Robert Hickson

30 May 2013 Feast of Corpus Christi Saint Joan of Arc

The Intellectual Magnanimity of Chesterton and Belloc’s Humor

Epigraphs: “ It [the revolt of the 1660 English Restoration] accounts also for the return of the virtue of politeness, for that is also a nameless thing ignored by logical codes. Politeness has about it something mystical; like religion , it is everywhere understood and nowhere defined....He [Charles II, the King] let himself float on this new tide of politeness....His name is unconnected with any great acts of duty or sacrifice, but it is connected with a great many of those acts of magnanimous politeness....which lie on the dim borderland between morality and art.” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, pp. 90-91—my emphasis added) *** “His [Thomas Carlyle’s] view... is, on the contrary, that human nature is so chivalrous and fundamentally magnanimous a thing that even the meanest have it in them to love a leader more than themselves, and to prefer loyalty to rebellion. When he speaks of this trait in human nature, Carlyle’s tone invariably softens. We feel that for the moment he is kindled with admiration of mankind, and almost reaches the verge of Christianity.” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, p. 118—my emphasis added) *** “It is the same with the parody of Charlotte Brontë....The triumph of [both] the Brontës [was] the triumph of asserting that great mysteries lie under the surface of the most sullen life, and that the most real part of a man is in his dreams. This kind of parody is for ever removed from the purview of ordinary American humour....Mark Twain, that admirable author....would yield to the spirit of contempt which destroys parody. All those who hate authors fail to satirise them, for they always accuse them of the wrong faults.” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, p. 185—my emphasis added) *** “What would he [King Alfred the Great] have said if he had known that the science of letters which he taught to England would eventually be used not to spread truth, but to drug people with political assurances as imbecile in themselves as the assurance that fire does not burn and water does not drown?” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, p. 205—my emphasis added) *** 1

“Queen Victoria....knew that Acts of Parliament, even bad Acts of Parliament, do not destroy nations. But she knew that ignorance, ill-temper, tyranny, and officiousness do destroy nations, and not upon any provocation would she set an example in these things.... This sense of proportion, this largeness and coolness of intellectual magnanimity is one of the thousand virtues of Queen Victoria of which the near future will stand most in need.” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, pp. 227-228—my emphasis added) *** “Mrs. [Elizabeth Barrett] Browning and her husband were more liberal than most Liberals. Theirs was a hospitality of the intellect and the hospitality of the heart, which is the best definition of the term .” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, p. 267—my emphasis added) *** “Most of us [amidst an occupying—or colonizing—alien influx of incommensurate cultures] have come across the practical problem of London landladies, the problem of the doubtful foreign gentleman in a street of respectable English people. Those who have done so can form some idea of what it would be like to live in a street full of doubtful foreign gentlemen, in a parish, in a city, in a nation composed entirely of doubtful foreign gentlemen.” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, p. 193) *** “Not even the most glittering, shifting and opalescent Opalstein, changing his [foreign] name for the tenth time , ever seems to change it to Chaucer. I suspect that there is in this fact some faint shadow of something already noted here; something that is not exactly neglect, but is in a sense negligence. I mean that vague popular feeling that poor old Chaucer is a joke;...and [it is thus] possibly a partial reason for their failure [and for the failure of Opalstein?] to claim or cling to his name .” (G.K. Chesterton, Chaucer, pp. 80-81—my emphasis added) *** “He [General Castelnau, 1851-1944] seemed to belong to a nobler epoch than ours, to be a native of the age of chivalry, of that time when Louis IX, who is known a Saint Louis, dispensed justice under a spreading oak-tree. He had the easy familiarity, the slight play of kindly irony, the little ripple of humour, the keen glance, the foresight and forethought, that politesse du coeur, that complete remoteness from what is common, mean, base, self-seeking, which are the foundation and substance of God’s gentlemen .” (Maurice Baring, R.F.C. H.Q.—1914-1918 (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920) p. 273— my emphasis added)

*** 2

On this manifold Sacred Feast Day, we propose to offer a perhaps unexpected, but quite illuminating contrast with the honored historical figure of Saint Joan of Arc, Virgin 1—who was killed by the English at nineteen years of age in 1431. And thus we shall now consider another vivid, but very different sort of woman in literary history, as distinct from religious or political history: herself being a fictional character of English literature. This unforgettably voluble and comparably full-blooded, larger-than-life woman—Lady Alice, the Wife of Bath—is also, in G.K. Chesterton’s droll and discerningly sympathetic words, “the great professional widow of literature.” 2 Yet she is shown to have had no children. Moreover, Chesterton’s compassionately comic rendition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s own subtle presentation of her (and her final pathos) shows us his own pervasive quality of generosity and intellectual magnanimity, both of which he so often and so gratefully admired in others, to include in his friend Hilaire Belloc. (For, Belloc was also a widower, but not childless, being a father of five children, and two of his sons were to be lost in two separate World Wars, after the earlier death of their mother on 2 February 1914.) The Wife of Bath herself, Chesterton artfully adds, explained to her audience on the road to Canterbury that, “on the whole Virginity is not her vocation.” (254—my emphasis added) (She had already buried four husbands and was married to a fifth, but had no intention, as she implied, of stopping there! “On the whole,” at least, she would go on with husbands!) Geoffrey Chaucer, who died in 1400, some three decades before Saint Joan’s death as a Virgin, unforgettably depicts in his unfinished literary masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, this robust, oft-married, and yet always “sovereignty-seeking” woman. Always desiring “governance” in her own case, she wanted all “housbondes” to “be governed by hir [their] wyves.” (For she seems to have been a little shaky about Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and especially Chapter 5!) As we have already seen, rather late in his own life (at age sixty-two, four years before he was himself to die), G.K. Chesterton had published an appreciative and affectionate book on the magnanimous medieval poet, Geoffrey Chaucer. The book was modestly entitled Chaucer (1932), and
1 Saint Joan is officially commemorated by the Catholic Church as a Virgin, but not as a Virgin Martyr, for it is so that some ecclesiastical authorities have decisively concluded that she was killed primarily for temporal issues and political reasons, and not especially or uniquely because of her Faith. 2 G.K. Chesterton, Chaucer (London: Faber and Faber, 1932), pp. 83, 254. He also says, apropos of the Wife of Bath, that “Widowhood was really tragic, which is why kings and knights swore specially to defend the widow and orphan.”


in this book he also displayed much of his own easy and magnanimous humor and irony, along with frequent light touches of telling satire, too. For example, as when he charms us with his understated insertions or parenthetical comments about intellectually ill-equipped, yet loquaciously pretentious, aristocrats—as when there came upon John of Gaunt “a faint coolness creeping over his sympathy,” (57) after the riotous Heretics he had unthinkingly courted burned his own house down!—or Chesterton’s graceful exposures of some of those learned scholars of unimaginative or constricted pedantry who were also bereft of pietas, as well as common sense. Almost thirty years earlier, in 1905, Chesterton had published a book called Varied Types,3 in which he again included an important, earlier-published chapter on the eighteenth-century Catholic Poet, Alexander Pope. It is in that chapter that Chesterton so discerningly discusses the importance of generosity and a certain “intellectual magnanimity” in the writing of great satire. And shortly we shall more closely consider these insights. For these standards, first so memorably articulated when he was just under thirty years of age, remained then important throughout his life. After Chesterton had in 1900 first met his great friend, Hilaire Belloc, he saw how genuinely he overflowed with good things, and with glowing generosity and intellectual magnanimity, even in his varied satires and songs. Belloc had then already written The Modern Traveler (1898) and many of his playful nineteenth-century, and often charmingly satirical, children’s verses—resulting over the later years in his complete and illustrated edition of Cautionary Verses;4 and Belloc would also go on to write such comic prose masterpieces, thus with a fine “comic catharsis,” as The Mercy of Allah (1922)5 and such artful essays as “A Few Kind Words for Mammon” (1923). Recently, and unexpectedly, I have been helped to discover what turned out to be a variant
3 G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types (New York: Dodd and Mead and Company, 1905). Three years earlier, in 1902, Chesterton had first published his chapter on “Alexander Pope and the Art of Satire,” in his Twelve Types (London: Arthur L. Humphreys, 1902), that is, only two years after first (and so unforgettably) meeting Hilaire Belloc in a Soho Pub in London. In the expanded text of Varied Types (1905), Chesterton has retained the same Table of Contents and the same sequence of treatment as is to be found in Twelve Types (1902), except that he has now added seven new chapters on an even wider variety of largely sympathetic characters: on Bret Harte, Alfred the Great, Maeterlinck, Queen Victoria, the German Emperor, Tennyson, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, respectively. 4 The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts, More Beasts for Worse Children, and A Moral Alphabet were first published between the years 1896 and 1899, but became more inclusive in the final, complete version of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941), 407 pages. 5 In the same year of 1922, Hilaire Belloc first published his farsighted and compassionate book, entitled The Jews (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922), where he ends his three-page Preface with these well-proportioned and lucid words: “I could have made this book far stronger as a piece of polemic and infinitely more amusing as a piece of record, but I have not written it as a piece of polemic or as a piece of record. I have written it as an attempt at justice.” (p. ix.—my emphasis added)


manuscript of one of Hilaire Belloc’s earlier Sonnets. This short verse was notably not included in his posthumously published Complete Verse (1954 and 1970) and is apparently little known—except to attentive readers of Belloc’s dear friend, Maurice Baring—the Sonnet being likely written around the year 19086 and in resistance to some great personified enemies (and a few adventitious political colleagues, too). That is to say, it targeted not Mammon in this case; but, rather, Ennui, Spiritual Sloth, Humbug, Mendacity, and a Squalid Oligarchy itself. This sonnet, as even the title indicates, was composed in the House of Commons while our Belloc, as himself a Member of Parliament, was, selfconfessedly, in a state of low spirits. Indeed, he was very demoralized and even in a mood of “dejection,” as he indicates. But, his short verse is nevertheless full of energy and high-mindedness, even when dealing with a dull and viscous and seemingly futile situation; and where there also appeared to be operating, on the outside, both a powerful Alien Press and a powerful, often hidden, Financial Power, a “power above the power,” as it were, above the political power of the British House of Commons. “Le pouvoir sur le pouvoir,” in the words of the Frenchman, Jacques Attali. And we shall come to consider this trenchant Sonnet more closely—especially Maurice Baring’s transcription—after we first examine Chesterton’s important chapter on “Pope and the Art of Satire.” Chesterton leads us, with his own exquisite “politesse du coeur,” into his deeper reflections on magnanimity by saying: But certainly antithesis [in a poetic line, as in the disciplined, rhymed couplets of a classic satire] is not artificial. An element of paradox runs through the whole of existence itself. It begins in the realm of ultimate physics and metaphysics, in two facts that we cannot imagine a space that is infinite, and that we cannot imagine a space that is finite [or a mathematical point which is infinite and yet indivisible]. It [the “element of paradox”] runs through the inmost complications of divinity, in that we [in our imperfection] cannot conceive that Christ in the wilderness was truly pure, unless we also conceive [falsely, like Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ] that he desired to sin. [That is, as if Christ, too, like us, had a Fallen Human Nature with its disordered concupiscences and sinful propensities.] It runs, in the same manner, through all the minor matters of morals, so that we cannot imagine courage existing except in conjunction with fear, or magnanimity existing except in conjunction with some temptation to meanness . (46—my
6 Hilaire Belloc was an elected Member of Parliament, serving (and surviving) in the House of Commons from 19061910; and, though he was re-elected again in 1910, he chose, rather, to decline and, instead, to depart that political institution. He subsequently wrote additional books, both fiction and non-fiction, on that Institution and related themes. The non-fictional ones included, for example: The Party System (co-authored by Cecil Chesterton) (1911); The Free Press (1918) and The House of Commons and Monarchy (1920), as well as The Jews (1922).


emphasis added)7 Then rendering his own specific tribute to the disciplined poetical accomplishments of Alexander Pope, Chesterton says: Pope was really a great poet; he was [like Virgil at an earlier time in Rome] the last great poet of civilisation. Immediately after the fall of him and his school come Burns and Byron, and the reaction towards the savage and the elemental. But to Pope civilisation was still an interesting experiment . Its [distinctive customs, dance, dress, and literary genres] ...were to him... the real romance of civilisation. And in all the forms of art which peculiarly belong to civilisation, he was [like Virgil] supreme. In one especially he was supreme—the great and civilised art of satire. And in this we have fallen away utterly. [For,] we have had a great revival in our time [as of 1902, that is, and just after the Boer War; and not many years before the frenzies of World War I and its embittering aftermath] of the cult of violence and hostility....[with] an infinite number of furious epithets [and “party invectives”] with which to overwhelm anyone who differs from them....And yet, despite all this, these people produce no satire. Political and social satire is a lost art, like pottery and stained glass. It may be worth while to make some attempt to point out a reason for this . (47-48—my emphasis added) Writing as a twenty-eight-year old man in 1902, G.K. Chesterton now presents some articulate and astonishingly profound insights, insights which are themselves marked by generosity and magnanimity: It may seem a singular observation to say that we are not generous enough to write great satire. This, however, is approximately a very accurate way [sic] of describing the case. To write great satire, to attack a man so that he feels the attack and half acknowledges its justice , it is necessary to have a certain intellectual magnanimity which realises the merits of the opponent as well as his defects. This is, indeed, only another way of putting the simple truth that in order to attack an army we must know not only its weak points, but also its strong points. (48—my emphasis added) Moreover, Chesterton thought that England “in the present season and spirit” (48)—after the unjust Boer War—“fails in satire for the simple reason its fails in war: it despises the enemy.” (48— my emphasis added) And this point is so important to Chesterton (and to us still today) that we must hear his further elaborations:

7 G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1905), p. 46. All further page references to “Pope and the Art of Satire” are from this same edition, and will be placed in parentheses in the main body of the text above.


In matters of battle and conquest we [English] have got firmly rooted in our minds the idea (an idea fit for the philosophers of Bedlam) that we can best trample on a people by ignoring all the particular merits which give them a chance of trampling upon us. It has become a breach of etiquette to praise the enemy; whereas, when the enemy is strong, every honest scout [or reconaissance patrol] ought to praise the enemy. It is impossible to vanquish an army without having a full account of its strength. It is impossible to satirise a man without having a full account of his virtues. (48-49—my emphasis) Moving from the conventional and strictly military realm of the arts of war, Chesterton takes us also into the formally political realm, and the abuse of language there: It is too much the custom in politics to describe a political opponent as utterly inhuman, as utterly careless of the country, as utterly cynical, which no man has been since the beginning of the world. This kind of invective may often have great superficial success: it may hit the mood of the moment; it may raise excitement and applause; it may impress millions. But there is one man among all those millions whom it does not impress, whom it hardly ever touches; that is the man against whom it is directed. The one person for whom it is the whole object of the institution of satire to reach. He knows that such a description is not true. (49) Even though such a man may know, in truth, that he is not so “utterly barbarous and revengeful,” (49) for example, and that he “can count...as many hours of decent work and responsibility as any other ordinary man,” (50), he does have moral culpabilities nonetheless, Chesterton noted: But behind all this [just effort of resistance or self-exculpation] he has his real weaknesses, the real ironies of his soul: behind all these ordinary merits lie the mean compromises, the craven silences, the sullen vanities, the secret brutalities, the unmanly visions of revenge . It is to these that satire should reach if it is to touch the man [or institution] at whom it is aimed. And to reach these it must pass and salute a whole army of virtues . (50—my emphasis added) Praising other of “the great English satirists of the seventeenth and eigtheenth centuries, for example,” (50) like John Dryden (d. 1700) and his great biblical satire, “Absalom and Achitophel” (1681), Chesterton finds that “they [and specifically Dryden] had this rough, but firm, grasp of the size and strength, the value and the best points of their adversary.” (50). Indeed, Dryden, before hewing Achitophel [the False Counsellor and Insidious Inciter of Young Absalom to revolt against his father, King David] in pieces, gives a splendid and spirited account of the insane valour and inspired cunning of “the 7

daring pilot in extremity” who was more untrustworthy in calm than in storm, and “Steered too near the rocks to boast his wit.” The whole is, so far as it goes, a sound and picturesque version of the great Shaftesbury [the powerful Anti-Catholic, Protestant Earl of Shaftesbury (d.1683) who tried to block the Catholic Succession of James, Duke of York, to the English Kingship after his brother, Charles II, died]. (50-51—my emphasis added) Then, our Chesterton makes his capital point once again, but in slightly different words: And here [by contrast to Dryden and Pope] we have the cause of the failure of contemporary satire, that it has no magnanimity, that is to say, no patience . It cannot endure to be told that its opponent has his strong points , just as Mr. Chamberlain could not endure to be told that the Boers had a [disciplined] regular army. It can be content with nothing except persuading itself that its opponent is utterly bad or utterly stupid—that he is what he is not and what nobody else is. (51-52—my emphasis added) In these high-minded words, Chesterton also shows his own generosity and deep charity, and he soon summarizes another cluster of his insights by saying that “We might be angry at the [abovementioned] libel, but not at the [just] satire: for a man is angry at a libel because it is false, but [angry] at a satire because it is true.” (53—my emphasis added) Anticipating also our Hilaire Belloc’s own potent satires, Chesterton recommends, for example, that people should “go quietly and read [Alexander] Pope’s ‘Atticus’ [his deft satire of the formidable Joseph Addison]” and thus “they would see how a great satirist approaches a great enemy” (53)—even one of great and intimidating power, being, moreover, effectively immune from any criticism, and thereby inclining and subtly prompting others to impose upon themselves henceforth their own fearful and craven “self-censorship.” But not Hilaire Belloc. As will be confirmed by a short article about him, quoting his satire. In August of 1958, five years after Belloc’s death, there appeared an illuminating tribute to him in a little Catholic journal, called The Point.8 Two paragraphs of that roughly four-page article, which also contrasts Hilaire Belloc with another Catholic author, Monsignor Ronald A. Knox— Belloc’s “compatriot and contemporary”—will be especially helpful to us now, because they speak of
8 The Point was a publication of the Saint Benedict Center, then still in Still River, Massachusetts; and the Archives of that somewhat short-lived journal may nonetheless still be retrieved in and through the abiding Electronic Journal of the Saint Benedict Center in Richmond, New Hampshire: on their excellent website at Catholicism.org—the Editor being the Prior, Brother André Marie. It was this website which first enabled me to find the August 1958 article, “A Tribute to Belloc.”


Belloc’s own four years in the House of Commons and what he dared to write about that institution: From his first entrance into the public arena, Belloc made it clear where his allegiance lay. Standing for election to Parliament in 1906, he opened his campaign by announcing to the mainly Protestant voters: “Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible I go to Mass every day. This is a Rosary. As far as possible I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.” Belloc was elected and re-elected in 1910. But when a cabinet crisis necessitated an additional balloting that year, Belloc decided to leave Parliament for more fruitful fields. He had learned some valuable lessons during his four years as a legislator, and left a memorial of his stay in the form of a Sonnet Written in Dejection in the House of Commons .9 “Sonnet Written in the House of Commons in Dejection” [The Full Manuscript Version at Brown University] (by Hilaire Belloc, M.P.) Good God, the boredom! Oh my Lord in Heaven Strong Lord of Life, the nothingness and void of Percy Gattock, Henry Murgatroyd, Lord Arthur Fenton and Sir Philip Bevan, And Mr. Palace! It is nearly seven; My head’s a buzz, my soul is clammed and clayed [cloyed?], My stomach’s sick and all myself’s annoyed, Nor any breath of truth such lies to leaven. No question, issue, principle or right; No wit, no argument nor no disdain: No hearty quarrel: morning noon and night The dead old vulgar fossil drags its train; The while three journalists and twenty Jews Do with the country anything they choose.10
9 “A Tribute to Belloc” was posted by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the Saint Benedict Center in Richmond, New Hampshire on 27 June 2005, and may be found here: http://catholicism.org/belloc-tribute.html. 10 Notice well for now the title of this Manuscript Version of the entire Sonnet, only the last six lines of which were given in The Point’s 1958 article. Moreover, that article cited no source. But, through the kindness of a friend in Virginia, this entire Sonnet was discovered to be at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, specifically in the John Buchan Collection, labeled as Manuscript 2012.011. In this Brown University Manuscript, the first eight lines, or two quatrains, are also present, and the last six lines (the sestet) are identical to those also quoted in 1958 in The Point. Though Belloc’s Sonnet is publicly listed in the Brown Library’s electronic holdings, the manuscript itself was not so easy to locate, because it was kept in a separate section, apart from the main John Buchan Collection, in an “offsite annex” as the librarians explicitly told me. Therefore, it took over a month to receive a one-page xeroxed copy of this Belloc Sonnet, not handwritten, but, rather, typed out on an old typewriter (as it appears), and signed by Belloc personally as an “M.P.”—“Member of Parliament.” However, there is no date on the Manuscript, which would have been a helpful fact.


The reader may have already noticed that the Manuscript (Typescript) Version from Brown University has a slightly different word order in the Sonnet’s Title, that is to say, different from the title given in the well-informed article from The Point. We may well wonder why that is so. Moreover, as mentioned above, The Point chose to quote only the last six lines of the Sonnet, saying only: “It concludes with the following sestet.” A reader may wonder why the previous eight lines—actually two quatrains—were not also given. These seeming anomalies led the current writer (with the indispensable help of his scholarly wife) to discover in the 1922 Autobiography of Maurice Baring some important additional facts and some very moving facts, as well. Moreover, Maurice Baring’s own transcription of Belloc’s Sonnet has a variation or two not found in the Brown University Manuscript, especially a slight modification of the forceful (perhaps legally dangerous) last line of the second quatrain as it now stands in the undated Manuscript in the John Buchan Collection, as cited above, namely: “Nor any breath of truth such lies to leaven.” (my emphasis added) For, as we shall see, Baring’s version has “lees” instead of “lies.” To leaven the lees, therefore, means (now in the prose word order): “Nor any breath of truth to leaven the dregs”—which is not an honorific image either, but it is not as strong or as dangerous as to say: “Nor any breath of truth to leaven the lies.” Phonetically, if not semantically, “lees” (dregs) and “lies” are easily related, one being a little more concrete and even euphemistic. In his own memorable 1922 autobiography, The Puppet Show of Memory,11 this is what Maurice Baring, Hilaire Belloc’s beloved friend, now more fully and so revealingly reports: I stayed in Russia all that autumn and winter [of 1907], and I saw the opening of the third Duma [after the 1905 Revolution], and arrived in London in the middle of December. I was no longer correspondent in St. Petersburg, but I worked in London at journalism, and in the summer of 1908, together with Hilary Belloc, I edited and printed a newspaper, which had only one number, called The North Street Gazette....The newspaper was written entirely by Belloc, myself, and Raymond Asquith, who wrote the correspondence.... It was to be supported by subscribers. We received quite a number of subscriptions, but we never brought out a second number , and we returned the cheques to the subscribers. The North Street Gazette had the following epigraph: “Out, out, brief scandal!” and opened with the following statement of aims and policy [the first and third of many amusing points being, as follows]: “The North Street Gazette is a journal written for the rich by the poor....The North Street Gazette will fearlessly expose all public scandals save those which happen to be lucrative to the proprietors, or whose
11 Maurice Baring, The Puppet Show of Memory (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1922), 457 pages, inclusive of the detailed Index (pp. 439-457). The pages 390-396 are especially important in this context of Satire and the Catholic Faith.


exposure might in some way damage them or their intimate friends.”12 Three further-clarifying paragraphs by Baring will help us to focus more adequately on Belloc’s originally published Sonnet—though we regret passing over so many delightful pages! After presenting these trustworthy pieces of historical evidence, deep friendship and comic tonality, it will be fitting, then, to give Maurice Baring’s own, perhaps “safely” edited, transcription of Belloc’s Sonnet: The newspaper [i.e., The North Street Gazette] ended with a sonnet written in the House of Commons by Belloc, and by a [humorous] correspondence column written by Raymond Asquith—both of which items I transcribe. This correspondence is, I think, the most brilliant of Raymond Asquith’s ephemera.... The North Street Gazette died after its first number, but it was perhaps the indirect begetter of another newspaper, that had a longer life, The Eye Witness, which in its turn begat The New Witness. The Eye Witness was edited at first by Belloc, and then by Cecil Chesterton [whom Baring rather strongly disliked and distrusted for his recklessness and harshness]. Cecil Chesterton edited The New Witness until he went as a private soldier to France to fight in the war and to die. The editorship was then taken over by his brother Gilbert [i.e., by G.K. Chesterton].13 Now comes the poet Maurice Baring’s ostensibly exact and full transcription of Hilary Belloc’s Sonnet from the first and last issue, in 1908, of The North Street Gazette: “Sonnet Written in Dejection in the House of Commons. “GOOD GOD, the boredom! Oh, my Lord in Heaven, Strong Lord of Life, the nothingness and void Of Percy Gattock, Henry Murgatroyd, Lord Arthur Fenton, and Sir Philip Bevan, And Mr. Palace! It is nearly seven; My head’s a buzz, my soul is clammed and cloyed, My stomach’s sick and all myself’s annoyed Nor any breath of truth such lees [or lies?] to leaven. No question, issue, principle, or right; No wit, no argument, nor no disdain: No hearty quarrel: morning, noon, and night The old, dead, vulgar fossil drags its train; The while three journalists and twenty Jews
12 Ibid., pp. 390-391—my emphasis added. The Epigraph is a Parody of Macbeth’s soliloquy,“ Out, out, brief candle!” 13 Ibid., pp. 393 and 395—my emphasis added.


Do with the country anything they choose.”14 Is this Sonnet not a fitting verse to be published in a further-expanded edition of Hilaire Belloc’s Complete Verse (1970)? A magnanimous editor, like Baring or G.K.C, would accept it, I think. CODA Another Catholic poet, John Dryden (d. 1700), greatly admired his own Catholic poetic predecessor, Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400), and used a fine archaic phrase to give a summary praise of his versatile and manifold qualities: “God’s good foison.” That is to say, “God’s good abundance.” Three hundred years later, John Dryden also showed these substantial gifts and good fruits, and during a very difficult time for any Roman Catholic in England. All things considered, to include the difficult context and cumulative provocation of Belloc’s House-of-Commons Sonnet, it is thus fitting to conclude with the famous beginning lines of Dryden’s Mock Heroic, Epic Biblical Satire, “Absalom and Achitophel,” a parable about that Chosen People who also killed their own Prophets: In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin Before polygamy was made a sin; When man on many multiplied his kind, Ere one to one was cursedly confin’d; When nature prompted, and no law denied Promiscuous use of concubine and bride; Then Israel’s monarch [King David] after Heaven’s own heart, His vigorous warmth did, variously, impart To wives and slaves; and, wide as his command, Scatter’d his Maker’s image thro’ the land.... With secret joy indulgent David view’d His youthful image in his son [Absalom] renew’d:.... Thus prais’d and and lov’d the noble youth [Absalom] remain’d, While David, undisturb’d, in Sion reign’d. But life can never be sincerely blest: Heav’n punishes the bad, and proves [tests] the best. The Jews, a headstrong, moody, murm’ring race, As ever tried th’ extent and stretch of grace; God’s pampered people, whom, debauch’d with ease, No king could govern, nor no God could please; (Gods they had tried of every shape and size, That god-smiths could produce, or priests devise:) These Adam-wits, too fortunately free, Began to dream they wanted [lacked] liberty;.... And David’s mildness manag’d it so well, The bad found no occasion to rebel.
14 Ibid., p. 393.


But when to sin our bias’d nature leans, The careful Devil is still at hand with means; And providently pimps for ill desires. (Lines 1-10; 30-31; 41-52; and 77-81—my emphasis added) After Dryden’s exemplary satirical verse, and after savoring in this essay, as well, so many encouraging insights from the young G.K. Chesterton, especially in his books of 1902 and 1905—eight years (or five) before the generous Belloc himself, in dejection, justly (and with a sense of futility) left the House of Commons—we may fittingly now complete our conclusion: first, with a revealing personal note from Chesterton (written in 1916) about his initial and abiding impressions after first meeting Belloc in London (in 1900); and, then, by presenting two farewell, resilient and representative Chesterton quotations (again from 1902), both of which are marked by Chesterton’s own pure tones: tones of inimitable generosity and magnanimity: “When I first met Belloc [in 1900] he remarked to the friend who first 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 a glowing track of good things ....I mean things that are good....[Thus,] 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 men of my time....What he brought into our dream was this Roman appetite for reality and reason for action, and when he came into [through] the door there entered with him the smell of danger .” (Herbert Van Thal, Belloc: A Biographical Anthology, 1970, p. 41 and pp. vii and ix—my emphasis added)15 *** “It is strange that men should see sublime inspiration in the ruins of an old church and see none in the ruins of a man.” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, p. 99—my emphasis added)) *** “The faculty of being shy is the first and most delicate of the powers of enjoyment. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of pleasure.” (G.K. Chesterton, Varied Types, p. 10—my emphasis added)

© 2013 Robert D. Hickson
15 G.K. Chesterton’s own six-page 1916 Introduction to the book, Hilaire Belloc: The Man and His Work (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd, 1916) by C. Creighton Mandell and Edward Shanks is very moving as well as eloquently informative, and can be read in its entirety, on pp. vii-xii. Therein Chesterton vividly expresses his other initial and abiding impressions of the capacious and magnanimous Belloc, who was so soon to become his lifelong intimate friend.


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