Hilaire Belloc

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What are the qualities of Hilaire Belloc's prose?

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Hilaire Belloc's prose is light and whimsically witty, making frequent use of rhetorical devices. However, it is also forceful, with the clarity and certitude of absolute conviction.

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Hilaire Belloc is best known for his light verse, but he was also a prolific writer of prose, which shares most of the qualities of his poetry. Belloc's prose is light and witty but almost always has a serious point to make, generally a religious one. Like his friend and collaborator G. K. Chesterton, Belloc is always setting out an argument, even in fiction. In his essays, he is unashamedly rhetorical and uses all the devices of rhetoric to drive home his point, which is often more effective for the employment of humor. It is no accident that one of the most famous lines from Belloc's prose is

All men have an instinct for conflict: at least, all healthy men.

Belloc had a gift for aphorism as well as an instinct for conflict, and his essays are full of pithy, memorable quotations. Taken line by line, it is often difficult to distinguish Belloc's poetry from his prose, since his phrases are so carefully crafted. However, this does not necessarily imply complexity. One of the tricks Belloc learned from Dickens, whom he does not resemble in other ways, was the use of polysyllabic humor to make a short, simple observation stand out in sharp relief from its surroundings. Belloc tended to use this method of stark simplicity to state what he believed to be general truths about humanity. It would be difficult, for instance, to make the following observation more simply and directly than he does:

The moment a man talks to his fellows he begins to lie.

Belloc was a writer with strong religious and political convictions, and his writings always have the ring of certitude. He clearly believes everything he writes and seeks to persuade the reader by any means possible that he is correct.

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