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Title: Hilaire Belloc - The Man and His Work
Author: Mandell, C. Creighton, Shanks, Edward, 1892-1953
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hilaire Belloc - The Man and His Work" ***

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Transcriber's note

Minor punctuation errors have been changed without notice. Printer
errors have been changed and are listed at the end. All other
inconsistencies are as in the original.




[Illustration: HILAIRE BELLOC]












_First Published in 1916_





When I first met Belloc he remarked to the friend who introduced us that
he was in low spirits. His low spirits were and are much more uproarious
and enlivening than anybody else's high spirits. He talked into the
night; and left behind in it a glowing track of good things. When I have
said that I mean things that are good, and certainly not merely _bons
mots,_ I have said all that can be said in the most serious aspect about
the man who has made the greatest fight for good things of all the men
of my time.

We met between a little Soho paper shop and a little Soho restaurant;
his arms and pockets were stuffed with French Nationalist and French
Atheist newspapers. He wore a straw hat shading his eyes, which are like
a sailor's, and emphasizing his Napoleonic chin. He was talking about
King John, who, he positively assured me, was _not_ (as was often
asserted) the best king that ever reigned in England. Still, there were
allowances to be made for him; I mean King John, not Belloc. "He had
been Regent," said Belloc with forbearance, "and in all the Middle Ages
there is no example of a successful Regent." I, for one, had not come
provided with any successful Regents with whom to counter this
generalization; and when I came to think of it, it was quite true. I
have noticed the same thing about many other sweeping remarks coming
from the same source.

The little restaurant to which we went had already become a haunt for
three or four of us who held strong but unfashionable views about the
South African War, which was then in its earliest prestige. Most of us
were writing on the _Speaker_, edited by Mr. J. L. Hammond with an
independence of idealism to which I shall always think that we owe much
of the cleaner political criticism of to-day; and Belloc himself was
writing in it studies of what proved to be the most baffling irony. To
understand how his Latin mastery, especially of historic and foreign
things, made him a leader, it is necessary to appreciate something of
the peculiar position of that isolated group of "Pro-Boers." We were a
minority in a minority. Those who honestly disapproved of the Transvaal
adventure were few in England; but even of these few a great number,
probably the majority, opposed it for reasons not only different but
almost contrary to ours. Many were Pacifists, most were Cobdenites; the
wisest were healthy but hazy Liberals who rightly felt the tradition of
Gladstone to be a safer thing than the opportunism of the Liberal
Imperialist. But we might, in one very real sense, be more strictly
described as Pro-Boers. That is, we were much more insistent that the
Boers were right in fighting than that the English were wrong in
fighting. We disliked cosmopolitan peace almost as much as cosmopolitan
war; and it was hard to say whether we more despised those who praised
war for the gain of money, or those who blamed war for the loss of it.
Not a few men then young were already predisposed to this attitude; Mr.
F. Y. Eccles, a French scholar and critic of an authority perhaps too
fine for fame, was in possession of the whole classical case against
such piratical Prussianism; Mr. Hammond himself, with a careful
magnanimity, always attacked Imperialism as a false religion and not
merely as a conscious fraud; and I myself had my own hobby of the
romance of small things, including small commonwealths. But to all these
Belloc entered like a man armed, and as with a clang of iron. He brought
with him news from the fronts of history; that French arts could again
be rescued by French arms; that cynical Imperialism not only should be
fought, but could be fought and was being fought; that the street
fighting which was for me a fairytale of the future was for him a fact
of the past. There were many other uses of his genius, but I am speaking
of this first effect of it upon our instinctive and sometimes groping
ideals. What he brought into our dream was this Roman appetite for
reality and for reason in action, and when he came into the door there
entered with him the smell of danger.

There was in him another element of importance which clarified itself in
this crisis. It was no small part of the irony in the man that different
things strove against each other in him; and these not merely in the
common human sense of good against evil, but one good thing against
another. The unique attitude of the little group was summed up in him
supremely in this; that he did and does humanly and heartily love
England, not as a duty but as a pleasure and almost an indulgence; but
that he hated as heartily what England seemed trying to become. Out of
this appeared in his poetry a sort of fierce doubt or double-mindedness
which cannot exist in vague and homogeneous Englishmen; something that
occasionally amounted to a mixture of loving and loathing. It is marked,
for instance, in the fine break in the middle of the happy song of
_cameraderie_ called "To the Balliol Men Still in South Africa."

   "I have said it before, and I say it again,
     There was treason done and a false word spoken,
   And England under the dregs of men,
     And bribes about and a treaty broken."

It is supremely characteristic of the time that a weighty and
respectable weekly gravely offered to publish the poem if that central
verse was omitted. This conflict of emotions has an even higher
embodiment in that grand and mysterious poem called "The Leader," in
which the ghost of the nobler militarism passes by to rebuke the baser--

   "And where had been the rout obscene
     Was an army straight with pride,
   A hundred thousand marching men,
     Of squadrons twenty score,
   And after them all the guns, the guns,
     But She went on before."

Since that small riot of ours he may be said without exaggeration to
have worked three revolutions: the first in all that was represented by
the _Eyewitness_, now the _New Witness_, the repudiation of both
Parliamentary parties for common and detailed corrupt practices;
second, the alarum against the huge and silent approach of the Servile
State, using Socialists and Anti-Socialists alike as its tools; and
third, his recent campaign of public education in military affairs. In
all these he played the part which he had played for our little party of
patriotic Pro-Boers. He was a man of action in abstract things. There
was supporting his audacity a great sobriety. It is in this sobriety,
and perhaps in this only, that he is essentially French; that he belongs
to the most individually prudent and the most collectively reckless of
peoples. There is indeed a part of him that is romantic and, in the
literal sense, erratic; but that is the English part. But the French
people take care of the pence that the pounds may be careless of
themselves. And Belloc is almost materialist in his details, that he may
be what most Englishmen would call mystical, not to say monstrous, in
his aim. In this he is quite in the tradition of the only country of
quite successful revolutions. Precisely because France wishes to do wild
things, the things must not be too wild. A wild Englishman like Blake or
Shelley is content with dreaming them. How Latin is this combination
between intellectual economy and energy can be seen by comparing Belloc
with his great forerunner Cobbett, who made war on the same Whiggish
wealth and secrecy and in defence of the same human dignity and
domesticity. But Cobbett, being solely English, was extravagant in his
language even about serious public things, and was wildly romantic even
when he was merely right. But with Belloc the style is often
restrained; it is the substance that is violent. There is many a
paragraph of accusation he has written which might almost be called dull
but for the dynamite of its meaning.

It is probable that I have dealt too much with this phase of him, for it
is the one in which he appears to me as something different, and
therefore dramatic. I have not spoken of those glorious and fantastic
guide-books which are, as it were, the textbooks of a whole science of
Erratics. In these he is borne beyond the world with those poets whom
Keats conceived as supping at a celestial "Mermaid." But the "Mermaid"
was English--and so was Keats. And though Hilaire Belloc may have a
French name, I think that Peter Wanderwide is an Englishman.

I have said nothing of the most real thing about Belloc, the religion,
because it is above this purpose, and nothing of the later attacks on
him by the chief Newspaper Trust, because they are much below it. There
are, of course, many other reasons for passing such matters over here,
including the argument of space; but there is also a small reason of my
own, which if not exactly a secret is at least a very natural ground of
silence. It is that I entertain a very intimate confidence that in a
very little time humanity will be saying, "Who was this So-and-So with
whom Belloc seems to have debated?"

                                             G. K. CHESTERTON


   CHAP.                                         PAGE

      I MR. BELLOC AND THE PUBLIC                   1

     II MR. BELLOC THE MAN                          9

    III PERSONALITY IN STYLE                       16

     IV THE POET                                   27


     VI MR. BELLOC AND THE WAR                     50

    VII MR. BELLOC THE PUBLICIST                   59

   VIII MR. BELLOC AND EUROPE                      71

     IX THE HISTORICAL WRITER                      89

      X MR. BELLOC AND ENGLAND                     99

     XI THE REFORMER                              110

    XII THE HUMOURIST                             116

   XIII THE TRAVELLER                             126

    XIV MR. BELLOC AND THE FUTURE                 138

We have to express our thanks to the following publishers for permission
to quote from those books by Mr. Belloc which are issued by
them:--Messrs. Constable & Co., Ltd., _The Old Road_ and _On Anything_;
Messrs. J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., _The Historic Thames_; Messrs. Duckworth
& Co., _Esto Perpetua_, _Avril_, _Verses_, and _The Bad Child's Book of
Beasts_; Mr. T. N. Foulis, _The Servile State_; Mr. Eveleigh Nash, _The
Eyewitness_ and _Cautionary Tales for Children_; Messrs. Thomas Nelson &
Sons, _Danton_, _The Path to Rome_, _The Four Men_, and _A General
Sketch of the European War_; Messrs. C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd., _The Two
Maps of Europe_; Messrs. Williams & Norgate, Ltd., _The French
Revolution_. The frontispiece is reproduced from _T.P.'s Weekly_ by
courtesy of the editor, Mr. Holbrook Jackson.






We stand upon the brink of a superb adventure. To rummage about in the
lumber-room of a bygone period: to wipe away the dust from
long-neglected annals: to burnish up old facts and fancies: to piece
together the life-story of some loved hero long dead: that is a work of
reverent thought to be undertaken in peace and seclusion. But to plunge
boldly into the study of a living personality: to strive to measure the
greatness of a man just entering the fullness of his powers: to attempt
to grasp the nature of that greatness: this is to go out along the road
of true adventure, the road which is hard to travel, the road which has
no end.

Naturally we cannot hope in this little study to escape those
innumerable pitfalls into which contemporary criticism always stumbles.
It is impossible to-day to view Mr. Belloc and his work in that due
perspective so beloved of the don. No doubt we shall crash headlong into
the most shocking errors of judgement, exaggerating this feature and
belittling that in a way that will horrify the critic of a decade or two
hence. Mr. Belloc himself may turn and rend us: deny our premises:
scatter our syllogisms: pulverize our theories.

This only makes our freedom the greater. Scientific analysis being
beyond attainment, we are tied down by no rules. When we have examined
Mr. Belloc's work and Mr. Belloc's personality, we are free to put
forward (provided we do not mind them being refuted) what theories we
choose. Nothing could be more alluring.

In a book about Mr. Belloc the reader may have expected to make Mr.
Belloc's acquaintance on the first page. But Mr. Belloc is a difficult
man to meet. Even if you have a definite appointment with him (as you
have in this book) you cannot be certain that you will not be obliged to
wait. Every day of Mr. Belloc's life is so full of engagements that he
is inevitably late for some of them. But his courtesy is invariable: and
he will often make himself a little later by stopping to ring you up in
order to apologize for his lateness and to assure you that he will be
with you in a quarter of an hour.

We may imagine him, then, hastening to meet us in one of those taxicabs
of which he is so bountiful a patron, and, in the interval, before we
make his personal acquaintance, try to recall what we already know of

At the present time Mr. Hilaire Belloc to his largest public is quite
simply and solely the war expert. To those people, thousands in number,
who have become acquainted with Mr. Belloc through the columns of _Land
and Water_, the _Illustrated Sunday Herald_, and other journals and
periodicals, or have swelled the audiences at his lectures in London and
the various provincial centres, his name promises escape from the
bewilderment engendered by an irritated Press and an approximation, at
least, to a clear conception of the progress of the war. Those who
realize, as Mr. Belloc himself points out somewhere, that there has
never been a great public occasion in regard to which it is more
necessary that men should have a sound judgment than it is in regard to
this war, gladly turn to him for guidance. His _General Sketch of the
European War_ is read by the educated man who finds himself hampered in
forming an opinion of the progress of events by an ignorance of military
science, while the mass of public opinion, which is less well-informed
and less able to distinguish between the essential and the
non-essential, finds in the series of articles, reprinted in book-form
under the title _The Two Maps_, a rock-basis of general principles on
which it may rest secure from the hurling waves of sensationalism,
ignorance, misrepresentation and foolishness which are striving
perpetually to engulf it.

So intense and so widespread, indeed, is the vogue of Mr. Belloc to-day
as a writer on the war, that one is almost compelled into forgetfulness
of his earlier work and of the reputation he had established for himself
in many provinces of literature and thought before, in the eyes of the
world, he made this new province his own. The colossal monument of
unstinted public approbation, which records his work since the outbreak
of the great war, overshadows, as it were, the temples of less
magnitude, though of equally solid foundation and often of more precious
design, in which his former achievements in art and thought were

That there existed, however, before the war, a large and increasing
public, which was gradually awakening to a realization of Mr. Belloc's
importance, there can be no question.

There can be equally little question, that only a very small percentage
of his readers were in a position even to attempt an appreciation of Mr.
Belloc's full importance.

This was due, chiefly, to the diversity of Mr. Belloc's writings.

For example, many thinking men, who saw no reason why the common sense,
which served them so well in their business affairs, should be banished
from their consideration of matters political, felt themselves in
sympathy with his analysis and denunciation of the evils of our
parliamentary machinery, thoroughly enjoying the vigorous lucidity of
_The Party System_ and applauding the clear historical reasoning of _The
Servile State_.

Other men, repelled, perhaps, by such logical grouping of cold facts,
but attracted by the satirical delights of _Emmanuel Burden_ or _Mr.
Clutterbuck_, of _Pongo and the Bull_ or _A Change in the Cabinet_, were
led to like conclusions, and came to consider themselves adherents of
Mr. Belloc's political views.

Take another instance. Bloodless students of history, absorbing the past
for the sake of the past and not for the sake of the present, who knew
little of Mr. Belloc's attitude toward the politics of the day and
strongly disapproved of what little they did know, yet concerned
themselves with his historical method as applied in _Danton_,
_Robespierre_ or _Marie Antoinette_, and were mildly excited by _The
French Revolution_ into a discussion of what (to Mr. Belloc's horror)
they considered his _Weltanschauung_.

There are but one or two examples of cases in which men of different
types came to a partial knowledge of Mr. Belloc and his work through
their sympathy with the views he expressed. But far beyond and above the
appeal which Mr. Belloc has made on occasion to the political and
historical sense of his readers is the appeal which he has made
consistently to their literary sense in _The Path to Rome_, in _The Four
Men_, in _Avril_, in _The Bad Child's Book of Beasts_, in _Esto
Perpetua_--in his novels, his essays, his poems. If many have been
attracted by his views, how many more have been influenced by his
expression of them?

     "A man desiring to influence his fellowmen," says Mr. Belloc, in
     _The French Revolution_, "has two co-related instruments at his
     disposal.... These two instruments are his idea and his style.
     However powerful, native, sympathetic to his hearers' mood or
     cogently provable by reference to new things may be a man's idea,
     he cannot persuade his fellowmen to it if he have not words that
     express it. And he will persuade them more and more in proportion
     as his words are well-chosen and in the right order, such order
     being determined by the genius of the language from which they are

These words fitly emphasize the importance of style: and when a
distinction is drawn, as is done above, between the appeal which Mr.
Belloc has made to the political and historical sense of his readers and
the appeal he has made to their literary sense, it is, naturally, not
intended to suggest that an appeal to his readers' literary sense is in
any way lacking in Mr. Belloc's political and historical writings. The
appeal to our literary sense is as strong in _The Servile State_ or
_Danton_ as in _The Four Men_ or _Mr. Clutterbuck_. But in the one case,
in the case of the two last-named books, the appeal Mr. Belloc makes is
chiefly to our literary sense: in the other case, in the case of the two
first-named books, there is added to the appeal to our literary sense an
appeal to our political and historical sense.

The nature of Mr. Belloc's own style is dealt with in a later chapter:
here it is merely asserted that, before the war, at any rate, Mr.
Belloc's style was accorded more general recognition than were his
ideas. Many who decried his matter extolled his manner. Many men of
talent, some men of genius, such as the late Rupert Brooke, regarded him
as a very great writer of English prose. Literary _dilettanti_ envied
him the refrains of his _ballades_. His essays, many of which were
manner without matter, were thoroughly popular. What he said might be
nonsense, but the way he said it was irresistible.

Since the beginning of the war Mr. Belloc has had that to say which
everybody desired to hear. He has known how to say that which everybody
desired to hear in the way it might best be said. He has been in a
position to express ideas with which every one wished to become
familiar: he has known how to express those ideas so that they might be
readily grasped. And he has become famous.

To those who were acquainted with but a part of his work before the war
Mr. Belloc's sudden leap into prominence as the most noteworthy writer
on military affairs in England must have come as somewhat of a shock. To
those whose knowledge of Mr. Belloc's writings was confined to _The Path
to Rome_ or the _Cautionary Tales_, who thought of him as essayist or
poet, this must have seemed a strange metamorphosis indeed. Even those
who were conversant with his study of the military aspects of the
Revolution and had noticed the careful attention paid by Mr. Belloc to
military matters in various books could scarcely have been prepared for
such an avalanche of highly-specialized knowledge. For we are all prone
to the mistake of confusing a man with his books.

With regard to some writers this error does not necessarily lead to very
evil results. There are some writers who express themselves as much in
one part of their work as in another. Take Mr. H. G. Wells as an
example. His writings, it is true, are varied in character, ranging from
phantasy to philosophy, from sociology to science. But through all his
writings there runs a thin thread which binds all of them together.
That thread is the personality of Mr. Wells finding expression. In such
a case as this personal knowledge of the man merely amplifies the idea
of him which we have been able to gather from his work.

But with Mr. Belloc the case is different. Can any full idea of Mr.
Belloc, the man, be formed by reading his books? It is to be doubted.
Were you to consult a reader of Mr. Wells' phantasies and a reader of
Mr. Wells' sociological novels with regard to the ideas of the writer
they had gleaned, you would find that the mental pictures they had
painted had many characteristics in common. Were you to make the same
experiment with a reader of Mr. Belloc's political writings and, say, a
subscriber to the _Morning Post_, who knew him by his essays alone, the
pictures would be entirely dissimilar.

And if it be admitted that this is so, the question arises: why is it
so? If, in the case of Mr. Wells, the writer is dimly visible through
the veil of his writings, why does Mr. Belloc remain hidden? This must
not be understood as meaning that Mr. Belloc's personality is not
expressed in his writings. To offer such an explanation would be merely
absurd. But it means that his personality is not expressed, as is that
of Mr. Wells, completely though cloudily, in any one book. To offer as a
reason that the one is subjective, the other objective is nonsense.
Every writer is necessarily both.

There are two answers to the question: the one partially, the other
wholly true. To attempt to find the answer which is wholly true is one
of the reasons why this book was written.

For the moment, however, let us be content with the answer which is
partially true. Let us accept the charge of a contemporary and friend of
Mr. Belloc who has long loomed large in the world of literature:--

   "Mr. Hilaire Belloc
    Is a case for legislation _ad hoc_:
    He seems to think nobody minds
    His books being all of different kinds."

That is the charge. A plea of guilty and, at the same time, a defence
based on justification might be found in Mr. Belloc's words (which occur
at the end of one of his essays): "What a wonderful world it is and how
many things there are in it!"

Thus might we bolster up the answer which is but partially true until
it seemed wholly true. We might make Mr. Belloc's diversity his
disguise. We might hoodwink the public.

But that is a dangerous game. The public has a habit of finding out. Mr.
Belloc himself is always on the watch to expose impostors (especially
the Parliamentary kind) and he has described most graphically the fate
awaiting them:--

   "For every time She shouted 'Fire!'
    The people answered 'Little Liar!'"

So let us view the matter squarely.

The aim of this little study, if so ambitious a phrase may be used of
what is purely a piece of self-indulgence, is to present the public with
as complete an idea as possible of Mr. Belloc and his work. Up to the
present, the relations between Mr. Belloc and the public have been, to
say the least, peculiar. If we regard the public as a mass subject to
attack and the author as the attacker, we may say that, whereas most
contemporary authors have attacked at one spot only and used their
gradually increasing strength to drive on straight into the heart of the
mass, Mr. Belloc has attacked at various points. It is obvious, however,
that these various separate attacks, if they are to achieve their
object, which is the subjection of the mass, must be thoroughly
co-ordinated and have large reserve forces upon which to draw.

Some slight outline of the nature of the various attacks on the public
made by Mr. Belloc has already been given. We stand amazed to-day by the
unqualified success which has attended the attack carried into effect by
his writings on the war. But if we are to form even an approximation to
a complete idea of Mr. Belloc, it is necessary to examine these various
attacks, not merely separately and in detail, but in their relation to
each other and as a co-ordinated plan. And before we can hope to measure
the strength of that plan, we must examine the mind which ordains its
co-ordination and the forces which render possible its execution: in
other words, the personality of Mr. Belloc.

Any rigid distinction, then, drawn between Mr. Belloc's political,
historical and other writings is ultimately arbitrary. In the ensuing
pages of this book it will be seen how essentially interwoven and
interdependent are the various aspects of Mr. Belloc's work and how they
have developed, not the one out of the other, but alongside and in
co-relation with each other. For the sake of clearness, however, some
basis of classification must be adopted, and that of _subject_, though
rough and inadequate, will be understood, perhaps, most readily.

       *       *       *       *       *

With a jerk a taxicab stops in the street outside. We hear the sound of
quick footsteps along the stone-flagged passage, with a rattle of the
handle the door swings wide open and Mr. Belloc is in the middle of the



Short of stature, he yet dominates those in the room by virtue of the
force within him. So abundant is his vitality, that less forceful
natures receive from him an access of energy. This vigour appears, in
his person, in the massive breadth of his shoulders and the solidity of
his neck. With the exception of his marked breadth, he is
well-proportioned in build, though somewhat stout. His head is rather
Roman in shape, and his face, with its wide, calm brow, piercing eyes,
aquiline nose, straight mouth and square jaw, expresses a power of deep
reflection combined with a very lively interest in the things of the
moment, but, above all, tremendous determination. He holds himself
erect, with square shoulders; but the appearance of a stoop is given to
his figure by the habit, acquired by continual writing and public
speaking, of moving with his head thrust forward.

In his movements, he is as rapid and decided as, in the giving of
instructions, he is clear and terse. In debate or argument his speech is
often loud and accompanied by vigorous and decided gestures; but in
conversation his manner is constrained and his voice quiet and clear
with a strong power of appeal which is enhanced by a slight French lisp.
At times he is violent in his language and movements, but he is never
restless or vague. In everything he says and does he is orderly. This
orderliness of speech and action is the outcome of an orderliness of
mind which is as complete as it is rare, and endows Mr. Belloc with a
power of detaching his attention from one subject and transferring it,
not partially but entirely, to another. As a result, whatever he is
doing, however small or however great the piece of work in hand, upon
that for the time being is his whole vigour concentrated.

This almost unlimited, but, at the same time, thoroughly controlled and
well-directed energy, is Mr. Belloc's most prominent characteristic. He
is always busy, yet always with more to do than he can possibly
accomplish. He has never a moment to waste. As a consequence, he often
gives the impression of being brusque and domineering. His manner to
those he does not know is uninviting. This is because the meeting of
strangers to so busy a man can never be anything but an interruption,
signifying a loss of valuable time. He is anxious to bring you to your
point at once and to express his own opinion as shortly and plainly as
possible. The temperamentally nervous who meet him but casually find him
harsh and think him a bully.

He is nothing of the sort. He is a man of acute perceptions and fine
feelings; and with those whom he knows well he is scrupulous to make due
allowance for temperamental peculiarities. When you have learnt to know
him well, when you have seen him in his rare moments of leisure and
repose, you realize how abundantly he is possessed of those qualities
which go to form what is called depth of character. His humour and
good-fellowship attract men to him: his power of understanding and
sympathy tie them to him. He is the very antithesis of a self-centred
man. His first question, when he meets you, is of yourself and your
doings; he never speaks of himself. He is always more interested in the
activities of others than in what he himself is doing. He is engrossed
in his work; but he is interested in it as in something outside himself,
not as in something which is a very vital part of himself. It is this
characteristic which leads one to consider the whole of his work up to
the present time as the expression of but a part of the man. Great and
valuable as is that work--it has been said of him that he has had more
influence on his generation than any other one man--Mr. Belloc's
personality inspires the belief that he is capable of yet greater

This belief is supported by the undeniable fact that Mr. Belloc is an
idealist. He has ideals both for individual and communal life. But
ideals to him are not, as to so many men, a delight of the imagination
or a means of consoling themselves for being obliged to live in the
world as it is. They are guides to conduct and inspirations to action: a
goal which is reached in the striving.

Most of us go about this world imagining ourselves to be not as we are,
but as we should like ourselves to be. No man who is not wholly
unimaginative can escape this form of self-consciousness. Certainly no
man who has in him anything of the artist can escape it: less still a
man who is so much of an artist as Mr. Belloc. It has been remarked of
Mr. Belloc time and again that he would make an extraordinarily fine
revolutionary leader, and it is interesting to find in Mr. Belloc's work
a description of one of the greatest revolutionary leaders which might
in many respects be a description of Mr. Belloc himself. We refer to Mr.
Belloc's description of the appearance and character of Danton. Though
it would be absurd to suggest that Mr. Belloc has deliberately modelled
his life on that of Danton, yet the resemblance between Mr. Belloc's own
personality and the personality (as Mr. Belloc describes it) of Danton
is so striking, that we cannot avoid quoting the passage at considerable
length. It is interesting, too, to recall that this monograph, which is
obviously based on very careful and deep research, was written by Mr.
Belloc shortly after he came down from Oxford, and was the first work of
importance he published. Mr. Belloc describes Danton thus:--

     He was tall and stout, with the forward bearing of the orator, full
     of gesture and of animation. He carried a round French head upon
     the thick neck of energy. His face was generous, ugly, and
     determined. With wide eyes and calm brows, he yet had the quick
     glance which betrays the habit of appealing to an audience.... In
     his dress he had something of the negligence which goes with
     extreme vivacity and with a constant interest in things outside
     oneself; but it was invariably that of his rank. Indeed, to the
     minor conventions Danton always bowed, because he was a man, and
     because he was eminently sane. More than did the run of men at that
     time, he understood that you cut down no tree by lopping at the
     leaves, nor break up a society by throwing away a wig. The decent
     self-respect which goes with conscious power was never absent from
     his costume, though it often left his language in moments of
     crisis, or even of irritation. I will not insist too much upon his
     great character of energy, because it has been so over-emphasized
     as to give a false impression of him. He was admirably sustained in
     his action, and his political arguments were as direct as his
     physical efforts were continuous, but the banal picture of fury
     which is given you by so many writers is false. For fury is empty,
     whereas Danton was full, and his energy was at first the force at
     work upon a great mass of mind, and later its momentum. Save when
     he had the direct purpose of convincing a crowd, his speech had no
     violence, and even no metaphor; in the courts he was a close
     reasoner, and one who put his points with ability and with
     eloquence rather than with thunder. But in whatever he undertook,
     vigour appeared as the taste of salt in a dish. He could not quite
     hide this vigour: his convictions, his determination, his vision
     all concentrate upon whatsoever thing he has in hand. He possessed
     a singularly wide view of the Europe in which France stood. In this
     he was like Mirabeau, and peculiarly unlike the men with whom
     revolutionary government threw him into contact. He read and spoke
     English, he was acquainted with Italian. He knew that the kings
     were dilettanti, that the theory of the aristocracies was liberal.
     He had no little sympathy with the philosophy which a leisurely
     oligarchy had framed in England; it is one of the tragedies of the
     Revolution that he desired to the last an alliance, or at least
     peace, with this country. Where Robespierre was a maniac in foreign
     policy, Danton was more than a sane--he was a just, and even a
     diplomatic man. He was fond of wide reading, and his reading was of
     the philosophers; it ranged from Rabelais to the physiocrats in his
     own tongue, from Adam Smith to the _Essay on Civil Government_ in
     that of strangers; and of the Encyclopædia he possessed all the
     numbers steadily accumulated. When we consider the time, his
     fortune, and the obvious personal interest in so small and
     individual a collection, few shelves will be found more interesting
     than those which Danton delighted to fill. In his politics he
     desired above all actual, practical, and apparent reforms; changes
     for the better expressed in material results. He differed from many
     of his countrymen at that time, and from most of his political
     countrymen now, in thus adopting the tangible. It was a part of
     something in his character which was nearly allied to the stock of
     the race, something which made him save and invest in land as does
     the French peasant, and love, as the French peasant loves, good
     government, order, security, and well-being. There is to be
     discovered in all the fragments which remain to us of his
     conversation before the bursting of the storm, and still more
     clearly in his demand for a _centre_ when the invasion and the
     rebellion threatened the Republic, a certain conviction that the
     revolutionary thing rather than the revolutionary idea should be
     produced: not an inspiring creed, but a goal to be reached,
     sustained him. Like all active minds, his mission was rather to
     realize than to plan, and his energies were determined upon seeing
     the result of theories which he unconsciously admitted, but which
     he was too impatient to analyse. His voice was loud even when his
     expressions were subdued. He talked no man down, but he made many
     opponents sound weak and piping after his utterance. It was of the
     kind that fills great halls, and whose deep note suggests hard
     phrases. There was with all this a carelessness as to what his
     words might be made to mean when partially repeated by others, and
     such carelessness has caused historians still more careless to lend
     a false aspect of Bohemianism to his character. A Bohemian he was
     not; he was a successful and an orderly man; but energy he had, and
     if there are writers who cannot conceive of energy without chaos,
     it is probably because in the studious leisure of vast endowments
     they have never felt the former in themselves, nor have been
     compelled to control the latter in their surroundings.... His
     friends also he loved, and above all, from the bottom of his soul,
     he loved France. His faults--and they were many--his vices (and a
     severe critic would have discovered these also) flowed from two
     sources: first, he was too little of an idealist, too much absorbed
     in the immediate thing; secondly, he suffered from all the evil
     effects that abundant energy may produce--the habit of oaths, the
     rhetoric of sudden diatribes, violent and overstrained action, with
     its subsequent demand for repose.

This is neither the place nor the time to enter into details of Mr.
Belloc's life. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember a few points in
his career when tracing the development of his work. The first important
point to remember is that Mr. Belloc, for a man who has achieved so
much, is still comparatively young. He was born at La Celle, St. Cloud,
near Paris, in 1870, the son of Louis Swanton Belloc, a French
barrister. His mother was English, the daughter of Joseph Parkes, a man
of some considerable importance in his own time, a politician of the
Reform Bill period, and the historian of the Chancery Bar. His book on
this subject is still considered the best authority.

Mr. Belloc was educated at the Oratory School, Edgbaston. On leaving
school he served as a driver in the 8th Regiment of French Artillery. He
left the service for Balliol in 1892, and in the following year became a
Brackenbury History Scholar of that college and took First Class honours
in his final history schools in 1895. In the same year he published
_Verses and Sonnets_, which was followed in 1896 by _The Bad Child's
Book of Beasts_. This was followed the next year by _More Beasts for
Worse Children_. In 1898 _The Modern Traveller_ appeared, and in 1899 he
published his first work of outstanding importance--the study of
_Danton_. _Robespierre_ was published in 1901, and _The Path to Rome_ in
1902; _Emmanuel Burden_ was published in 1904, and _Esto Perpetua_ in
1906. By this time Mr. Belloc's literary reputation was so firmly
established that he was offered, and accepted, the post of chief
reviewer on the staff of the _Morning Post_. During the time he was
connected with this paper he not only attracted attention to it by his
own essays, but undoubtedly rendered it solid service by introducing to
its somewhat conservative columns a new group of writing men. It was in
1906, too, that Mr. Belloc was elected "Liberal member" for South
Salford. His independent mind was at variance with the "tone of the
House," and he distinguished himself by demanding an audit of the Secret
Party Funds, which he considered to be the chief source of political
corruption. At the next election in 1910 the Party Funds were not
forthcoming in his support, but he stood as an independent candidate and
was returned in the face of the caucus. On the occasion of the second
election of 1910, he refused to repeat his candidature, having declared,
in his last speech in the House, his opinion that a seat there under the
existing machine was valueless. In 1910 he resigned his appointment on
the _Morning Post_, and in 1911 became Head of the English Literature
Department at the East London College, a post he lost (for political
reasons) in 1913.



In the foregoing chapters we have seen something of Mr. Belloc's career
and caught a glimpse of the man as he is to-day. But in common with
every other writer of note Mr. Belloc expresses his personality in his
writings. And the lighter the subject with which he is dealing, the more
he is writing, as it were, out of himself, the clearer is the picture we
get of him. If we turn, then, to his essays, collected from here and
there, on this and that, on everything and on nothing, we may see Mr.
Belloc reflected in the clear stream of his own writing: and in
proportion as the reflection is vivid or blurred we may rank him as a
stylist and writer of English prose.

Style in prose or verse has never existed and cannot exist of itself
alone. Style is not the art of writing melodious words or the craft or
cunning of finding a way round the split infinitive. It is the ability
so to choose forms of expression as completely to convey to a reader all
the twists and turns and outlines of a character.

It is not even necessarily confined to the handling of words: there is
nothing more characteristic in the style of Mr. H. G. Wells than the use
of the three dots ... which journalism has recently invented. There may
be style--that is, the expression of a temperament--in the position of a
dash or of a semicolon: Heaven knows, a modern German poet enters the
confessional when he uses marks of exclamation.

Style, it must be repeated, is the exact and faithful representation of
a man's spirit in poetry or prose. The precise value of that spirit does
not matter for the moment. James Boswell, Dr. Johnson and Porteous,
Bishop of Chester, investigated the matter with some acumen and some
fruitfulness in one of their terrifying conversations:

     What I wanted to know [Boswell says] was, whether there was really
     a peculiar style to every man whatever, as there is certainly a
     peculiar hand-writing, a peculiar countenance, not widely different
     in many, yet always enough to be distinctive:

          "--facies non omnibus una
             nec diversa tamen"--

     The Bishop thought not; and said, he supposed that many pieces in
     Dodsley's collection of poems, though all very pretty, had nothing
     appropriated in their style, and in that particular could not be at
     all distinguished. JOHNSON. "Why, sir, I think every man whatever
     has a peculiar style, which may be discerned by nice examination
     and comparison with others: but a man must write a great deal to
     make his style obviously discernible. As logicians say, this
     appropriation of style is infinite _in potestate_, limited _in

It would appear at first sight sufficient, to confute Johnson, to refer
to the four hundred volumes of verse, which are published (so it is said
in the newspapers of this trade) in every year. But he overlooked only
one thing: namely the tendency of literary men to be insincere. It is
the habit of writing in phrases, very much like building up a picture
out of blocks that have on them already portions of a picture, which
comes between the spirit of the writer and its true expression in a
native style.

Even this is no barrier to a sensitive ear. An experienced reporter once
told the present writer that he could distinguish, by internal evidence
alone, the authorship of almost every paragraph in the detestable
halfpenny newspaper to which he then contributed.

Mr. Belloc, at least, has covered a sufficient quantity of pages to make
it easy, if Johnson's notion be correct, for any critic who honestly
undertakes the task, to discern the characteristics of his style. To
convey his impression thereof in a convincing way to the reader is not
so easy for the critic: and the wealth and breadth of his subject may
hamper him here.

Before we begin an exposition of Mr. Belloc's style, an exposition which
is meant to be in the true sense a criticism and in the full sense an
appreciation, let us recapitulate the points we have already established
in our inquiry into the nature of style as an abstract quality, and let
us essay to add to them such points as may assist us in our difficult
task of estimating the worth of a very good style indeed.

Style, we have said, results from the exact and accurate expression of a
temperament or a character--as you please, for it is true that the word
"temperament" is dangerous. We have also observed that, in viewing style
from this angle of sight, it does not matter to the inquiry whether the
character in question is desirable or hateful. That man has a style who
does sincerely and exactly express his true spirit in any medium, words
or music or little dots. Such a style has the worth of genuineness and,
to the curious in psychology, it has a certain positive value. A man who
achieves so much deserves almost the title of poet: he certainly is of a
kind rare in its appearances.

But when we begin seriously to speak of excellence in prose, or verse,
we must add yet another test, to pass which a man must not only express
his spirit with sincerity, but must also have a strong and original
spirit. It will be our business now to search out, delimit and define,
not only Mr. Belloc's nicety and felicity of expression, but also the
value of the thing which he expresses.

Enough will be said up and down this book and going about in the
chapters of it of that lucidity which is our author's peculiar merit and
the quality which most effectively permits him to play his part as a
spreader of ideas and of information. It is a French virtue, we are
told, and Mr. Belloc is of the French blood: it is the essence of the
Latin spirit, he tells us, and he has never wearied of praising the
glories of the race which carefully and logically made all fast and
secure about it with a chain of irrefragable reasoning.

This lucidity, this patient passion for exactness, have added to what
might have been expected of Mr. Belloc's sincerity and unlimited
capacity for enthusiasm. In that admirable phrase of Buffon, too often
quoted and too little applied, the style is the man. This is a fine
writer, because he has the craft truly to represent a fine spirit in

It is a style which is strongly individual and which is on the whole
rather restful than provocative. The reader's mind reposes on the
security of these strongly moulded sentences, these solid paragraphs and
periods. It is a considered style in which word after word falls
admirably into its appointed place. It is not quite of the eighteenth
century, for it is stronger than that prose. It certainly has not the
undisciplined aspect of Elizabethan writing. It has the exactitude
without the occasional finickingness of the best French work, and it has
the breadth of English, but never falls into confusion, clumsiness or
extravagance. Mr. Belloc does not experience difficulties with his
relative pronouns or bog himself in a mess of parentheses. The habit of
exposition has taught him to disentangle his sentences and disengage his
qualifying clauses.

It is pre-eminently and especially an instrument. It has been evolved by
a man whose passion it is to communicate his reflections, to make
himself understood. He has learnt the practice of good writing through
this desire and not by any sick languishing to construct beautiful
mosaics or melodious descriptions.

The English are not a nation of prose-writers. Arnold reminded us often
enough that we lacked the balance, the sense of the centre, the facility
in the use of right reason; and Mr. Belloc has continued his arguments.
But Mr. Belloc has in his blood that touch of the Latin and in his mind
that sense of the centre, of a European life which corrects the English
waywardness. It is with no hesitation that we call him--subject to the
correction of time, wherefrom no critic is exempt--the best writer of
English prose since Dryden.

Some one said once that were Shakespeare living now he would be writing
articles for the leader-page of the _Daily Mail_. As Shakespeare is not
living now, his place, of course, is filled by Mr. Charles Whibley. But
there is some sense in the apparently silly remark. The column of the
morning paper has, without doubt, provoked the creation of a new form
and has brought forth a renaissance of the essay. If Shakespeare would
not have written for the daily papers, Bacon unquestionably would have
done so.

In a band of essayists who have been made or influenced by this
opportunity, Mr. G. K. Chesterton, Mr. G. S. Street, Mr. E. V. Lucas,
and a host of others, Mr. Hilaire Belloc is unchallengeably supreme. It
is stupid to suppose, as some still do, that art and literature are not
thus conditioned by the almost mechanical needs of the day. To protest
that our writers should not be influenced by the special features of the
newspaper would be to condemn Shakespeare for his conformity with the
needs of the apron-stage or Dickens for publishing his novels in parts.

A mind of a character so actual as Mr. Belloc's is inevitably attracted
by such an opportunity. The discerning reader will find the crown and
best achievement of all his varied work in the seven volumes of essays
which he has published.

These volumes contain no fewer than 256 separate and distinct essays.
(The essay _On the Traveller_ which was included in _On Anything_
appears again, for some reason, as _The Old Things_ in _First and
Last_, and is not here counted twice.) One is reduced to jealousy of the
mere physical energy which could sit down so often to a new beginning:
the variety and power of the essays command our utmost admiration.

Descriptions of travel and of country make up a great part of them: for
this is our author's own subject, if it be possible to select one from
the rest. But the rest of them range from the study of history and the
habits of the don, to the habits of the rich and the strange
advertisements that come, through the post, even to the least considered
of us. You can only take his own words, the central point of his
experience, a very comforting and happy philosophy:

     The world is not quite infinite--but it is astonishingly full. All
     sorts of things happen in it. There are all sorts of men and
     different ways of action and different goals to which life may be
     directed. Why, in a little wood near home, not a hundred yards
     long, there will soon burst, in the spring (I wish I were there!),
     hundreds of thousands of leaves and no one leaf exactly like
     another. At least, so the parish priest used to say, and though I
     have never had the leisure to put the thing to the proof, I am
     willing to believe that he was right, for he spoke with authority.

That is the impression given by these essays, the impression of the
man's character. He seems to have a boundless curiosity, a range of
observation, which, if not infinite, is at least astonishingly full. He
does not write from the mere desire of covering paper, though sometimes
he flourishes in one's face almost insolently the necessity he is in of
setting down so many words as will fill a column in tomorrow's paper.
But this insolence is rendered harmless by the fertility of his
imagination and his inexhaustible invention.

The patch of purple is not rare in his writings. He says in _The Path to

     ... But for my part, I think the best way of ending a book is to
     rummage about among one's manuscripts till one has found a bit of
     Fine Writing (no matter upon what subject), to lead up the last
     paragraphs by no matter what violent shocks to the thing it deals
     with, to introduce a row of asterisks, and then to paste on to the
     paper below these the piece of Fine Writing one has found.

This reads like a frank confession of the way in which the last page of
_Danton_ came to have its place. But who dare say that Mr. Belloc is not
justified of his Fine Writing?

It does not come like the purple patches (or lumps) in Pater and the
"poetry" in the prose and verse of Mr. Masefield: as though the author
said to himself, "God bless my soul, this is getting dull. I must
positively do something and that at once." Mr. Belloc's fine writing
seems to spring from an almost physical zest in the use of words and
images, to be the result of a bodily exaltation, the symbol of an
enthusiastic mind and an energetic pen. No matter by what violent shocks
the author proceeds from Danton to Napoleon, that concluding passage,
ending with the shining and magniloquent phrase, "the most splendid of
human swords," is a glorious piece of writing.

From time to time (and more frequently than the inexperienced would dare
to suppose) this zest in the world and its contents, in the normal and
insoluble problems of life, breaks into passages of sheer beauty. One
may be quoted from an essay called _The Absence of the Past_:

     There was a woman of charming vivacity, whose eyes were ever ready
     for laughter, and whose tone of address of itself provoked the
     noblest of replies. Many loved her: all admired. She passed (I will
     suppose) by this street or by that; she sat at table in such and
     such a house, Gainsborough painted her; and all that time ago there
     were men who had the luck to meet her and to answer her laughter
     with their own. And the house where she moved is there and the
     street in which she walked, and the very furniture she used and
     touched with her hands you may touch with your hands. You shall
     come into the rooms that she inhabited, and there you shall see
     her portrait, all light and movement and grace and beatitude.

     She is gone altogether, the voice will never return, the gestures
     will never be seen again. She was under a law, she changed, she
     suffered, she grew old, she died; and there was her place left
     empty. The not living things remain; but what counted, what gave
     rise to them, what made them all that they are, has pitifully
     disappeared, and the greater, the infinitely greater, thing was
     subject to a doom perpetually of change and at last of vanishing.
     The dead surroundings are not subject to such a doom. Why?

That passage is like a piece of music, like a movement in a sonata by
Beethoven. The chords, the volume of sound are gravely added to, till
that solemn close on a single note. It is emotion, perfectly rendered,
so grave, so sincere, so restrained as to be almost inimitable. And
alike in the music of the words and sentences and in the mood which they
convey it is unique in English. Not one of our authors has just that
frame of mind, just that method of expressing it.

We do not know whether Mr. Belloc wrote down those two paragraphs in hot
haste or considered their periods with delicate cunning. In the end it
is all the same: it is a reasonable prose, it is the expression of a
thought which is common in the human mind. Consider in relation to it
that notorious piece of Pater, that reflection of the essential don upon
a picture which is possibly a copy and certainly not very pleasant to
look upon, the _Mona Lisa_. Pater builds up his words with as grave a
care, with as solemn an emotion, but how different is the result. Pater
sought for an effect of strangeness and cracked his prose in reaching at
it: his rhythm is false, his images are blurred. But Mr. Belloc,
translating into words a deep and tender mood, has had no care save
faithfully to render a thought so common and so hard to imprison in
language. His writing here rings true as a bell, it is as sweet and
normal as bread or wine.

An even better example is the essay called _Mowing a Field_ which is
printed in _Hills and the Sea_. The centre of this essay (which has also
decorations in the way of anecdotes and reflections) is a true and
faithful account of the procedure to be observed in the mowing of a
field of grass. Here you can see a most extraordinary power of conveying
information in a pleasing manner. It would not be a bad thing to read
this essay first if one had the intention of engaging in such exercise,
for the instruction seems to be sound. Mr. Belloc touches hands very
easily with the old Teachers who wrote their precepts in rhyme: such
teachers, that is, as had good doctrine to teach, not such as the
sophisticated Vergil, whose very naïf _Georgics_ are said to lead to
agricultural depression wherever men follow the advice they contain.

Take this passage from that delicate and noble essay:

     There is an art also in the sharpening of a scythe and it is worth
     describing carefully. Your blade must be dry, and that is why you
     will see men rubbing the scythe-blade with grass before they whet
     it. Then also your rubber must be quite dry, and on this account it
     is a good thing to lay it on your coat and keep it there during all
     your day's mowing. The scythe you stand upright, with the blade
     pointing away from you, and you put your left hand firmly on the
     back of the blade, grasping it: then you pass the rubber first down
     one side of the blade edge and then down the other, beginning near
     the handle and going on to the point and working quickly and hard.
     When you first do this you will, perhaps, cut your hand; but it is
     only at first that such an accident will happen to you.

     To tell when the scythe is sharp enough this is the rule. First the
     stone clangs and grinds against the iron harshly; then it rings
     musically to one note; then, at last, it purrs as though the iron
     and the stone were exactly suited. When you hear this, your scythe
     is sharp enough; and I, when I heard it that June dawn, with
     everything quite silent except the birds, let down the scythe and
     bent myself to mow.

That is a piece of prose which is at once practical and beautiful. It
is sound advice to a man who would mow a meadow, and the soundness of it
is in no way hurt by the last sentence, which delights the ear and which
need not be read by the truly earnest.

It is a style which conveys emotion and it is also a style which can be
used perfectly to describe. We may refer, at least, as an example, to
the careful and exact account of the appearance and utility of the
Mediterranean lateen-sail which occurs at the beginning of _Esto
Perpetua_, a piece of writing which enchants the reader with its beauty
and its practical sense.

Consider, too, that light and graceful composition of a different
character, equally perfect in beauty, the dialogue _On the Departure of
a Guest_, in the book called _On Nothing and Kindred Subjects_. Youth
leaves the house of his Host and apologizes for removing certain
property of his, which the Host may have thought, from its long
continuance in the house, to have been his very own: included in this
property are carelessness and the love of women. But, says Youth, he is
permitted to make a gift to his Host of some things, among them the
clout Ambition, the perfume Pride, Health, and a trinket which is the
Sense of Form and Colour (most delicate and lovely of gifts!) And, he
continues, "there is something else ... no less a thing than a promise
... signed and sealed, to give you back all I take and more in
Immortality!" Then occurs this passage which closes the piece:

     HOST. Oh! Youth.

     YOUTH (_still feeling_). Do not thank me! It is my Master you
     should thank. (_Frowns._) Dear me! I hope I have not lost it!
     (_Feels in his trouser pockets._)

     HOST (_loudly_). Lost it?

     YOUTH (_pettishly_). I did not say I had lost it! I said I hoped I
     had not.... (_Feels in his great coat pocket, and pulls out an
     envelope._) Ah! Here it is! (_His face clouds over._) No, that is
     the message to Mrs. George, telling her the time has come to get a
     wig ... (_Hopelessly_.) Do you know I am afraid I have lost it! I
     am really very sorry--I cannot wait. (_He goes off._)

That passage would appear to confute a quite common notion to the effect
that Mr. Belloc, who can and does write nearly everything else, does not
write a play because he cannot. It is not for the purpose of arguing
such a highly abstract point that we must call attention to the exact
way in which it conforms to the necessities of this kind of expression
without losing its character, its vividness, or its rhythm.

It is admirably moulded in its expression of a feeling or a sensation,
and, in this way, Mr. Belloc's style comes very nearly as close to
perfection as can be expected of a human instrument. He renders his
moods, the fine shades of a transitory emotion, the solid convictions
that make up a man's life with spirit, with humour, with beauty, but,
above all, with _accuracy_.

He builds up his sentences and paragraphs with the beauty and permanency
of the old barns that one may see in his own country. He does this
through his sincerity. He does not exaggerate an emotion to catch a
public for the space of half an hour: he does not, in the more subtle
way, affect a cynical or conventional disregard of the noble feelings
and fine motives which do exist in man. It has been his business with
patience and fidelity to seize, with skill to make enduring and
comprehensible in words, the things which do exist.

His style is a weapon or an instrument like one of those primitive but
exquisitely adapted instruments which are the foundations of man's work
in the world. With his use of words, he knows how to expose the
technicalities of a battle or the transformations of the human heart.



So much for Mr. Belloc's most copious revelation of his personality. But
this is true--that the most personal expression of all for any man is in
verse: even though it be small in quantity and uneven in quality. It is
as though, here, in a more rarefied and more complex form of
composition--we will not say "more difficult"--some kind of effort or
struggle called out all of a man's characteristics in their intensest
shape. Such emotions as a man has to express will be, perhaps not more
perfectly, but at any rate more keenly, set out in verse. It gives you
his characteristics in a smaller space. This is true of nearly all
writers who have used both forms of expression. It applies--to quote
only a few--to Arnold, to Meredith, and to Mr. Hardy.

Now we must admit at the outset that Mr. Belloc's verse does not satisfy
the reader, in the same sense that his prose satisfies. It is
fragmentary, unequal, very small in bulk, apparently the outcome of a
scanty leisure. But it is an ingredient in the mass of his writing that
cannot be dismissed without discussion.

Mr. Belloc realizes to the full the position of poetry in life. He gives
it the importance of an element which builds up and broadens the
understanding and the spirit. He has written some, but not very much,
literary criticism; and, of a piece with the rest of thinking, he thinks
of poetry as a factor in, and a symptom of, the growth and maintenance
of the European mind. He would not understand the facile critics who
only yesterday dismissed this necessary element of literature as
something which the modern world has outgrown.

But, curiously, he is a disappointing critic of Literature. His essays
in this regard are, like his essays on anything else, obviously in
touch with some substratum of connected thinking, a growth which springs
from a settled and confident attitude towards man and the world. But
they are, as it were, less in touch with it; they are more on the
surface, more accidental, less continuous.

His little--very little--essays on the verse of the French Renaissance
are extremely unsatisfactory. His criticism of Ronsard's _Mignonne,
allons voir si la rose_ is a little masterpiece of delicate

     If it be asked why this should have become the most famous of
     Ronsard's poems, no answer can be given save the "flavour of
     language." It is the perfection of his tongue. Its rhythm reaches
     the exact limit of change which a simple metre will tolerate: where
     it saddens, a lengthy hesitation at the opening of the seventh line
     introduces a new cadence, a lengthy lingering upon the last
     syllables of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth closes a grave
     complaint. So, also by an effect of quantities, the last six lines
     rise out of melancholy into their proper character of appeal and
     vivacity: an exhortation.

This passage, which, as a demonstration of method, is not altogether
meaningless, even without the text beside it, shows the accuracy and
nicety of his criticism. And _Avril_ contains a number of similar
observations which are valuable in the extreme as aids to judgement and
pleasure. But the book has written all over it a confession, that this
is a department of writing which the author is content, comparatively,
to neglect. The essays are short and, again comparatively, they are
detached: they examine each poem by itself, not in its general aspect.
And it is, too, a singular example of book-making: there are more blank
pages, in proportion to its total bulk, than one could have believed

The rare studies dealing with poetry which one finds among his general
essays also bear witness to his discrimination and determined judgement.
The essay on José-Maria de Hérédia in _First and Last_ is a remarkable
example of these, a remarkable analysis of a poet who is, if not
obscure, at least reticent and difficult to like, and in whom Mr. Belloc
sees the recapturer of "the secure tradition of an older time." And this
essay relates the spirit of a poet to the general conception of Europe
and its destiny.

Such a relation is rare. Poetry seems to lie, to an extent, apart from
Mr. Belloc's definite and consistent view of life. He takes other
pleasures, beer, walking, singing and what not, with the utmost
seriousness: this he treats, at bottom, casually and disconnectedly. We
can just perceive how he links it up with his general conception of
life, but we can only just see it. The link is there, but he has never
strengthened it.

And when we turn from his opinions on other men's poetry to his own
compositions, we find the same broad effect of casualness varied with
passages of singular achievement. His verse is very small in bulk:
between two and three thousand lines would cover as much of it as he has
yet published. Within this restricted space there are numerous
variations of type, but these, in verse, are so subtle and so fluid that
we are forbidden to attempt a rigid classification.

What, then, is our impression on surveying this collection of poetry? It
includes a number of small amusing books for children, a volume called
_Verses_ and a few more verses scattered in the prose, most notably (as
being not yet collected) in _The Four Men_. The general impression is,
as we have said, one of confusion and lack of order: verse, the
revealing instrument, seems to be to Mr. Belloc a pastime for moments of
dispersion, and most of these poems seem to point to intervals of
refreshment, periods of a light use of the powers, rather than to the
seconds of intense feeling whereof verse, either at the time or later,
is the proper expression.

It goes without saying that little enough of this verse is dull: it
nearly all has character, a distinct personal flavour in phrasing and
motive. Yet this flavour is best known to the public in its development
by the first of brilliant young men to be influenced by Mr. Belloc's
style, as apart from his ideas. We may pause a moment to examine this
point, for its own special interest and for the guide it will give us to
Mr. Belloc's poetry.

Rupert Brooke has been called too often the disciple of Dr. Donne: no
critic, so far as we are aware, has called attention to his debt to Mr.
Belloc. This debt was neither complete nor immediately obvious, but it
existed. Brooke knew it, spoke of Mr. Belloc with admiration,
and quoted his poems with surprising memory. Some of these
were--necessarily--unpublished and may be apocryphal: they cannot be
repeated here. The resemblance between the styles of the two men was
most noticeable in Brooke's prose: his letters from America show a touch
in working and a point of view singularly close to those of Mr. Belloc.
But it is also to be discovered in his poetry. Put a few lines from
_Grantchester_ beside a few lines from one of Mr. Belloc's poems of
Oxford and you will realize how curiously the younger man was fascinated
by the older. We will quote the passages we have in mind. The first is
by Brooke:

   "In Grantchester, their skins are white,
    They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
    The women there do all they ought;
    The men observe the Rules of Thought.
    They love the Good; they worship Truth;
    They laugh uproariously in youth."

And the second is from Mr. Belloc's _Dedicatory Ode_:

   "Where on their banks of light they lie,
      The happy hills of Heaven between,
    The Gods that rule the morning sky
      Are not more young, nor more serene....

    ... We kept the Rabelaisian plan:
      We dignified the dainty cloisters
    With Natural Law, the Rights of Man,
      Song, Stoicism, Wine and Oysters."

There is a difference, for two men of different character are speaking:
but there is more than the accidental resemblance that comes from two
men making the same sort of joke.

But Brooke was, in his own desire and in the estimation of others, first
a poet: and Mr. Belloc has written his verses, as it would seem, at
intervals. The common level of them is that of excellent workmanship,
the very best are simply glorious accidents.

Now the common level, if we put away the books for children which will
be more conveniently dealt with in another chapter, is represented by
such poems as _The Birds_, _The Night_, _A Bivouac_, and a Song of which
we may quote one verse, as follows:

   "You wear the morning like your dress
    And are with mastery crowned;
    When as you walk your loveliness
    Goes shining all around.
    Upon your secret, smiling way
    Such new contents were found,
    The Dancing Loves made holiday
    On that delightful ground."

That is to say, these poems are of a certain grace and charm, neither
false nor exalted, pleasant indeed to say over, but without that
intensity of feeling which even in a small and light verse transfigures
the written words. The carols and Catholic poems are of this delightful
character, curiously one in feeling with such old folk-carols as are
still preserved. One of these compositions rises to a much higher plane
by a truly extraordinary felicity of phrase, one of those inspired
quaintnesses which move the reader so powerfully as the nakedest pathos
or the most ornate grandeur. We mean the poem _Courtesy_, where the poet
finds this grace in three pictures:

   "The third it was our Little Lord,
    Whom all the Kings in arms adored;
    He was so small you could not see
    His large intent of Courtesy."

These verses are certainly, as we have said, charming. They are really
mediaeval, for Mr. Belloc admires the spirit of that age from within,
which makes truth, not from without, which makes affectation.

There is another class of poem which is jolly--it is the best term--to
read and better to sing. The _West Sussex Drinking Song_, a rather
obvious reminiscence of Still's famous song, is perhaps the best known
but by no means the best. (It is, however, an excellent guide to the
beers of West Sussex.) We would give this distinction to a song in _The
Four Men_, which begins:

   "On Sussex hills where I was bred,
    When lanes in autumn rains are red,
    When Arun tumbles in his bed
        And busy great gusts go by;
    When branch is bare in Burton Glen
    And Bury Hill is a whitening, then
    I drink strong ale with gentlemen;
        Which nobody can deny, deny,
          Deny, deny, deny, deny,
           Which nobody can deny."

We must speak here, however, since our space is limited, not of these
sporadic and inessential excellences, but of the isolated and admirable
accidents--for so they seem--which make Mr. Belloc truly a poet.

One of these is the well-known, anthologized _The South Country_;
another is a passage in the mainly humorous poem called _Dedicatory Ode_
which we have quoted in another connexion; two occur in _The Four Men_.
All of them deal with places and country, they are all by way of being
melancholy and express the quite human sadness that goes normally with
the joy in friends and in one's own home.

Such a verse as this in praise of Sussex is inspired, sad and gracious:

   "But the men that live in the South Country
      Are the kindest and most wise.
    They get their laughter from the loud surf,
      And the faith in their happy eyes
    Comes surely from our Sister the Spring
      When over the sea she flies;
    The violets suddenly bloom at her feet,
      She blesses us with surprise."

The rhythm, apparently wavering, but in reality very exact, alone
reflects in this stanza the sadness which elsewhere in the poem is put
more directly. It is a delicate, ingenuous rhythm, suited most admirably
to (or rather, perhaps, dictating) the unstrained and easy words.

The same mood, the same rhythm, are repeated in a poem in _The Four

   "The trees that grow in my own country
      Are the beech-tree and the yew;
    Many stand together,
      And some stand few.
    In the month of May in my own country
      All the woods are new."

But the summit of these poems is reached in another composition in the
same book. He has set it cunningly in a description of the way in which
it was written, so as to be able to strew the approaches to it with
single lines and fragments which he could not use, but which were too
good to be lost. The poem itself runs like this:

   "He does not die that can bequeath
    Some influence to the land he knows,
    Or dares, persistent, interwreath
    Love permanent with the wild hedgerows;
        He does not die but still remains
        Substantiate with his darling plains.

    The spring's superb adventure calls
    His dust athwart the woods to flame;
    His boundary river's secret falls
    Perpetuate and repeat his name.
        He rides his loud October sky:
        He does not die. He does not die.

    The beeches know the accustomed head
    Which loved them, and a peopled air
    Beneath their benediction spread
    Comforts the silence everywhere;
        For native ghosts return and these
        Perfect the mystery in the trees.

    So, therefore, though myself be crosst
    The shuddering of that dreadful day
    When friend and fire and home are lost
    And even children drawn away--
        The passer-by shall hear me still,
        A boy that sings on Duncton Hill."

It is of a robuster sort than the other poems and in a way their climax
for it expresses the same emotion. It is indeed the final movement of
the book which treats in particular of the love of Sussex, but also of
the general emotion of the love of one's own country. There is
melancholy mixed with this feeling, as with all strong affections: with
it are associated the love of friends and the dread of parting from them
and regret for the accomplishment of such a thing.

In these few poems, his best, Mr. Belloc seems to have expressed this
mood completely and so to have shown--we have said as it were by
accident--an abiding and fundamental mood. We have been constrained to
criticize his poetry much as he has criticized the poetry of others,
that is to say, sporadically and without continuity. But we have touched
here perhaps on a thing, the obscure existence of which also we
indicated, the secret root that shows his poetry to be a true and native
growth of the soil from which his other writings have sprung.



Mr Belloc's most important writings on the war are to be found in _Land
and Water_, the _Illustrated Sunday Herald_, and _Pearson's Magazine_.
To these must be added his series of books of which only one has so far
appeared--_A General Sketch of the European War_. His series of articles
in _Pearson's Magazine_ has also been reprinted in book-form under the
title _The Two Maps_.

Of these his writings in _Land and Water_ are, at the present time, the
most important. Since the earliest stages of the war Mr. Belloc has
contributed to _Land and Water_ a weekly article. What is the nature of
this article? In the first place, it is a commentary on the current
events of the campaign. Mr. Belloc himself, when challenged recently to
defend his work, said very modestly (as we think)--"My work ... is no
more than an attempt to give week by week, at what I am proud to say is
a very great expense of time and of energy, an explanation of what is
taking place. There are many men who could do the same thing. I happen
to have specialized upon military history and problems, and profess now,
with a complete set of maps, to be doing for others what their own
occupations forbid them the time and opportunity to do."

With part of this description we may heartily agree; with the rest we
must disagree. We agree with Mr. Belloc when he refers to his work as
being accomplished "at a very great expense of time and of energy."
There may be some who doubt the truth of this statement. There is
undoubtedly a large section of the public which, led astray by that
cynicism and that distrust of newspapers and journalists which a certain
section of our Press has engendered in the public, has come to regard
all newspaper reports on the war as unreliable and the writings of
so-called "experts" as mere vapourings, undertaken in the hope of
assisting the circulation of the paper in which they appear rather than
the circulation of the truth. If, then, any reader be inclined to
include Mr. Belloc in such a denunciation and to doubt that his weekly
commentary in _Land and Water_ is written as he says, "at a very great
expense of time and of energy," let him turn to one of Mr. Belloc's
articles, reprinted in _The Two Maps_, on "What to Believe in War News."

In this article Mr. Belloc asks the question--"How is the plain man to
distinguish in the news of the war what is true from what is false, and
so arrive at a sound opinion?" His answer to this question is that "in
the first place, the basis of all sound opinion are the official
_communiqués_ read with the aid of a map." And to this he adds the
following explanation:

     When I say "the official communiqués" I do not mean those of the
     British Government alone, nor even of the Allies alone, but of
     _all_ the belligerents. You just read impartially the communiqués
     of the Austro-Hungarian and of the German Governments together with
     those of the British Government and its Allies, or you will
     certainly miss the truth. By which statement I do not mean that
     each Government is equally accurate, still less equally full in its
     relation; but that, unless you compare all the statements of this
     sort, you will have most imperfect evidence; just as you would have
     very imperfect evidence in a court of law if you only listened to
     the prosecution and refused to listen to the defence.

Mr. Belloc then proceeds to show what characteristics all official
_communiqués_ have in common, and then to outline the peculiar
characteristics of the _communiqués_ of each belligerent. Although not
one unnecessary sentence is included, this short summary of his own
discoveries covers seven pages. The final sentence of the article is as
follows: "Nevertheless, unless you do follow fairly regularly the Press
of all the belligerent nations, you will obtain but an imperfect view of
the war as a whole."

This comparison of the _communiqués_ of the belligerents, which is seen
in these pages to be no light task, naturally forms but a small part of
Mr. Belloc's work; so that further proof of his own statement, that his
work necessitates the expenditure of much time and energy, need hardly
be adduced.

This slight insight into the nature of Mr. Belloc's work will also serve
to emphasize the point in which we disagree with Mr. Belloc's own
description of his work. If, let us say, a bank manager, who may be
regarded as a type of citizen of considerable intelligence and leisure,
were to adopt and faithfully to pursue the methods described in this
article, the methods which Mr. Belloc himself has found it necessary to
adopt, he would certainly find his leisure time swallowed up. In so far
as this alone were the case, we might agree with Mr. Belloc when he says
of himself--"I ... profess now ... to be doing for others what their own
occupations forbid them the time and opportunity to do." But our bank
manager, when he had accomplished the long process of sifting out the
only war news that is reliable (and he would be only able to accomplish
this much, be it noted, with the aid of Mr. Belloc) would still be
unable, in all probability, to grasp the full meaning and importance of
that news. To do that he would need what, in common with the majority of
Englishmen, he does not possess, and what it would take him years to
acquire, namely, a knowledge of military history and military science.

We see then that Mr. Belloc, in his weekly commentary in _Land and
Water_, is doing for others not merely "what their own occupations
forbid them the time and opportunity to do," but _what they could not do
for themselves_, even had they the time and opportunity.

To undertake this task he is peculiarly qualified. In his writings on
the war, indeed, Mr. Belloc appears as an expert, in the true sense of
that much abused word. He says of himself, in the paragraph already
quoted--"I happen to have specialized on military history and problems."
That is again too modest an estimation of the facts. He has done far
more than merely to specialize on military history; he has given
military history its true place in relation to other branches of
history. The study of history at the present time is specialized. We
subdivide its various aspects, classify facts and speak of
constitutional history, economic history, ecclesiastical history,
military history, and so forth. Now Mr. Belloc, in addition to his study
of all the branches of history, has not merely made a special study of
military history, but has realized and proved, more fully than any other
historian, of what tremendous importance is the study of military
history in its relation to those other branches of the study of history,
such as the constitutional and economic. "In writing of the military
aspect of any movement," he says, "it is impossible to deal with that
aspect save as a living part of the whole; so knit into national life is
the business of war."

In those words, "so knit into national life is the business of war," Mr.
Belloc has finely expressed his conception of war as one of the
weightiest factors in human events. In accordance with this attitude Mr.
Belloc has shown us, what no other historian has ever made clear, that
the French Revolution, "more than any other modern period, turns upon,
and is explained by, its military history." In the preface to his short
thesis _The French Revolution_ there occurs this passage:

     The reader interested in that capital event should further seize
     (and but too rarely has an opportunity for seizing) its military
     aspect; and this difficulty of his proceeds from two causes: the
     first, that historians, even when they recognize the importance of
     the military side of some past movement, are careless of the
     military aspect, and think it sufficient to relate particular
     victories and general actions. The military aspect of any period
     does not consist in these, but in the campaigns of which actions,
     however decisive, are but incidental parts. In other words, the
     reader must seize the movement and design of armies if he is to
     seize a military period, and these are not commonly given him. In
     the second place, the historian, however much alive to the
     importance of military affairs, too rarely presents them as part of
     a general position. He will make his story a story of war, or
     again, a story of civilian development, and the reader will fail to
     see how the two combine.

In this short excerpt we catch a glimpse, not only of Mr. Belloc's
attitude towards military history, but also of his method in dealing
with it; and since this aspect of Mr. Belloc's work is of such capital
importance we may perhaps quote that passage which begins on page 142 of
_The French Revolution_ and is so illuminating in regard both to Mr.
Belloc's attitude and to his method:

     The Revolution would never have achieved its object; on the
     contrary, it would have led to no less than a violent reaction
     against those principles which were maturing before it broke out,
     and which it carried to triumph, had not the armies of
     revolutionary France proved successful in the field; but the
     grasping of this mere historic fact, I mean the success of the
     revolutionary armies, is unfortunately no simple matter.

     We all know that as a matter of fact the Revolution was, upon the
     whole, successful in imposing its view upon Europe. We all know
     that from that success as from a germ has proceeded, and is still
     proceeding, modern society. But the nature, the cause and the
     extent of the military success which alone made this possible, is
     widely ignored and still more widely misunderstood. No other signal
     military effort which achieved its object has in history ended in
     military disaster--yet this was the case with the revolutionary
     wars. After twenty years of advance, during which the ideas of the
     Revolution were sown throughout Western civilization, and had time
     to take root, the armies of the Revolution stumbled into the vast
     trap or blunder of the Russian campaign; this was succeeded by the
     decisive defeat of the democratic armies at Leipsic, and the superb
     strategy of the campaign of 1814, the brilliant rally of what is
     called the Hundred Days, only served to emphasize the completeness
     of the apparent failure. For that masterly campaign was followed
     by Napoleon's first abdication, that brilliant rally ended in
     Waterloo and the ruin of the French army. When we consider the
     spread of Grecian culture over the East by the parallel military
     triumph of Alexander, or the conquest of Gaul by the Roman armies
     under Cæsar, we are met by political phenomena and a political
     success no more striking than the success of the Revolution. The
     Revolution did as much by the sword as ever did Alexander or Cæsar,
     and as surely compelled one of the great transformations of Europe.
     But the fact that the great story can be read to a conclusion of
     defeat disturbs the mind of the student.

     Again, that element fatal to all accurate study of military
     history, the imputation of civilian virtues and motives, enters the
     mind of the reader with fatal facility when he studies the
     revolutionary wars.

     He is tempted to ascribe to the enthusiasm of the troops, nay, to
     the political movement itself, a sort of miraculous power. He is
     apt to use with regard to the revolutionary victories the word
     "inevitable," which, if ever it applies to the reasoned, willing
     and conscious action of men, certainly applies least of all to men
     when they act as soldiers.

     There are three points which we must carefully bear in mind when we
     consider the military history of the Revolution.

     First, that it succeeded: the Revolution, regarded as the political
     motive of its armies, won.

     Secondly, that it succeeded through those military aptitudes and
     conditions which happened to accompany, but by no means necessarily
     accompanied, the strong convictions and the civic enthusiasm of the

     Thirdly, that the element of chance, which every wise and prudent
     reasoner will very largely admit into all military affairs, worked
     in favour of the Revolution in the critical moments of the early

The reader who could make closer acquaintance with this aspect of Mr.
Belloc's work, and it is an aspect, as has been said, of capital
importance, need only turn to the too few pages of _The French
Revolution_, where he will find ample evidence not only of Mr. Belloc's
understanding of the importance of military history, but of his vast
knowledge of military science; and the same may be said of those little
books Mr. Belloc has published from time to time on some of the
outstanding battles of the past, such as _Blenheim_, _Malplaquet_,
_Waterloo_, _Cressy_ and _Tourcoing_.

It is apparent, then, that Mr. Belloc brings to a task which the mass of
the English public is quite incapable of undertaking for itself peculiar
advantages, in that he has combined with a long and careful study of
military history a thorough technical knowledge of military science.

In addition to this major and essential qualification he possesses, as
the outcome of his pursuits and experience, other minor and subsidiary
though still very necessary qualifications. In this war, as in all wars
of the past, the lie of country and the fatigue of men are two of the
weightiest factors; and Mr. Belloc is enormously assisted in attempting
a nice appreciation of these factors by the knowledge acquired in the
long pursuit of his topographical tastes and by his practical experience
in the ranks of the French army.

On this latter point too much insistence should not be laid, though to
ignore it entirely would be as foolish as to exaggerate its importance.
We may best assess its value, perhaps, by saying that Mr. Belloc has
been in possession for more than twenty years of certain definite
knowledge which the vast majority of Englishmen have only acquired in
the past year. More than twenty years ago he learnt the elementary rules
of military organization and the ordinary facts of army life which are
common knowledge in conscript countries. In England we have remained
ignorant of these facts. Many of us have learnt them for the first time
since August, 1914; many of us, though we have come to a consciousness
of them, will never learn them. In a passage in _A General Sketch of the
European War_, in which Mr. Belloc exposes "the fundamental contrast
between the modern German military temper and the age-long traditions of
the French service," though he brings into play much information that
he has doubtless acquired in more recent years, we can see shining
through, the memory of early experiences.

     This contrast [he says] appears in everything, from tactical
     details to the largest strategical conception, and from things so
     vague and general as the tone of military writings, to things so
     particular as the instruction of the conscript in his barrack-room.
     The German soldier is taught--or was--that victory was inevitable,
     and would be as swift as it would be triumphant; the French soldier
     was taught that he had before him a terrible and doubtful ordeal,
     one that would be long, one in which he ran a fearful risk of
     defeat, and one in which he might, even if victorious, have to wear
     down his enemy by the exercise of a most burdensome tenacity.

No useful purpose would be served by entering here into details of the
nature of Mr. Belloc's service in the French army. There occurs,
however, in _The Path to Rome_, a short passage which is too interesting
and too amusing not to quote. Arriving at Toul, Mr. Belloc is reminded
of the manoeuvres of 1891:

     For there were two divisions employed in that glorious and
     fatiguing great game, and more than a gross of guns--to be accurate
     156--and of these one (the sixth piece of the tenth battery of the
     eighth--I wonder where you all are now; I suppose I shall not see
     you again, but you were the best companions in the world, my
     friends) was driven by three drivers, of whom I was the middle one
     and the worst, having on my livret the note "Conducteur médiocre."

In _Hills and the Sea_ Mr. Belloc says:

     In the French Artillery it is a maxim ... that you should weight
     your limber (and, therefore, your horses) with useful things alone;
     and as gunners are useful only to fire guns, they are not carried,
     save into action or when some great rapidity of movement is
     desired.... But on the march we (meaning the French) send the
     gunners forward, and not only the gunners, but a reserve of drivers
     also. We send them forward an hour or two before the guns start; we
     catch them up with the guns on the road; they file up to let us
     pass, and commonly salute us by way of formality and ceremony. Then
     they come into the town of the halt an hour or two after we have
     reached it.

But of far more vital interest is that vast fund of special knowledge
which Mr. Belloc has amassed in the indulgence of his tastes in travel
and topography. Of this knowledge the evidence to be found in Mr.
Belloc's writings is so voluminous and overwhelming that it is as
unnecessary as it is impossible to quote freely here. A detailed
examination of Mr. Belloc's books on travel will be found in another
chapter; if one point more than another needs emphasis here, it is that
Mr. Belloc primarily views all country over which he passes from a
military standpoint. To accompany Mr. Belloc on a motor run through some
part of his own county of Sussex suffices to convince one of this.
Whether tramping along causeways and sidepaths, or speeding over railway
lines, he cannot pass through any considerable stretch of country
without exercising his mind as to the possible advantages that might be
afforded opposing armies by this or that natural formation. It is fair
to say that this question, if we may call it such, has been uppermost in
Mr. Belloc's mind throughout every journey of an extent that he has
undertaken, whether in Southern, Western or Eastern Europe. It would be
false to imagine that the prime motive of all Mr. Belloc's journeys was
to view country purely from the military standpoint, but it is fair to
say that almost the first question Mr. Belloc asks himself when he
strikes a stretch of country with which he is unfamiliar, and the
question he repeatedly and continually asks himself as he traverses that
country, is--"How would the natural formation of this country aid or
hinder a modern army advancing or retreating through it?" That great
stretches of country, notably in France and Belgium, have been visited
by Mr. Belloc, moreover, with the definite object of viewing them from a
purely military standpoint, it is almost unnecessary to state; no reader
who will turn to the pages of _The French Revolution_ or of _Blenheim_
or _Waterloo_, can fail to realize as much for himself. Common sense,
indeed, plays a great part in Mr. Belloc's study of history. He regards
it as virtually essential that a historian who would describe the action
of a great battle of the past should be in a position faithfully to
reconstruct the conditions under which that battle was fought. Mr.
Belloc himself has settled the vexed question of why the Prussians did
not charge at Valmy by visiting the battlefield under the conditions of
the battle and discovering that they could not have charged.

Through the vast store of knowledge acquired in this way Mr. Belloc
enjoys an advantage in his treatment of the present war which cannot be
overestimated. In writing of the country in which the campaigns of
to-day are taking place he is not writing of country as he sees it on
the map. To him that country is not, as to the majority of Englishmen it
is, a conglomeration of patches, some heavily, some lightly shaded, of
larger and smaller dots, joined and intersected by an almost meaningless
maze of thin and thick lines. To him that country is hills and vales,
woods and fields, rivers and swamps, real things he has seen and among
which he has moved. As an example of this we may perhaps give his
description of the line of the Argonne which occurs on page 157 of _The
French Revolution_:

     The Argonne is a long, nearly straight range of hills running from
     the south northward, a good deal to the west of north.

     Their soil is clay, and though the height of the hills is only
     three hundred feet above the plain, their escarpment or steep side
     is towards the east, whence an invasion may be expected. They are
     densely wooded, from five to eight miles broad, the supply of water
     in them is bad, in many parts undrinkable; habitation with its
     provision for armies and roads extremely rare. It is necessary to
     insist upon all these details, because the greater part of civilian
     readers find it difficult to understand how formidable an obstacle
     so comparatively unimportant feature in the landscape may be to an
     army upon the march. It was quite impossible for the guns, the
     wagons, and therefore the food and the ammunition of the invading
     army, to pass through the forest over the drenched clay land of
     that wet autumn save where proper roads existed. These were only to
     be found wherever a sort of natural pass negotiated the range.

     Three of these passes alone existed, and to this day there is very
     little choice in the crossing of these hills.

We may compare with this extract a most remarkable description of
country given by Mr. Belloc in his article on "The Great Offensive" in
the issue of _Land and Water_ of October 2, 1915. Describing the chief
movement in Champagne, he points out that the French advanced on a front
of seventeen and a half miles from the village of Aubèrive to the market
town of Ville-sur-Tourbe. He continues:

     The first line of the enemy's defence in this region follows for
     the most part a crest.... This ridge is not an even one, nor was
     the whole of it occupied by the German works. In places it had been
     seized by the French during their work last February, and has been
     held ever since. Generally speaking, its summits nearly reach, or
     just surpass, the 200 metre contour, above the sea, but the whole
     of this country lies so high that such a height only means a matter
     of 150 to 200 feet above the water levels of the little muddy
     brooks that run in the folds of the land. It is a country of chalk,
     but not of dry, turfy chalk, like those of the English Downs;
     rather a chalk mixed with clay, which makes for bad going after
     rain. It is the soil over which, further to the east, the battle of
     Valmy was fought, an action largely determined by the impracticable
     nature of the ground when wet. On the other hand, it is a soil that
     dries quickly. The country as a whole is remarkably open. There are
     no hedges, and the movement of troops is covered only by scattered,
     not infrequent plantations of pine trees and larches, which grow to
     no great height. From any one of the observation posts along the
     seventeen miles of line one sees the landscape before one as a
     whole. It is the very opposite of what is called "blind country."
     On the east, to the right of the French positions, there runs along
     the horizon the low, even-wooded ridge of the Argonne, which rises
     immediately behind Ville-sur-Tourbe. Far to the east, from the
     left, in clear weather one distinguishes the great mass of Rheims
     Cathedral rising above the town.

This tremendous advantage which he possesses is casually mentioned by
Mr. Belloc in his Introduction to _A General Sketch of the European
War_, where he says:

     It is even possible, where the writer has seen the ground over
     which the battles have been fought (and much of it is familiar to
     the author of this) so to describe such ground to the reader that
     he will in some sort be able to see for himself the air and the
     view in which the things were done: thus more than through any
     other method will the things be made real to him.

In co-relation with these particular and highly specialized
qualifications which Mr. Belloc possessed before the war, should be
reckoned perhaps two other qualifications of a more general character.
The first of these is the very long and thorough training which his
scholarship has necessitated in the dispassionate examination of
evidence. Through years of historical study he has learnt carefully to
sort out strong from weak evidence and to base his judgements only on
such evidence as may be regarded as thoroughly reliable. A cursory
glance through the pages of _Danton_ and a quite casual perusal of a few
of the foot-notes in that book will leave the reader with no doubts on
this point. In course of years this careful practice naturally develops
into a habit; and the value of this habit in approaching reports of
actions and statistics of prisoners or effectives may easily be grasped.

The second of these two general qualifications with which we must credit
Mr. Belloc is the fact of his envisagement of the possibility of this
war. Europe, Mr. Belloc argues, reposes upon the foundations of
nationality. Internationalism, whether it be expressed in the financial
rings of Capitalism or the world-wide brotherhoods of Socialism, is only
made possible by a harmony of the wills of the great European nations.
Should a conflict of wills not merely exist but break out into
expression in war, internationalism, though outwardly so powerful, must
inevitably go by the board and the ancient foundations upon which
Europe rests stand poignantly revealed. Such a conflict of wills Mr.
Belloc has always seen to exist between Prussia and the rest of the
nations of Europe. His knowledge of their history and character led him
years ago to that idea of the Prussians which this war has shown to be
the true idea, and which we find expressed on every hand to-day with
remarkable sageness after the event. This view is that which recognizes
fully that the Prussian spirit, "the soul of Prussia in her
international relations," is expressed in what is called the
"Frederician Tradition," which Mr. Belloc has put into the following

     The King of Prussia shall do all that may seem to advantage the
     kingdom of Prussia among the nations, notwithstanding any European
     conventions or any traditions of Christendom, or even any of those
     wider and more general conventions which govern the international
     conduct of other Christian peoples.

Mr. Belloc further explains this tradition by saying:

     For instance, if a convention of international morals has
     arisen--as it did arise very strongly, and was kept until recent
     times--that hostilities should not begin without a formal
     declaration of war, the "Frederician Tradition" would go counter to
     this, and would say: "If ultimately it would be to the advantage of
     Prussia to attack without declaration of war, then this convention
     may be neglected."

     Or, again, treaties solemnly ratified between two Governments are
     generally regarded as binding. And certainly a nation that never
     kept such a treaty would find itself in a position where it was
     impossible to make any treaties at all. Still, if upon a vague
     calculation of men's memories, the acuteness of the circumstance,
     the advantage ultimately to follow, and so on, it be to the
     advantage of Prussia to break such solemn treaty, then such a
     treaty should be broken.

To this he adds:

     This doctrine of the "Frederician Tradition" does not mean that the
     Prussian statesmen wantonly do wrong, whether in acts of cruelty or
     in acts of treason and bad faith. What it means is that, wherever
     they are met by the dilemma, "Shall I do _this_, which is to the
     advantage of my country but opposed to European and common morals,
     or _that_, which is consonant with those morals but to the
     disadvantage of my country?" they choose the former and not the
     latter course.

That this tradition not merely existed but was the paramount influence
in Prussian foreign politics Mr. Belloc had long realized, while, at the
same time, he had been very well aware of the fatuous illusions about
themselves under which the Prussians and a great portion of the
German-speaking peoples labour--illusions which necessarily led the
German national will into conflict with the will of the other European
nations. Proof of the fact that Mr. Belloc had long held this view of
Prussia may be found by any reader of his essays, while a passage which
occurs in _Marie Antoinette_ is especially illuminating:

     It is characteristic of the more deplorable forms of insurgence
     against civilized morals that they originate either in a race
     permanently alien to (though present in) the unity of the Roman
     Empire, or in those barbaric provinces which were admitted to the
     European scheme after the fall of Rome, and which for the most part
     enjoyed but a brief and precarious vision of the Faith between
     their tardy conversion and the schism of the sixteenth century.
     Prussia was of this latter kind, and with Prussia Frederick. To-day
     his successors and their advisers, when they attempt to justify the
     man, are compelled still to ignore the European tradition of
     honour. But this crime of his, the partition of Poland, the germ of
     all that international distrust which has ended in the intolerable
     armed strain of our time has another character added to it: a
     character which attaches invariably to ill-doing when that
     ill-doing is also uncivilized. It was a folly. The same folly
     attached to it as has attached to every revolt against the historic
     conscience of Europe: such blindnesses can only destroy; they
     possess no permanent creative spirit, and the partition of Poland
     has remained a peculiar and increasing curse to its promoters in

     There is not in Christian history, though it abounds in coincidence
     or design, a more striking example of sin suitably rewarded than
     the menace which is presented to the Hohenzollerns to-day by the
     Polish race. Not even their hereditary disease, which has reached
     its climax in the present generation has proved so sure a
     chastisement to the lineage of Frederick as have proved the
     descendants of those whose country he destroyed. An economic
     accident has scattered them throughout the dominions of the
     Prussian dynasty; they are a source everywhere of increasing danger
     and ill-will. They grow largely in representative power. They
     compel the government to abominable barbarities which are already
     arousing the mind of Europe. They will in the near future prove the
     ruin of that family to which was originally due the partition of

To Mr. Belloc, then, holding this view of Prussia, it was obvious that
the conflict of wills between Prussia and the other nations would
inevitably grow so intense as some day to result in war.

Briefly to recapitulate, we may say that Mr. Belloc, in his weekly
commentary in _Land and Water_, has undertaken and carried on since the
beginning of the war a task which the vast majority of the English
public is quite unable to undertake for itself. He was qualified to
undertake that task, and has been enabled to carry it on by the fact
that he has combined with a deep study of military history an exact
knowledge of military science; by the knowledge he has gained from
practical experience of army service; by the wide acquaintance he has
made with the vast stretches of country in the indulgence of his tastes
in travel and topography; by the long and thorough training he has
passed through in the dispassionate examination of evidence; and,
lastly, by the fact that he had long envisaged the possibility of this

With this brief summary we may usefully contrast Mr. Belloc's own
summary of his work already quoted in the early part of this chapter. In
this he says: "My work ... is no more than an attempt to give week by
week, at what I am proud to say is a very great expense of time and
energy, an explanation of what is taking place. There are many men who
could do the same thing. I happen to have specialized upon military
history and problems, and profess now, with a complete set of maps, to
be doing for others what their own occupations forbid them the time and
opportunity to do."



Having contrasted these two summaries, we will leave the reader to form
his own estimate of the nature of Mr. Belloc's work and of the
qualifications he brings to it. There remains to be determined the
measure of success which has attended Mr. Belloc's "attempt to give an
explanation of what is taking place." "There are many men," he says,
"who could do the same thing." On this point we cannot argue with Mr.
Belloc. He may know them: we do not. What we do know is that there are
many men who are trying to do the same thing. In saying this we have no
wish to belittle either individuals or as a class those courageous
gentlemen, among whom the best-known, perhaps, are Colonel Repington and
Colonel Maude, who are striving, and striving honestly, we believe, to
provide the readers of various papers with an intelligent explanation of
the courses taken by the different campaigns. Nor do we regard them as
in any way imitators of Mr. Belloc. We merely assert that no single one
of them is achieving his object so nearly as Mr. Belloc is achieving
his. This should not be understood to mean that the course of events has
proved Mr. Belloc to be right more often than it has proved his
contemporaries to be right, though if it were possible to collate all
the necessary evidence, such a statement might conceivably be proved
correct. This assertion should be understood, rather, to mean that no
single commentary on the war, regularly contributed to any journal or
newspaper, displays those merits of dispassionate honesty, detailed
explanation and lucid exposition in so marked a degree as does Mr.
Belloc's weekly commentary in _Land and Water_.

Were there any necessity to adduce proof of this it would be sufficient
to regard the great gulf fixed between the circulation of _Land and
Water_ and any other weekly journal of the same price. It is of greater
service, however, to realize how and why Mr. Belloc surpasses his
contemporaries than to waste space and time in proving what is already
an admitted fact. The two outstanding features of Mr. Belloc's work in
_Land and Water_--two of the most conspicuous features, indeed, as will
be seen in the course of this book, of all his work--are his fierce
sincerity and amazing lucidity. In this first characteristic we are
willing to believe that his respectable contemporaries equal though they
cannot surpass him. We will suppose, though we can find no signs of it,
that they equal him in that extraordinary combination of qualifications
acquired by study, travel and experience which he has been seen to
possess. Even then, all other things being supposed equal, they fall far
short of him in this quality of lucidity.

This is not merely the gift of the journalist to state things plainly.
It is the gift of the Latin races which Mr. Belloc was given at his
birth: it is the furnace of thought in which Mr. Belloc has forged his
prose style into a finely-tempered instrument.

Two of life's chief difficulties, it has often been said, are, first, to
think exactly, and, second, to give your thought exact expression. It is
the lot of the majority of men to know what they want to say but to be
unable to say it. Many men are shy of expressing their thoughts because
of the very present but indefinite feeling they have that their
thoughts, though real and sound in their minds, become in some
extraordinary way unreal and unsound when expressed. That this curious
transformation takes place we all know; newspaper reporters carry
incontestable evidence of it in their notebooks. Few public speakers,
indeed, realize how deeply in debt they are to reporters, who are
trained in the art of reproducing in their reports and conveying to the
public, not what the speaker said, but what he intended to say. And this
curious transformation of our thoughts in the process of expression from
reality to unreality, from sense to nonsense; this divergence between
thought and language; this disability under which we all labour, but
which so few of us overcome, which is so common among men as almost to
justify the jibe that "language was given to men to conceal their
thought," is due entirely, of course, to the insufficiency of our power
of expression. A speaker or writer is great in proportion as his power
of expression nears perfection.

According as we are satisfied to read in print what a writer says, and
do not find it necessary to read between the lines what he intended to
say, we may regard him as possessed of lucidity of thought and lucidity
of style.

Many of the ideas, emotions and actions to which Mr. Belloc has given
expression in his essays are so intimate a part of the collective
experience of man as to allow each one of us to see that he has
visualized and expressed them with exactness; and so to realize that he
possesses in his style a wonderful instrument.

With the aid of that instrument it has been said he can expose the
technicalities of a battle or the transformations of the human heart.
How great is the power of that instrument is at no time so generally
susceptible to proof as when it is seen applied to facts as in the
writings of Mr. Belloc on the war, which it is proposed to examine in
this chapter. But before we enter upon our examination of the nature and
influence of those writings, it may be well to emphasize their
importance as an example of style.

In his writings on the war, and more especially in his weekly chronicle
in _Land and Water_, Mr. Belloc is not expressing views or ideas of his
own; he is not writing in support of the thesis or argument; he is
stating facts. He is stating the facts of military science, which may be
found in a hundred books, side by side with the facts of the war, which
may be found in a thousand official _communiqués_; and he is stating
both sets of facts, so that the one set is explanatory of the other set,
and so that both may be easily understood. This Mr. Belloc is only able
to accomplish by virtue of his peculiar power of lucid expression.

Not alone, then, in this particular, but supremely alone in this
particular, Mr. Belloc towers above other contemporary writers on the
war. He can explain as they can never explain: expound as they can never
expound: describe as they can never describe. His meaning stands clear
in print while theirs must be read between the lines. He makes himself
understood while we must make ourselves understand them.

This is the supreme power that has carried all his other powers to
fruition. We do not think that "there are many men who could do the same

That this great power, tremendous as it is, is afflicted by weaknesses
in practice is unfortunately true. These weaknesses arise mainly from
the clash of Mr. Belloc's overpowering honesty with the cynical attitude
towards newspapers in general which recent methods in journalism have
engendered in the public. There was a time in the history of journalism
when it was a crime to be wrong. For "wrong" modern journalism has
substituted "dull." In recent years competition among newspaper
proprietors and editors of newspapers has not been, as in times past,
for the most reliable news or the most trustworthy views on important
events, but for the latest news and the brightest "stories." The
reputation for a newspaper which has been looked upon as pre-eminently
desirable is not that it should be regarded by the public as
well-informed or as expressing a sound judgment, but as pithy and
interesting. The inevitable consequence of this tendency is that the
great mass of English daily newspapers have lost their former high place
in the estimation of the public as serious and necessary institutions,
and have descended to the level of an amusement. The only exceptions
that can be made from this sweeping condemnation are the _Daily
Telegraph_, the _Morning Post_, the _Manchester Guardian_, and the
_Westminster Gazette_. Of the rest, some are of a higher, some of a
lower type, but all are virtually forms of amusement and of distraction
rather than of learning and instruction. What differences exist between
them are differences of degree, not differences of kind. Some of them
may be compared to a good comedy; others to those musical plays which
are less plays than exercises in the production of plays; many rank no
higher than the picture palace. The most base of all, though they rank
as distractions, can scarcely be classed as amusements. They are patent
medicines. It has been well said that the _Daily Mail_ has achieved what
no other paper has ever achieved, in enabling some millions of the
English proletariat to be whisked from the breakfast to the office table
every day of the week and to forget in the process the discomfort they

Viewed from the other side, the existence of this state of affairs
argues a curious temper of mind in the public, which permitted and
assisted, even if it did not always quite approve of its continuance.
That is to say, English people bought and read the papers which were
pithy and interesting, but did not imagine that they were learned or
instructive, and when, by chance, they sought some statement on which
they could place reliance, they realized that it could not be found in
the newspapers. This strange development in the attitude of the public
towards newspapers in general, real as it is, is hard to follow and
difficult to define. It was due in great measure to the fact that the
public in ever-increasing numbers was gradually ceasing to regard as
real what the newspapers regarded as real. The chief realities for the
newspapers remained the various aspects of capitalism and party
politics, when to the public eye other things already appeared more
real. The whole effect of this development may best be summed up,
perhaps, in the expression, half of annoyance, half of resignation, so
usual on the lips of newspaper readers: "It says so in the paper, but
who knows how much to believe."

Some such pass had been reached in the growing estrangement between the
public and the Press when the war broke out and the public was faced by
an event of overwhelming interest. The people of England woke to a
desire for the truth and clamoured for the newspapers to give it to
them. The newspapers were helpless. They had forgotten where truth was
to be found. So far as any of our modern newspaper men could remember it
was one of those antiquated encumbrances, such as wood-cuts and flat-bed
machines, which they had banished long ago. The only distinct impression
of it they retained was that it had been plainly labelled "not
interesting." So they met the emergency by buying a new set of type,
blacker and deeper than any they had used before, and introducing the
page headline.

We have seen how, while the mass of the English Press was left fatuously
floundering before the spectacle of the greatest military event the
world has ever seen, Mr. Belloc set out quite simply to give the public
an account, week by week, of the progress of that event which was as
plain and as truthful as he could make it. That approximately a hundred
thousand persons are willing to pay sixpence a week to read this account
we already know. It is inevitable, however, that a considerable
percentage of Mr. Belloc's readers should approach his commentary in
_Land and Water_ in the same attitude of mind as they have for so long
approached the perusal of the daily newspaper. They will tend to speak
of Mr. Belloc's articles as "interesting" or "dull," forgetting that
criticism on these lines can rightly be directed only to the events of
which Mr. Belloc is writing. For it is not Mr. Belloc's object to make
the events of the war interesting to his readers. It does not even
remotely concern him whether those events are interesting or not. His
sole object is to give his readers as detailed an explanation of the
nature of those events and as clear an account of their progress as it
is possible for him to give.

There is one other point in which Mr. Belloc's amazing lucidity is
afflicted by a peculiar weakness in practice. The method which he adopts
so extensively of explaining situations by means of diagrams is
undoubtedly very successful. It has, however, its limitations. So long
as the situation which he is concerned to describe is of a simple nature
it may be admirably expressed in diagrammatic form. When, however, the
situation itself is complex the diagram is also necessarily complex,
which results, in the text of his writing, in long strings of letters or
figures which lead to almost greater confusion than would the
enumeration of the objects they are intended to represent. This weakness
appears very plainly in a passage in _A General Sketch of the European
War_, in which Mr. Belloc describes how the Allied force in the
operative corner before Namur stood with relation to the two natural
obstacles of the rivers Sambre and Meuse and the fortified zone round
the point where they met. To illustrate the position of the Allied
force he draws a diagram which is excellently clear. In describing this
diagram, however, he falls into difficulties which may be seen very
plainly in the following extract in which he describes the French plan:

     Now, the French plan was as follows. They said to themselves:
     "There will come against us an enemy acting along the arrows VWXYZ,
     and this enemy will certainly be in superior force to our own. He
     will perhaps be as much as fifty per cent. stronger than we are.
     But he will suffer under these disadvantages:

     "The one part of his forces, V and W, will find it difficult to act
     in co-operation with the other part of his forces, Y and Z, because
     Y and Z (acting as they are on an outside circumference split by
     the fortified zone SSS) will be separated, or only able to connect
     in a long and roundabout way. The two lots, V and W, and Y and Z,
     could only join hands by stretching round an awkward angle--that
     is, by stretching round the bulge which SSS makes, SSS being the
     ring of forts round Namur. Part of their forces (that along the
     arrow X) will further be used up in trying to break down the
     resistance of SSS. That will take a good deal of time. If our
     horizontal line AB holds its own, naturally defended as it is,
     against the attack from V and W, while our perpendicular line BC
     holds its own still more firmly (relying on its much better natural
     obstacle) against YZ, we shall have ample time to break the first
     and worst shock of the enemy's attack, and to allow, once we have
     concentrated that attack upon ourselves, the rest of our forces,
     the masses of manoeuvre, or at any rate a sufficient portion of
     them, to come up and give us a majority in _this_ part of the

Alongside these slight criticisms we may mention, perhaps, another
criticism which has been publicly levelled against Mr. Belloc's writings
on the military aspect of the present war. The issue of the _Daily Mail_
of September 6, 1915, contained an article in which Mr. Belloc was
charged with grave errors of judgement. The gist of this article was
that Mr. Belloc had regarded an enemy offensive in the West in the
spring of 1915, as certain to take place, whereas, in point of fact, the
Germans made their great effort against the Russians in the East. This
was the chief charge brought against Mr. Belloc; and to it were added a
number of lesser charges of which the majority were perfectly just,
showing how in this place and in that Mr. Belloc had overrated one
factor or underrated another.

With this criticism it is unnecessary to concern ourselves further than
to note the nature of Mr. Belloc's reply, which appeared in _Land and
Water_ on September 18, 1915:

     There is in such an indictment as this [he says] nothing to
     challenge, because I would be the first, not only to admit its
     truth, but, if necessary, to supplement the list very lengthily. To
     write a weekly commentary upon a campaign of this magnitude--a
     campaign the facts of which are concealed as they have been in no
     war of the past--is not only an absorbing and very heavy task, but
     also one in which much suggestion and conjecture are necessarily
     doubtful or wrong, and to pursue it as I have done steadily and
     unbrokenly for so many months has tried my powers to the utmost.

     But I confess that I am in no way ashamed of such occasional errors
     in judgment and misinterpretations, for I think them quite
     unavoidable. They will be discovered in every one of the many
     current commentaries maintained upon the war throughout the Press
     of Europe and even in the calculations of the General Staffs. Nay,
     I will now add to the list spontaneously: In common with many
     others, I thought that an invasion of Silesia was probable last
     December. At the beginning of the war I believed that the French
     operations in Lorraine would develop towards the north--an opinion
     which will be found registered many months later in the official
     records recently published. In the matter of numbers my early
     estimates exaggerated the proportion of wounded to killed, while
     only a few weeks ago I guessed for the number of German prisoners
     in the West a number which subsequent official information conveyed
     to me proved to be erroneous by between 17 and 18 per cent. I long
     worked on the idea that the line from Ivangorod to Cholm was a
     double line--a matter of some importance last July. I have since
     found that it was single. The total reserve within and behind Paris
     which decided the battle of the Marne was, I believe (though the
     matter is not yet public), less large than I had suspected, and the
     figures I gave would rather include the Sixth Army as well as the
     Army of Paris. A few weeks ago I suggested that there was
     difficulty in moving a great body of men rapidly across the Upper
     Wierpz. Yet the movement, when it was made, might fairly be
     described as rapid. At any rate, the aid lent to the Archduke came
     more promptly than had seemed possible. I certainly thought, though
     I did not say so in so many words, that the capture of the
     bridgehead at Friedrichstadt would involve an immediate and
     successful advance by the enemy upon Riga, and in this opinion, I
     believe, no single authority, enemy or ally, differed. What has
     caused the check to the enemy advance here for ten full days no one
     in the West can tell, nor, for that matter, does any news from
     Russia yet enlighten us.

To this criticism of the writer in the _Daily Mail_ Mr. Belloc's reply
is so final and complete that any addition would be out of place. It is
very necessary, however, that we should devote careful consideration to
the facts which prompted the publication of this criticism; and this
will be done in the succeeding chapter.



So far as this article in the _Daily Mail_ was confined to an exposure
of Mr. Belloc's errors in judgement, it may be regarded as a piece of
legitimate and fair, if foolish, criticism. But the irrelevant jeering
which the article also contained, and, even more, the manner in which
the article was given publication (accompanied, as it was, by the
circulation of posters bearing the words "Belloc's Fables"), constituted
nothing short of a violent personal attack. To understand how such an
attack came to be made it is sufficient to possess an acquaintance with
the methods of Carmelite House or a knowledge of the personality of Lord
Northcliffe--a subject on which we could enlarge. It will better suit
the present purpose, however, to give Mr. Belloc's own explanation of
the reason why this attack was made upon him. In his "Reply to
Criticism," before proceeding to the part which has been quoted in the
foregoing chapter, he says:

     It has been the constant policy of this paper to avoid controversy
     of any kind, both because the matters it deals with are best
     examined as intellectual propositions and because the increasing
     gravity of the time is ill-suited for domestic quarrel. I none the
     less owe it to my readers to take some notice of the very violent
     personal attack delivered by the Harmsworth Press some ten days ago
     upon my work in this journal. I owe it to them because I should
     otherwise appear to admit unanswered the depreciation of my work in
     this paper, but, still more, because the incident would give the
     general public a very false impression unless its cause were
     exposed. I will deal with the matter as briefly as I can. It is not
     a pleasant one, and I doubt whether the principal offender will
     compel me to return to it. I must first explain to my readers the
     occasion of so extraordinary an outburst on the part of the
     proprietor of the _Daily Mail_. I have become, with many others,
     convinced that a great combination of newspapers pretending to
     speak with many voices, but really serving the private interests of
     one man, is dangerous to the nation. It was breeding dissension
     between various social classes at a moment when unity was more
     necessary than ever; pretending to make and unmake Ministers;
     weakening authority by calculated confusion, but, above all,
     undermining public confidence and spreading panic in a methodical
     way which has already made the opinion of London an extraordinary
     contrast to that of the Armies, and gravely disturbing our Allies.
     They could not understand the privilege accorded to this one
     person. I, therefore to the best of my power, determined to attack
     that privilege, and did so. I shall continue to do so. But such
     action has nothing to do with this journal, in which I have
     hitherto avoided all controversy.

Now this matter, as Mr. Belloc rightly says, is not a pleasant one, and
we owe some apology both to Mr. Belloc and the public for returning to
it here. It forms, however, so noteworthy an example of that aspect of
Mr. Belloc and his work which it is proposed to examine in this chapter
that any consideration of that aspect without some mention of this
unpleasant affair would necessarily be incomplete.

The attitude of mind expressed by Mr. Belloc in this explanation should
be carefully noted. In this he appears, not, as we have seen him in the
previous chapter, as the exponent of intellectual propositions, but as
the champion of an opinion of his own. He is here expressing and
upholding his particular view of the necessity, during the war, of unity
among social classes and of the strengthening of public confidence. This
view of his proceeds from two co-related causes; the first, his
conception of the nature of the war, and, second, his knowledge of the
part played in government by public opinion.

These two causes must be examined separately.

Mr. Belloc has made clear his conception of the nature of the war in the
following words:

     The two parties are really fighting for their lives; that in Europe
     which is arrayed against the Germanic alliance would not care to
     live if it should fail to maintain itself against the threat of
     that alliance. It is for them life and death. On the other side,
     the Germans having propounded this theory of theirs, or rather the
     Prussians having propounded it for them, there is no rest possible
     until they shall either have "made good" to our destruction, or
     shall have been so crushed that a recurrence of the menace from
     them will for the future be impossible.... The fight, in a word, is
     not like a fight with a man who, if he beats you, may make you sign
     away some property, or make you acknowledge some principle to which
     you are already half-inclined; it is like a fight with a man who
     says, "So long as I have life left in me, I will make it my
     business to kill you." And fights of that kind can never reach a
     term less absolute than the destruction of offensive power in one
     side or the other. A peace not affirming complete victory in this
     great struggle could, of its nature, be no more than a truce.

The second cause, Mr. Belloc's knowledge of the important part played by
public opinion in government, he has expressed in the following terms:--

     The importance of a sound public judgment upon the progress of the
     war is not always clearly appreciated. It depends upon truths which
     many men have forgotten, and upon certain political forces which,
     in the ordinary rush and tumble of professional politics, are quite
     forgotten. Let me recall those truths and those forces.

     The truths are these: that no Government can effectively exercise
     its power save upon the basis of public opinion. A Government can
     exercise its power over a conquered province in spite of public
     opinion, but it cannot work, save for a short time and at an
     enormous cost in friction, counter to the opinion of those with
     whom it is concerned as citizens and supporters. By which I do not
     mean that party politicians cannot act thus in peace, and upon
     unimportant matters. I mean that no kind of Government has ever
     been able to act thus in a crisis.

     It is also wise to keep the mass of people in ignorance of
     disasters that may be immediately repaired, or of follies or even
     vices in government which may be redressed before they become

     It is always absolutely wise to prevent the enemy in time of war
     from learning things which would be an aid to him. That is the
     reason why a strict censorship in time of war is not only useful,
     but essentially and drastically necessary. But though public
     opinion, even in time of peace, is only in part informed, and
     though in time of war it may be very insufficiently informed, yet
     upon it and with it you govern. Without it or against it in time of
     war you cannot govern.

     Now if during the course of a great war men come quite to misjudge
     its very nature, the task of the Government would be strained some
     time or other in the future to breaking point. False news, too
     readily credited, does not leave people merely insufficiently
     informed, conscious of their ignorance, and merely grumbling
     because they cannot learn more, it has the positive effect of
     putting them into the wrong frame of mind, of making them support
     what they should not support, and neglect what they should not

The view, then, which Mr. Belloc holds, and which these two factors
combine to form, is one of enormous importance. This view is the key to
all Mr. Belloc's writings on the political aspect of the war. He has
expressed it over and over again, but never in more solemn terms than in
the following passage. After showing the existence of the political
effect of the German advance to the borders of Russia, he points out how
necessary it is to control, by public authority and through our own
private wills, any corresponding political effect in England:

     If, here, the one territory of the three great Allies not invaded
     [he says] any insanity of fear be permitted, or any still baser
     motive of saving private fortune by an inconclusive peace, then the
     political effect at which the enemy is aiming will indeed have been
     achieved. These things are contagious. We must root out and destroy
     the seed of that before it grows more formidable. If we do not, we
     are deliberately risking disaster. But be very certain of this:
     That if by whatever lack of judgment, or worse, an inconclusive
     peace be arranged, this country alone of the great alliance will,
     perhaps unsupported, be the target of future attack....

He then goes on to show how the enemy's great offensive through Poland
began in April, 1915, and throughout the summer failed and failed and
failed. He concludes:

     It is not enough to know these things as a proposition in
     mathematics or as a problem in chess may be known. They must enter
     into the consciousness of the nation; and this they will not do if
     the opposite and false statement calculated to spread panic and to
     destroy judgment be permitted to work its full evil unchecked by
     public authority.

These passages will suffice to show not only that Mr. Belloc works with
an object, but also the very important nature of that object. In his own
words, he works "for the instruction of public opinion." His whole
desire is to elucidate for the general public who have not the
advantages of his knowledge and pursuits, events which are both puzzling
and urgent. In his commentary in _Land and Water_ he deals with those
problems which belong of their nature to the military aspect of the war,
and we have seen how extraordinarily qualified he is to undertake that
task as well as with what marked success he has accomplished it. His
writings on the political aspect of the war are to be found chiefly in
the _Illustrated Sunday Herald_, while many articles which he has
contributed at various times to other journals and newspapers are of a
similar character.

In so far as he is writing, as he is in these articles, on general
topics of the day for the public of the day, Mr. Belloc is a journalist.
In its former restricted meaning the word "journalist" expressed this.
To-day, however, we include under the designation of journalist all
those workers in the editorial departments of newspaper offices who,
though skilled in various ways, are not necessarily writers at all. In
referring, then, to Mr. Belloc as a journalist we are using the term in
its older and more restricted sense: in the sense in which the term was
employed when journalism was a profession and not a trade, when the
newspaper was not merely an instrument to further the ends of a
capitalist or syndicate, but a means of communicating to the public the
views of an individual or group of individuals, each of whom was
prepared to accept personal responsibility for the views he expressed.

The journalist in this sense is a rare figure to-day: so rare, indeed,
that we have forgotten he is a journalist and invented a new name for
him. In the field of journalism as it is at the present time it is
possible to count on the fingers of one hand the number of men who write
constantly on general topics of the day and sign what they write, thus
accepting personal responsibility for the views they express and not
leaving that responsibility with the newspaper in which their views
appear. Every weekly or monthly journal as well as the greater number of
daily newspapers contain, it is true, signed articles. The leader-pages
of the halfpenny dailies make a feature nearly every day of one or more
signed articles. But these articles, in the main, deal only with
subjects on which the writer who signs his name is a specialist. They
are written by men who happen to possess special knowledge of some
subject which is of pronounced interest to the public owing to the
course of events at the moment. For instance, when the Germans were on
the point of entering Warsaw, articles dealing with various aspects of
the city, its history, character and buildings, appeared in nearly every
newspaper: and the better articles of this nature were written and
signed by men who possessed an intimate knowledge of the subject on
which they were writing. In the same way, all signed criticism,
literary, dramatic or musical, which appears in the columns of the
newspapers of to-day is, or professes to be, the work of specialists.
Many of the larger newspapers, indeed, pay retaining fees or salaries
and give staff appointments to such specialists. Thus, the _Daily
Telegraph_ has as its literary specialist Mr. W. L. Courtney, its
musical specialist Mr. Robin H. Legge, its business specialist Mr. H. E.

It is the practice, then, of newspapers at the present time to make
personally responsible for the opinions they express those who write in
their columns on subjects which, though of great interest and
importance, can of their nature only concern certain classes of the
community. It should be noted, however, as perhaps the most curious
anomaly among the mass of anomalies which constitute modern journalism,
that the newspapers do not insist upon this personal responsibility of
the writer in their treatment of those matters which concern not one
class but every class of the community. What the newspaper insists upon,
on the ground, presumably, that it is right and natural, in the minor
affairs of life, it entirely ignores in the major matters of life. While
it insists, for example, that the writer who expresses an opinion in its
columns on the ludicrous inadequacy of the Promenade Concerts shall
accept personal responsibility for that opinion, it allows views and
opinions on such vital matters as the sovereignty of Parliament, the
invincibility of Capitalism and the immorality of Trades Unionism to be
expressed anonymously.

This practice is now firmly established. These anonymous opinions are
the "opinions of the paper." But what does that phrase mean? A newspaper
itself, as a mere material object, is incapable of forming or holding an
opinion. Some person, or group of persons, must form and hold and be
ready to accept the responsibility for the expression of these "opinions
of the paper." And since the ultimate responsibility can fall on nobody
but the proprietor or proprietors of the papers, these anonymous
opinions must properly be regarded as the opinions of the capitalist or
syndicate owning the paper in which they appear. In other words, the
opinions anonymously expressed in the leading articles of the _Daily
News_ can only be the opinions of Messrs. Cadbury: of the _Daily
Telegraph_ of Lord Burnham or the Lawson family: in the _Manchester
Guardian_ of Mr. C. P. Scott and his fellow-proprietors: in the _Morning
Post_ of Lady Bathurst: in the _Daily Mail_ of Lord Northcliffe and the
Harmsworth family.

Of this system of purveying to the public opinions which, by an absurd,
illogical and pernicious tradition, are supposed to be those of the
public, but which, in reality, are those either of a single capitalist
or syndicate, Mr. Belloc is not merely the avowed enemy but the most
active enemy. It was his persistently inimical attitude, ruthlessly
maintained, which evoked the angry personal attack made upon him by Lord
Northcliffe; and we have seen how Mr. Belloc explains, justifies and
maintains his attitude. In this we see his enmity avowed, but we do not
perhaps realize how practical and active is the expression he gives it.

It has been said, indeed, just above, that of this system he is the most
active enemy; and, in truth, we can find no other to equal him in this
respect except such as are working in co-operation with, if not under
the leadership of, Mr. Belloc. We have seen how, in so far as he is
writing on general topics of the day for the public of the day (as he is
doing, for example, in his articles which are concerned with various
phases of the political aspect of the war in the _Illustrated Sunday
Herald_ and other journals and newspapers), Mr. Belloc is a journalist
in the older and more restricted sense of the term. It has been further
shown that the journalist in this sense is a rare figure to-day, it
being the practice of modern journalism to deal with general, as
distinct from special, topics of the day in the form of leading
articles, which, in reality, contain what can only logically be regarded
as the opinions of the proprietors of the newspapers in which they
appear. The journalist who writes what may be called signed leading
articles is so rare among us to-day that we have forgotten he is a
journalist and invented a new name for him. We call him a publicist.

Among the writers of the day the number who rank as publicists is very
small. The names that occur to one are those of Mr. G. K. Chesterton,
Mr. H. G. Wells, Mr. Bernard Shaw, Mr. A. G. Gardiner, Mr. E. B. Osborn
and, possibly, Mr. Arnold Bennett. In addition there are a few
publicists who speak through organs which they personally control, such
as Mr. A. R. Orage, Mr. Sidney Webb, and Mr. Cecil Chesterton. Mr.
Arnold Bennett, indeed, has only occupied the position of publicist
since he has been a regular contributor to the _Daily News_, and we can
only say that, high as Mr. Bennett stands in our estimation as a
novelist and writer, we fail to see any particular in which his views on
political and social matters of the day are of extraordinary importance
to the welfare of the community at large. In a word, it seems to us that
those articles of his which from time to time occupy so prominent a
position on the leader page of the _Daily News_ might appear as fitly in
the correspondence column. Mr. G. K. Chesterton has won for himself a
high place in contemporary letters, but it is more probable that that
place is due rather to the excellence and individuality of his writing
than to the originality of the opinions he holds. It may be said,
indeed, of Mr. G. K. Chesterton, as an exceedingly competent critic has
said of Mr. Shaw, that it is his manner of expressing his philosophy
rather than his philosophy itself that will be valued by posterity. And
as Mr. Shaw has expressed most of his views in his plays and prefaces
rather than in the columns of the newspapers (and this is said in full
remembrance of his manifold and copious letters to _The Times_), so Mr.
H. G. Wells has given us his philosophy in his novels and fantasies. His
appearances in the newspapers have been rare and invariably regrettable.
The two other gentlemen whose names are mentioned, Mr. E. B. Osborn and
Mr. A. G. Gardiner, should be classed, perhaps, rather with those other
three who are in control, more or less, of the papers in which their
writings appear, since both Mr. Osborn and Mr. Gardiner are definitely
attached, the one to the _Morning Post_ and the other to the _Daily News
and Leader_, of which, before the amalgamation, he was editor. This
being the case, it is to be assumed that these two gentlemen express and
sign their views in these papers because their views correspond to a
determining extent with those of the proprietors of the papers. This
must logically be the case with Mr. Gardiner. So far as Mr. Osborn is
concerned, he occupies on the _Morning Post_ the same position as was
occupied on that paper by Mr. Belloc and on the _Daily News_ in former
times by Mr. Gilbert Chesterton. That is to say, he is an essayist of
such standing as to make a regular contribution from him of value to the
newspaper so long as the views and opinions he expresses in those essays
do not contrast too violently with the opinions expressed in the leading

Of the other three gentlemen we have named, Mr. Orage, Mr. Cecil
Chesterton and Mr. Webb, it is difficult to speak as of individuals.
They are referred to more properly as the _New Age_, the _New Witness_,
and the _New Statesman_, and their respective personalities and
attitudes of mind are fitly expressed in the names of the organs through
which they speak. All three agree in finding the times out of joint and
desiring new and better conditions of life: they differ in the
standpoints from which they approach an analysis of present conditions
and in the solutions they propound. The _New Age_ is the most valuable
because it is the most thorough. Not only is its analysis of present
conditions the most acute and the most sound that we have to-day, but
the solutions it propounds to the problems it analyses are the most
fearless, the most thorough and the most idealistic. The _New Witness_
is equally thorough but more immediate. The scope of its analysis is not
so wide. Although its views are based on principles similar to those of
the _New Age_, it is concerned more to influence the actions than the
thoughts of men. Its object is to bear testimony to the wrongs that are
being done to-day, the crimes that are committed every day against the
welfare of the community, and to cry aloud for the immediate righting of
those wrongs, the stern punishment of those crimes. Though these two
journals are aiming at the same object, the methods they adopt are in
almost direct contrast. Mr. Orage looks down from the height, not of
philosophic doubt, but of philosophic certainty (where he alone feels
happy) upon the petty house of party politics, and seeks, by the magic
music of his words and phrases, so to move and draw after him the sand
of human nature on which that house is built, that it may no longer
stand but fall and be banished utterly. Mr. Cecil Chesterton, on the
other hand, only happy in the rôle of the new David, gives fearless
battle to the modern Goliath, caring no whit if at times the struggle go
against him and he find himself hard pressed at the Old Bailey, but
gleefully and dauntlessly springing at his monstrous assailant, in the
hope that some day a lucky stone from his sling will find its mark.
Somewhere between these two extremes stands (or wavers) the _New
Statesman_, sometimes inclining more to the one, more to the other
method. It is concerned neither entirely with the thoughts nor entirely
with the actions of men, but with each in part. Its object is so to
influence the thoughts of men that they will find natural expression in
the clauses of beneficent Bills.

These are the publicists. As individuals they are of value to the
community according to the value of the views they hold and express. As
a class they are of value to the community because the views they hold
and express, whether right or wrong, are _sincere_. In contrast with the
great body of the Capitalist Press that expresses anonymous opinions
which, whether sincere or not (and it can be proved that they are often
quite insincere), must still necessarily aim at the maintenance and
strengthening of present social and economic conditions, these men
express their own personal convictions as to what is wrong with the
world and how, as _they_ think, the world may be made a better place.

It is this inestimable quality of sincerity which links Mr. Belloc with
the too small band of publicists of the day. It has been said of Mr.
Belloc that he is a "man of independent mind, and, where necessary, of
unpopular attitude ... his estimates, right or wrong, are his own ... he
carries a sword to grasp not an axe to grind." In the following chapters
a brief exposition of Mr. Belloc's views both of Europe and of England
will be given with a short summary of his translation of these views
into the language of practical reforms; and we shall then be able to
form some estimate of Mr. Belloc's particular value to the community. In
his articles both on the military and on the political aspect of the war
Mr. Belloc is working, as we have seen, "for the instruction of public
opinion." That this is to-day true, moreover, of Mr. Belloc's whole
attitude towards the public is not fully realized. Large numbers of
people have found in Mr. Belloc's war articles their only hope of sanity
in the midst of distressing and unintelligible events. In the general
course of modern life events move less rapidly, but are equally
important, and there, too, Mr. Belloc has attempted with almost
pathetic lucidity to explain. His true earnestness will not be rewarded,
his true purpose will not be attained, until the thoughtful public
realizes that it can find in Mr. Belloc's historical and political
writings at large the guide to the formation of opinion and the help to
sanity which it has already found in his explanations of the war.



The beginning of Mr. Belloc's literary career was in history. He took a
first in the school of modern history at Oxford, and his first important
work was a study of the career of Danton. A study of Danton's career, be
it noted, and not a biography: for this book deals more with so much of
the French Revolution as is reflected in its subject's actions than with
its subject's actions in themselves.

It is, then, as an historian that he begins and mainly as an historian
that he continues. His activities are varied, but all are related to a
conception of the world, its growth and destiny, which is founded on a
conception of universal history. He sees in man a political animal,
whose distinguishing function is not commerce or art, but politics.
History is the record of man exercising this distinguishing function.
Our own politics are based on the results of the exercise of this
function in the past, and cannot be properly understood without a
knowledge of the details of that exercise. To link up the argument: man
is a political animal and finds his expression in the work of politics;
he can only be fitted for that work by the study of history. Mr. Belloc,
then, regards this as the most important of all studies.

A casual glance at his essays will reveal some sentences or other
testifying to the strength with which this opinion is rooted in his
mind. Take this from _First and Last_:

     Of those factors in civic action amenable to civic direction,
     conscious and positively effective, there is nothing to compare
     with the right teaching and the right reading of history.

Or again from _On Anything_, regarding the matter from a somewhat
different point of view:

     History may be called the test of true philosophy, or it may be
     called in a very modern and not very dignified metaphor the
     object-lesson of political science, or it may be called the great
     story whose interest is upon another plane from all other stories
     because its irony, its tragedy and its moral are real, were acted
     by real men, and were the manifestation of God.

Wherever you turn over these pages, you are more likely than not to find
some such earnest and emphatic sentence: this opinion is essential to
Mr. Belloc's life and thought. With the practical and business-like
position of the first of these quotations it is our affair to deal in
this chapter: and the more spiritual and poetic view expressed in the
second will receive consideration in a later place.

In this chapter it is our purpose to outline as briefly and as clearly
as possible Mr. Belloc's conception of the growth of Europe, from the
prehistoric men who knew how to make dew-pans which "are older than the
language or the religion, and the finding of water with a stick, and the
catching of that smooth animal the mole," to the outbreak of the present
war. From this we shall omit, to a large extent, the development of
England, which, as it is singular in Europe, is singular in Mr. Belloc's
scheme of things, and must be considered separately.

We shall endeavour, as far as possible, to piece together from a great
number of books and writings on various subjects a continuous view of
European history, which we believe to be Mr. Belloc's view, but which he
has never, as yet, stated all together in one place. We shall draw our
material from such varied sources as _Esto Perpetua_, _The Old Road_,
_Paris_, _The Historic Thames_, and inevitably the essays: inevitably,
for all practical purposes, from all the books that Mr. Belloc has ever
written. At some future time, it is very seriously to be hoped, Mr.
Belloc will do this himself. It should be his _magnum opus_: "A General
Sketch of European Development," let us suppose. In the meanwhile, we
conceive that we shall serve a useful purpose if we make a consistent
scheme out of the hints, allusions and detached statements which occur
up and down in Mr. Belloc's books. For some such scheme, existing but
unformulated, is, beyond all doubt, the solid sub-structure of all his

In the essay _On History in Travel_, Mr. Belloc says: "It is true that
those who write good guide-books do put plenty of history into them, but
it is sporadic history, as it were; it is not continuous or organic, and
therefore it does not live." It is living, organic history that is
necessary, he would consider, to the proper understanding of present
problems and the proper furnishing of the human mind. He desires to see
and grasp the development of Europe as a symmetrical whole, not as a
conglomeration of unco-ordinated parts or a succession of unrelated
accidents. He believes that Europe has developed from prehistoric man by
way of the Roman Empire, the Christian religion, and the French
Revolution, in an orderly, organic manner. He believes, far more than
Freeman, in a real unity of history.

And from this observation of continuous history he draws certain morals.
He sees, or believes that he sees, in Carthage a wealthy trading
plutocracy, ruling a population averse from arms: and he sees this
society falling to utter ruin before the Roman state, a polity of
peasant proprietors with a popular army. From that spectacle he draws
certain conclusions. He sees the Roman Empire and the way in which it
governed Europe, and from that huge organization and its mighty remains
he also draws certain lessons of wonder and reverence. From the decline
of the Empire, the growth of a slave, and economically enslaved, class,
the growth of a wealthy class, he again deduces something. All these
conclusions he applies constantly and unrelentingly to our own problems
and institutions: he cannot forbear from mentioning imperial Rome when
he comes to discuss our war in the Transvaal. He cannot forbear from
seeing the counterpart of the Peabody Yid in imperial Rome. All history
is to him a living and organic whole. And as individuals can judge in
present problems what they shall do only by reference to their own
experience and what they know of that of others, so also societies and
races. _There is no guide for them but recorded history._ This
accumulated experience, however, requires to be set out and interpreted.

Mr. Belloc's view and conception of the history of Europe begins with
Rome. All the roads of his speculation start from that nodal point in
the story of man. Let us take a grotesque example:

     Do you not notice how the intimate mind of Europe is reflected in
     cheese? For in the centre of Europe, and where Europe is most
     active, I mean in Britain and in Gaul and in Northern Italy, and in
     the valley of the Rhine--nay, to some extent in Spain (in her
     Pyrenean valleys at least)--there flourishes a vast burgeoning of
     cheese, infinite in variety, one in goodness. But as Europe fades
     away under the African wound which Spain suffered or the Eastern
     barbarism of the Elbe, what happens to cheese? It becomes very flat
     and similar. You can quote six cheeses perhaps which the public
     power of Christendom has founded outside the limits of its ancient
     Empire--but not more than six. I will quote you 253 between the
     Ebro and the Grampians, between Brindisi and the Irish channel.

     I do not write vainly. It is a profound thing.

That passage illustrates admirably how Mr. Belloc's mind, playing on all
manner of subjects, remains true to certain fixed points. In two phrases
there he gives us our starting-point: "the public power of Christendom"
and "the limits of its ancient Empire." For Rome is to him the beginning
of Europe, and Christianity inherited what Rome had stored up in public
power, public order, and public intelligence.

He sees in Rome the power which established a unity among the Western
races which lay already dormant in them. We can trace this idea very
clearly in _Esto Perpetua_, where he speaks repeatedly of the Berbers,
as having fallen easily under the power of Rome because they are "of our
own kind." We can trace it again inversely in _The Path to Rome_, in
such a passage as this:

     Here in Switzerland, for four marches, I touched a northern,
     exterior and barbaric people; for though these mountains spoke a
     distorted Latin tongue, and only after the first day began to give
     me a Teutonic dialect, yet it was evident from the first that they
     had about them neither the Latin order nor the Latin power to
     create, but were contemplative and easily absorbed by a little

It is in this order, this power to create, that Mr. Belloc sees the
greatness of Rome and the innate gifts of our Western race. And if one
objects that a certain power of order would seem to reside also in
Prussia, undoubtedly a Northern, exterior and barbaric country, Mr.
Belloc would reply that the power to create was lacking, the power to
make their order living and to inform it with a spirit.

It is his opinion, we say, or rather one of the articles of his creed,
that Rome first beat and welded into unity the kindred peoples that
inhabit Western Europe. What name he gives to this Western race, if any,
he has not yet explained. Professor Müller and his contemporaries used
to talk about the Indo-Germanic race, and Professor Sergi came forward
with a more plausible Mediterranean race, and all sorts of people talk
with the utmost possible vagueness about the Celtic race, that
rubbish-heap of ethnological science or pretence. Whatever name he may
give to this race, or however ethnologically he may justify his
conception of it, Mr. Belloc believes that it exists and that Rome first
discovered it and gave it expression.

Like all large and generalized conceptions, this idea of the Western
race is best explained in a contrast, and Mr. Belloc finds a sharp
example of such a contrast in the struggle between Rome and Carthage. He
sets it out in _Esto Perpetua_:

     It [the Phoenician attempt] failed for two reasons: the first was
     the contrast between the Phoenician ideal and our own; the second
     was the solidarity of the Western blood.

     The army which Hannibal led recognized the voice of a Carthaginian
     genius, but it was not Carthaginian. It was not levied, it was
     paid. Even those elements in it which were native to Carthage or
     her colonies must receive a wage, must be "volunteer"; and
     meanwhile the policy which directed the whole from the centre in
     Africa was a trading policy. Rome "interfered with business"; on
     this account alone the costly and unusual effort of removing her
     was made.

     The Europeans undertook their defence in a very different spirit:
     an abhorrence of this alien blood welded them together: the allied
     and subjugated cities which had hated Rome had hated her as a

     The Italian confederation was true because it rested on other than
     economic supports. The European passion for military glory survived
     every disaster, and above all that wholly European thing, the
     delight in meeting great odds, made our people strangely stronger
     for defeat.

It is in the European spirit, the spirit of "our people," that Mr.
Belloc finds the mission and the justification of Rome. It is on a
belief in the reality of this spirit that he founds his views of all
subsequent developments, of our own present and of our future. The work
of Rome has been minimized in common estimation by our extraordinary
habit of telescoping the centuries and viewing history, as we say, in a
perspective. There is no perspective in a right view of history: the
centuries do not diminish in length as they recede from our own day. The
perception of this very simple fact has not come to many of our
historians or to any of our politicians. It should be, indeed, the first
sentence in every school history-book, and the don should begin each
course of lectures with it.

The reasons for the overlooking of so elementary a maxim are fairly
clear. Time simplifies. The later centuries are more full of detail, and
that detail is more confused: much of it, moreover, relates more
directly to the urgent detail of our own life than the similar events of
earlier times. But for a sound conception of the historical development
of the world, we must make an effort to overcome these delusive
influences: we must realize that from the accession of Augustus to, say,
the death of Julian the Apostate was as long a period of time as the
period from the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the death of Edward VII.
Only a false perspective has so telescoped these years together as to
make them seem a short and rapid period of decline, filled up with wars,
massacres and human misery. Gibbon has given the greatest weight of
authority to these errors and shown the Empire as a period of decay and

     Under the reign of these monsters [he says] the slavery of the
     Romans was accompanied with two peculiar circumstances, the one
     occasioned by their former liberty, the other by their extensive
     conquests, which rendered their condition more wretched than that
     of the victims of tyranny in any other age or country.[1]

Even Mommsen closed his history of the Republic with the gloomy
assertion that Cæsar could only secure for the dying ancient world a
peaceful twilight.

As a matter of fact, during the first four centuries, the Empire was the
most successful, satisfactory and enduring political institution which
the world has yet seen, and a recognition of this is essential
to the proper understanding of Mr. Belloc's theories. We should, as he
says, attempt "to stand in the shoes of the time and to see it as must
have seen it the barber of Marcus Aurelius or the stud-groom of
Sidonius' palace."

     We know what was coming [he continues],[2] the men of the time knew
     it no more than we can know the future. We take at its own estimate
     that violent self-criticism which accompanies vitality, and we are
     content to see in these 400 years a process of mere decay.

     The picture thus impressed upon us is certainly false. There is
     hardly a town whose physical history we can trace, that did not
     expand, especially towards the close of that time.

     ... Our theory of political justice was partly formulated, partly
     handed on, by those generations; our whole scheme of law, our
     conceptions of human dignity and of right.... If a man will stand
     back in the time of the Antonines and look around him and forward
     to our own day, the consequence of the first four centuries will at
     once appear. He will see the unceasing expansion of the paved
     imperial ways. He will conceive those great Councils of the Church
     which would meet indifferently in centres 1,500 miles apart, in the
     extremity of Spain or on the Bosphorus: a sort of moving city whose
     vast travel was not even noticed nor called a feat. He will be
     appalled by the vigour of the Western mind between Augustus and
     Julian when he finds that it could comprehend and influence and
     treat as one vast State what is, even now, after so many centuries
     of painful reconstruction, a mosaic of separate provinces.

The reader has there a handy conspectus of Mr. Belloc's view on a period
he considers cardinal in the history of what he would call "our own
kind." This is one of the pillars of his conception of the world: what
the other pillars are will appear later in this chapter.

In pursuing the story, he insists on minimizing the effect and extent of
the barbaric invasions. He does not indeed regard the auxiliary troops
of the Empire who set up kingdoms in the West as invaders at all. The
Wandering of the Peoples which assumes such a dreadful aspect in
Gibbon, is, to him, until after Charlemagne at least, certainly a sign
of decay and certainly an element of disorganization, but neither the
one nor the other to the extent which we are accustomed to believe. Here
we have a sign of a definite attitude towards historical fact, an
attitude which is open to question but which is still permissible. He
believes that the civilization of Rome endured for the main part,
particularly in Gaul, until the ninth century. In _The Eye-Witness_ he
states roundly that Charlemagne came of an old family of wealthy and
powerful Gallo-Roman nobles. In _Paris_, an earlier work, he declines to
estimate the exact amount of German blood in this ruler's veins.[3]

In any case, he believes that the German auxiliaries partly replaced and
partly allied themselves with a rich, powerful and long-established
aristocracy; that they did in truth separate the State into fragments;
but that they touched very little the main social fabric, and only at
most hastened the elements of change. He perpetually insists on the
fewness of the invaders who settled, and he believes that the Western
race, welded almost into one people by the vast political action of
Rome, was, in bulk, but little affected by the Northern barbarians.

Not until the ninth century will he admit anything approaching the death
of Roman influence in her Western provinces, except in Britain. Here, in
the ninth century, under the invasions of the Danes and the onslaughts
of the Arabs, civilization is in peril and the West suffers its most
serious wounds at the hands of the barbarians. And here already, the new
influence, the Roman Church, which began to show itself in the
coronation of Charlemagne, first takes up its inheritance of the
oecumenical power of the Empire. The ninth century saw the climax of
"the gradual despair of the civil power; the new dream of the Church
which meant to build a city of God on the shifting sands of the

The new dream was but beginning to take on reality and the civil power
had in all fullness despaired. The old civilization, which had lasted so
long and changed so gradually, required to be refreshed by catastrophe:
even as some men believe of our own times. The catastrophe came, and,
through the struggle with the North and with Asia, the transformation
took place unseen in that lowest ebb of humanity. Europe had reached the
crest of one wave in the height of the Empire under the power of the
Roman government. It was to reach another in the thirteenth century
under the influence of the Roman Church.

The most of Mr. Belloc's conception of the Middle Ages is to be found in
his book _Paris_, where it is really incidental though profoundly
important. We cannot too often insist upon this fact, that the brief and
insufficient historical sketch presented in this chapter is a piecing
together often of mere indications as well as of detached statements.
The reader will do well to bear in mind that in this exposition we are
laying before him to the best of our powers what we take to be the
definite scheme of events undoubtedly present in our author's mind, but
never as a whole expressed by him. It is frequently necessary to infer
from what he states, the precise curve of his thought: this skeleton of
history is deduced only from a few bones.

In the book _Paris_, then, we find the best guide to his conception of
the Middle Ages. It is naturally in principle a work of topographical
and architectural purpose. But architecture is a guide to history. It
is the capital art of a happy society. (And, incidentally, an art that
is, in a definite and positive manner, dead in the present age.) Athens,
at her climax, built: and the grandeur of Rome has been preserved in
arches and aqueducts. For Mr. Belloc, the progress of the upward curve
from the ninth century to the thirteenth reaches its culmination in the
best of the Gothic. He sees in that structural time one of humanity's
periods of achievement, and he will not assent to the common theory of a
gradual upward curve from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance.

The progress of the Middle Ages was a progress towards unity, less
successful but more spontaneous than that which was achieved under the
compelling hand of the Roman armies. Christianity, wounded and
threatened by the advance of the heathen, of a power opposed to them by
religion and by race, was shocked into feeling the existence of
Christendom. The Western spirit, which had rallied to the Republic
against Carthage, now gathered under the flag of the Church and
expressed itself in the Crusades.

The levying of Europe for a common and a noble purpose began the process
which was continued by the intellectual stimulation of these wars. It
flowered briefly but exquisitely in the Gothic, in the foundation of the
universities and the teaching of philosophy, and in the establishment of
strong, well-ordered central governments in the feudal scheme.

The merits of the Middle Ages, to Mr. Belloc, lie not only in their
artistic and philosophical achievements, but also and especially in
their security. He has the French, the Latin attachment to a vigorous
central power, and, of all political forms, he most fears and hates an
oligarchy. To others, to Dr. Johnson and to Goldsmith, for example, it
has seemed very clear that the interests of the poor lie with the king
against the rich. Mr. Belloc sees in the feudal system strongly
administered from a centre, with the villein secured in his holding and
the townsman controlled and protected by his guild, if not a perfect, at
least a solidly successful polity. He applauds therefore those ages in
which central justice was effective, the ages of Edward I in England and
St. Louis in France.

     But [he says] the mediaeval theory in the State and its effect on
     architecture, suited as they were to our blood, and giving us, as
     they did, the only language in which we have ever found an exact
     expression of our instincts, ruled in security for a very little
     while; it began--almost in the hour of its perfection--to decay;
     St. Louis outlived it a little, kept it vigorous, perhaps, in his
     own immediate surroundings, when it was already weakened in the
     rest of Europe, and long before the thirteenth century was out the
     system to which it has given its name was drying up at the

Why, then, was this crest of the curve so much less durable than that on
which the Empire rode safely through four ordered centuries? To that
there are many possible answers. Some might suppose that the binding
spiritual force of the Roman Church was weaker than the physical force
of the Roman army. Mr. Belloc suggests that the mediaeval system came
too suddenly into flower and had not enough strength to deal with new
problems. He offers also other reasons, such as these[6]:

     First, the astounding series of catastrophes ... especially in the
     earlier part; secondly, its loss of creative power. As for the
     first of these, the black death, the famines, the hundred years'
     war, the free companies, the abasement of the church, the great
     schism--these things were misfortunes to which our modern time can
     find no parallel. They came suddenly upon Western Europe and
     defiled it like a blight.... They have made the mediaeval idea
     odious to every half-instructed man and have stamped even its
     beauty with associations of evil.

So for two hundred years the curve continued evilly downwards, and at
last, after a period of horror, rose in the lesser crest of the
Renaissance, a time more splendid than solid, more active than
beneficent. In this period occurred the Reformation, an event which Mr.
Belloc, a Catholic, frankly regards as evil.

He thinks that it tore in two the still expanding body of Christendom.
But, with the exception of one province, it left to the See of Rome all
those Western countries which the Empire of Rome had governed. Britain
was torn away in the process, but the remainder of the Western races was
left, if not united, at least with a bond of unity.

So the course of history went into the welter of religious wars which
gradually merge into dynastic wars and confuse the record of the
sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century. At the end of the last of
these divisions of time came the Revolution.

This event is the third of the three pillars on which Mr. Belloc
supports his notion of Western history: the Roman Empire, the thirteenth
century, and the Revolution. He sees in it the principle result of the
Reformation, but an event which also undid and increasingly nullified
the effects of that schism.

He regards the Reformation as having not only disturbed the unity of
Europe, but also having encouraged the growth of those wealthy and
selfish classes of whom he has a particular dread. He speaks--in his
_Marie Antoinette_, which becomes for some little distance here our
principal guide--of how "the attempt to force upon the French doctrines
convenient, in France as in England, to the wealthy merchants, the
intellectuals and the squires was met by popular risings." He believes
that to the Catholic tradition descended from the Roman Empire that idea
of the State which is always the salvation of the people as opposed to
the rich. The violent adhesion of France to the Church--only tempered by
some jealousy of Austria--saved the Faith for Europe: France thus became
the capital stronghold of the Western idea, whence it issued in renewed
force at the Revolution.[7] The Revolution itself was a drastic return
to the ideas of universality and equality which are essentially Roman.

It has been Mr. Belloc's task and delight to reconcile the principles of
the Revolution with his own faith. He would show that the two were
opposed only by this intellectual accident or that political blunder:
that the dogmas of each are capable of being held by the same mind. And,
in the revival of religion in our own times, which "may be called,
according to the taste of the scholar, the Catholic reaction or the
Catholic renaissance," he sees not only the first and most beneficent
result of the principles of the Revolution, but also a sign that the
wounds then inflicted are beginning to be healed.

His clearest and most connected exposition of these things is to be
found in the little book which is called _The French Revolution_, of
which the object, he says, is "to lay, if that be possible, an
explanation of it before the reader."

He begins by making a detailed explanation of the democratic theory,
which is drawn from Rousseau's treatise _Le Contrat Social_. Let us
select one significant passage on the doctrine of equality:

     The doctrine of the equality of man is a transcendent doctrine: a
     "dogma" as we call such doctrines in the field of transcendental
     religion. It corresponds to no physical reality which we can grasp,
     it is hardly to be adumbrated even by metaphors drawn from physical
     objects. We may attempt to rationalize it by saying that what is
     common to all men is not _more_ important but _infinitely more_
     important than the accidents by which men differ.

On such a simple statement does he found his explanation of the greatest
event of the modern world, an upheaval and a remoulding which
astonishes us equally whether we consider how far it fell short of its
highest intentions or how much it actually accomplished.

Now he proceeds from the obvious and historical fact of the quarrel
which actually took place between the Revolution and the Church, and
asks: "_Was there a necessary and fundamental quarrel between the
doctrines of the Revolution and those of the Catholic Church_?" And he

     It is impossible for the theologian, or even for the practical
     ecclesiastical teacher, to put his finger upon a political doctrine
     essential to the Revolution and to say, "This doctrine is opposed
     to Catholic dogma or to Catholic morals." Conversely, it is
     impossible for the Republican to put his finger upon a matter of
     ecclesiastical discipline or religious dogma and to say, "This
     Catholic point is at issue with my political theory of the State."

So much for the negative argument which at that point in that book was
enough for Mr. Belloc's purpose. He proceeds to explain the material
accidents and causes which nullified this argument. But we must attempt
further to discover from the general trend of Mr. Belloc's character and
thought the positive grounds by which he reconciles these two principles
which have so far shown themselves divided in practice.

The two things are of Latin, that is to say of Roman origin. The Church
is "the ghost of the Roman Empire sitting crowned and throned on the
grave thereof": it is a new manifestation (and a higher one) of the
political and social ideal which inspired the Roman people. Also the
French have inherited most of the Latin passion for reason, law and
order: under Napoleon they strove to make a new empire, and they carried
together a code of law and the idea of equality all over Europe.

In both the Faith and the Revolution there are secure dogmas on which
the mind can rest. Fundamental unprovable things are established by
declaration, and fruitless argument about them is cut off at the roots.
In the clear certitude of such doctrines is a basis for action and for

The purpose and the scope of work of both these ideas was much the same.
Each proposed to establish a European community, in which the peoples of
kindred blood might rest together and develop their resources. The
Revolution might well have restored that unity of the Western race which
vanished with Rome and which the Reformation forbade the Church to

That conception of Europe as an entity so far only conscious of itself,
as it were, by lucid intervals in a long delirium, is very dear to Mr.
Belloc. We have dwelt on it at the beginning of this chapter and must
return to it now, for, if one idea can be said to underlie all his
historical writings, this is that one idea. The notions which we have
described as the three pillars of his historical scheme are three
expressions of this vision, and the vision is of something transcendent,
like the dogmas on which his mind rests, something which is a reality,
but cannot be proved in words or seized by any merely physical metaphor.
He begins _Marie Antoinette_ with these words: "Europe, which carries
the fate of the whole world ..."

This fundamental point in its three expressions is the point which Mr.
Belloc would have his public grasp before beginning to discuss the
problems which await it in the polling-booths and in the everyday
conversations which more weightily mould the fate of the world. He is a
propagandist historian, and his work has the liveliness given by an air
of eagerness to convince.

His bias, the precise nature of his propaganda, are frankly exposed. He
would have the State and European society, especially the society of
England, revived by a return to the profession and the practice of his
own faith. In Prussia also historians compose their works with such a
definite and positive end in contemporary affairs.

But between them and Mr. Belloc lies this great difference. He writes,
as we have said, candidly, in a partisan spirit, with the eagerness of a
man who wishes to convince. In the University of Berlin the
indoctrination of the student is pursued under the cloak of a baleful
and gloomy pedantry, laughably miscalled "the scientific method." The
propaganda of Frederick is not obvious and many are deceived.

The Catholic historian lies in England under a grave suspicion. Lingard,
who wrote, after all, one of the best histories of the English nation,
certainly more readable than Freeman and less prejudiced than Froude, is
neither studied nor mentioned in our schools. Even poor Acton, whose
smug Whig bias is apparent to the stupidest, who nourished himself on
Lutheran learning, "mostly," as he says, pathetically "in octavo
volumes," is thought of darkly by the uninstructed as an emissary of the
Jesuits. But who can either suffer from or accuse the Catholic bias of
Mr. Belloc?

He says to you frankly in every page: "I am a Catholic. I believe in the
Church of Rome. For these and these reasons, I am of opinion that the
Reformation was a disaster and that the Protestant peoples are still a
danger to Europe." Can you still complain of the propagandist turn of
such a man? As well complain of a professed theologian that he is
biassed as to the existence of God. He warns you amply that he has a
particular point of view, and he gives you every opportunity to make
allowance for it. When you have done so, you will find that his
narrative and interpretation are still astonishingly accurate and just.
And he has a corrective to bias in his vivid poetic love of the past,
which we shall analyse in the succeeding chapter.

This also is made a reproach against him by scholars. It is true that in
his serious historical works, _Robespierre_, _Danton_, and _Marie
Antoinette_, he introduces more of romance than is commonly admitted by
serious writers. He is apt to give his descriptions something of the
positive and living character which we more usually expect in a novel.
The charge is made against him, under which Macaulay suffers justly and
Prescott, the American, with less reason, of having written historical
romances. Let us grant that it is not usual to give so much detail or so
much colour as that in which Mr. Belloc takes delight.

Is his accuracy thereby spoilt? He insists on seeing all the events and
details of Cardinal de Rohan's interview with the pretended Queen of
France. But it does not of itself testify that Mr. Belloc cannot judge
whether this interview took place or interfered with his estimate of its
importance. We contend, very seriously and very gravely, that these
books will be found to show a singularly high level of accuracy and
justice. In the interpretation of facts bias will show: in Acton equally
with Froude. If it did not, if the historian were an instrument and
humanly null, what effect would either his narrative or his reading have
on the student? He could not convey to another mind even his
comprehension of the bare facts. Mr. Belloc invests his narrative with a
living interest, and how he does this and why it is the surest guarantee
of accuracy and impartiality, we shall endeavour to show in the
succeeding chapter.


[Footnote 1: Professor Bury adds coyly in a footnote: "But there is
another side to this picture which may be seen by studying Mommsen's
volume on the provinces."]

[Footnote 2: _Esto Perpetua._]

[Footnote 3: These sentences may appear to indicate indecision in Mr.
Belloc's mind as to this point. He has now informed us that Charlemagne
did come of this Gallo-Roman family.]

[Footnote 4: _Paris_, p. 93.]

[Footnote 5: _Paris_, p. 226.]

[Footnote 6: _Ib._, p. 227.]

[Footnote 7: The Italian historian, Guglielmo Ferrero, of whom Mr.
Belloc, however, has no very high opinion, betrays some similar ideas in
writing of the importance of Gaul in the Empire.]



In an essay in _First and Last_, Mr. Belloc says:

     ... That earthwork is the earthwork where the British stood against
     the charge of the Tenth Legion, and first heard, sounding on their
     bronze, the arms of Cæsar. Here the river was forded; here the
     little men of the South went up in formation; here the barbarian
     broke and took his way, as the opposing General has recorded,
     through devious woodland paths, scattering in the pursuit; here
     began the great history of England.

     Is it not an enormous business merely to stand in such a place? I
     think so.

There you have compactly and poignantly expressed a mood which is common
to all men who have any feeling for the past. It is a pathetic, almost a
tragic mood, a longing more pitiable than that of any fanatic for any
paradise, any lover for any woman, because it is quite impossible that
it should ever be satisfied. To see, to feel, to move among the
foundations of our generation--it is so natural a desire, and it is
quite hopeless.

It is a desire which one might naturally suppose to be common among
historians, and to govern their thoughts: but you will not find it in
the academies. Only in the true historian, the student who, like
Herodotus, is also a poet and names the Muses, will you find its clear
expression. But it is and must be the mainspring of all good historical
writing, for this desire to know the concrete past is, in the end, the
only corrective to the propagandist bias, which is, as we have seen, the
right motive of useful research. Acton had it not, Froude perhaps a
little, Maitland, one might believe, to some extent,[8] Professor Bury,
Lord knows, neither that nor any other emotion comprehensible in man. To
the don, indeed, the absence of the past is one of the factors in his
fascinating, esoteric game: were some astounding document to appear that
should make the origin and constitution of the mediaeval manor as clear
as daylight, the problem would lose its interest, the agile don would
find it too easy for him. The equipment of the ideal historian consists
of the attributes of practical and poetic man, the desire to gain some
present benefit, to learn some urgent lesson, and the desire to perfect
the spirit by contemplation of the past.

History, indeed, is the record of the actions of individual men, and
these men, like ourselves, had arms, legs and stomachs, and suffered the
workings of the same fears and passions that we suffer. To derive any
practical or spiritual benefit from the study of history, we must
understand, as far as possible, by analogy from our own experience, how
the events of which we read came about: we must see them as personal
events, originated by the actions, and influencing the lives of human
beings like ourselves.

We have expressed sufficiently in the previous chapter an opinion on the
value of Mr. Belloc's historical conclusions: we must now examine more
closely the method by means of which he presents these conclusions and
its effect on the reader.

His method, it goes without saying, is more lively. In the whole of the
_Cambridge Modern History_ (sixteen volumes of unbelievable dimensions)
you will not find one living character or one paragraph of exhilarating
prose.[9] Mr. Belloc's work, on the other hand, is full of both. But
this must not be taken, without further inquiry, to be an unqualified

The lively writer is, by an ever-living commonplace, considered to be
inaccurate: the donnish historian may, by his plodding want of
imagination, give us only the strict facts. The lively writer, perhaps,
in the desire to round out a character of a man concerning whom little
is known or to perfect the rhythm of a paragraph, will consult his
convenient fancy rather than the difficult document. In academic
circles, it is rather a reproach to say that a man writes in an
interesting way: they remember Macaulay and would, if they could, forget

Mr. Belloc's writing, nevertheless, is not affected by the desire either
to impress or to startle his readers, any more than the writing of a
good poet springs from an aiming at effect: it is like all true
literature, in the first place, the outcome of a strong and personal
passion, the passion for the past. He says himself[10]:

     To study something of great age until one grows familiar with it
     and almost to live in its time, is not merely to satisfy a
     curiosity or to establish aimless truths: it is rather to fulfil a
     function whose appetite has always rendered History a necessity. By
     the recovery of the Past, stuff and being are added to us; our
     lives which, lived in the present only, are a film or surface, take
     on body--are lifted into one dimension more. The soul is fed....
     One may say that historical learning grants men glimpses of life
     completed and a whole; and such a vision should be the chief solace
     of whatever is mortal and cut off imperfectly from fulfilment.

Such a passion, then, such a purely poetic, spiritual, impractical
passion is perhaps the cause of Mr. Belloc's note and career. It is the
passion of a poet. Assuredly actuated by such a feeling, he has
developed his practical and political opinions: the true poet is always

It is also in result a materially useful passion. It allows us to see in
the deeds of Henry VIII's Parliament not the blind working of political
development, the impersonal and inevitable action of economic laws, but
the hot greed of a king and the astuteness of his supporters.

Acton speaks of "the undying penalty which history has the power to
inflict on wrong."[11] But how are we to fix a stigma, unless we know
the man's motives? How can we know his motives without an estimate of
his character? How can either of these be known unless we visualize him
as he lived?

Mr. Belloc has made his most conscious and determined effort at
visualization in a book which is not historical, but which falls more,
though not altogether, into the category of historical fiction. This is
the book which is called _The Eye-Witness_.

It consists of twenty-seven sketches of historical incidents ranging
from the year 55 B.C. to the year A.D. 1906. It begins with Cæsar's
invasion of Britain, and goes by way of the disaster at Roncesvalles,
the Battle of Lewes, the execution of Charles I and the Battle of Valmy
to an election in England which was held on the issues of Tariff Reform,
Chinese Labour in the Transvaal and other topics. One might say--a
gloomy progress.

It falls partly into the category of historical fiction because much of
it is sheerly created out of Mr. Belloc's own head. The interlocutors in
most of the sketches (where there are interlocutors), the individual who
is the eye-witness (when there is one), these are imaginary. Mr. Barr,
who was held up in a crowd by the execution of Marie Antoinette and
suffered annoyance, the apprentice who saw an earlier royal head cut
off, the Christian who was killed in the Arena by "a little, low-built,
broad-shouldered man from the Auvergne of the sort that can tame an
animal in a day, hard as wood, and perfectly unfeeling," these are
characters of fiction.

But in the "stories" that make up the book there is no plot. There is
just a glimpse of a past life, sometimes, but not always, at a
significant moment. In one of Mr. Wells' stories there is a queer fable
of a crystal mysteriously in touch with a twin crystal on another
planet. Glancing into this, we get a glimpse of that different world.
Mr. Belloc's sketches are such crystals, suspended for a moment at a
time in centuries foreign to our own.

He has endeavoured passionately to be accurate in these. A passage from
his preface will show how this adverb is justified:

     As to historical references, I must beg the indulgence of the
     critic, but I believe I have not positively asserted an error, nor
     failed to set down a considerable number of minute but entertaining

     Thus the 10th Legion (which I have called a regiment in _The Two
     Soldiers_) _did_ sail under Cæsar for Britain from Boulogne, and
     from no other port. There _was_ in those days a great land-locked
     harbour from Pont-de-Briques right up to the Narrows, as the
     readers of the _Gaule Romaine_ must know. The moon _was_ at her
     last quarter (though presuming her not to be hidden by clouds is
     but fancy). There _was_ a high hill just at the place where she
     would have been setting that night--you may see it to-day. The
     Roman soldiers _were_ recruited from the Teutonic and the Celtic
     portions of Gaul; of the latter many _did_ know of that grotto
     under Chartres which is among the chief historical interests of
     Europe. The tide _was_, as I have said, on the flow at
     midnight--and so forth.

The temper of that is the temper of the man who was at the pains, when
writing his life of Robespierre, to look up the reports of the Paris
Observatory, so as to be able exactly to describe the weather in which
such and such a great scene was played that hugely affected the fortunes
of Europe. It is the temper, too, of a man with an immense historical
curiosity, who will not be satisfied with less than all of the past that
can reasonably be reconstructed.

Mr. Belloc desires knowledge and experience of the past so earnestly
that he makes imaginary pictures of it, as it were to comfort himself.
Some men, in this way, when walking alone, make imaginary pictures of
their own futures, often to cheat the disappointments of a narrow life.
Too fervid political idealists make pictures of the world's future: you
think immediately of Morris and Bellamy and many another. Mr. Belloc is
not likely to give way to this temptation.

But the strength and disinterestedness of this desire guarantee the
reader of the book against the aridity of the pictures of past
civilizations which we all know: such as descriptions of how "the
_poeta_ (or poet) entered the _domus_ (or house), kicked the _canis_ (or
dog) and summoned the _servus_ (or slave)." It will be at all events a
living picture: it will be, to the best of the author's power, an
accurate and impartial picture. It will translate characters, language
and things as nearly as possible into terms comprehensible in our own
times: but not so literally, or so extravagantly as to degenerate into
the _opera-bouffe_ of, for example, Mr. Shaw's _Cæsar and Cleopatra_.
There will also be no tushery.

The method of description which Mr. Belloc employs in these sketches is
cool and transparent. The emotion of the writer, as regards the
particular events he is describing, is suppressed, though the feeling of
eagerness to realize the past leaps out everywhere. It is only by great
steadiness of the vision and the hand that Mr. Belloc can secure the
effects he here desires to convey.

It is only by great care in writing that he can secure the easy, even
and real tone in which these glimpses of other centuries and other
societies can be presented. Should he err on one side, he is in the bogs
of tushery: on the other, he commits that fault of self-conscious,
over-daring modernization, of which Mr. Shaw has been so guilty.

Let us take a passage from the illuminating picture, "The Pagans," which
describes a dinner in a Narbonese house in the fifth century:

     When it was already dark over the sea, they reclined together and
     ate the feast, crowned with leaves in that old fashion which to
     several of the younger men seemed an affectation of antique things,
     but which all secretly enjoyed because such customs had about
     them, as had the rare statues and the mosaics and the very pattern
     of the lamps, a flavour of great established wealth and lineage. In
     great established wealth and lineage lay all that was left of
     strength to those old gods which still stood gazing upon the change
     of the world.

     The songs that were sung and the chaunted invocations had nothing
     in them but the memories of Rome; but the instruments and dancers
     were tolerated by that one guest who should most have complained,
     and whose expression and apparel and gorgeous ornament and a
     certain security of station in his manner proved him the head of
     the Christian priests from Helena. When the music had ceased and
     the night deepened, they talked all together as though the world
     had but one general opinion; they talked with great courtesy of
     common things. But from the slaves' quarters came the unmistakable
     sing-song of the Christian vine-yard dance and hymn, which the
     labourers sung together with rhythmic beating of hands and
     customary cries, and through that din arose from time to time the
     loud bass of one especially chosen to respond. The master sent out
     word to them in secret to conduct their festival less noisily and
     with closed doors. Upon the couches round the table where the lords
     reclined together, more than one, especially among the younger men,
     looked anxiously at their host and at the Priest next to him, but
     they saw nothing in their expressions but a continued courtesy; and
     the talk still moved upon things common to them all, and still
     avoided that deep dissension which it was now useless to raise
     because it would so soon be gone.

     There came an hour when all but one ceased suddenly from wine; that
     one, who still continued to drink as he saw fit, was the host. He
     knew the reason of their abstention; he had heard the trumpet in
     the harbour that told the hour and proclaimed the fast and vigil,
     and he felt, as all did, that at last the figure and the presence
     of which none would speak--the figure and the presence of the
     Faith--had entered that room in spite of its dignity and its high

     For some little time, now talking of those great poets who were a
     glory to them all, and whose verse was quite removed from these
     newer things, the old man still sipped his wine and looked round at
     the others whose fast had thus begun. He looked at them with an
     expression of severity in which there was some challenge, but which
     was far too disdainful to be insolent, and as he so looked the
     company gradually departed.

We have quoted this passage at some length, because it is an almost
perfect example of Mr. Belloc's style in these sketches, and because it
touches on, is the visualization of, a cardinal point in his historical
theories. This point has been dwelt upon more fully in the preceding
chapter, and we cannot do more than mention it here. It expresses that
view of the gradual development and transformation of the Roman Empire
with which Mr. Belloc would replace the gloomy view of Gibbon and the
exaggerated horrors, to take a conspicuous but not now important
example, of Charles Kingsley's _Roman and Teuton_. He would represent it
as a period of wealth and order, full of menace, warning and change, but
no more prescient of utter disaster than our own time.

The sketch is a visualization of a short passage in the essay _On
Historical Evidences_:

     You have the great Gallo-Roman noble family of Ferreolus running
     down the centuries from the Decline of the Empire to the climax of
     Charlemagne. Many of those names stand for some most powerful
     individuality, yet all we have is a formula, a lineage, with
     symbols and names in the place of living beings.... The men of that
     time did not even think to tell us that there was such a thing as a
     family tradition, nor did it seem important to them to establish
     its Roman origin and its long succession in power.

Mr. Belloc has endeavoured to see the reality of such a family, as he
believes, as that from which Charlemagne sprung. He fights,
paradoxically, for the unity of history against Freeman, who invented
that phrase and who yet thought that "Charles the Great" came from a
line of German savages.

He has endeavoured passionately to realize this thing; it would be
pathetic, were not his desire so triumphantly gratified. Observe the
ease and sincerity of that long passage quoted above. One forcing of the
note, one moment's wish to show too great a scholarship or to emphasize
the antiquity of the scene, would have ruined the effect. It is full of
emotion, the most poignant, the regret for passing and irrevocable
things, but the author is detached and cool. He is all bent on the
fidelity of his picture.

_The Girondin_ is very much a different matter and occupies a place in
Mr. Belloc's work difficult to discuss. It is frankly a novel, written
as novels are, to entertain, to edify and to perform the spiritual
functions of poetry and good literature. It is also unique in that it
contains a story of love, a motive largely absent from Mr. Belloc's
imaginative writing.

In so far as it is an historical novel, we may expect to find in it, and
we do find in it, an accurate and living picture of one aspect of the
age in which it is set. It should not surprise us to find this an
unusual aspect; it is unusual. There are here none of the customary
decorations, no guillotine, no knitting women, no sea-green and
malignant Robespierre, no gently nurtured and heroic aristocrats. The
progress of the story does not touch even the fringes of Paris. The hero
is an inhabitant of the Gironde and not a member of the party which bore
that name.

The action moves from a town in the Gironde to the frontiers. The hero
is killed by an accident with a gun-team soon after the Battle of Valmy.
That is the unfamiliar aspect of the hackneyed French Revolution with
which Mr. Belloc here chooses to deal: an aspect, we might even say, not
merely unfamiliar, but practically unknown to the English reader.

The matter of raising the armies was a matter of prime importance to the
Republic, and involved a task which even we, in this country, with all
our recent experiences, can hardly comprehend. The officers had
deserted, the men were not all to be trusted, all told there were not
enough for the pressing necessities of the State. A corps of officers
had to be improvised from nowhere, recruits had to be taught to ride as
they went to meet the Prussians. Such were the beginnings of the army
that afterwards visited the Pyramids, Vienna, Berlin and Moscow.

All this Mr. Belloc has shown with sufficient vividness in isolated
passages. Even those who have played no part in the raising of the new
armies of England, can gain from his descriptions something of what that
business must have been. But in this book he is not merely writing a
sketch to visualize the past, he is writing a real story with a number
of living characters and a sort of a plot. And in some way the story and
the historical matter weaken one another. They go and come by turns. The
whole book is an irregular succession of detached incidents. The witty
Boutroux is a sport of chance and dies, fitly enough, not in action, but
by a mishap.

If we separate from the rest the incident of the girl Joyeuse, it is
extremely beautiful. Take by themselves the stratagems and the
conversations of Boutroux: they are extremely witty. Take by themselves
the military scenes: they are impressive. But these do not make the book
a whole or leave the impression that the author knew from chapter to
chapter what he was going to write next.

Frankly, then, _The Girondin_ is a disappointment, but, perhaps, only
because it held such possibilities and because we had reason to
anticipate that Mr. Belloc would surprise us with these possibilities.
His great historical novel is yet to come.

That he is qualified to write such a book, whether from the standpoint
of imaginative power or from that of historical knowledge, needs no
discussion here. Whether he can, should he choose, combine these
qualities, in an extended work, so perfectly that they do not clash, and
that neither transcends the other, is a question for the future to

But his imaginative power serves him already in the study, and in the
writing of pure history. It is a guarantee, we have said, that the
reader will be preserved from barren, unco-ordinated details, which are
set down without any reference to human purpose. It is also a guarantee,
and this is most important, of as much impartiality as is possible to
man. For the imaginative man does not seek fantasy in these things: he
can make that for himself in other and more suitable places. Here the
plain facts are enough to feed his spirit and to make it rejoice. The
most fantastic theories that diversify the page of written history have
sprung from the minds of barren dons, who sit in studies unhindered by
any realization of the world, and in whose hands the facts are wooden
blocks to be piled up in any shape of the grotesque. Mr. Belloc, with a
desire to realize and to know the past, a poetic desire that quite
overcomes any propagandist bias or routine of thought, is sure of this
at least: that he will see the past centuries as clearly and as truly as
possible, and with a vision that steadily resolves economic developments
and political movements into the actions, and the results of the
actions, of human beings.


[Footnote 8: But Maitland, of course, was human. He lived some part of
his life away from Cambridge.]

[Footnote 9: We make this statement confidently without having read, and
not intending to read, the whole of the _Cambridge Modern History_.]

[Footnote 10: _The Old Road_, p. 9.]

[Footnote 11: _Inaugural Lectures: Lecture on Modern History_, p. 24.]



Mr. Belloc is a democrat. He is politically democratic in the sense in
which the French Revolution was democratic, and he is spiritually
democratic in the sense in which the Church of Rome is democratic. What
is common to all men is to him infinitely more important than the
accidents by which men differ. The same may be said of his view of the
nations of Europe. He does not view these great nations separately, but
in their relation one to another. That in its history which each nation
has in common with the other European nations is infinitely more
important than that which is peculiar to itself alone.

Mr. Belloc said of Danton that he possessed a singularly wide view of
the Europe in which France stood. We may say that in Mr. Belloc's view
England juts out from Europe in a precarious position. England forms an
integral part of Europe, but her position to-day, owing mainly to the
accidents of her peculiar history, is as unique as it is perilous.

There are two books written by Mr. Belloc which deal exclusively with
different aspects of the England of to-day. Of these, the first is _The
Servile State_, in which Mr. Belloc is writing to maintain and prove the
thesis that industrial society, as we know it, is tending towards the
re-establishment of slavery. In this work he is concerned with an
analysis of the economic system existing in England to-day, and with
sketching the course of development in which that system came into
being. In the other book, _The Party System_, in which Mr. Cecil
Chesterton collaborated, he is concerned with an analysis of our present
methods of government.

With _The Party System_ and the views contained in it we shall deal in a
later chapter. Here we are concerned solely with Mr. Belloc's view of
the development of England and especially with that most startling and
original view which he expounds in _The Servile State_ as to the origin
of our present economic system.

Whether in Mr. Belloc's view, or the view of any other historian, the
cardinal point in the history of England is that England was Britain
before it became England: though Mr. Belloc would probably add the
reminder that England was Britain for as long a period as from the time
of Henry VIII to the present day. England was once as much a province of
the Roman Empire as was France. This fact, of course, is commonly
recognized. Where Mr. Belloc differs from other historians, so far as
can be gathered by piecing together hints and allusions from his various
writings, is in emphasizing the fact that the successive hosts of
barbarian invaders were repeatedly brought under the influence of that
Christian civilization which had inherited the magnificent institutions
of the Empire. Thus the Angles and Saxons came under the influence of
St. Augustine and the later missionaries, who, as they became
ecclesiastics and Christianity was recognized as the national religion,
introduced pieces of Roman Law into the Witenagemot and preserved in the
Benedictine foundations the learning and experience of bygone centuries.
In the monastic institution of the sixth and seventh centuries Mr.
Belloc sees the power which re-created North and Western Europe.

     This institution [he says] did more work in Britain than in any
     other province of the Empire. And it had far more to do. It found a
     district utterly wrecked, perhaps half depopulated, and having lost
     all but a vague memory of the old Roman order; it had to remake, if
     it could, of all this part of a Europe. No other instrument was
     fitted for the purpose.

     The chief difficulty of starting again the machine of civilization
     when its parts have been distorted by a barbarian interlude,
     whether external or internal in origin, is the accumulation of
     capital. The next difficulty is the preservation of such capital in
     the midst of continual petty feuds and raids, and the third is that
     general continuity of effort, and that treasuring up of proved
     experience, to which a barbaric time, succeeding upon the decline
     of a civilization, is particularly unfitted. For the surmounting of
     all these difficulties the monks of Western Europe were suited in a
     high degree. Fixed wealth could be accumulated in the hands of
     communities whose whole temptation was to gather, and who had no
     opportunity for spending in waste. The religious atmosphere in
     which they grew up forbade their spoliation, at least in the
     internal wars of a Christian people, and each of the great
     foundations provided a community of learning and treasuring up of
     experience which single families, especially families of barbaric
     chieftains, could never have achieved. They provided leisure for
     literary effort, and a strict disciplinary rule enforcing regular,
     continuous, and assiduous labour, and they provided these in a
     society from which exact application of such a kind had all but

In this way the just heritage of "our own kind" was preserved for us.
The great monasteries suffered severely in the Danish invasions, "the
pagan storm which all but repeated in Britain the disaster of the Saxon
invasions, which all but overcame the mystic tenacity of Alfred and the
positive mission of the town of Paris"; but they re-arose and were again
exercising a strong civilizing influence "when civilization returned in
fullness with the Norman Conquest."

The Conquest, in Mr. Belloc's view, is "almost as sharp a division in
the history of England as is the landing of St. Augustine ... though ...
the re-entry of England into European civilization in the seventh
century must count as a far greater and more decisive event than its
first experience of united and regular government under the Normans in
the eleventh." But it did not change the intimate philosophy of the

     The Conquest found England Catholic, vaguely feudal, and, though in
     rather an isolated way, thoroughly European. The Normans organized
     that feudality, extirpated whatever was unorthodox or slack in the
     machinery of the religious system, and let in the full light of
     European civilization through a wide-open door, which had hitherto
     been half-closed.[13]

The organization of feudal government by the Normans brings us to a
consideration of the territorial system of England which can be traced
certainly from Saxon and conjecturally from Roman times.

In making the study of history, as does Mr. Belloc, living and organic,
it is of capital importance to seize the fact that the fundamental
economic institution of pagan antiquity was slavery. Before the coming
of the Christian Era, and even after its advent, slavery was taken for
granted. Mr. Belloc says:

     In no matter what field of the European past we make our research,
     we find, from two thousand years ago upwards one fundamental
     institution whereupon the whole of society reposes; that
     fundamental institution is Slavery.... Our European ancestry, those
     men from whom we are descended and whose blood runs with little
     admixture in our veins, took slavery for granted, made of it the
     economic pivot upon which the production of wealth should turn, and
     never doubted but that it was normal to all human society.[14]

With the growth of the Church, however, the servile institution was for
a time dissolved. This dissolution was a sub-conscious effect of the
spread of Christianity and not the outcome of any direct attack of the
Church upon slavery:

     No dogma of the Church pronounced Slavery to be immoral, or the
     sale and purchase of men to be a sin, or the imposition of
     compulsory labour upon a Christian to be a contravention of any
     human right.

Mr. Belloc traces the disappearance of this fundamental institution
rather as follows. He says:

     The sale of Christians to Pagan masters was abhorrent to the later
     empire of the Barbarian Invasions, not because slavery in itself
     was condemned, but because it was a sort of treason to civilization
     to force men away from Civilization to Barbarism.[15]

The disappearance of slavery begins with the establishment as the
fundamental unit of production of those great landed estates which were
known to the Romans as _villae_ and were cultivated by slaves. In the
last years of the Empire it became more convenient in the decay of
communications and public power and more consonant with the social
spirit of the time, to make sure of the slave's produce by asking him
for no more than certain customary dues. In course of time this
arrangement became a sort of bargain, and by the ninth century, when
this process had been gradually at work for nearly three hundred years,
what we now call the Manorial system was fairly firmly established. By
the tenth century the system was crystallized and had become so natural
to men that the originally servile character of the folk working on the
land was forgotten. The labourer at the end of the Dark Ages was no
longer a slave but a serf.

In the early Middle Ages, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, at the
time, that is, of the Crusades and the Norman Conquest, the serf is
already nearly a peasant. As the generations pass he becomes more and
more free in the eyes of the courts and of society.

We see then that Saxon England, at the time the Conqueror landed, was
organized on the Manorial system. This arrangement, with its village
lords and their dependent serfs, was common to the whole of the West,
and could be found on the Rhine, in Gaul and even in Italy; but the
Manorial system in England differed from the Manorial system of Western
Europe in one fatally important particular.

     In Saxon England [says Mr. Belloc] there was no systematic
     organization by which the local landowner definitely recognized a
     feudal superior and through him the power of a Central
     Government.... When William landed, the whole system of tenure was
     in disorder in the sense that the local lord of the village was not
     accustomed to the interference of the superior, and that no groups
     of lords had come into existence by which the territorial system
     could be bound in sheaves, as it were, and the whole of it attached
     to one central point at the Royal Court.

     Such a system of groups _had_ arisen in Gaul, and to that
     difference ultimately we owe the French territorial system of the
     present day, but William the Norman's new subjects had no
     comprehension of it.[16]

The order introduced by William was not strong enough to endure in face
of the ancient customs of the populace and the lack of any bond between
scattered and locally independent units. A recrudescence of the early
independence of the landowners was felt in the reign of Henry II, while
under John it blazed out into successful revolt. Throughout the Middle
Ages we may see the village landlord gradually growing in independence
and usurping, as a class, the power of the Central Government.

What the outcome of this state of affairs would have been had events
been allowed to develop without interruption, it is impossible to say.
Whether or not the peasant would have acquired freedom and wealth, at
the expense of the landlord; whether then a strong Central Government
would have arisen; whether property would have become more or less
equally distributed and the State have been composed of a mass of small
owners, all possessed of the means of production--these are things we
can only guess. What we do know, and what Mr. Belloc has made abundantly
clear, is that "with the close of the Middle Ages the societies of
Western Christendom, and England among the rest, were economically
free." In England the great mass of the populace was gradually becoming
more and more possessed of property; but at the same time there existed
a very considerable class of large landowners, who were not only wealthy
and powerful, but incapable of rigid control by the Crown.

This, then, was the state of England when an immediate and overwhelming
change occurred. "Nothing like it," says Mr. Belloc, "has been known in
European history." An artificial revolution was brought about which
involved a transformation of a good quarter of the whole economic power
of the nation. If we are to understand Mr. Belloc's view of the England
of the present day, it is essential that we should grasp clearly his
view of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, for from this operation, he
says, "the whole economic future of England was to flow."

Mr. Belloc analyses the effect of the Dissolution of the Monasteries

     All over England men who already held in virtually absolute
     property from one-quarter to one-third of the soil and the ploughs
     and the barns of a village, became possessed in a very few years of
     a further great section of the means of production which turned the
     scale wholly in their favour. They added to that third a new and
     extra fifth. They became at a blow the owners of _half_ the

The effect of this increase in ownership was tremendous. The men of this
landowning class, says Mr. Belloc, "began to fill the universities, the
judiciary. The Crown less and less decided between great and small. More
and more the great could decide in their own favour."

The process was in full swing before Henry died, and because Henry had
failed to keep the wealth of the monasteries in the hands of the Crown,
as he undoubtedly intended to do, there existed in England, by about a
century after his death, a Crown which, instead of disposing of revenues
far greater than that of any subject, was dominated by a wealthy class.
"By 1630-40 the economic revolution was finally accomplished and the new
economic reality thrusting itself upon the old traditions of England was
a powerful oligarchy of large owners overshadowing an impoverished and
dwindled monarchy."

And this oligarchy, which was originally an oligarchy of birth as well
as wealth, but which rapidly became an oligarchy of wealth alone--Mr.
Belloc cites as an example the history of the family of Williams (alias
Cromwell)--not only so subjugated the power of the central government as
to reduce the king, after 1660, to the level of a salaried puppet, but
also, in course of time, ate up all the smaller owners until, by about
1700, "more than half of the English were dispossessed of capital and of
land. Not one man in two, even if you reckon the very small owners,
inhabited a house of which he was the secure possessor, or tilled land
from which he could not be turned off."

     Such a proportion [continues Mr. Belloc] may seem to us to-day a
     wonderfully free arrangement, and certainly if nearly one-half of
     our population were possessed of the means of production, we should
     be in a very different situation from that in which we find
     ourselves. But the point to seize is that, though the bad business
     was very far from completion in or about 1700, yet by that date
     England had already become capitalist. She had already permitted a
     vast section of her population to become _proletarian_, and it is
     this and _not_ the so-called "Industrial Revolution," a later
     thing, which accounts for the terrible social conditions in which
     we find ourselves to-day.[18]

It is perhaps Mr. Belloc's most valuable contribution to the study of
modern English history that he has destroyed piecemeal that
unintelligent, unhistorical and false statement, found in innumerable
textbooks and taught so glibly in our schools and universities, that
"the horrors of the industrial system were a blind and necessary product
of material and impersonal forces"; and has shown us instead that:

     The vast growth of the proletariat, the concentration of ownership
     into the hands of a few owners, and the exploitation by those
     owners of the mass of the community, had no fatal or necessary
     connection with the discovery of new and perpetually improving
     methods of production. The evil proceeded in direct historical
     sequence, proceeded patently and demonstrably, from the fact that
     England, the seed plot of the industrial system, was _already_
     captured by a wealthy oligarchy _before_ the series of great
     discoveries began.[19]

We see then that the slave of the Roman villa, a being both economically
and politically unfree, developed throughout North-Western Europe, in
the course of the thousand years or more of the uninterrupted growth of
the Church, first into the serf and then into the peasant, a being both
economically and politically free:

     The three forms under which labour was exercised--the serf, secure
     in his position, and burdened only with regular dues, which were
     but a fraction of his produce; the freeholder, a man independent
     save for money dues, which were more of a tax than a rent; the
     Guild, in which well-divided capital worked co-operatively for
     craft production, for transport and for commerce--all three between
     them were making for a society which should be based upon the
     principle of property. All, or most--the normal family--should own.
     And on ownership the freedom of the State should repose.... Slavery
     had gone and in its place had come that establishment of free
     possession which seemed so normal to men, and so consonant to a
     happy human life. No particular name was then found for it. To-day,
     and now that it has disappeared, we must construct an awkward one,
     and say that the Middle Ages had instinctively conceived and
     brought into existence the Distributive State.[20]

By the mishandling of an artificial economic revolution which was so
sudden as to be overwhelming, namely, the Dissolution of the
Monasteries, an England which was economically free, was turned into the
England we know to-day, "of which at least one-third is indigent, of
which nineteen-twentieths are dispossessed of capital and of land, and
of which the whole industry and national life is controlled upon its
economic side by a few chance directors of millions, a few masters of
unsocial and irresponsible monopolies."

Thus Mr. Belloc traces the growth and development of our economic
conditions. In _The Servile State_ he goes further and shows what new
conditions are rapidly developing out of those now in existence.

At the present time, we know, the economic freedom of
nineteen-twentieths of the English people has disappeared. Will their
political freedom also disappear?

To this question Mr. Belloc's answer is as decided as it is startling.
He does not argue that the political freedom of the proletariat may
possibly disappear. He says that it has _already begun_ to disappear.

The Capitalist State, he argues, in which all are free but in which the
means of production are in the hands of a few, grows unstable in
proportion as it grows perfect. The internal strains which render it
unstable are, first, the conflict between its social realities and its
moral and legal basis, and, second, the insecurity to which it condemns
free citizens; the fact, that is, that the few possessors can grant or
withhold livelihood from the many non-possessors. There are only three
solutions of this instability. These are, the distributive solution, the
collectivist solution, and the servile solution. Of these three stable
social arrangements the reformer, owing to the Christian traditions of
society, will not advocate the introduction of the servile state, which
Mr. Belloc defines as "that arrangement of society in which so
considerable a number of the families and individuals are constrained by
positive law to labour for the advantage of other families and
individuals as to stamp the whole community with the mark of such
labour." If this arrangement be not advocated, there remain only the
distributive and the collectivist solutions. Collectivism being to a
certain extent a natural development of Capitalism and appealing both to
capitalist and proletarian, is apparently the easier solution. But, says
Mr. Belloc--and this is the kernel of his whole thesis--the Collectivist
theory _in action_ does not produce Collectivism, but something quite
different; namely, the Servile State. There is only one way, according
to Mr. Belloc's argument, in which Collectivism can be put into force,
and that is by confiscation. The reformer is not allowed to confiscate,
but he is allowed to do all he can to establish security and sufficiency
for the non-owners. In attaining this object he inevitably establishes
servile conditions.

In the last chapter of this extraordinarily valuable book Mr. Belloc
points to various examples of servile legislation, either already to be
found on the Statute Book or in process of being put there. He is
convinced that the re-establishment of the servile status in industrial
society is already upon us; but records it as an impression, though no
more than an impression, that the Servile State, strong as the tide is
making for it in Prussia and in England to-day, will be modified,
checked, perhaps defeated in war, certainly halted in its attempt to
establish itself completely by the strong reaction which such free
societies as France and Ireland upon its flank will perpetually


[Footnote 12: _Historic Thames_, p. 91.]

[Footnote 13: _Historic Thames_, p. 101.]

[Footnote 14: _Servile State_, p. 31.]

[Footnote 15: _Ib._, p. 41.]

[Footnote 16: _Historic Thames_, p. 141.]

[Footnote 17: _Servile State_, p. 64.]

[Footnote 18: _Servile State_, p. 68.]

[Footnote 19: _Ib._, p. 62.]

[Footnote 20: _Servile State_, p. 49.]



It is impossible, unfortunately, in so brief a summary of Mr. Belloc's
views, even to suggest with what force of argument and wealth of example
he supports the thesis of _The Servile State_. What that thesis is it
may be well to state in full. Mr. Belloc says that _The Servile State_
was written "to maintain and prove the following truth":

     That our free modern society in which the means of production are
     owned by a few being necessarily in unstable equilibrium, it is
     tending to reach a condition of stable equilibrium by the
     establishment of compulsory labour legally enforcible upon those
     who do not own the means of production for the advantage of those
     who do. With this principle of compulsion applied against the
     non-owners there must also come a difference in their status; and
     in the eyes of society and of its positive law men will be divided
     into two sets; the first economically free and politically free,
     possessed of the means of production, and securely confirmed in
     that possession; the second economically unfree and politically
     unfree, but at first secured by their very lack of freedom in
     certain necessaries of life and in a minimum of well-being beneath
     which they shall not fall.[21]

Now, the reader who has followed the brief summary of the preceding
chapter cannot fail to arrive at a consideration of apparently cardinal
importance. Even if he be convinced--as we are convinced--that the
servile state is actually upon us, he will yet feel that a people still
politically free will never allow what is to-day but a young growth to
attain its full stature. The English people, he will argue, hold their
own destiny in their own hand. We already possess all but manhood
suffrage; and, until that power is taken from us, which it could never
be without a fierce struggle, we possess a weapon with which any and
every attempt to re-introduce the servile status can successfully be

A man reasoning thus should ask himself two questions: first, does the
proletariat object to the re-introduction of the servile status,
provided it brings with it security and sufficiency? second, does the
enjoyment of a wide suffrage connote the power of self-government?

These are questions which every intelligent man must be able to answer
for himself, and, if he answer them honestly, his answers, we think,
will agree with those Mr. Belloc has given. In _The Servile State_ he
affirms what we all know to be the fact, that the English proletariat of
to-day would not merely fail to reject the servile status, but would
welcome it. He puts the matter in this way:

     If you were to approach those millions of families now living at a
     wage with the proposal for the contract of service for life,
     guaranteeing them employment at what each regarded as his usual
     full wage, how many would refuse?

     Such a contract would, of course, involve a loss of freedom; a life
     contract of the kind is, to be accurate, no contract at all. It is
     the negation of contract and the acceptation of status.[22]

Every thinking man knows that the number to reject such a proposal would
be insignificant.

If, then, the great mass of the English people, the majority, that is,
of the voters, is prepared to welcome rather than to reject the
re-introduction of slavery, the possession or non-possession of the
power to reject it appears immaterial.

Let us suppose, however, an extreme case. Let us suppose an attempt to
reduce the wage-earners to slavery without guaranteeing them sufficiency
and security. There are many amiable maniacs who would be willing to
support such an attempt, though we cannot believe that their efforts
would be rewarded with success. They would be rewarded with revolution.

This is a point upon which too great insistence cannot be laid. Such an
attempt, if it were ever made, would produce a revolution: it would not
be quashed in a General Election or by any other form of constitutional
procedure, because, as a fact, the English people have no constitutional

Ultimately, of course, the power of government can only rest with the
majority of the people, but in practice that power is often taken from
them. It has been taken from the English people.

These, then, are the two great simple truths which underlie Mr. Belloc's
whole attitude towards the public affairs of the England of to-day:

First, we are economically unfree.

Second, we are politically unfree.[23]

The causes of the existence of the first condition are analysed, as we
have seen, in _The Servile State_; the causes of the second are analysed
in _The Party System_.

With the prime truths of this book every man possessing but the most
elementary knowledge of political science and constitutional history is
familiar. They were proved by Bagehot many years ago, and no observant
man of average intelligence can fail to realize them for himself to-day.
Briefly, they are these. The representative system existing in England,
which was meant to be an organ of democracy, is actually an engine of
oligarchy. "Instead of the executive being controlled by the
representative assembly, it controls it. Instead of the demands of the
people being expressed for them by their representatives, the matters
discussed by the representatives are settled, not by the people, not
even by themselves, but by the very body which it is the business of the
representative assembly to check and control."

These truths are to-day common knowledge. We all know that the power of
government does not reside in practice with the people, but with some
body which remains for most of us undefined. It is the peculiar service
of the authors of _The Party System_ to have defined that body for us
and to have exposed its nature and composition. Bagehot referred to this
body as the Cabinet; in _The Party System_ it is shown that this body is
really composed of the members of the two Front Benches, which form "one
close oligarchical corporation, admission to which is only to be gained
by the consent of those who have already secured places therein." The
greater number, and by far the most important members, of this
corporation enter by right of relationship, and these family ties are
not confined to the separate sides of the House. They unite the
Ministerial with the Opposition Front Bench as closely as they unite
Ministers and ex-Ministers to each other. There is thus formed a
governing group which has attained absolute control over the procedure
of the House of Commons. It can settle how much time shall be given to
the discussion of any subject, and therefore, in effect, determine
whether any particular measure shall have a chance of passing into law.
It can also settle what subjects may be discussed and what may be said
on those subjects. Further, this group has at its disposal large funds
which are secretly subscribed and secretly disbursed, and, by the use of
these funds, as well as by other means, it is able to control elections
and decide to a considerable extent who shall be the representatives of
the people.

Can this system be mended? Is any reform possible within the system
itself? As long ago as 1899, in the first important book he published,
Mr. Belloc wrote these words:

     ... the _Mandat Impératif_, the brutal and decisive weapon of the
     democrats, the binding by an oath of all delegates, the mechanical
     responsibility against which Burke had pleaded at Bristol, which
     the American constitution vainly attempted to exclude in its
     principal election, and which must in the near future be the method
     of our final reforms.

It is a striking example of the solidity of Mr. Belloc's opinions to
find him expressing, twelve years later, exactly the same views. He went
into Parliament in 1906 holding this view; he came out of Parliament in
1910 confirmed in it. In 1911, the only possible means of reforming our
Parliamentary system, so far as he can see, is this:

     It might be possible, by scattering and using a sufficient number
     of trained workers, to extract from candidates definite pledges
     during the electoral period.... The principal pledge which should
     and could be extracted from candidates would be a pledge that they
     would vote against the Government--whatever its composition--unless
     there were carried through the House of Commons, within a set time,
     those measures to which they stood pledged already in their
     election addresses and on the platform.

But, just as Mr. Belloc realizes that the power of government must
always rest ultimately with the majority of the people, so he realizes
that all final reforms are brought about by the will of the majority.
Consequently, the first need in the attempt to remedy any evil is
exposure. The political education of democracy is the first step towards
a reform.

     To tell a particular truth with regard to a particular piece of
     corruption is, of course, dangerous in the extreme; the rash man
     who might be tempted to employ this weapon would find himself
     bankrupted or in prison, and probably both. But the general nature
     of the unpleasant thing can be drilled into the public by books,
     articles, and speeches.

This is the whole secret of Mr. Belloc's actions as a reformer. His
whole object, as has already been said in another connection, is to
instruct public opinion. His views and opinions are to be found clearly
expressed in books, but he is not content merely to express his views as
intellectual propositions, he is supremely anxious to convince men of
the truth and justice of his views, and to inspire men to action. Just
as he regards history as the record of the actions of men like
ourselves, so he regards the evils of the present day as the result of
men's actions and men's apathy. His whole object is to check those
actions and uproot that apathy.

It was with this object that he founded, in 1911, the weekly journal
called _The Eye-Witness_, the chief aim of which was to conduct a steady
and unflinching campaign against the evils of the Party System and of
Capitalism, and a notable feature of Mr. Belloc's editorship was that
the paper, during the time he was connected with it, reached and
maintained an extraordinarily high literary standard. It is a matter of
regret that Mr. Belloc, owing to a variety of circumstances, was
obliged, in the early part of 1912, to resign the position of editor of
the paper which he founded and which now, under the title of _The New
Witness_, is edited by Mr. Cecil Chesterton.

There can be no doubt, however, that the campaign which Mr. Belloc then
initiated has achieved some measure of success. Although it is
impossible to point to any organized body of opinion which definitely
supports Mr. Belloc's views on economic and political reform, yet it is
undeniable that those views have taken root and are to-day far more
common than at the time either _The Party System_ was written, or _The
Eye-Witness_ founded. This has come about by a very simple process--a
process which Mr. Belloc himself has analysed. In the last pages of _The
Party System_ there occurs this passage:

     Truth has this particular quality about it (which the modern
     defenders of falsehood seem to have forgotten), that when it has
     been so much as suggested, it of its own self and by example tends
     to turn that suggestion into a conviction.

     You say to some worthy provincial, "English Prime Ministers sell
     peerages and places on the Front Bench."

     He is startled, and he disbelieves you; but when a few days
     afterwards he reads in his newspaper of how some howling nonentity
     has just been made a peer, or a member of the Government, the
     incredible sentence he has heard recurs to him. When in the course
     of the next twelve months five or six other nonentities have
     enjoyed this sort of promotion (one of whom perhaps he may know
     from other sources than the Press to be a wealthy man who uses his
     wealth in bribery) his doubt grows into conviction.

     That is the way truth spreads....

     The truth, when it is spoken for some useful purpose, must
     necessarily seem obscure, extravagant, or merely false; for, were
     it of common knowledge, it would not be worth expressing. And truth
     being fact, and therefore hard, must irritate and wound; but it has
     that power of growth and creation peculiar to itself which always
     makes it worth the telling.


[Footnote 21: _Servile State_, p. 3.]

[Footnote 22: _Servile State_, p. 140.]

[Footnote 23: The reader should take care to distinguish between the
phrase "politically unfree," as connoting the lack of constitutional
power, and the phrase "politically unfree," used by Mr. Belloc in _The
Servile State_ as connoting the lack of a free status in positive law,
and therefore the presence of servile conditions.]



Humour is the instrument of the critic. If the psychological explanation
of laughter be, as some have supposed, the sight of "a teleological
being suddenly behaving in an ateleological manner," then the mere act
of laughter is in itself an act of comparison and of criticism. The true
castigator of morals has never striven to make his subjects appear
disgraceful, but to make them appear ridiculous. Except in the case of
positive crime, for example, murder or treason, the true instrument of
the censor is burlesque. It fails him only when his subject is
consciously and deliberately breaking a moral law: it is irresistible
when its target is a false moral law or convention of morals set up to
protect anti-social practices. Among these we may reckon bribery of
politicians, oppression of the poor, vulgar ostentation, the habit of
adultery and the writing of bad verse. Aristophanes, Molière, Byron, and
Dickens--these attempted to correct the social vices of their times by

But humorous literature is not wholly confined to such practical ends.
We may derive pleasure from reading literary criticism for its own sake
and not for the purpose of knowing what books to read: we also gain and
require a pure pleasure from that constant criticism of human things
which we call humour. It remains a function of criticism, as may be seen
from the simple fact that no man was ever a good critic of anything
under the sun who had not a sense of humour. It is a perpetual
commentary on life, a constant guide to sanity. And a good joke, like a
good poem, enlarges the boundaries of the spirit and puts us in touch
with infinity. But too much abstract disquisition on the subject of
humour is a frequent cause of the lack of it.

Mr. Belloc's first essays in humour were not of the satirical or
purposeful sort: unless we consider an obscure volume called _Lambkin's
Remains_ to be of this nature. The author has kept in affection, it
would seem, only one of these compositions sufficiently to reprint it
out of a volume which can hardly now be obtained. Mr. Lambkin's poem,
written for the Newdigate Prize in 1893 on the prescribed theme for that
year, "The Benefits of the Electric Light," might fairly be considered a
warning to the examiners to set their subject with care.

The first of his popular essays in amusement, the one by which--owing to
an accident of music--he is still best known, though anonymously, to a
large public, is _The Bad Child's Book of Beasts_. Successors in a
similar manner are _More Beasts for Worse Children_ (delightful title),
_A Moral Alphabet_, and _Cautionary Tales for Children_. These are
successful books for children, of a great popularity, and may be read
with considerable pleasure by elder persons.

To define the particular quality which makes them good is more than a
little difficult. It is much easier to analyse and expose the virtues
of the most affecting poetry than to explain what moves us in the
mildest piece of humour. This is amply proved by the fact that
innumerable volumes exist on the origin of comedy and the cause of
laughter, and there are more to come: while, roughly speaking, even
philosophers are agreed as to the manner in which serious poetry touches

A great deal, too, of the appeal of these pieces is due to the
illustrations of B. T. B. which complement the text with an apt and
grotesque commentary. The pleasure given by the verse, perhaps, if one
may handle so delicate and trifling a thing, lies in a sort of
inconsequence and unexpectedness. Witness the poem on the Yak:

   Then tell your Papa where the Yak can be got,
     And if he is awfully rich
   He will buy you the creature--

(The reader now turns over the page.)

     Or else
       he will _not_.
   (I cannot be positive which.)

Or it may reside in mere genial idiocy, as in _The Dodo_:

   The Dodo used to walk around
     And take the sun and air.
   The Sun yet warms his native ground--
     The Dodo is not there!

   The voice which used to squawk and squeak
     Is now for ever dumb--
   Yet may you see his bones and beak
     All in the Mu-se-um.

This is the quality which chiefly inspires the _Cautionary Tales_, that
admirable series of biographies. "_Matilda, Who told Lies and was Burned
to Death_" is perhaps too well known to quote, but we may extract a
passage from "_Lord Lundy, who was too Freely Moved to Tears, and
thereby ruined his Political Career_":

   It happened to Lord Lundy then,
   As happens to so many men:
   Towards the age of twenty-six,
   They shoved him into politics;
   In which profession he commanded
   The income that his rank demanded
   In turn as Secretary for
   India, the Colonies and War.
   But very soon his friends began
   To doubt if he were quite the man:
   Thus, if a member rose to say
   (As members do from day to day),
   "Arising out of that reply...!"
   Lord Lundy would begin to cry.
   A hint at harmless little jobs
   Would shake him with convulsive sobs,
   While as for Revelations, these
   Would simply bring him to his knees
   And leave him whimpering like a child.

This genial idiocy, this unexpectedness and inconsequence, are perhaps
the most characteristic qualities of his freest humour elsewhere. Take,
for example, the flavour of this singular remark from _The Four Men_.
Grizzlebeard is telling, according to his oath, in a most serious
fashion the story of his first love. He says:

     "I learnt ... that she had married a man whose fame had long been
     familiar to me, a politician, a patriot, and a most capable
     manufacturer.... Then strong, and at last (at such a price) mature,
     I noted the hour and went towards the doors through which she had
     entered perhaps an hour ago in the company of the man with whose
     name she had mingled her own."

     _Myself._ "What did he manufacture?"

     _Grizzlebeard._ "Rectified lard; and so well, let me tell you, that
     no one could compete with him."

Let the reader explain, if he can, the comic effect of that startling
irrelevance; we cannot, but it is characteristic.

It is some effect of dexterity with words, some happy spring of
inconsequence, which produces this particular kind of joke. A certain
exuberance in writing which plainly intoxicates the writer and carries
the reader with it, is at the bottom of humour of this sort. What is it
that causes us to smile at the following passage, a disquisition on the
aptitude of the word "surprising"?

     An elephant escapes from a circus and puts his head in at your
     window while you are writing and thinking of a word. You look up.
     You may be alarmed, you may be astonished, you may be moved to
     sudden processes of thought; but one thing you will find about it,
     and you will find out quite quickly, and it will dominate all your
     other emotions of the time: the elephant's head will be surprising.
     You are caught. Your soul says loudly to its Creator: "Oh, this is
     something new!"

One might suggest that psychological analysis with an example so absurd
provokes the sense of the comic, but it is not quite that. It is not
Heinesque irony, the concealment of an insult, nor Wilde's paradox, the
burlesque of a truth. It is merely comic: a humorous facility in the use
of words, though not barren as such things are apt to be, but quite
common and human. The philosophical rules of laughter do not explain it:
but it is funny.

Something of the same attraction rests in a quite absurd essay, wherein
Mr. Belloc describes how he was waylaid by an inventor and, having
suffered the explanations of the man, retaliated with advice as to the
means to pursue to get the new machine adopted. The technical terms
invented for both parties to the dialogue are deliciously idiotic, a
sort of exalted abstract play with the dictionary of technology.

In descriptions of persons we are on safer ground, and the reader, if he
still care, after all we have said, for such-like foolishness, may
explain these jokes by the incongruity of teleological beings acting in
an ateleological manner. We are determined to be content in picking out
passages that amuse us and in commenting on them but by no means
explaining them.

Mr. Belloc himself has invented or recorded the distinction between
things that would be funny anyhow, and things that are funny because
they are true. Most of his jokes fall into the second category. The
German baron at Oxford, the gentleman who asked when and for what action
Lord Charles Beresford received his title, the poet who wrote a poem
containing the lines:

   Neither the nations of the East, nor the nations of the West,
   Have thought the thing Napoleon thought was to their interest,

all these people are admirably funny because they do, or very well
might, exist. In fact, most of Mr. Belloc's humour is observation, a
slow delicate savouring of human stupidity and pretence.

The sporadic stories in his books are funny because, at least, we can
believe them to be true. Read this from _Esto Perpetua_:

     An old man, small, bent, and full of energy opened the door to
     me.... "I was expecting you," he said. I remembered that the driver
     had promised to warn him, and I was grateful.

     "I have prepared you a meal," he went on. Then, after a little
     hesitation, "It is mutton: it is neither hot nor cold." ... He
     brought me their very rough African wine and a loaf, and sat down
     opposite me, looking at me fixedly under the candle. Then he said:

     "To-morrow you will see Timgad, which is the most wonderful town in
     the world."

     "Certainly not to-night," I answered; to which he said, "No!"

     I took a bite of the food, and he at once continued rapidly:
     "Timgad is a marvel. We call it 'the marvel.' I had thought of
     calling this house 'Timgad the Marvel,' or, again, 'Timgad

     "Is this sheep?" I said.

     "Certainly," he answered. "What else could it be but sheep?"

     "Good Lord!" I said, "it might be anything. There is no lack of
     beasts on God's earth." I took another bite and found it horrible.

     "I desire you to tell me frankly," said I, "whether this is goat.
     There are many Italians in Africa, and I shall not blame any man
     for giving me goat's flesh. The Hebrew prophets ate it and the
     Romans; only tell me the truth, for goat is bad for me."

     He said it was not goat. Indeed, I believed him, for it was of a
     large and terrible sort, as though it had roamed the hills and
     towered above all goats and sheep. I thought of lions, but
     remembered that their value would forbid their being killed for the
     table. I again attempted the meal, and he again began:

     "Timgad is a place----"

     At this moment a god inspired me, and I shouted, "Camel!" He did
     not turn a hair. I put down my knife and fork, and pushed the plate
     away. I said:

     "You are not to be blamed for giving me the food of the country,
     but for passing it under another name."

     He was a good host and did not answer. He went out, and came back
     with cheese. Then he said, as he put it down before me:

     "I do assure you it is sheep," and we discussed the point no more.

That is an amusing episode and wholly characteristic. The humour of Mr.
Belloc's books, particularly of his books of travel, resides in a
quantity of such tales, not acutely and extravagantly funny, but all
amusing because they are all (apparently) true.

With that more practical branch of humour, satire, the angle of view
shifts a little. The power of making laughter becomes here a weapon, and
its hostile purpose, as it were, sharpens the point. Mr. Belloc's satire
has a hardness and a precision lacking in the broad and general effects
of his quite irresponsible humour.

All satire, as we have said, has a definite moral intent, whether it be
to restrain a corrupt politician or a bad poet, and this makes it
serious, sometimes painful, always, in failure, heavy and unpleasant.
The little book called _The Aftermath: or Caliban's Guide to Letters_ is
not altogether a success. One might believe that Mr. Belloc's disgust
with the tricks of journalism has killed, as never his disgust with the
tricks of government, his sense of joy in human pretence. These
sketches, by just a little, fail to give one a feeling of rejoicing in
the author's wit: they seem bitter, strained, and, while one appreciates
the justice of the serious charge, the humour which was to carry it off,
becomes from time to time heavy and lifeless. It is even a depressing
book: but this may be because the deepest rooted of our illusions,
deeper than the illusion about politics, is the illusion concerning the
cleverness of authors.

The skit, written with Mr. G. K. Chesterton, on the proceedings of the
Tariff Reform Commission, is, on the other hand, one shout of laughter:
as though that singular inquiry could not raise bitterness or indeed any
emotion but delight in the breasts of true observers of humanity. It is
a pity it is no longer obtainable.

The two or three satirical poems show a very definite and determined
purpose, a sort of ugly competent squaring of the fists, a fighting that
pleases by clean hard hitting.

It must have been a great pleasure to Mr. Belloc to write:

   We also know the sacred height
     Up on Tugela side,
   Where the three hundred fought with Beit
     And fair young Wernher died.

          *       *       *       *       *

   The little empty homes forlorn,
   The ruined synagogues that mourn
     In Frankfort and Berlin;
   We knew them when the peace was torn--
   We of a nobler lineage born--
   And now by all the gods of scorn
     We mean to rub them in.

It must have been a great relief, too, to have planted such sound and
swinging blows on the enemy's person. The enemy is not appreciably
inconvenienced, but--Mr. Belloc has probably told himself--a few have
chuckled, and that begins it.

In such a way we come naturally to the five satirical novels, obviously
an illustration of the passage in _The Party System_, where Mr. Belloc
advocates the annulling of political evils by laughing at them. It is
not our business here to analyse these compositions from the point of
view of considering the amount of political usefulness they may have
achieved. We must consider rather Mr. Belloc's fine, contented industry
in his satiric task, the persistence with which he builds up his
instrument of destruction.

The method in these books is exclusively ironic. Never does the writer
overtly state that he seeks to drag down a system which he hates by
laughter. In _Emmanuel Burden_, that extraordinary book, the severity of
the method is extreme, almost overwhelming. The author supposes himself
to be writing a biography especially designed to uphold the principles
of "Cosmopolitan Finance--pitiless, destructive of all national ideals,
obscene, and eating out the heart of our European tradition": and he
preserves that pose consistently.

Elsewhere, for example, in _Mr. Clutterbuck's Election_, the pretence is
less elaborate: winks and nudges to the reader are permitted, and the
whole effect is less careful and more human, less bitter and more
humorous. But the general tone is maintained throughout the five books,
discussing the same characters who appear and reappear, the Peabody Yid,
Mary Smith, the young and popular Prime Minister, "Methlinghamhurtht,
Clutterbuck that wath," and the excellent Mr. William Bailey, who had
the number 666 on his shirts, subscribed to anti-Semitic societies on
the Continent and cherished with a peculiar affection _The Jewish
Encyclopædia_. Such a preservation of tone is admirable, for it is a
subtly restrained acidity, requiring either intense and unremitting care
(which seems unlikely) or a special adjustment of temperament. It is
very Gaulish, it must have been modelled on Voltaire: but it is also
enlivened with flashes of irresponsibility that are the author's own.

To have composed five such volumes as, taking them in order, _Emmanuel
Burden_, _Mr. Clutterbuck's Election_, _A Change in the Cabinet_, _Pongo
and the Bull_, and _The Green Overcoat_, is an achievement of a very
remarkable sort, the more remarkable that the interest of these stories
lies entirely in Mr. Belloc's peculiar views upon politics and finance.
Even Disraeli, who liked writing novels about politics, could not
restrain himself from love interests, romance, poetry, and what not
else: but Mr. Belloc, serious and intent, concentrates his energies with
malevolent smile on one object.

In this consistent level of irony there are undoubtedly exalted patches
of more than merely verbal humour, such as, for example, Sir Charles
Repton's jolly speech at the Van Diemens meeting, in which he outlines
with enormous gusto the principles of procedure of modern finance. (It
will be remembered that an unfortunate accident had deprived Sir Charles
of his power of restraint and afflicted him with Veracititis.)

     "Well, there you are then [he says], a shilling, a miserable
     shilling. Now just see what that shilling will do!

     "In the first place it'll give publicity and plenty of it. Breath
     of public life, publicity! Breath o' finance too! We'll have that
     railway marked in a dotted line on the maps: all the maps: school
     maps: office maps. We'll have leaders on it and speeches on it. And
     good hearty attacks on it. And th-e-n ..." He lowered his voice to
     a very confidential wheedle--"the price'll begin to creep up--Oh
     ... o ... oh! the _real_ price, my beloved fellow-shareholders, the
     price at which one can really _sell_, the price at which one can
     handle the _stuff_."

     He gave a great breath of satisfaction. "Now d'ye see? It'll go to
     forty shillings right off, it ought to go to forty-five, it may go
     to sixty!... And then," he said briskly, suddenly changing his
     tone, "then, my hearties, you blasted well sell out: you unload ...
     you dump 'em. Plenty more fools where your lot came from.... Most
     of you'll lose on your first price: late comers least: a few o'
     ye'll make if you bought under two pounds. Anyhow I shall....
     There! if that isn't finance, I don't know what is!"

That is great, it is humour of a positively enormous variety, and pure
humour bursting and shining through the careful web of purposeful irony.

Such is the tendency of Mr. Belloc in his most intent occupations, to be
suddenly overcome with a rush of something broad, human and jolly, in a
word, poetic. In these moments he abandons his theories and his
propaganda and sails off before the inspiration. By such passages, as
much as or more than by their constant flow of skilful jeering, these
books will last.



In a verse which criticism, baffled but revengeful, will not easily let
die, it has been stated that "Mr. Hilaire Belloc Is a case for
legislation _ad hoc_. He seems to think nobody minds His books being all
of different kinds." They certainly do mind. They ask what an author
_is_. Mr. Bennett is a novelist, and so, one supposes, is Mr. Wells; Mr.
Shaw and Mr. Barker are dramatists; Mr. W. L. Courtney is a Critic, and
Mr. Noyes, they say, is a Poet.

There is, after all, a certain justice in the query. A novelist may also
write a play or a sociological treatise: he remains a novelist and we
know him for what he is. What, then, is Mr. Belloc? If we examine his
works by a severely arithmetical test, we shall find that the greater
part of them is devoted to description of travel. You will find his
greatest earnestness, perhaps his greatest usefulness, in his history:
but his travel lies behind his history and informs it. It is the most
important of the materials out of which his history has been made.

The clue, then, that we find in the preponderance among his writings of
books and essays drawn directly from experience of travel is neither
accidental nor meaningless. All this has been a _training_ to him, and
we should miss the most important factor not only in what he has done,
but also in what he may do, did we omit consideration of this.

Travel, in the oldest of platitudes, is an education: and here we would
use this word in the widest possible sense as indicating the practical
education, which is a means to an end, a preparation for doing
something, and the spiritual education which is a preparation for being
something. In both these ways, travel is good and widens the mind: and
here, as in his history, we can distinguish the two motives. One is
practical and propagandist, the other poetic, the passion for knowing
and understanding. Travel, considered under these heads, gives the
observant mind a fund of comparison and information upon agricultural
economy, modes of religion, political forms, the growth of trade and the
movement of armies, and gives also to the receptive spirit a sense of
active and reciprocal contact with the earth which nourishes us and
which we inhabit.

These moods and motives seem to be unhappily scarce in the life of this
age. Neither understandingly, like poets, nor unconsciously (or, at
least, dumbly), like peasants, are we aware of the places in which we
live. We make no pilgrimages to holy spots, nor have we wandering
students who mark out and acutely set down the distinctions between this
people and that. Facilities of travel have perhaps damped our desire to
hear news of other countries. They have not given us in exchange a store
of accurate information. Curiosity has died without being satisfied.
Both materially and spiritually, we and our society suffer for it: our
lives are not so large, we make more stupid and more universal blunders
in dealing with foreign nations.

Of the spiritual incentive to travel, Mr. Belloc has put this
description into the mouth of a character in an essay:

     Look you, good people all, in your little passage through the
     daylight, get to see as many hills and buildings and rivers,
     fields, books, men, horses, ships and precious stones as you can
     possibly manage. Or else stay in one village and marry in it and
     die there. For one of these two fates is the best fate for every
     man. Either to be what I have been, a wanderer with all the
     bitterness of it, or to stay at home and to hear in one's garden
     the voice of God.

There you have the voice of Wandering Peter, who hoped to make himself
loved in Heaven by his tales of many countries. On the other hand, you
have Mr. Belloc's voice of deadly common sense adjuring this age, before
it is too late, to move about a little and see what the world really is,
and how one institution is at its best in one country and another in

     Without any doubt whatsoever [he says] the one characteristic of
     the towns is the lack of reality in the impressions of the many:
     now we live in towns: and posterity will be astounded at us! It
     isn't only that we get our impressions for the most part as
     imaginary pictures called up by printers' ink--that would be bad
     enough; but by some curious perversion of the modern mind,
     printers' ink ends by actually preventing one from seeing things
     that are there; and sometimes, when one says to another who has not
     travelled, "Travel!" one wonders whether, after all, if he does
     travel, he will see the things before his eyes? If he does, he will
     find a new world; and there is more to be discovered in this
     fashion to-day than ever there was.

It is Mr. Belloc's habit, an arrogant and aggressive habit, not to be
drugged if he can avoid it with the repetition of phrases, but to
dissolve these things, when they are dissoluble, with the acid of facts.
He applies his method, as we have already seen, in history: in travel,
the precursor of history, he strives to be as truthful and as

He wishes to report with accuracy--as a mediaeval traveller wished to
report--what he has seen in foreign lands. He looks about him with a
certain candour, a certain openness to impressions, which is only
equalled, we think, among his contemporaries by the whimsical and
capricious Mr. Hueffer: an artist whose interest lies wholly in
literature, and whose mania it is rather to write well than to arrest
the decay of our world.

In the essay which we have quoted above, Mr. Belloc continues:

     The wise man, who really wants to see things as they are and to
     understand them, does not say: "Here I am on the burning soil of
     Africa." He says: "Here I am stuck in a snowdrift and the train
     twelve hours late"--as it was (with me in it) near Sétif, in
     January, 1905. He does not say as he looks on the peasant at his
     plough outside Batna: "Observe yon Semite!" He says: "That man's
     face is exactly like the face of a dark Sussex peasant, only a
     little leaner." He does not say: "See these wild sons of the
     desert! How they must hate the new artificial life around them!"
     Contrariwise, he says: "See those four Mohammedans playing cards
     with a French pack of cards and drinking liqueurs in the café! See!
     they have ordered more liqueurs!"

So Mr. Belloc would have us go about the world as much like little
children as possible in order to learn the elements of foreign politics.

But travel is also, quite in the sense of the platitude, an education.
All that we can learn in books is made up of, or springs from, the
difference between the men living on the banks of this river, and the
men who live in the valleys of those hills. The man who understands the
distinctions of costumes, manners, methods and thought which thus exist,
is tolerably well equipped for dealing with such problems in his own
country: he has had a practical education which prepares him for life.

Mr. Belloc goes about the world with a ready open mind, and stores up
observations on these matters. In an essay on a projected guide-book he
sets out some of them--how to pacify Arabs, how to frighten sheep-dogs,
how the people of Dax are the most horrible in all France, and so on.
It is a great pity that the book has never been written.

All this is human knowledge, of which he is avid. It has been gained
from fellow wayfarers by the roadside and in inns. The persons he has
met and gravely noted on his travels are innumerable, and merely to read
of them is an edification. His landscapes are mostly peopled, and if not
a man, perhaps the ghost of an army moves among them, for he is strongly
of the belief that earth was made for humanity and is most lovable where
it has been handled and moulded by men, in the marking out of fields and
the damming of rivers, till it becomes a garden.

His acquaintances of travel make a strange and entertaining gallery of
people. How admirable is the Arab who could not contain himself for
thinking of the way his fruit trees bore, and the tinner of pots who
improved his trade with song, and the American who said that the
Matterhorn was surprising. There is something restrained and credible in
Mr. Belloc's account of these curious beings. He seems to sit still and
savour their conversation: he hardly reports his own.

He conveys to the reader a solid and real impression of the men he has
met, and it is one of the most delightful parts of his work. They go and
come through the essays like minor characters in a novel written with
prodigality of invention and genius. It is no exaggeration to say that
they are all interesting, persons one could wish to have met. They stand
out with the same clearness, the same reality, as the landscapes and
physical features that Mr. Belloc describes: they bear the same witness
to his curious gift for receiving an impression whole and clean, and
presenting it again with lucidity.

This want of exaggeration we find again in the common-sense tone of his
descriptions. He makes no literary fuss about being in the open air:
perhaps because he did not discover the value of the atmosphere as a
stimulant for literature, but always naturally knew it as a proper
ingredient in life. He is no George Borrow. There is a reality in his
travels that may seem to some often far from poetical: dark shadows and
patches about food and its absence, and a despair when marching in the
rain which is anything but romantic. He is not self-conscious when
speaking of countries, and his boasting of miles covered and places seen
has always an essential modesty in it. He disdains no common-sense aid
to travel, neither the railway nor his meals; he seems to keep
excellently in touch with his boots and his appetite, and to those
kindred points his most surprising rhapsodies are true.

Take as an illustration the end of his admirable and discerning judgment
upon the inns in the Pyrenees:

     In all Sobrarbe, there are but the inns of Bielsa and Torla (I mean
     in all the upper valleys which I have described) that can be
     approached without fear, and in Bielsa, as in Venasque and Torla,
     the little place has but one. At Bielsa, it is near the bridge and
     is kept by Pedro Pertos: I have not slept in it, but I believe it
     to be clean and good. El Plan has a Posada called the Posada of the
     Sun (del Sol), but it is not praised; nay, it is detested by those
     who speak from experience. The inn that stands or stood at the
     lower part of the Val d'Arazas is said to be good; that at Torla is
     not so much an inn as an old chief's house or manor called that of
     "Viu," for that is the name of the family that owns it. They treat
     travellers very well.

     This is all that I know of the inns of the Pyrenees.

That is practical writing, admirably done, and, as we should judge,
without having tested it, no less likely to be useful to the traveller
because it is a prose of literary flavour. On the other hand, the
personal avowal in the last sentence gives confidence.

We must continue to look at Mr. Belloc's travels from what we loosely
call the practical point of view, and we arrive now at those books in
which travel is the means to the pursuit of a certain sort of study.
That is the study of history and, in particular, of military events,
which can properly be carried out only on the ground where these took

We have said that his travel is the material out of which his history is
made, and that, though a wide generalization, is to a great extent
strictly accurate. His notion of the Western race and its solidarity
derives its force not only from a careful and vigorous interpretation of
written records, but also from observation of that race to-day. You may
see in _Esto Perpetua_ how he verified and amplified his theory very
practically by a journey through Northern Africa.

It is true also that his gifts of clear-headedness and lucidity which
make valuable his interpretations of written records make it easy for
him to read country, to grasp its present possibilities and the effects
which it must have had in the past. This steady gift of shrewd and apt
vision of the things which really are makes him a useful monitor in a
time when men usually deal in gratuitously spun theories.

His eye for country is a symbol, as well as an example, of his best
talents. To him, it seems, a piece of ground, an English county, say, is
an orderly shape, not the jumble of ups and downs, fields, roads and
woods which appears to most. In a similar way an historical controversy
in his hands reveals its principal streams, its watershed, and the
character of its soil.

At this point, just as we distinguished in his history the practical
from the poetic motive, we can see the blending of the two motives for
travel. Mr. Belloc's researches into history and pre-history do show
these motives inextricably mixed: in _The Old Road_ you cannot separate
the purpose of research from the purpose of this pleasure.

In this book he gives us a few remarks on the origin of the prehistoric
track-way which ran from Winchester to Canterbury, an itinerary as exact
as research can make it, and a little discourse on the reasons why it
is both pious and pleasant to pursue such knowledge.

Searching for Roman roads or the earlier track-ways and determining as
near as possible the exact sites of historical events is with him a
sport. The method pursued is that of rigid and scientific inquiry.
_Paris_ especially, _Marie Antoinette_ and _The Historic Thames_ in a
lesser degree, bear witness to this, which, in a don, we should call
minute and painstaking research, but which in our subject we guess to be
the gratification of a desire.

In _The Old Road_ Mr. Belloc describes with severe accuracy but with an
astonishing gusto how, having read all that was printed about this track
and studied the best maps of the region through which it passes, he set
out to examine the ground itself, and thus to reach his final
conclusions. We have not space here to recount his methods at length or
to show, as he has shown, how this parish boundary is a guide here,
those trees there, that church a mile further on. It is but one example
out of many of his spirit and tastes in the numerous tasks of
identification which he has undertaken.

And here is the proper place, perhaps, to disengage what we have called
the poetic motive of travel. He manifests a particular reverence for
these rests of antiquity which he has sought out. It is both in a
religious and in a poetic spirit that he considers The Road as a symbol
of humanity. He writes in a grave and ritual tone:

     Of these primal things [he says] the least obvious but the most
     important is The Road. It does not strike the sense as do those
     others I have mentioned; we are slow to feel its influence. We take
     it so much for granted that its original meaning escapes us. Men,
     indeed, whose pleasure it is perpetually to explore even their own
     country on foot, and to whom its every phase of climate is
     delightful, receive, somewhat tardily, the spirit of The Road. They
     feel a meaning in it: it grows to suggest the towns upon it, it
     explains its own vagaries, and it gives a unity to all that has
     arisen along its way. But for the mass The Road is silent; it is
     the humblest and the most subtle, but, as I have said, the greatest
     and most original of the spells which we inherit from the earliest
     pioneers of our race. It was the most imperative and the first of
     our necessities. It is older than building and than wells; before
     we were quite men we knew it, for the animals still have it to-day;
     they seek their food and their drinking-places and, as I believe,
     their assemblies, by known ways which they have made.

All travel is a pilgrimage, more or less exalted, and a Catholic with a
mind of Mr. Belloc's type makes the performance of such an act both a
religious ceremonial and a personal pleasure. He feels it to be no less
an act of religion because it is full of jolly human and coloured

Out of this conception he has developed a new and personal form of the
Fantastic or Unbridled Book of Travels: much as Heine's form of the same
thing developed from a faint reflection of a half-remembered tradition
of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's praise of nature. It is odd to compare the
two, Mr. Belloc on pilgrimage for his religion of normality and good
fellowship, Heine walking in honour of the religion of wit.

The comparison indeed is inevitable: for these men, each solid, sensible
and humorous, each availing himself of the same form of literature, each
standing apart from the windiness of such as George Borrow, are as alike
in method as they are distinct in spirit. The form, the method indeed,
are admirable for men of the type of these two who resemble one another
so much in general cast, in line of action, though so very little in

It is a form, as it were, made for a man of various tastes and talents,
for the progress of his journey makes a frame-work suggesting and
holding together a multitude of discursions. An event of the day's march
can set him off on a train of entertaining or profitable reflection and
Mr. Belloc, in the earlier of the two books which are the subject of
this disquisition, will abruptly introduce an irrelevant story as he
explains, to while away the tedium of a dull road. And at the end of the
irrelevance, the purpose of travel restores him to the path and
preserves the unity of the book.

_The Path to Rome_, though perhaps better known, is a younger and a less
mature book than _The Four Men_. It is brilliantly full of humour and
poetic description: it has even remarkable stretches of Fine Writing.
One could deduce from it without much difficulty the general trend of
Mr. Belloc's mind, for he has tumbled into it pell-mell all his first
thoughts and reflections. With the fixed basis of thought, on which we
have already so often insisted, he will think at all times and on all
things in the same general way. This gives his observations a uniform
character and a uniform interest. The pleasure in reading a book of this
sort is to see how his method of thinking will play upon the various
hares of subjects that he starts.

This basis of thought in him is continuous: it has not changed, but it
has ripened, and it is more fully expressed. _The Path to Rome_ is the
book of a young man, vigorous, exuberant, extravagant, almost, as it
were, "showing off." The flavour is sharp and arresting. _The Four Men_,
which we believe to be the present climax of Mr. Belloc's literature,
is, Heaven knows, vigorous, exuberant and extravagant enough. But it is
also graver, deeper, more artful, more coherent.

It is, in all its ramifications, a lyric, the expression of a single
idea or emotion, and that the love of one's own country. The cult of
Sussex, as it has been harshly and awkwardly called, makes a sort of
nucleus to Mr. Belloc's examination and impression of the world. If he
knows Western Europe tolerably well, he knows this one county perfectly,
and from it his explorations go out in concentric circles. He finds it,
as he found with The Road, a solemn, a ritual, and a pleasurable task to
praise his own home.

We cannot here analyse this book in any detail, nor would its framework
bear so pedantic an insistence. The writer describes how, sitting in an
inn just within the Kentish borders of Sussex he determined to walk
across the county, admiring it by the way, and so to find his own home.
He is joined on the road by three companions, Grizzlebeard, the Sailor,
and the Poet. It would be stupid, the act of a Prussian professor, to
seek for allegories in these figures, who are described and moulded with
a quite human humour. The supernatural touch given to them in the last
pages of the book, the faint mystic flavour which clings to them from
the beginning and marks them as being just more than companions of
flesh, these things are indicated with so delicate a hand, so
reticently, that to analyse the method would be destruction--for the
writers at least.

The book should be, by rights, described as "an extraordinary medley."
As a matter of fact, it is not. Mr. Belloc gives it, as sub-title, the
description "A Farrago," but we are not very clear what that means. It
contains all manner of stuff from an excellent drinking song, an
excellent marching song (which has now seen service), and a first-rate
song about religion to the story of St. Dunstan and the Devil and an
account of Mr. Justice Honeybubbe's Decision. But all this is strung
together with such a curious tact on the string of the journey across
Sussex that the miscellaneous materials make one coherent composition.

The recurrent landscapes which mark the progress of that journey are
slight but exquisite. Take this one example, describing the gap of
Arundel, just below Amberley:

     ... The rain began to fall again out of heaven, but we had come to
     such a height of land that the rain and the veils of it did but add
     to the beauty of all we saw, and the sky and the earth together
     were not like November, but like April, and filled us with wonder.
     At this place the flat water-meadows, the same that are flooded
     and turned to a lake in mid-winter, stretch out a sort of scene or
     stage, whereupon can be planted the grandeur of the Downs, and one
     looks athwart that flat from a high place upon the shoulder of
     Rockham Mount to the broken land, the sand hills, and the pines,
     the ridge of Egdean side, the uplifted heaths and commons which
     flank the last of the hills all the way until one comes to the
     Hampshire border, beyond which there is nothing. This is the
     foreground of the gap of Arundel, a district of the Downs so made
     than when one sees it one knows at once that here is a jewel for
     which the whole County of Sussex was made and the ornament worthy
     of so rare a setting. And beyond Arun, straight over the flat,
     where the line against the sky is highest, the hills I saw were the
     hills of home.

These pages are full of sentences, graciously praising Sussex, in
themselves small and perfect poems, as for example the praises of Arun,
"which, when a man bathes in it, makes him forget everything that has
come upon him since his eighteenth year--or possibly his
twenty-seventh," and again, "Arun in his majesty, married to salt water,
and a king."

We should be doing an injustice to _The Four Men_ did we give the
impression that it is nothing but a graceful and pleasant poem written
about Sussex. We have said that it is grave and deep and informed with
emotion. We will quote one passage, Grizzlebeard's farewell:

     There is nothing at all that remains: nor any house; nor any
     castle, however strong; nor any love, however tender and sound; nor
     any comradeship among men, however hardy. Nothing remains but the
     things of which I will not speak, because we have spoken enough of
     them already during these four days. But I who am old will give you
     advice, which is this--to consider chiefly from now onward those
     permanent things which are, as it were, the shores of this age and
     the harbours of our glittering and pleasant but dangerous and
     wholly changeful sea.

Of such stuff is the basis of this book: on this basis, which is poetic,
a spiritual motive, the whole creation is raised, and the book is
destined to be more than an occasional account of travel or an amusing
but trivial display of wit and fancy. It is a poem, and a poem, as we
think, which will endure.

It is, in truth, the poetic instinct which animates all his activities
and particularly his travel. The poetic instinct consists of two itches,
the first to comprehend fully in all dimensions the reality which we see
before us, the second to express it again in words, paint, clay or
music. This instinct in its pure and proper form has regard to no kind
of profit, either in money or esteem. It moves the poet to the doing of
these things for the sake only of doing them.

But by a very wise dispensation it is also the mainspring of all
material usefulness in the world. We have sought to show, in this
chapter as in others, how you can find the poetic, the disinterested
motive, whenever you try to discover what gives their value to Mr.
Belloc's studies in actuality. Particularly this is so in the
accumulation of knowledge which he has acquired in his travels and in
the use he makes of it. It seems as though this passion to see and to
understand must sharpen his wits and his vision: it gives that life and
energy to his writings on this matter without which poetic composition
is worthless and journalism fails to convince.



You cannot sum up Mr. Belloc in a phrase. It is the aim of the phrase to
select and emphasize; and if you attempt to select from Mr. Belloc's
work you are condemned to lose more than you gain. It is not possible to
seize upon any one aspect of his work as expressive of the whole man: to
appreciate him at all fully it is essential to take every department of
his writings into consideration.

If we are to answer the question as to what Mr. Belloc is, we can only
reply with a string of names--poet and publicist, essayist and
economist, novelist and historian, satirist and traveller, a writer on
military affairs and a writer of children's verses.

Such overwhelming diversity is in itself sufficient to mark out a man
from his fellows; but if this diversity is to have any lasting meaning,
if it is to be for us something more than the versatility of a practised
journalist, it must have a reason.

The various aspects of Mr. Belloc's work are interwoven and
interdependent. They do not spring one out of another, but all from one
centre. We cannot take one group of his writings as a starting-point,
and trace the phases of a steady development. We can only compare the
whole of his work to a number of lines which are obviously converging.
If you take one of these lines, that is to say, one of his works or a
single department of his activities, you cannot deduce from its
direction the central point of his mind and nature. But if you take all
these lines you may deduce, as it were mathematically, that they must of
necessity intersect at a certain hypothetical point. This point, then,
is the centre of Mr. Belloc's mind, a centre which we know to exist, but
at which we can only arrive by hypothesis, because he has not yet
written any full expression of it.

This point, the centre of all Mr. Belloc's published work, is to be
found, we believe, in the fact that he is an historian. History to him
is the greatest and most important of all studies. A knowledge of
history is essential to an understanding of life. Although only a small
part of his work is definitely historical in character, yet it is on
history that the whole of his work reposes. This is very apparent when
he is dealing with economic or political problems of the present day: it
is less marked, though still quite obvious, in his essays and books on
travel. It is in his poetry, and his children's verses that it appears
perhaps least.

But it is the qualities which make him a poet and give him an
understanding of children, his catholicity, and his desire for simple,
primitive and enduring things which give him that consistent view of
history which we believe him to hold, and which we have attempted to
outline in the eighth and again in the tenth chapters of this book. We
endeavoured there to make clear what we believe to be Mr. Belloc's view
of the general course of European history, and, as we pointed out, we
found considerable difficulty in the fact that Mr. Belloc has never
written any connected exposition of this view. We were, indeed, deducing
the existence of a centre from the evidence of the converging lines.

That such a centre exists in Mr. Belloc's mind we have no doubt
whatever. It is perfectly plain that he relates to some such considered
and consistent scheme of history any particular historical event or
contemporary problem which is brought under his notice. If at some
future date he should set out this scheme as fully and adequately as we
think it deserves, the resulting work would be of paramount value, both
as an historical treatise, and as a guide to the understanding of all
Mr. Belloc's other activities.

What we believe Mr. Belloc's view of the mainspring and the course of
history to be we have outlined sufficiently, at least for the present
purpose. The reader is already familiar with his conception of the
European race, of the political greatness of Rome, of the importance of
the Middle Ages, and of the principles of the French Revolution. But
behind this material appearance, dictating its form and inspiring its
expression, there is something else--the point of character from which
he judges and co-relates in his mind, not only transitory, but also
eternal things.

We might baldly express this point by saying that it is in the nature of
a reverence for tradition and authority: but such phrases are nets
which, while they do indeed capture the main tendency of ideas, allow
to escape the subtle reservations and qualifications wherein the life of
ideas truly resides. On such a point we can at best generalize: and this
generalization will most easily be made clear, perhaps, by a contrast.

The point from which Mr. Belloc views the whole of life, the point about
him which it is of cardinal importance to seize, is the point where he
cuts across the stream of contemporary thought. All literature and all
art is conditioned by the social influences of the time. Mr. Belloc has
told us that the state of society which exists in England to-day, and
which he regards as rapidly nearing its close, is necessarily unstable,
and more properly to be regarded as a transitory phase lying between two
stable states of society. If we examine in its broadest outline the
literature which is contemporaneous with the general consolidation of
capitalism we find that it bears stamped upon it the mark of
interrogation. From Wilde to Mr. Wells is the age of the question mark.
In almost every writer of this period we find the same tendency of
thought: the endless questioning, the shattering of conventions, the
repeal of tradition, the denial of dogma.

It is the literature of an age of discomfort. Mr. Wells does not so much
denounce as complain; life appears to ruin Mr. Galsworthy's digestion.
Mr. Masefield, that robust and versifying sailor, is as irritable as a
man with a bad cold. Our poets and our thinkers do not view the world
with a settled gaze either of appreciation or of contempt: they look at
it with the wild eye of a man who cannot imagine where he has put his
gloves. Their condemnations and suggestions are alike undignified,
whirling and flimsy. They pick up and throw down in the same space of
time every human institution: they are in a hurry to question everything
and they have not the patience to wait for an answer to anything.

We would not appear to think lightly of our contemporaries. It was
necessary that they should arise to cleanse and garnish the world. They
are symptomatic of an age, an evil age that is passing. They have
cleared the ground for other men to build. If the world is not fuller
and richer for their work, it is at any rate cleaner and healthier.

That their work is done, that the time is ripe for more solid things,
grows clearer every day. We are weary of our voyage of discovery and
wishful to arrive at the promised land. We are glutted with questions,
but hungry for answers. Theories are no longer our need; our desire is
for fact. The philosophy and art of to-day exhibit this tendency. In
literature especially the naturalist method has seen its day: and a
general return to the romantic, or better, the classical form, is
imminent. In a word, the tendency to establish as opposed to the
tendency to demolish is everywhere to be seen.

By the very nature of his first principles Mr. Belloc is as much an ally
of this tendency as he is an enemy of the tendency which is now reaching
its term. His simplicity and catholicity give him a solid hold on
tradition, and he will attack, on _a priori_ grounds, nothing that is
already established in the tradition of man. He is by no means a friend
of reaction; but he can see nothing but peril and foolishness in Mr.
Wells' attempts to construct a new universe out of chaos between two
numbers of a half-crown review. Being, as he is, mystically impressed
with the transitoriness of individual man and the permanence of the
human race, he will not lightly condemn anything that has appeared
useful to many past generations, and he cannot accept the mere charge of
age as a damaging indictment against any human institution.

It is not Mr. Belloc's aim to drive us towards "a world set free." He
does not visualize an ideal state which he would have the world attain.
His whole object is to solve our immediate problems, practically and
usefully, as they may best be solved; that is, by applying to the
present the teachings of the past. He leaves himself open to the
influences of his time: he does not attempt to force the men of his day
into a mould of his own creation. For example, he points to the
distributive state as the happiest political condition to be found in
the Christian era. He sees no safe solution of present problems which
does not involve a return to that state. But he does not indulge in the
foolish exercise of elaborating a ready-made scheme by which the
distributive state may be reinstituted. He is too much of an historian,
too practical a reformer, to be a lover of fantasy.

In _Danton_, Mr. Belloc says:

     A man who is destined to represent at any moment the chief energies
     of a nation, especially a man who will not only represent but lead,
     must, by his nature, follow the national methods on his road to

     His career must be nearly parallel (so to speak) with the direction
     of the national energies, and must merge with their main current at
     an imperceptible angle. It is the chief error of those who
     deliberately plan success that they will not leave themselves
     amenable to such influences, and it is the most frequent cause of
     their failure. Thus such men as arrive at great heights of power
     are most often observed to succeed by a kind of fatality, which is
     nothing more than the course of natures vigorous and original, but,
     at the same time, yielding unconsciously to an environment with
     which they sympathize, or to which they were born.

We believe that society to-day is searching for a fixed morality and a
dogmatic religion. We are seeking to establish once more conventions of
conduct by which we may be ruled: our anxiety is to submit to the
authority of eternal truths.

It is on tradition and authority that the whole of Mr. Belloc's work is
based. He stands already on the heights society is striving to reach.
That his influence on the progress of society towards its goal will be
considerable we may fairly believe; the exact measure of that influence
only the future can determine.

       *       *       *       *       *

                     Printed in Great Britain
                 by Butler & Tanner, Frome and London.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note

The following changes have been made to the text:

Page 6: "blinds all of them" changed to "binds all of them".

Page 13: "leisurely obligarchy" changed to leisurely oligarchy".

Page 20: "crown and best achievment" changed to "crown and best

Page 56: "perusual of the daily newspaper" changed to "perusal of the
daily newspaper".

Page 88 (in this version of the text): In footnote #1 "Mommesn's volume
on the provinces" changed to "Mommsen's volume on the provinces".

Page 119: "freeest humour" changed to "freest humour".

Page 119: "What did he manufactare" changed to "What did he

"Page 129: "liqueurs in caf!é" changed to "liqueurs in the café!."

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