Hilaire Belloc by A N Wilson - review by Max Egremont

Max Egremont

Returning Delight

Hilaire Belloc


Hamish Hamiton 398pp £12.95 order from our bookshop

What is Hilaire Belloc remembered for today? Certainly for his children’s verse, a few poems, parts of The Cruise of the Nona, The Path to Rome and The Four Men. Very few of the historical works, novels and political tracts have survived. Most people have a vague idea that his book on the Jews is a distasteful production. We have a hazy picture of the man himself from contemporary memoirs and earlier biographies. A collection of his letters was edited by Robert Speight, a great admirer. The result can be described as a Johnsonian figure, ready to offer an opinion or prejudice on most subjects: a terrific talker, calling for more and yet more wine as he rampages through the still watches of the night. With this too comes the suspicion that he could be tiresome, too insistent and loud. ‘I enjoyed much in Belloc’s visit’, his friend George Wyndham wrote in 1912, ‘but he does tire me. He rejoices in disputation for the sake of disputing, whereas I care for discussion only in so far as it extends the area of possible understanding. And he shouts.’

His Roman Catholicism and French ancestry made Belloc see himself as a European. Yet he had definite ideas for England. ‘The bad business’, he believed, had begun with the Reformation and this consisted of the transfer of power to an aristocratic oligarchy connected, and often in debt to financiers and

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