diverge more and more. Authority, the very principle of life, loses its meaning, and this awful edifice of civilization which we have inherited, and which is still our trust, trembles and threatens to crash down. It is clearly insecure. It may fall in any moment. We who still live may see the ruin. But ruin when it comes is not only a sudden, it is also a final, thing.

In such a crux there remains the historical truth: that this our European structure, built upon the noble foundations of classical antiquity, was formed through, exists by, is consonant to, and will stand only in the mold of, the Catholic Church.

Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish.

The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith.

~Hilaire Belloc

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On Fame

FAME is that repute among men which gives us pleasure. It needs much repetition, but also that repetition honourable. Of all things desired Fame least fulfils the desire for it; for if Fame is to be very great a man must be dead before it is more than a shoot; he therefore has not the enjoyment of it (as it would seem). Again, Fame while a man lives is always tarnished with falsehood; for since few can observe him; and less know him, he must have Fame for work which he does not do and forego Fame for work which he knows deserves it.

Fame has no proper ending to it, when it is first begun, as have things belonging to other appetites, nor is any man satiated with it at any time. Upon the contrary, the hunger after it will lead a man forward madly always to some sort of disaster, whether of disappointment in the soul, or of open dishonour.

Fame is not to be despised or trodden under as a thing not to be sought, for no man is free of the desire of it, nor can any man believe that desire to be an imperfection in him unless he desire at the same time something greater than Fame, and even then there is a flavour of Fame certain to attach to his achievement in the greater thing. No one can say of Fame, “I contemn it”; as a man can say of titles, “I contemn them.” Nor can any man say of the love of Fame, “This is a thing I should cast from me as evil,” as a man can say of lust when it is inordinate, that is, out of place. Nor can any man say of Fame, “It is a little thing,” for if he says that he is less or more than a man.

The love of Fame is the mobile of all great work in which also man is in the image of God, who not only created but took pleasure in what he did and, as we know, is satisfied by praise thereof.

In what way, then, shall men treat Fame? How shall they seek it, or hope to use it if obtained? To these questions it is best answered that a man should have for Fame a natural appetite, not forced nor curiously entertained; it must be present in him if he would do noble things. Yet if he makes the Fame of those things, and not those things themselves his chief business, then not only will he pursue Fame to his hurt, but also Fame will miss him. Though he should not disregard it yet he must not pursue it to himself too much, but he will rightly make of it in difficult times a great consolation.

When Fame comes upon a man well before death then must he most particularly beware of it, for is it then most dangerous. Neither must he, having achieved it, relax effort not (a much greater peril) think he has done his work because some Fame now attaches thereto.

Some say that after a man has died the spreading of his earthly Fame is still a pleasure to him among greater scenes: but this is doubtful. One thing is certain, Fame is enjoyable in good things accomplished; bitter, noisome and poisonous in all other things—whether it be the Fame of things thought to be accomplished but not accomplished, or Fame got by accident, or Fame for evil things concealed because they are evil.

The judgment of Fame is this: That many men having done great things of a good sort have not Fame. And that many men have Fame who have done little things and most of them evil. The virtue of Fame is that it nourishes endeavour. The peril of Fame is that it leads men towards itself, and therefore into inanities and sheer loss. But Fame has a fruit, which is a sort of satisfaction coming from our communion with mankind.

They that believe they deserve Fame though they lack it may be consoled in this: that soon they shall be concerned with much more lasting things, and things more immediate and more true: just as a man who misses some entertainment at a show will console himself if he knows that shortly he shall meet his love. They that have Fame may correct its extravagances by the same token: remembering that shortly they will be so occupied that this earthly Fame of theirs will seem a toy. Old men know this well.  

~Hilaire Belloc: in This And That And The Other.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ballade To Our Lady Of Czestochowa

Lady and Queen and Mystery manifold 
And very Regent of the untroubled sky, 
Whom in a dream St. Hilda did behold 
And heard a woodland music passing by: 
You shall receive me when the clouds are high 
With evening and the sheep attain the fold. 
This is the faith that I have held and hold, 
And this is that in which I mean to die. 


Steep are the seas and savaging and cold 
In broken waters terrible to try; 
And vast against the winter night the wold, 
And harbourless for any sail to lie. 
But you shall lead me to the lights, and I 
Shall hymn you in a harbour story told. 
This is the faith that I have held and hold, 
And this is that in which I mean to die. 


Help of the half-defeated, House of gold, 
Shrine of the Sword, and Tower of Ivory; 
Splendour apart, supreme and aureoled, 
The Battler's vision and the World's reply. 
You shall restore me, O my last Ally, 
To vengence and the glories of the bold. 
This is the faith that I have held and hold, 
And this is that in which I mean to die. 


Prince of the degradations, bought and sold, 
These verses, written in your crumbling sty, 
Proclaim the faith that I have held and hold 
And publish that in which I mean to die.

~Hilaire Belloc

The Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland. (Original painting)

See also, The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, a commentary by Zsolt Aradi.

Monday, December 7, 2015

On Bridges

STAND on the side of a stream and consider two things: the imbecility of your private nature and the genius of your common kind.

For you cannot cross the stream, you─Individual you; but Man (from whence you come) has found out an art for crossing it. This art is the building of bridges. And hence man in the general may properly be called Pontifex, or "The Bridge Builder"; and his symbolic summits of office will carry some such title.

Here I will confess (Individual) that I am tempted to leave you by the side of the stream, to swim it if you can, to drown if you can't, or to go back home and be eaten out with your desire for the ulterior shore, while I digress upon that word Pontifex, which, note you, is not only a name over a shop as "Henry Pontifex, Italian Warehouseman," or "Pontifex Brothers, Barbers," but a true key-word breeding ideas and making one consider the greatness of man, or rather the greatness of what made him.

For man builds bridges over streams, and he has built bridges more or less stable between mind and mind (a difficult art!), having designed letters for that purpose, which are his instrument; and man builds by prayer a bridge between himself and God; man also builds bridges which unite him with Beauty all about.

Thus he paints and draws and makes statues, and builds for beauty as well as for shelter from the weather. And man builds bridges between knowledge and knowledge, co-ordinating one thing that he knows with another thing that he knows, and putting a bridge from each to each. And man is for ever building─but he has never yet completed, nor ever will─that bridge they call philosophy, which is to explain himself in relation to that whence he came. I say, when his skeleton is put in the Museum properly labelled, it shall be labelled not Homo Sapiens, but Homo Pontifex; hence also the anthem, or rather the choral response, "Pontificem habemus," which is sung so nobly by pontifical great choirs, when pontifications are pontificated, as behooves the court of a Pontiff.

Nevertheless (Individual) I will not leave you there, for I have pity on you, and I will explain to you the nature of bridges. By a bridge was man's first worry overcome. For note you, there is no worry so considerable as to wail by impassable streams (as Swinburne has it). It is the proper occupation of the less fortunate dead.

Believe me, without bridges the world would be very different to you. You take them for granted, you lollop along the road, you cross a bridge. You may be so ungrateful as to forget all about it, but it is an awful thing!

A bridge is a violation of the will of nature and a challenge. "You desired me not to cross," says man to the River God, "but I will." And he does so: not easily. The god had never objected to him that he should swim and wet himself. Nay, when he was swimming the god could drown him at will, but to bridge the stream, nay, to insult it, to leap over it, that was man all over; in a way he knows that the earthy gods are less than himself and that all that he dreads is his inferior, for only that which he reveres and loves can properly claim his allegiance. Nor does he in the long run pay that allegiance save to holiness, or in a lesser way to valour and to worth.

Man cannot build bridges everywhere. They are not multitudinous as are his roads, nor universal as are his pastures and his tillage. He builds from time to time in one rare place and another, and the bridge always remains a sacred thing. Moreover, the bridge is always in peril. The little bridge at Paris which carried the Roman road to the island was swept away continually; and the bridge of Staines that carried the Roman road from the great port to London was utterly destroyed.

Bridges have always lived with fear in their hearts; and if you think this is only true of old bridges (Individual), have you forgotten the Tay Bridge with the train upon it? Or the bridge that they were building over the St. Lawrence some little time ago, or the bridge across the Loire where those peasants went to their death on a Sunday only a few months since? Carefully consider these things and remember that the building and the sustaining of a bridge is always a wonderful and therefore a perilous thing.

No bridges more testify to the soul of man than the bridges that leap in one arch from height to height over the gorge of a torrent. Many of these are called the Devil's Bridges with good reason, for they suggest art beyond man's power, and there are two to be crossed and wondered at, one in Wales in the mountains, and another in Switzerland, also in the mountains. There is a third in the mountains at the gate of the Sahara, of the same sort, jumping from rock to rock. But it is not called the Devil's Bridge. It is called with Semitic simplicity "El Kantara," and that is the name the Arabs gave to the old bridges, to the lordly bridges of the Romans, wherever they came across them, for the Arabs were as incapable of making bridges as they were of doing anything else except singing love songs and riding about on horses. "Alcantara" is a name all over Spain, and it is in the heart of the capital of Portugal, and it is fixed in the wilds of Estremadura. You get it outside Constantine also where the bridge spans the gulf. Never did an Arab see bridges but he wondered.

Our people also, though they were not of the sort to stand with their mouths open in front of bridges or anything else, felt the mystery of these things. And they put chapels in the middle of them, as you may see at Bale, and at Bradford-upon-Avon, and especially was there one upon old London Bridge, which was dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket, and was very large. And speaking of old London Bridge, every one in London should revere bridges, for a great number of reasons.

In the first place London never would have been London but for London Bridge.

In the second place, bridges enable the people of London to visit the south of the river, which is full of pleasing and extraordinary sights, and in which may be seen, visibly present to the eye, Democracy. If any one doubts this let him take the voyage.

Then again, but for bridges Londoners could not see the river except from the Embankment, which is an empty sort of place, or from the windows of hotels. Bridges also permit railways from the south to enter London. If this seems to you a commonplace, visit New York or for ever after hold your peace.

All things have been degraded in our time and have also been multiplied, which is perhaps a condition of degradation; and your simple thing, your bridge, has suffered with the rest. Men have invented all manner of bridges: tubular bridges, suspension bridges, cantilever bridges, swing bridges, pontoon bridges, and the bridge called the Russian Bridge, which is intolerable; but they have not been able to do with the bridge what they have done with some other things: they have not been able to destroy it; it is still a bridge, still perilous, and still a triumph. The bridge still remains the thing which may go at any moment and yet the thing which, when it remains, remains our oldest monument. There is a bridge over the Euphrates─I forget whether it goes all the way across─which the Romans built. And the oldest thing in the way of bridges in the town of Paris, a thing three hundred years old, was the bridge that stood the late floods best. The bridge will remain a symbol in spite of the engineers.

Look how differently men have treated bridges according to the passing mood of civilization. Once they thought it reasonable to tax people who crossed bridges. Now they think it unreasonable. Yet the one course was as reasonable as the other. Once they built houses on bridges, clearly perceiving that there was lack of room for houses, and that there was a housing problem, and that the bridges gave a splendid chance. Now no one dares to build a house upon a bridge, and the one proceeding is as reasonable as the other.

The time has come to talk at random about bridges.

The ugliest bridge in the world runs from Lambeth to the Horseferry Road, and takes the place of the old British trackway which here crossed the Thames. About the middle of it, if you will grope in the mud, you may or may not find the great Seal of England which James II there cast into the flood. If it was fished up again, why then it is not there. The most beautiful bridge in London is Waterloo Bridge; the most historic is London Bridge; and far the most useful Westminster Bridge. The most famous bridge in Italy to tourists is the old bridge at Florence, and the best known from pictures the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. That with the best chance of an eternal fame is the bridge which carries the road from Tizzano to Serchia over the gully of the muddy Apennines, for upon the 18th of June, 1901, it was broken down in the middle of the night, and very nearly cost the life of a man who could ill afford it. The place where a bridge is most needed, and is not present, is the Ford of Fornovo. The place where there is most bridge and where it is least needed is the railway bridge at Venice. The bridge that trembles most is the Bridge of Piacenza. The bridge that frightens you most is the Brooklyn Bridge, and the bridge that frightens you least is the bridge in St. James's Park; for even if you are terrified by water in every form, as are too many boastful men, you must know, or can be told, that there is but a dampness of some inches in the sheet below. The longest bridge for boring one is the railway bridge across the Somme to St. Valery, whence Duke William started with a horseshoe mouth and very glum upon his doubtful adventure to invade these shores─but there was no bridge in his time. The shortest bridge is made of a plank, in the village of Loudwater in the county of Bucks, not far from those Chiltern Hundreds which men take in Parliament for the good of their health as a man might take the waters. The most entertaining bridge is the Tower Bridge, which lifts up and splits into two just as you are beginning to cross it, as can be testified by a cloud of witnesses. The broadest bridge is the Alexandre III Bridge in Paris, at least it looks the broadest, while the narrowest bridge, without a shadow of doubt, is the bridge that was built by ants in the moon; if the phrase startles you remember it is only in a novel by Wells.

The first elliptical bridge was designed by a monk of Cortona, and the first round one by Adam....

But one might go on indefinitely about bridges and I am heartily tired of them. Let them cross and recross the streams of the world. I for my part will stay upon my own side.

~Hilaire Belloc

Part of Old Westminster Bridge, by Samuel Scott.
Oil on canvas, c. 1750; Tate Gallery, London.

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