JOSEPH HILAIRE PIERRE BELLOC,
From Catholic Authors
ONE OF THE TRUE LORDS of the
English language, was not an Englishman by birth. His father
was French, his mother was Irish; and when he married, his
bride was an American. But he looked more like the
traditional figure of John Bull than any Englishman could.
He wore a stand-up collar several sizes too large for him.
His rotund head was crowned with a black hat-sometimes tall,
sometimes of the pancake variety. He was big and stocky and
red of face, and a typically British great-coat draped his
beefy form except in the warmest weather.
Hilaire Belloc-he dropped the other appendages at an early
age-was born at La Celle, near Paris, on July 20, 1870. His
father, Louis Swanton Belloc, was well known as a barrister
throughout France. Bessie Rayner Belloc, his mother, was of
Irish extraction. Somewhere in his immediate background was
an infusion of Pennsylvania Dutch blood. His mother, who
lived into her nineties and died in 1914, was a remarkably
intellectual woman, noted as one of the signers of the first
petition ever presented for women's suffrage.
Her son studied at the Oratory School at Edgebaston,
England, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he
matriculated in 1893. In his third year he was Blackenbury
History Scholar and an honor student in the history schools.
Between Oratory School and his matriculation at Oxford,
Belloc served in the French Army, where as a driver in the
Eighth Regiment of Artillery, he was stationed at Toul. It
was from this spot that, years later, he was to set forth on
the pilgrimage afoot to St. Peter's that furnished material
for the book that many critics consider his best,- The Path
In 1903 Belloc became a British subject and in 1906 was
returned to Parliament by the South Salford constituency. He
was a member of the Liberal party in the brilliant House of
Commons created by the Tory debacle of the preceding year.
He made his maiden speech in the House early in 1906 and it
won him an immediate reputation as a brilliant orator. He
had already attracted considerable attention during his
campaign. In the year of his return to Parliament he was
also the nominee of the British Bishops to the Catholic
Belloc's literary career began immediately after Balliol. He
rapidly achieved success as a newspaper and magazine writer
and as a light versifier. His first book, published in the
year of his graduation, was Verses and Sonnets, and this was
followed within a year by The Bad Child's Book of Beasts, in
which his reputation as a master of whimsy was fully
established. One of the most famous in this category starts
The nicest child I ever knew
Was Charles Augustus Fortesque;
He never lost his cap or tore
His stockings or his pinafore;
In eating bread he made no crumbs.
He was extremely fond of sums.
Another, more dire, ballad about an untruthful maiden named
Mathilde was a famous forerunner to the Ogden Nash style of
It happened that a few weeks later
Her aunt was off to the theatre
To see that entertaining play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.
Belloc sat in the House of Commons from 1906 to 1910, but
refused to serve a second term because, in his own words, he
was "weary of the party system," and thought he could attack
politics better from without Parliament than from within.
From that time on he devoted his entire efforts to writing
Belloc's wife, the former Elodie Agnes Hogan of Napa,
California, whom he married in 1896, died in 1914. He never
remarried. His eldest son, Louis, was killed while serving
as a flier in World War I, and his youngest, Peter, a
captain of the Royal Marines, died during World War-II.
Belloc made his home with his elder daughter, Mrs. Eleanor
Jebb, wife of a member of Parliament, in Horsham, Sussex.
Besides Eleanor, he had another daughter, Elizabeth, a poet,
as-well as another son, Hilary, who lives in Canada.
Belloc's sister, Mrs. Marie Belloc Lowndes, also a noted
British writer, died in 1947.
By Pope Pius XI, Belloc was decorated with the Grand Cross
of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1934 for his
services to Catholicism as a writer. In the same year, his
alma- mater, Oxford, conferred upon him the honorary degree
of Master of Arts. He shared with the then British Prime
Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, the distinction of being
the only persons to have their portraits hung in the
National Portrait Gallery while they were alive.
Mr. Belloc visited the United States on many occasions. In
1937 he served as a visiting Professor of History at the
Graduate School of Fordham University in New York. From the
matter of these lectures came his book, The Crisis of
A prolific writer, he was the author of 153 books of essays,
fiction, history, biography, poetry and light verse as well
as a vast amount of periodical literature. He was largely
responsible for G. K. Chesterton's conversion to
Catholicism, and the two of them became ranked as not only
among England's greatest writers but as the most brilliant
lay expounders of Catholic doctrine. The two were also close
friends and frequent collaborators, especially on the
magazine which came to be known as G. K's. Weekly, and in
which they came to wage many a valiant crusade together. As
a critic noted: "To Hilaire Belloc this generation owes big
glimpses of the Homeric spirit. His mission is to flay alive
the humbugs and hypocrites and the pedants and to chant
robust folk-songs to the naked stars of the English world to
a rousing obligato of clinking flagons."
Because of his antagonism to many British sacred cows and
his free and caustic criticism of them, he was not a wholly
popular man in England. Nor did his espousal of the Franco
cause against the Communists during the Spanish civil war
add to his popularity there. But Belloc had never been a man
to purchase popularity at the price of integrity.
Just four days before his eighty-third birthday, while
dozing before the fireplace in his daughter's home, he fell
into the flames and was so badly burned that he died in
hospital at Guildford, Surrey, soon afterward on July 16,
Despite his own prediction to the contrary, his place in
English letters is forever secure, primarily as a poet and
as the author of The Path to Rome.