Friday, December 23, 2016

The Sailor's Carol

The Sailor

"Noël ! Noël ! Noël ! Noël !
A Catholic tale have I to tell !
And a Christian song have I to sing
While all the bells in Arundel ring.

"I pray good beef and I pray good beer
This holy night of all the year,
But I pay detestable drink for them
That give no honour to Bethlehem.

"May all good fellows that here agree
Drink Audit Ale in heaven with me
And may all my enemies go to hell!
Noël ! Noël ! Noël ! Noël !
May all my enemies go to hell !
Noël ! Noël !"

Grizzlebeard. "Rank blasphemy I said, and heresy, which is worse. For at Christmas we should in particular forgive our enemies."
The Sailor. "I do. This song is about those that do not forgive me."
The Poet. "And it is bad verse, like all the rest."
The Sailor. "Go drown yourself in milk and water; it is great, hefty howl-verse, as strong and meaty as that other of mine was lovely and be-winged."
Grizzlebeard. "What neither the Poet nor you seem to know, Sailor, is that the quarrels of versifiers are tedious to stand-by, so let us go into the Cricketers' Arms and eat as you say, in God's name, and occupy ourselves with something pleasanter than the disputed lyric."

~Hilaire Belloc: from The Four Men: A Farrago

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Pelagian Drinking Song

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall ─
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!

~Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On Patmos

SOME time ago I happened to be sailing down south along the eastern coast of the island of Patmos, which I had never seen before save once from a very long way off from the west. Now, being close at hand, I was able to appreciate it more exactly and to see how the high outline of the island leads up to the Monastery of St. John towards the summit.
Monastery of St. John today
We all speak of the great beauty these Aegean islands show; and so they do in general outline. That sea which is so heavenly of itself in colour and texture is made the more wonderful by this diversity of its islands—every shade of hue from the intense green above the near shores to the last amethyst on the horizon, which may be land or may be cloud a long day’s sail away. But one thing strikes the western eye at once even more than colour, and that is the bareness of the land.
It is not the glittering bareness of limestone rocks such as makes the burning shores of Provence look half desert. The rounded slopes of Patmos and of nearly all the other islands which crowd all those lovely waters are fertile. They would bear dense growth and nourish large trees, as in antiquity they did. What has destroyed the forests has been the Mohammedan blight.

Islam is the enemy of the free, as it is the enemy of all patient and continuous human effort. Islam will cut down for fuel or for building or for mere devastation, but it will not be at pains to replant, still less at the pains of protecting the young shoots against goats and other enemies. So Patmos, though it is green, is bare, like all its neighbors between Crete and the Dardanelles. We do not see, when we look on it, the things that St. John saw, we see something that has been ravaged. In St. John’s time it was wooded. It even had groves of palm (a few of which remain). It was human with leaves. Now it is stripped and naked.

If that is true of the absence of trees, it is even more true of the absence of houses. There is no greater contrast between the east and the west of the Mediterranean, at any rate between the main Christian part and the shores which the Turks harried rather than governed, than this drawing back of human habitation from the sea line. There is no greater mark of what the Turk meant to the inhabitants of the Greek islands. He meant sporadic massacre and loot, both when he could not protect his subjects from piracy and when he himself fell into one of his fits of anti-Christian rage.

Men built under the shadow of that terror. They built little. They built far apart and sparsely. Their number declined. If we could get a full picture of what all that sea-world was in early Christian time and compare it with what we see to-day we should understand what ruin false doctrine can bring upon the world. The ancient paganism, being a preparation for the Faith, did no such hurt. It was Mohammedanism, the greatest and most virulent of the heresies (and most persistent), which must bear the blame.

Another thought which struck me as I passed those famous but now lonely coasts was the meaning in those days—and long since—of exile. St. John was exiled on Patmos. It was conveniently near to Ephesus, and yet thoroughly cut off. It was a small place, and therefore easily guarded, yet there is here an historical problem, which I have never seen solved and which is this: what was the exact meaning of exile?

It was, we may say, a sort of free and large imprisonment. The chief burden of it (for most men) was separation from home and friends. All that we know; but how was it enforced?

 The modern world is full of an elaborate and ubiquitous police system both public and private. You never know in London or Paris in any public place or vehicle, whether the person next you may not be what is prettily called “a secret agent.” But that is one of the recent blessings of civilisation. Antiquity was more haphazard. A little place like Patmos could be watched fairly closely, but it could not have been impossible for an exile to make away. How did they keep an important man like Ovid marooned on the shores of the Black Sea? For the matter of that, how could Louis XIV, centuries later, be certain that a noble whom he “exiled” from his court to the provinces would “stay put”?

Another very much larger problem, an enormously more important question, arises in the mind as one looks at Patmos from the sea. It needs to be answered in a fashion at once delicate and profound. It is this: why did there thus arise an acute antagonism between the Catholic Church and the ancient civilisation from which we all spring? That civilisation is our own. It was the seed plot of the Faith, the Greco-Roman world was that which the Church permeated, transformed, and ultimately restored in better form after the ordeal of the Dark Ages. Why did it struggle so against the first stirrings of the Truth? The exile of St. John on Patmos was one of the very early examples of that conflict which was to endure for more than three long life-times. What was their quarrel with us? Why did Tertullian say that the twin sisters, the Empire and the Church should be at one, save that the Caesars could not be Christian? Why did it take the Caesars so long to accept their destiny? We have never had a complete solution to that enigma.

We know very well why the virulent, debased, modern hostility to the Faith is what it is. It is the hatred of corruption for health, the hatred of vice for virtue. But why should that which made the height of loveliness in verse and in stone have wrestled with complete beauty, and attempted to destroy the only final harmony?

I would suggest that the battle arose from those clouded but profound intimations of the future, “the cry of the unborn,” which seem, in some mysterious way, to affect men before the event. They make them dimly sentient of what is not, but is to be. The Catholic Church did not come to destroy but to complete. Unfortunately, that which it came to complete was too well satisfied with its own evil as well as with its own good. The threat of so much change was a mortal challenge. Hence (as it seems to me) the growing friction between the ancient Roman Empire and the Catholic Church for which that Empire was so noble a preparation. Hence, I think also, the explanation of the violence in which the persecutions ended. There was sort of spasm, a life and death struggle, at the very end, which we call by the general name of the “Diocletian persecution”—though Diocletian himself, poor man, was hardly the principal culprit.

There is about the Catholic Church something absolute which demands, provokes, necessitates alliance or hostility, friendship or enmity. That truth you find unchangeable throughout the ages, and therefore it is, that on the first appearance of the Church, the challenge is already declared—and that is what is meant by Patmos.

There was very much more of course that came into mind as I steamed slowly southward into the evening and along the coast and beyond it; and of all the thoughts that crowded in this one predominated: “What a testimony it is to St. John that his high vision should have been specially challenged by the enemies of religion!” It was not only the pagan world of the Aegean coast which singled him out for an enemy. It is, and has been, much more the modern anti-Christian attack which is and has been obsessed by him.

He is well able to meet it.

~Places: Essays by Hilaire Belloc (1942)

St. John Altarpiece (right wing), by Hans Memling.
Oil on oak panel, 1474-79;
Memlingmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"The Party System"

“MOST Englishmen until very lately, if told that they were not self-governing, would have laughed in your face.

“But now a dim suspicion has begun to arise in the minds of at least a section of the people that this historic optimism is not quite as true as it looks, that the electors do not as a fact control the representatives, and that the representatives do not as a fact control the Government, that something alien has intervened between electors and elected, between legislature and Executive, something that deflects the working of representative institutions.

“That thing is the Party System.”

~Hilaire Belloc & Cecil Chesterton: The Party System, Part I. (1911)

"How did Islam arise?"

"HOW did Islam arise? It was not, as our popular historical textbooks would have it, a "new religion." It was a direct derivative from the Catholic Church. It was essentially, in its origin, a heresy: like Arianism or Albigensians."

~Hilaire Belloc: Survivals and New Arrivals―V. New Arrivals.

"Teaching is today ruined"

"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."

~Hilaire Belloc: On the Reading of History

Syrian and Palestine

“SYRIA, the battleground of great empires and of much more important religions, was, at its beginnings, and remains to this day, a battleground of nature: the battle ground between the desert and the rain.”

Thursday, October 27, 2016

On Gilbert Chesterton

"ALL men one may say, or very nearly all men, have one leading moral defect.  Few have one leading Christian virtue. That of Gilbert Chesterton was unmistakably the virtue of Christian charity:  a virtue especially rare in writing men, and rarest of all in such of them as have a pursuing appetite for controversy—that is, for bolting out the truth."

~Hilaire Belloc: On the Place of Gilbert Chesterton in English Letters.

Read the complete essay here

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The 'Modern Mind'

"IT [the popular Press] tends, for instance, to substitute notoriety for fame, and to base notoriety upon ridiculous accidents of wealth or adventure. Again, it presents as objects for admiration a bundle of things incongruous: a few of some moment, the great part trivial. Above all it grossly distorts.

"Its chief force as a sustainer of the "Modern Mind" lies in its power to intensify any disease prevalent in the masses, and especially in the human dust of our great towns. Thus the "Modern Mind" dislikes thinking: the popular Press increases that sloth by providing sensational substitutes. Disliking thought, the "Modern Mind" dislikes close attention, and indeed any sustained effort; the popular Press increases the debility by an orgy of pictures and headlines. The "Modern Mind" ascribes a false authority to reiteration; the popular Press serves it with ceaseless iteration."

~Hilaire Belloc: Survivals and New Arrivals, Chap. IV─The Main Opposition.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


I, from a window where the Meuse is wide,
Looked eastward out to the September night;
The men that in the hopeless battle died
Rose, and deployed, and stationed for the fight;
A brumal army, vague and ordered large
For mile on mile by some pale general,–
I saw them lean by companies to the charge,
But no man living heard the bugle-call.

And fading still, and pointing to their scars,
They fled in lessening clouds, where gray and high
Dawn lay along the heaven in misty bars;
But watching from that eastern casement, I
Saw the Republic splendid in the sky,
And round her terrible head the morning stars.

~Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Barbarians

THE use of analogy, which is so wise and necessary a thing in historical judgment, has a knack of slipping into the falsest forms. 

When ancient civilisation broke down its breakdown was accompanied by the infiltration of barbaric auxiliaries into the Roman armies, by the settlement of Barbarians (probably in small numbers), upon Roman land, and, in some provinces, by devastating, though not usually permanent, irruptions of barbaric hordes. 

The presence of these foreign elements, coupled with the gradual loss of so many arts, led men to speak of "the Barbarian invasions" as though these were a principal cause of what was in reality no more than the old age and fatigue of an antique society. 

Upon the model of this conception men, watching the dissolution of our own civilisation to-day, or at least its corruption, have asked themselves whence those Barbarians would come that should complete its final ruin. The first, the least scholarly and the most obvious idea was that of the swamping of Europe by the East. It was a conception which required no learning, nor even any humour. It was widely adopted and it was ridiculous. Others, with somewhat more grasp of reality, coined the phrase "that the barbarians which should destroy the civilisation of Europe were already breeding under the terrible conditions of our great cities." This guess contained, indeed, a half-truth, for though the degradation of human life in the great industrial cities of England and the United States was not a cause of our decline it was very certainly a symptom of it. Moreover, industrial society, notably in this country and in Germany, while increasing rapidly in numbers, is breeding steadily from the worst and most degraded types.

But the truth is that no such mechanical explanation will suffice to set forth the causes of a civilisation's decay. Before the barbarian in any form can appear in it, it must already have weakened. If it cannot absorb or reject an alien element it is because its organism has grown enfeebled, and its powers of digestion and excretion are lost or deteriorated; and who ever would restore any society which menaces to fall, must busy himself about the inward nature of that society much more than about its external dangers or the merely mechanical and numerical factors of peril to be discovered within it.

Whenever we look for "the barbarian," whether in the decline of our own society or that of some past one whose historical fate we may be studying, we are looking rather for a visible effect of disease than for its source. 

None the less to mark those visible effects is instructive, and without some conspectus of them it will be impossible to diagnose the disease. A modern man may, therefore, well ask where the barbarians are that shall enter into our inheritance, or whose triumphs shall, if it be permitted, at least accompany, even if they cannot effect, the destruction of Christendom. 

With that word "Christendom" a chief part of the curious speculation is at once suggested. Whether the scholar hates or loves, rejects or adopts, ridicules or admires, the religious creed of Europe, he must, in any case, recognise two prime historical truths. The first is that that creed which we call the Christian religion was the soul and meaning of European civilisation during the period of its active and united existence. The second is that wherever the religion characteristic of a people has failed to react against its own decay and has in some last catastrophe perished, then that people has lost soon after its corporate existence. 

So much has passion taken the place of reason in matters of scholarship that plain truths of this kind, to which all history bears witness, are accepted or rejected rather by the appetite of the reader than by his rational recognition of them, or his rational disagreement. If we will forget for a moment what we may desire in the matter and merely consider what we know, we shall without hesitation admit both the propositions I have laid down. Christendom was Christian, not by accident or superficially, but in a formative connection, just as an Englishman is English or as a poem is informed by a definite scheme of rhythm. It is equally true that a sign and probably a cause of a society's end is the dissolution of that causative moral thing, its philosophy or creed.

Now here we discover the first mark of the Barbarian.

Note that in the peril of English society today there is no positive alternative to the ancient philosophic tradition of Christian Europe. It has to meet nothing more substantive than a series of negations, often contradictory, but all allied in their repugnance to a fixed certitude in morals. 

So far has this process gone that to be writing as I am here in public, not even defending the creed of Christendom, but postulating its historic place, and pointing out that the considerable attack now carried on against it is symptomatic of the dissolution of our society, has about it something temerarious and odd.

Next look at secondary effects and consider how certain root institutions native to the long development of Europe and to her individuality are the subject of attack and note the nature of the attack.

A fool will maintain that change, which is the law of life, can be presented merely as a matter of degree, and that, because our institutions have always been subject to change, therefore their very disappearance can proceed with out the loss of all that has in the past been our selves.

But an argument of this sort has no weight with the serious observer. It is certain that if the fundamental institutions of a polity are no longer regarded as fundamental by its citizens, that polity is about to pass through the total change which in a living organism we call death.

Now the modern attack upon property and upon marriage (to take but two fundamental institutions of the European) is precisely of this nature. Our peril is not that certain men attack the one or the other and deny their moral right to exist. Our peril rather is that, quite as much as those who attack, those who defend seem to take for granted the relativeness, the artificiality, the non-fundamental character of the institution which they are apparently concerned to support.

See how marriage is defended. To those who would destroy it under the plea of its inconveniences and tragedies, the answer is no longer made that, good or ill, it is an absolute and is intangible. The answer made is that it is convenient, or useful, or necessary, or merely traditional.

Most significant of all, the terminology of the attack is on the lips of the defence, but the contrary is never the case. Those opponents of marriage who abound in modern England will never use the term "a sacrament," yet how many for whom marriage is still a sacrament will forego the pseudo-scientific jargon of their opponents?

The threat against property is upon the same lines. That property should be restored that most citizens should enjoy it, that it is normal to the European family in its healthy state—all this we hear less and less. More and more do we hear it defended, however morbid in form or unjust in use, as a necessity, a trick which secures a greater stability for the State or a mere power which threatens and will break its opponents tyrannously.

The spirit is abroad in many another minor matter. In its most grotesque form it challenges the accuracy of mathematics: in its most vicious, the clear processes of the human reason. The Barbarian is as proud as a savage in a top hat when he talks of the elliptical or the hyperbolic universe and tries to picture parallel straight lines converging or diverging—but never doing anything so vulgarly old-fashioned as to remain parallel.

The Barbarian when he has graduated to be a "pragmatist," [. . . .] believes himself superior to the gift of reason, or free to maintain that definition, limit, quantity and contradiction are little childish things which he has outgrown. The Barbarian is very certain that the exact reproduction in line or colour of a thing seen is beneath him, and that a drunken blur for line, a green sky, a red tree and a purple cow for colour, are the mark of great painting. 

The Barbarian hopes—and that is the very mark of him—that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilisation has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort but he will not be at the pains to replace such goods nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is for ever marvelling that civilisation should have offended him with priests and soldiers.

The Barbarian wonders what strange meaning may lurk in that ancient and solemn truth, "Sine Auctoritate nulla vita".

In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this that he cannot make; that he can befog or destroy, but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilisation exactly that has been true.

We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid.

We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us: we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile. 

We permit our jaded intellects to play with drugs of novelty for the fresh sensation they arouse, though we know well there is no good in them, but only wasting at the last. 

Yet there is one real interest in watching the Barbarian and one that is profitable. 

The real interest of watching the Barbarian is not the amusement derivable from his antics, but the prime doubt whether he will succeed or no, whether he will flourish. He is, I repeat, not an agent, but merely a symptom, yet he should be watched as a symptom. It is not he in his impotence that can discover the power to disintegrate the great and ancient body of Christendom, but if we come to see him triumphant we may be certain that that body, from causes much vaster than such as he could control, is furnishing him with sustenance and forming for him a congenial soil—and that is as much as to say that we are dying.

~Hilaire Belloc: This That and the Other. (1912)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Epitaph On The 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. 

Epitah Upon Himself 

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

~Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, August 13, 2016

"The habit of neglecting true books"

"IT is an interesting speculation by what means the Book lost its old position in this country. This is not only an interesting speculation, but one which nearly concerns a vital matter. For if men fall into the habit of neglecting true books in an old and traditional civilization, the inaccuracy of their judgments and the illusions to which they will be subject, must increase."

~Hilaire Belloc: On the Decline of the Book
● Read the complete essay here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Successful government

"THE most successful government is that which leads its subjects to the highest aim by means of the greatest freedom."

~Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P. (1868 - 1943): "Thoughts Twice-dyed."


"The greatness of his [McNabb's]character, of his learning, his experience, and, above all, his judgement, was altogether separate from the world about him... the most remarkable aspect of all was the character of holiness... I can write here from intimate personal experience ... I have known, seen and felt holiness in person... I have seen holiness at its full in the very domestic paths of my life, and the memory of that experience, which is also a vision, fills me now as I write — so fills me that there is nothing now to say."

~Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Control of Elections

“IF any man ventures to run independently of the two political caucuses, the difficulties in the way of his success are enormous. Generally he is severely hampered for want of money, while his official opponents have not only an inexhaustible fund to draw upon, but a fund whose sole purpose is the financing not the winning of elections. Also, though a majority of voters may actually prefer him to any other candidate, they are often afraid to vote for him, lest by so doing they should “waste” their votes: for under an absurd and dishonest arrangement, which the machine carefully preserves, no second ballot is allowed. An impartial observer may be pardoned for thinking that, even under this system, a man could hardly waste his vote more thoroughly than by giving it to the nominee of the political bosses, who, when he is once elected, must regard himself as the servant not of his constituents, but of the caucus. But British electors are not always impartial observers, and there is no doubt that the hypnotic effect of continual assurances that an independent candidate “cannot win” operates powerfully against him. Votes promised some days before the poll are in such cases continually revoked at the last moment under the influence of this “fear of wasting a vote.”

“Thus it will be seen that only three types of men find it normally possible to get into Parliament. First, local rich men who can dominate the local political organisation. Secondly, rich men from the outside who have suborned the central political organisation. Thirdly, comparatively poor men who are willing, in consideration of a seat in Parliament and the chances of material gains which it offers, to become the obedient and submissive servants of the caucus.”

~Hilaire Belloc & Cecil Chesterton: The Party System, Chap. V. (1911)

See this book at Amazon


“WHAT Darwin had supplied to Materialism in biology, Marx supplied to it in sociology; and the two combined not to form as causes but to present as symptoms, the common Materialism which in the later XIXth century was to sweep over the cultivated mind of Europe.”

~Hilaire Belloc: Characters of the Reformation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"the Reformation"

“A man who thinks that, because the Church needed “Reformation” in the early sixteenth century, therefore the disruptive movement also known as “the Reformation” was necessary and good, is less intelligent than a man who does not confuse these totally distinct terms, though they happen to be expressed by the same set of syllables.”

~Hilaire Belloc: Essays of a Catholic.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"The decay of religion"

“Cultures spring from religions; ultimately the vital force which maintains any culture is its philosophy, its attitude toward the universe; the decay of religion involves the decay of the culture corresponding to it—we see that most clearly in the breakdown of Christendom today.”

~Hilaire Belloc: The Great Heresies.

Monday, May 2, 2016


THIS is the laughing-eyed amongst them all: 
My lady's month. A season of young things. 
She rules the light with harmony, and brings 
The year's first green upon the beeches tall. 
How often, where long creepers wind and fall 
Through the deep woods in noonday wanderings, 
I’ve heard the month, when she to echo sings, 
I've heard the month make merry madrigal. 

How often, bosomed in the breathing strong 
Of mosses and young flowerets, have I lain 
And watched the clouds, and caught the sheltered song - 
Which it were more than life to hear again - 
Of those small birds that pipe it all day long 
Not far from Marly by the memoried Seine.

~Hilaire Belloc

Allegories of the Months: May. Gothic Sculptor, Italian.
Stone, mid-13th century; Basilica di San Marco, Venice

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"The more important than the state"

MEN cannot live as free citizens, capable of free contract, enjoying economic liberty, feeling their lives secure, unless they have property. By such laws as shall put property into many hands, until at least a determining number of citizens own, can society be saved. In no other way can it be saved, unless we call a return to slavery salvation.

The family is the true unit of the state, and is more important than the state. The state exists for the family, not the family for the state. Property is necessary for its normal and healthy being.

Men labor for sustenance and produce sustenance with certain instruments. Over those instruments they who labor should have control, that is, property.

Some activities function best — or can only function — in large groups. In these cases there may be shareholding – but the shares held as property. When monopoly is inevitable, by all means let it be controlled by the state, but first be certain that it is inevitable, and if you find it rising as an artificial growth, cut it down at once. A society built on ownership safeguarded by corporate rules, will restore to us our “Daily Bread” which we have lost. Immediate necessities must be relieved for the moment; but our aim should be a stable society in a contented world. How that may be reached is the subject of what follows.

~Hilaire Belloc: The Way Out, Chap. 1.—To Begin With.

"The gods of the New Paganism"

“MEN do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence, and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism.”

~Hilaire Belloc: Essays of a Catholic.

"Suppressed in the principal great official papers"

"MEN gradually came to notice that one thing after another of great public interest, sometimes of vital public interest, was deliberately suppressed in the principal great official papers, and that positive falsehoods were increasingly suggested, or stated."

~Hilaire Belloc: The Free Press, XI, B.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"The mountains from their heights reveal to us two truths"

"And this is a peculiar thing I have noticed in all mountains, and have never been able to understand ─ namely, that if you draw a plan or section to scale, your mountain does not seem a very important thing. One should not, in theory, be able to dominate from its height, nor to feel the world small below one, nor to hold a whole countryside in one's hand ─ yet one does. The mountains from their heights reveal to us two truths. They suddenly make us feel our insignificance, and at the same time they free the immortal Mind, and let it feel its greatness, and they release it from the earth. But I say again, in theory, when one considers the exact relation of their height to the distances one views from them, they ought to claim no such effect, and that they can produce that effect is related to another thing ─ the way in which they exaggerate their own steepness."

~Hilaire Belloc: The Path to Rome. 

Photo: Grimsel Pass

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"But with what religion can Science conflict"

“YOU can hardly get an allusion to the evolutionist writers (in this country it is always Darwin) without the same idea cropping up: “The Conflict of Science with Religion.” But with what religion can Science conflict save Bibliolatry? On every side the recent presence of that strange worship—and even its present lingering—is taken for granted.”

~Hilaire Belloc: Survivals and New Arrivals.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On St. Patrick

"WE know that among the marks of holiness is the working of miracles. Ireland is the greatest miracle any saint ever worked. It is a miracle and a nexus of miracles. Among other miracles it is a nation raised from the dead."

~Hilaire Belloc: St. Patrick.
Read the complete essay here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Poor of London

ALMIGHTY GOD, whose Justice, like a sun
   Shall coruscate along the floors of heaven:
Raising what’s low, perfecting what’s undone,
   Breaking the proud, and making odd things even.
The Poor of Jesus Christ along the street
   In your rain sodden, in your snows unshod,
They have no hearth, nor rook, nor daily meat,
   Nor even the bread of men; Almighty God.

The Poor of Jesus Christ whom no man hears
   Have called upon your vengeance much too long.
Wipe out not tears but blood: our eyes bleed tears:
   Come, smite our damned sophistries so strong,
   That thy rude hammer battering this rude wrong
Ring down the abyss of twice ten thousand years.

~Hilaire Belloc: Verses and Sonnets.

Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, by Luke Fildes (1844-1927);
depiction of the poor seeking lodging in England in 1874.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Her Faith

BECAUSE my faltering feet will fail to dare
   The downward of the endless steps of Hell,
Give me a word in time that triumphs there.

   I too must go into the dreadful hollow,
Where all our human laughter stops—and hark!
The tiny stuffless voices of the dark
   Have called me, called me till I needs must follow.

Give me the word, and I’ll attempt it well.

Say it’s the little winking of an eye,
   Which in that issue is uncurtained quite.
A little sleep that helps a moment by
   Between the thin dawn and the large daylight.
Oh! tell me more than yet was hoped of men,
Swear that’s true now, and I’ll believe it then.

~Hilaire Belloc: in Verses and Sonnets

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Arena

IT WAS in Paris, in his room on the hill of the University, that a traveller woke and wondered what he should do with his day. In some way─I cannot tell how─ephemeral things had captured his mind in the few hours he had already spent in the city. There is no civilisation where the various parts stand so separate as they do with the French. You may live in Paris all your life and never suspect that there is a garrison of eighty thousand men within call. You may spend a year in a provincial town and never hear that the large building you see daily is a bishop's palace. Or you may be the guest of the bishop for a month, and remain under the impression that somewhere, hidden away in the place, there is a powerful clique of governing atheists whom, somehow, you never run across. And so this traveller, who knew Paris like his pocket, and had known it since he could speak plain, had managed to gather up in this particular visit all the impressions which are least characteristic of the town. He had dined with a friend at Pousset's; he had passed the evening at the Exhibition, and he had had a bare touch of the real thing in the Rue de Tournon; but even there it was in the company of foreigners. Therefore, I repeat, he woke up next morning wondering what he should do, for the veneer of Paris is the thinnest in the world, and he had exhausted it in one feverish day. 

Luckily for him, the room in which he lay was French, and had been French for a hundred years. You looked out of the window into a sky cut by the tall Mansard roofs of the eighteenth century; and over the stones of what had been the Scotch College you could see below you at the foot of the hill all the higher points of the island─especially the Sainte Chapelle and the vast towers of the Cathedral. Then it suddenly struck him that the air was full of bells. Now, it is a curious thing, and one that every traveller will bear me out in, that you associate a country place with the sound of bells, but a capital never. Caen is noisy enough and Rouen big enough, one would think, to drown the memory of music; yet any one who has lived in his Normandy remembers their perpetual bells; and as for the admirable town of Chinon, where no one ever goes, I believe it is Ringing Island itself. But Paris one never thinks of as a place of bells. And yet there are bells enough there to take a man right into the past, and from there through fairyland to hell and out and back again. 

If I were writing of the bells, I could make you a list of all the famous bells, living and dead, that haunt the city, and the tale of what they have done would be a history of France. The bell of the St. Bartholomew over against the Louvre, the tocsin of the Hotel de Ville that rang the knell of the Monarchy, the bell of St. Julien that is as old as the University, the old Bourdon of Notre Dame that first rang when St. Louis brought in the crown of thorns, and the peal that saluted Napoleon, and the new Bourdon that is made of the guns of Sebastopol, and the Savoyarde up on Montmartre, a new bell much larger than the rest. This morning the air was full of them. They came up to the height on which the traveller lay listening; they came clear and innumerable over the distant surge of the streets; he spent an hour wondering at such an unusual Parliament and General Council of Bells. Then he said to himself: "It must be some great feast of the Church." He was in a world he had never known before. He was like a man who gets into a strange country in a dream and follows his own imagination instead of suffering the pressure of outer things; or like a boy who wanders by a known river till he comes to unknown gardens. 

So anxious was he to take possession at once of this discovery of his that he went off hurriedly without eating or drinking, thinking only of what he might find. He desired to embrace at one sight all that Paris was doing on a day which was full of St. Louis and of resurrection. The thoughts upon thoughts that flow into the mind from its impression, as water creams up out of a stone fountain at a river head, disturbed him, swelling beyond the possibility of fulfilment. He wished to see at once the fashionables in St. Clotilde and the Greek Uniates at St. Julien, and the empty Sorbonne and the great crowd of boys at Stanislas; but what he was going to see never occurred to him, for he thought he knew Paris too well to approach the cathedral. 

Notre Dame is jealously set apart for special and well-advertised official things. If you know the official world you know the great church, and unless some great man had died, or some victory had been won, you would never go there to see how Paris took its religion. No midnight Mass is said in it; for the lovely carols of the Middle Ages you must go to St. Gervais, and for the pomp of the Counter-Reformation to the Madeleine, for soldiers to St. Augustin, for pilgrims to St. Etienne. Therefore no one would, ever have thought of going to the cathedral on this day, when an instinct and revelation of Paris at prayer filled the mind. Nevertheless, the traveller's feet went, of their own accord, towards the seven bridges, because the Island draws all Paris to it, and was drawing him along with the rest. He had meant perhaps to go the way that all the world has gone since men began to live on this river, and to follow up the Roman way across the Seine─a vague intention of getting a Mass at St. Merry or St. Laurent. But he was going as a dream sent him, without purpose or direction. 

The sun was already very hot and the Parvis was blinding with light when he crossed the little bridge. Then he noticed that the open place had dotted about it little groups of people making eastward. The Parvis is so large that you could have a multitude scattered in it and only notice that the square was not deserted. There were no more than a thousand, perhaps, going separately to Notre Dame, and a thousand made no show in such a square. But when he went in through the doors he saw there something he had never seen before, and that he thought did not exist. It was as though the vague interior visions of which the morning had been so full had taken on reality. 

You may sometimes see in modern picture galleries an attempt to combine the story from which proceeds the nourishing flame of Christianity with the crudities and the shameful ugliness of our decline. Thus, with others, a picture of our Lord and Mary Magdalen; all the figures except that of our Lord were dressed in the modern way. I remember another of our Lord and the little children, where the scene is put into a village school. Now, if you can imagine (which it is not easy to do) such an attempt to be successful, untouched by the love of display and eccentricity, and informing─as it commonly pretends to inform─our time with an idea, then you will understand what the traveller saw that morning in Notre Dame. The church seemed the vastest cavern that had ever been built for worship. Coming in from the high morning, the half-light alone, with which we always connect a certain majesty and presence, seemed to have taken on amplitude as well. The incense veiled what appeared to be an infinite lift of roof, and the third great measurement─the length of nave that leads like a forest ride to the lights of the choir─were drawn out into an immeasurable perspective by reason of a countless crowd of men and women divided by the narrow path of the procession. So full was this great place that a man moved slowly and with difficulty, edging through such a mass of folk as you may find at holiday time in a railway station, or outside a theatre─never surely before was a church like this, unless, indeed, some very rich or very famous man happened to be gracing it. But here to-day, for nothing but the function proper to the feast, the cathedral was paved and floored with human beings. In the galilee there was a kind of movement so that a man could get up further, and at last the traveller found a place to stand in just on the edge of the open gangway, at the very end of the nave. He peered up this, and saw from the further end, near the altar, the head of the procession approaching, which was (in his fancy of that morning) like the line of the Faith, still living and returning in a perpetual circle to revivify the world. Moreover, there was in the advent of the procession a kind of climax. As it came nearer, the great crowd moved more quickly towards it; children were lifted up, and by one of Sully's wide pillars a group of three young soldiers climbed on a rail to see the great sight better. The Cardinal-Archbishop, very old and supported by his priests, half walked and half tottered down the length of the people; his head, grown weary with age, barely supported the mitre, from which great jewels, false or true, were flashing. In his hand he had a crozier that was studded in the same way with gems, and that seemed to be made of gold; the same hands had twisted the metal of it as had hammered the hinges of the cathedral doors. Certainly there here appeared one of the resurrections of Europe. The matter of life seemed to take on a fuller stuff and to lift into a dimension above that in which it ordinarily moves. The thin, narrow, and unfruitful experience of to-day and yesterday was amplified by all the lives that had made our life, and the blood of which we are only a last expression, the race that is older even than Rome seemed in this revelation of continuity to be gathered up into one intense and passionate moment. The pagan altar of Tiberius, the legend of Dionysius, the whole circle of the wars came into this one pageant, and the old man in his office and his blessing was understood by all the crowd before him to transmit the centuries. A rich woman thrust a young child forward, and he stopped and stooped with difficulty to touch its hair. As he approached the traveller it was as though there had come great and sudden news to him, or the sound of unexpected and absorbing music. 

The procession went on and closed; the High Mass followed; it lasted a very long time, and the traveller went out before the crowd had moved and found himself again in the glare of the sun on the Parvis. 

He went over the bridge to find his eating-shop near the archives, and eat the first food of that day, thinking as he went that certainly there are an infinity of lives side by side in our cities, and each ignores the rest; and yet, that to pass from what we know of these to what we do not─though it is the most wonderful journey in the world─is one that no one undertakes unless accident or a good fortune pushes him on. He desired to make another such journey. 

He came back to find me in London, and spoke to me of Paris as of a city newly discovered: as I listened I thought I saw an arena. 

In a plain of the north, undistinguished by great hills, open to the torment of the sky, the gods had traced an arena wherein were to be fought out the principal battles of a later age. 

* * * * * 

Spirits lower than the divine, spirits intermediate, have been imagined by men wiser than ourselves to have some power over the world─a power which we might vanquish in a special manner, but still a power. To such conceptions the best races of Europe cling; upon such a soil are grown the legends that tell us most about our dark, and yet enormous, human fate. These intermediate spirits have been called in all the older creeds "the gods." It is in the nature of the Church to frown upon these dreams; but I, as I listened to him, saw clearly that plain wherein the gods had marked out an arena for mankind. 

It was oval, as should be a theatre for any show, with heights around it insignificant, but offering a vantage ground whence could be watched the struggle in the midst. There was a sacred centre─an island and a mount─and, within the lines, so great a concourse of gladiatorial souls as befits the greatest of spectacles. I say, I do not know how far such visions are permitted, nor how far the right reason of the Church condemns them; but the dream returned to me very powerfully, recalling my boyhood, when the traveller told me his story. I also therefore went and caught the fresh gale of the stream of the Seine in flood, and saw the many roofs of Paris quite clear after the rain, and read the writings of the men I mixed with and heard the noise of the city. 

* * * * * 

It is not upon the paltry level of negations or of decent philosophies, it is in the action and hot mood of creative certitudes that the French battle is engaged. The little sophists are dumb and terrified, their books are quite forgotten. I myself forgot (in those few days by that water and in that city) the thin and ineffectual bodies of ignorant men who live quite beyond any knowledge of such fires. The printed things which tired and poor writers put down for pay no longer even disturbed me; the reflections, the mere phantasms of reality, with which in a secluded measure we please our intellect, faded. I was like a man who was in the centre of two lines that meet in war; to such a man this fellow's prose on fighting and that one's verse, this theory of strategy, or that essay upon arms, are not for one moment remembered. Here (in the narrow street which I knew and was now following) St. Bernard had upheld the sacrament in the shock of the first awakening─in that twelfth century, when Julian stirred in his sleep. Beyond the bridge, in Roman walls that still stand carefully preserved, the Church of Gaul had sustained Athanasius, and determined the course of the Christian centuries. I had passed upon my way the vast and empty room where had been established the Terror; where had been forced by an angry and compelling force the full return of equal laws upon Europe. Who could remember in such an air the follies and the pottering of men who analyse and put in categories and explain the follies of wealth and of old age? 

Good Lord, how little the academies became! I remembered the phrases upon one side and upon the other which still live in the stones of the city, carved and deep, but more lasting than are even the letters of their inscription. I remembered the defiant sentence of Mad Dolet on his statue there in the Quarter, the deliberate perversion of Plato, "And when you are dead you shall no more be anything at all." I remembered the "Ave Crux spes Unica"; and St. Just's "The words that we have spoken will never be lost on earth"; and Danton's "Continual Daring," and the scribbled Greek on the walls of the cathedral towers. For not only are the air and the voice, but the very material of this town is filled with words that remain. Certainly the philosophies and the negations dwindled to be so small as at last to disappear, and to leave only the two antagonists. Passion brooded over the silence of the morning; there was great energy in the cool of the spring air, and up above, the forms the clouds were taking were forms of gigantic powers. 

I came, as the traveller had come, into the cathedral. It was not yet within half an hour of the feast. There was still room to be found, though with every moment the nave and the aisles grew fuller, until one doubted how at the end so great a throng could be dismissed. They were of all kinds. Some few were strangers holding in their hands books about the building. Some few were devout men on travel, and praying at this great office on the way: men from the islands, men from the places that Spain has redeemed for the future in the new world. I saw an Irishman near me, and two West Indians also, half negro, like the third of the kings that came to worship at the manger where Our Lord was born. For two hours and nearly three I saw and wondered at that immense concourse. The tribunes were full, the whole choir was black, moving with the celebrants, and all the church floor beyond and around me was covered and dark with expectant men. 

The Bourdon that had summoned the traveller and driven mad so many despairs, sounded above me upon this day with amplitude and yet with menace. The silence was a solace when it ceased to boom. The Creed, the oldest of our chaunts, filled and completed those walls; it was as though at last a battle had been joined, and in that issue a great relief ran through the crowd. 

* * * * * 

From such a temple I came out at last. They had thrown the western doors wide open, the doors whose hinges man scarcely could have hammered and to whose miracle legend has lent its aid; the midday, now captured by the sun, came right into the hollow simplicity of the nave, and caught the river of people as they flowed outwards; but even that and the cry of the Benediction from the altar gave no greater peace than an appeal to combat. In the air outside that other power stood waiting to conquer or to fail. 

I came out, as from a camp, into the civilian debate, the atmosphere of the spectators. The permanent and toppling influence against which this bulwark of ours, the Faith, was reared (as we say) by God Himself, shouted in half the prints, in half the houses. I sat down to read and compare (as it should be one's custom when one is among real and determining things) the writings of the extreme, that is of the leading men. I chose the two pamphleteers who are of equal weight in this war, but of whom one only is known as yet to us in England, and that the least. 

I read their battle-cries. Their style was excellent; their good faith shone even in their style. 

Since I had been upon phrases all these hours I separated and remembered the principal words of each. One said: "They will break their teeth against it. The Catholic Church is not to perish, for she has allies from outside Time." The other said: "How long will the death of this crucified god linger? How long will his agony crush men with its despair?" 

But I read these two writers for my entertainment only, and in order to be acquainted with men around me; for on the quarrel between them I had long ago made up my mind.

~Hilaire Belloc: in Hills and Seas

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