display | more...
A writer-cum-poet-cum-journalist-cum-politician, known for his prolificacy and strong views on religion--and many other topics. Belloc was born in St. Cloud, France (near Paris) in 1870.

Youth and Early Career

Shortly after birth, Hilaire and his sister were forced to emigrate to England due to the onset of the Franco-Prussian War. His mother (a granddaughter of Joseph Priestly) and father joined him two years after, and he spent most of his youth in Birmingham. After graduating from the Oratory School, Belloc spent a short stint in the French Army out of a perceived obligation to his home country. He returned to England and enrolled at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1892.

It was here that Belloc first began to gain a reputation for the steadfastness and radicality of his views. Although a speaker "famed both for brilliance in debate and high energy," President of the Oxford Union, and an honors graduate, Belloc failed to receive a Fellowship position upon gaining his degree. The snub was likely due to the stubbornness and other traits which made him so popular (particularly his staunch Catholicism); he resented this scorning for the rest of his life.

Belloc then went on a lecture tour of America, producing books in the while (A Bad Child's Book of Beasts and Verses and Sonnets, both of 1896). He later returned to England and became a naturalized citizen in 1902, continuing to write novels, essays, and other documents on subjects as varied as satire and military strategy. Around this time, he also joined the Fabian Society, an up-and-coming group of gadfly socialists.

Politics and Later Years

In 1906, Belloc moved to Sussex, a place he would be endeared to for the rest of his life. Shortly after, he ran for South Salford's seat in the House of Commons as a Liberal candidate. Despite the deeply Conservative, Protestant roots of the region, he managed to win, and earn re-election as an Independent in 1910. But later that year he lost in Parliament's general election, and subsequently quit from politics in general.

Some of his more famous works were produced around this time, including 1911's The Party System, which denounced the titular concept (especially in contemporary politics). He had drifted further to the right over the preceding years, and demonstrated this fully with 1912's The Servile State, a scathing critique of progressive welfare programs on the whole. This was likely his most famous work during the era. (Needless to say, his Fabian ties had been thoroughly sundered by this point.)

By now, the Great War was breaking out, and Belloc placed himself firmly on the hawkish side of debate. He wrote for England's War Propaganda Bureau and was the military correspondent for Land and Water, an overnight magazine success. However, tragedy struck during this time; his oldest son, Louis, died while on a Royal Flying Corps mission in August 1918. Though this only compounded the grief felt after the death of his wife Elodie in 1910, he recovered and regained control of a successful writing career after the war's end. World War II, though, proved to be the death knell for Belloc. Another son, Peter, died in combat, and Belloc suffered a debilitating stroke in 1942.

Embittered and crippled, Belloc spent the remaining years of his life doing little to nothing of great substance. He passed away on July 16, 1953.

Views and Works

Hilaire Belloc lived a rich and detailed life, a life that manifested itself clearly in his myriad writings. It is said that after the end of the Franco-Prussian War, Belloc and his family returned to their French house, only to find it utterly pillaged and ransacked by the invading troops. This incident was the foundation for the utter hatred of all things German that Belloc cultivated during his lifespan. When combined with the militarism gained from his years in the French Army and his prevalent religious faith, it produced successes such as his Land and Water editorials, which charged World War I with the religious overtones of faithful England battling the "pagan" German empire.

Belloc's military experience provided the basis for many of his other works. Military biographies poured from his pen, exemplified by his authoring of Napoleon (1932) and Oliver Cromwell (1927). He also chronicled the lives of James II (1928), Richelieu (1930), and Charles II (1940), among others.

Yet these are not the only fields Belloc restricted himself to. In addition to the aforementioned works and genres, Belloc was a novelist of many works (note 1909's A Change in the Cabinet and 1910's Pongo and the Bull). His poetry was well-acclaimed, his lines on the sea gaining recognition as much as his Cautionary Verses of 1940, stanzas which became rote for the children of a generation. As a religious writer, he was equally versed: his pro-Catholic Europe and Faith (1920) is likely his most renowned work to this day (excepting his Oliver Cromwell biography, and perhaps The Servile State).

Journalism, though, was likely his most prolific area, possibly due to its versatility. In its mass quantities of articles and publications, here Belloc was best able to expound on his philosophy of distributism. Supported primarily by himself and G. K. Chesterton, distributism called for a capitalist state, but with the means of production kept from becoming consolidated in the hands of a few titans. Belloc wrote on this and other more reactionary views (such as his opposition to women's suffrage, which he thought would "disturb the relations between the sexes") in publications ranging from the Glasgow Herald to the New York World, and especially The American Review. These media were not only political battlegrounds; Belloc wrote in detail on topography, travel, literary criticism, and several other areas as well. His philosophical battles between several contemporary writers of his time, most famously versus his friend H.G. Wells, were also well-publicized. Given the sheer amount of writing Belloc published in his lifetime, there is little reason to wonder why A. P. Herbert once called him "the man who wrote a library".

With steadfast (if often controversial) views, a strong and original voice to express them, and a fascinating life on which to draw experience from in discussing them, Hilaire Belloc is possibly one of the more interesting and underrecognized English writers of the early 20th century.


This writeup is 95% node what you don't know, so any Belloc scholars or experts are more than welcome to point out ambiguities or underemphasized sections of Belloc's life in this node. Thanks also to the editor/god who tossed out the three-liner above.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.