In 1940 Hilaire Belloc wrote to a friend:
“Old Age is, I do assure you, the most horrible lingering (and incurable) disease ever pupped or calved. It’s funny that the books lie so horribly about it! To read the books one would think that old age was a lovely interlude between the pleasures of this life and the blaze of Beatitude…But the reality is quite other. Old Age is a tangle of Disappointment, Despair, Doubt, Dereliction, Drooping, Debt, and Damnable Deficiency and everything else that begins with a D”.
[How about Delight?}
Hope this cheers you up!
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) was a prominent public figure and literary personality, larger than life, a brilliant debater, a lover of beer and wine (like G. K.Chesterton, who was his great friend) and physically very robust, muscular, an epic walker (he once walked from Paris to Rome, and across much of America) and legendary sailor (his Cruise of the “Nona”,1925, was a bestseller). Sadly, towards the end of his life, he became ill, lonely (beloved wife and two sons dead), and forced to churn out journalism and books for money.
He wrote candidly to Charlotte Balfour after what was probably a minor stroke:
“All my life I have been so strong in body and mind that with this weakness I feel like another person – like a sheep or a wet rag. I cannot recognize myself for being myself, but all misfortune has this good that it helps one to understand other people and their troubles…
But to tell you the truth I am more keen on salvation now, and ultimate repose than Fame… When we are young we are on an adventure and seeking new things and often discovering the right, but when we know how the world is made and what a doom there is on all and what mortality means, we are concerned rather with avoiding the things oppressive and difficult”.
Do you ever feel like this?
ps This didn’t stop him writing lives of William the Conqueror and Charles I in the next few months.
In December 1917 Hilaire Belloc (who had lost a son in the world war then raging) wrote to Wilfred Blunt on hearing of the death of an old friend:
“You agree with me on the impossibility of dealing, not adequately indeed, but at all, with the circumstances that the affections & memories and aims of the human spirit are utterly out of scale with its habitations & limits here. The inequality of lives is the chief mark of that tragic circumstance”.
In one of Hilaire Belloc’s most popular books The Cruise of the Nona (1914) he wrote:
“All that which concerns the sea is profound and final. The sea provides visions, darknesses, revelations… It has rendered remote the cares and wastes of the land; for of all creatures that move and breathe upon the earth we of mankind are the fullest of sorrows. But the sea shall comfort us, and perpetually show us new things and assure us. It is the common sacrament of this world”.
Why was western civilization in dire decline? Hilaire Belloc asked this question and gave his analysis in his book The Crisis of Civilization (1937). He sheets most of the blame to those great historical explosions, the Reformation and the rise of modern capitalism. They together had undermined the moral fabric of Christendom and led to widespread poverty, dependence and wage-slavery, which in turn led to resistance movements such as communism. He urged a return to medieval ideals of community and Christian love.
Click above for Paul’s essay on Belloc.
The ideas of the Catholic thinker Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) may seem dated today, but he does have some relevant points to make. One of the main spiritual evils of capitalism, he argued, was “the increasing contrast between luxury and superfluity on the part of those in economic power, and the indigence or mere subsistence of those economically dependent upon them… Another spiritual evil not to be neglected is the impersonal character running through the whole: the divorce of human personality from production, the lack of a human bond between those who labour and those who profit by their labour; the anonymity of the great corporations under which the wage-earner works, or the remoteness of the individual who commands from those who are commanded”.
Among the material evils of the system are “the inevitable recurring destitution for many and the permanent peril of destitution even for those who are not for the moment suffering it… there is the standardization of life, the increasing lack of choice and diversity in articles produced, the mechanical spirit unnaturally imposed upon the non-mechanical, organic nature of man, and so on” [from Belloc’s The Crisis of Civilization, 1937].
What has changed?
In his 1934 book Broadcast Minds Ronald Knox took on prominent public intellectuals Julian Huxley, Bertrand Russell and others, using his cutting wit and sarcasm to destroy their arguments against Christianity. I have added a section on Broadcast Minds to my essay on Knox (click above). Welcome comments.