Hilaire Belloc

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 154

Hilaire Belloc (BEHL-ahk) was a prolific and popular writer of prose. He is identified primarily as a historian and defender of the Roman Catholic religion, but he wrote history, biography, travel, literary criticism, church history and religious doctrine, political theory, and translation, as well as some autobiographical travel books which are difficult to categorize. In all, he wrote more than 150 books, as well as many book reviews and magazine articles. His prose and poetry both show a wide range of themes and forms.

Belloc was one of a number of Catholic writers of the period, including Francis Thompson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Alice Meynell, and G. K. Chesterton. He wrote rebuttals to views of his Church held by the historians Edward Gibbon, H. G. Wells, and George Coulton, but he could also see its imperfections, remarking to a friend that such an institution could not have lasted a fortnight if it had not been divine.


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Although he was a man of letters in many genres, Hilaire Belloc often said in later years that he hoped to be remembered for his poetry. He wrote more than 170 poems in all and was a writer of both light and serious verse. Much of the former was intended for children, but it appealed to adults as well. The first edition of The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts sold out in four days, and four thousand copies were sold in three months. This was followed by other nonsense books which were much praised. The Spectator ranked his satirical and comic verse with that of Edward Lear, and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch commended it.

A volume of Belloc’s serious poetry also appeared in 1896, and it increased in size in succeeding editions. Belloc was said by Desmond McCarthy to be the most underrated of poets. At a dinner in his honor on his sixtieth birthday, Chesterton said that such a ceremony “might have been fitting thousands of years ago at the festival of a great Greek poet,” and that “Belloc’s sonnets and strong verse would remain like the cups and carved epics of the Greeks.”

In later years, his poetry has been generally neglected, although the serious poems include many beautiful works. This neglect is probably the result of three circumstances. First, his themes and forms were traditional and classical rather than avant-garde. Second, his reputation as a prose writer made his poems seem secondary. Third, some of his best poems were not published in his collections of poetry until 1938. This was true of many of his epigrams and of the Juliet poems, which had been privately printed. His “Heroic Poem in Praise of Wine” probably has been his most admired work.


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Corrin, Jay P. G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc: The Battle Against Modernity. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981. Two champions of “democratic anarchy” are juxtaposed as writers and polemicists in an exploration that illuminates both of their careers. Corrin ably demonstrates the near inseparability of intellect and theological commitment of the two allies, while offering good expositions of the histories, fiction, and poetry of the lesser-known Belloc.

Lothian, James R. The Making and Unmaking of the English Catholic Intellectual Community, 1910-1950. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009. Examines Belloc’s role in helping shape the English Catholic intellectual community and his lasting influence.

McCarthy, John Patrick. Hilaire Belloc: Edwardian Radical. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Press, 1978. McCarthy’s concern is to elucidate Belloc’s career as a political conservative who opposes statism and the growing intervention of government in the private lives of individuals. This resourceful volume explains the relationship between Belloc’s politics and economics, and his poetics, while offering an apologia for reading Belloc in the present.

Markel, Michael H. Hilaire Belloc. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Markel provides a sympathetic overview of Belloc’s life and a mostly thorough exposition of his major and minor works. This source is the best starting place for gaining a sense of the breadth of Belloc’s writing career and political commitments. Markel’s bibliography of primary and secondary sources is succinct, but valuable.

Pearce, Joseph. Literary Giants, Literary Catholics. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005. G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc are treated in the first part of this work on Catholic writers in England.

_______. Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002. A biography of Belloc, nicknamed Old Thunder by his mother at birth, that describes a complicated individual. Pearce used previously unavailable manuscripts and photographs in the making of this work and had the help of Belloc’s grandchildren.

Wilson, A. N. Hilaire Belloc. New York: Atheneum, 1984. A renowned novelist and biographer, Wilson provides researchers with an impeccable source of critical biographical material. Using previously unavailable Belloc letters and manuscripts, Wilson places Belloc and his writing within his historical milieu with affection and candor, refusing to ignore the darker side of Belloc’s sympathies with the anti-Semitism of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

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