Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc was born in 1870 in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, near Paris, of a French father and an English mother. He was called Hilaire after his grandfather, a celebrated painter. His father died when he was a baby. When he was eight years old, his mother suffered financial reverses, and they moved to England. His home in Sussex would become a major influence in his life. He wrote his first poem when he was eight years old. In 1882, he was sent to the Oratory School at Edgbaston, a boarding school. While he did not like school, he nevertheless learned the classics, took parts in Latin plays, and won a prize in his last year. After leaving school, he considered joining the French navy, since he loved sailing, but he studied for only a term at the Collège Stanislas at Paris before finding it too restrictive. He was then apprenticed to a farmer to learn to be a land agent, but that did not work out either. He then turned to journalism and edited a weekly paper called The Lamp, in which some of his early poems appeared. Other early poems appeared in The Irish Monthly and Merrie England.
In 1889, he fell in love with Elodie Hogan, an Irish American visiting Europe with her family and whom he met at his mother’s house. Belloc wanted to marry her, but she returned to California. He followed her to the United States in 1890 and made his way westward laboriously, often on foot, selling sketches to pay his way. Elodie’s mother did not favor the marriage, and Elodie considered becoming a nun. The young woman persuaded Belloc to take the military training required of all French citizens. When he returned east, she sent him a letter refusing his proposal. He did join the Battery of the...
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