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Hilaire Belloc

From Academic Kids

Photograph of Belloc
Photograph of Belloc

Joseph Hilaire Pierre Ren Belloc (July 27, 1870 - July 16, 1953) was one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century. His style and personality led to the nickname, "Old Thunder".

His best travel writing and his works for children have secured a permanent following. The Path to Rome (1902), an account of a walking trip he took from central France to Rome, has remained continuously in print.

Some of his many other works have been reissued, by Ignatius Press of California. One of Belloc's most famous statements was "Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe"; this sums up his strongly-held, orthodox Catholic views, and the cultural conclusions he drew from them, which were expressed at length in many of his works from the period 1920-1940. These are still cited as exemplary of Catholic apologetics. They have also been criticised, for instance by comparison with the work of Christopher Dawson during the same period.

His "cautionary tales", humorous poems with a moral, such as Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death, are the most widely known of his writings. Matilda's tale was adapted into the play "Matilda Liar!" by Debbie Isitt.

He was the brother of Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes. His mother Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925) was also a writer. She married Louis Belloc, who was French, in 1867. He died in 1872.

Recent lives of Belloc have been written by A. N. Wilson and Joseph Pearce.

Contents

Life, career and writing

See Hilaire Belloc's books for about 150 titles

He was born in La Celle-Saint-Cloud France (next to Versailles and near Paris) to a French father and English mother, and grew up in England. He knew at an early age Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, who was responsible for the conversion of his mother. Manning's involvement in the 1889 London Dock Strike made a major impression on Belloc and his view of politics, according to biographer Robert Speaight. Belloc described this retrospectively in The Cruise of the Nona (1925); he became a trenchant critic both of unbridled capitalism, and of many aspects of socialism.

Belloc served his term of military service, as a French citizen, with an artillery regiment near Toul in 1891. He was powerfully built, with great stamina, and walked extensively in Britain and Europe. While courting his future wife Elodie, whom he first met in 1890, the impecunious Belloc walked a good part of the way from the midwest of the United States to her home in northern California, paying for lodging at remote farm houses and ranches by sketching the owners and reciting poetry. He was later a well known yachtsman.

An 1895 graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, Belloc went into politics after he became a naturalised British citizen. At the Oxford Union he held his own in debates with F. E. Smith and John Buchan, the latter a friend. A great disappointment in his life was his failure to gain a fellowship at All Souls College in Oxford.

He was a Liberal Party Member of Parliament from 1906 to 1910, but swiftly became disillusioned with party politics. He then wrote on myriad subjects, from warfare to poetry and many topics current in his day. He was closely associated with G. K. Chesterton; George Bernard Shaw coined the term Chesterbelloc for their partnership.

His only period of steady employment was as editor of Land and Water, from 1914 to 1920. Otherwise he lived by his pen, and often felt short of money. While he certainly had brilliance and achievement, he was a poor listener. His larger-than-life personality, and strongly held views, were more acceptable in small doses. His setbacks in the academic and political worlds lent asperity to his writing.

As an essayist he was one of a small, admired and dominant group (with Chesterton, E. V. Lucas and Robert Lynd) of popular writers. In the large he sometimes came across as too opinionated, and too dedicated a Catholic controversialist. He was at his most effective in the 1920s, on the attack against H. G. Wells's Outline of History; but tended to come off worse in crossing swords with academics.

Belloc was most successful as a children's writer, rather like another staunch Christian, C S Lewis. Belloc's gruesome poetic warnings are as fresh and beautifully written now as when penned. No erudite child can be happy without the brisk cruelty of a Belloc rhyme to "lull" them to sleep knowing that misbehaviour of even the slightest kind is likely to result in full & terrible retribution. Belloc's use of language, rhythm & ability to, as Quentin Blake (illustrator) said, be at one & the same time the overbearing adult & mischievous child, make his work perfect nighttime material for children bored with Roald Dahl etc. His children's works also show his philosophy, often in its most enjoyable spirit, eg his understanding the absurdity of a hierarchical political elite:

It happened to Lord Lundy then/as happens to so many men/ about the age of 26/ they shoved him into politics...

He suffered a stroke in 1941, and lived the rest of his life very quietly.

Historical and political writing, and Catholic apologetics

Two of his best known works are The Servile State (1912) and Europe and Faith (1920). He wrote a long series of contentious biographies of historical figures, including Oliver Cromwell, James II, and Napoleon.

He was an ardent proponent of orthodox Catholicism and a critic of many elements of the modern world. In The Servile State, and in many other works, Belloc criticized the modern economic order, advocating instead a theory known as distributism in opposition to both capitalism and socialism.

He wrote one of the alternative history stories/essays for the 1932 collection If It Had Happened Otherwise edited by Sir John Squire.

Musical settings, parody

A notable admirer of Belloc was the composer Peter Warlock, who set many of his poems to music. A well-known parody of Belloc by Sir John Squire, intended as a tribute, is Mr. Belloc's Fancy.

Belloc and authoritarian politics

He wrote in favour of a particular brand of authoritarian politics, particularly in the early 1920s. In this he drew on his disillusionment with parliamentary politics, a theme found also in his earlier fiction. He was, on the other hand, a vociferous critic of Hitler when he came to power.

Belloc and anti-Semitism

Belloc has been charged with anti-Semitism, and the issue of his attitude to Jews is still raised. For example, Norman Rose's book The Cliveden Set (2000) poses the question of whether Nancy Astor (see Cliveden set, for the context), a friend of Belloc's in the 1930s until they broke over religious matters, was influenced by him against Jews in general. Rose asserts that Belloc 'was moved by a deep vein of hysterical anti-Semitism'. What is the evidence for this? It is not disputed that he was repeatedly critical of the influence some Jewish people had on society and the world of finance. He is, however, consistently defended by some, as not an anti-Semite.

There are a number of grounds on which Belloc has been deemed by some to be anti-Semitic and not concerned to conceal his views. His association with G. K. Chesterton and Cecil Chesterton is one, though inconclusive; the somewhat unworldly G. K. Chesterton expressed views (for example in The New Jerusalem, 1920) about the separateness of Jews by culture and religion which must have been offensive to some, Cecil having died in 1918. Belloc's tendency to allude to Jews in conversation, in a seemingly obsessive fashion on occasion, is noted by A. N. Wilson's biography.

The journalism of Cecil Chesterton for Belloc's publication Eye-Witness at the time of the Marconi scandal is more substantive. One Jewish member of the government, Herbert Samuel, was accused and no evidence was ever shown of his involvement (as against that of Rufus Isaacs, who was cleared by Parliament but had a case to answer). Private Eye, the British satirical and investigative magazine that is in a sense a remote descendant, has similarly been in the past been called anti-Semitic, a charge more easily deflected by editorial policy in the absence of any equivalent of distributism, the economic theory proposed by Belloc and the Chestertons.

Belloc's own book The Jews (1922) sets out his views in his own words. It has been construed both as supporting the case that Belloc had no animus against Jews, and as a statement of the historical view that Jewish integration 'inevitably' causes friction. It could be argued that these are two parts of a consistent view, and that Hilaire Belloc was saying the same thing, at the time.

References

External links

Online editions of his works

Other sites

  • At Spartacus (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRbelloc.htm)
  • 'On Nothing' (http://onnothing.blogspot.com/) A blog highlighting glimpses of Hilaire Belloc & G.K. Chesterton in the media and the world today.
  • 2003 article (http://www.thetablet.co.uk/cgi-bin/register.cgi/tablet-00764) from The Tablet by Ian Boyd

be:Хілэр Бэлак de:Hilaire Belloc eo:Hilaire BELLOC Template:Lived

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