Belloc Night

“Not all leftists are violent. Some are just harmlessly demented. … Not all deserve to hang. Some could get by with just a thrash or a whipping.”

I applaud this sentiment from one of my more liberal correspondents, in the British Isles. It is a reminder that some things ought to be tolerated, or at least not punished too severely. Though not to punish them at all, might be unconscionable.

As we approach Belloc Night (27th July in Sussex) — when grown men in the environs of King’s Land at Shipley, eat bread, pickles, and cheese, and recite verses from the Cautionary Tales to their children — we are reminded of his sesquicentennial. For on Monday he turns one hundred and fifty; having been dead for only sixty-seven of those years.┬áMagnificent in feuds, excoriating of his contemporary blockheads, he was unlike them driven by his loves. And with a fidelity that brooked no retreat.

Remembered today by the devout as the irascible half of our prize debating team, they prefer Chesterton, who balanced on the angelic side. But Saint Michael is also an angel. They did a travelling show together, this “Chesterbelloc,” against G. B. Shaw and H. G. Wells, prominent secularists of their day (and in person, blackguards). Today it would be YouTubed, and only 179 Catholics would watch; but in its time it attracted large and lively audiences. All four were masters of the English language. Today, the illiterates may sue you even for using the word, “masters.”

Biographies may be read by the enlightened skinhead, Joseph Pearce, the despicable A. N. Wilson, and the beloved James Schall. But what we need most is to return to Belloc’s own works of history; his wanders in both space and time. They are never shallow. That he is sneered at by the perfessional historians, is what he might have expected, for his comprehension of these “other worlds” defies the anachronism in which most contemporary histories are grounded. He can understand the motives of generations long past, and of their great men, including the blackguards. And while, to our narrowness, he is politically incorrect, it is because he loves, and therefore hates error.

It was Belloc who explained, to the uncomprehending world of more than a century ago, when Imperialism was still working, that the Muslims weren’t dead yet; that we had failed to box them in the Crusades, and the warmth of their faith in Allah could still triumph over our tepid faith in Christ. By being far behind his own times, he remains well ahead of ours. The Church he loved most of all, but with a love consistently unblinkered; the Reformation he hated most, but with a roaring affection for all English things, such as only a man could feel who was half-French, and really pan-European.

Poor, he had all his life to work for a living, so when asked why he wrote so much he replied, “Because my children are howling for pearls and caviar.”

A poet in his grasp of smallest detail, he winks at the reader in the midst of his storms. But he is no storm-trooper. He reserves his strongest blows for the censorious. A man of extraordinary stamina, until finally cut down into a nursing home, he walked everywhere, when not sailing in a yacht, and with his own eyes saw the indefatigable beauty amid all the world’s sorrows.

Often people who stand their ground, get away with it. This is one of those little-known facts. Yet we have martyrs enough to demonstrate that “standing tall” does not assure biological survival. We must fight for our beliefs in the fullest range of ways, and take our lumps as they come to us.

In our present Culture War, we must stand with Belloc. Let us see what we can get away with, until we can’t any more.