I should forget the vileness of my own times, and renew for some days the better freedom of, that vigorous morning when men were erect, articulate, and worshipping God. --- Hilaire Belloc
Regardless of where we may individually stand with regard to Hilaire Belloc’s economic, historical, and political positions --- I, personally, would say that I am one with the positions he took in the middle and late part of his career --- there is something about the Bellocian persona, his love of wine, his experiences at sea, his rambunctious disregard for bourgeois sensibility (we think of his “drunken” encounter with William and Henry James), that makes us hanker for a liberated society (i.e., liberated from modern “liberty”) in which our own Bellocian personalities could emerge with all of its life affirming power. We too would like to jump into a swimming pool in full evening dress. Somehow, it would make us complete.
What is it about the Bellocian persona which still appeals to contemporary men? I would venture that the “Bellocian Man” appeals to readers of this work, because there was something about his view of the Created Order that answers some of the deepest yearnings our heart and offers a potential healing, in the form of unification, to minds “bifurcated” into a functioning “religious self” and a “everyday self” in the apostate, commercialist, and technological world. He, also, testifies to the necessity, felt by many in the traditionalist Christian community, of restoring nature in Man so that the supernatural will have a fitting object to perfect. “Restoring nature,” here, means returning to the anima naturaliter Christiana, a soul predisposed to the reception of grace; returning to that soul that has the body as its co-principle in all that it does and experiences.
What we have spoken of as the “Bellocian Man” is really only Man as he was understood by the Universal Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. It was this Thomistic Man that was the embodiment of the balanced Catholic Man of body and soul, natural and redeemed, which emerged in Western Europe during the great centuries of Christendom.
How exactly “Thomistic”? To explain this, there is no better place to turn than Belloc’s 1912 book The Four Men and the reflections made on that text by Frederick Wilhelmsen in his 1954 monograph entitled, Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man. In The Four Men we find a book whose story extends over the course of 4 days, October 29th to November 2nd. It is fitting that the story passes through All Hallow’s Eve to the Day of All Souls, since the whole book is pervaded with a certain “earth-sadness,” an almost pagan prescience of the passing of things. The story takes place in the countryside that Belloc knew of as home, the South English countryside, the land of Sussex. In the beginning of a story permeated with a certain autumnal gloom, “Myself,” who is most certainly meant to express the persona of Belloc himself, sits in the inn George, “drinking that port of theirs and staring at the fire.” Moved by the thoughts of his youth and his love of the River Arun, he arouses himself and resolves to be off and to see his home again. It is within this context of “returning home” that he meets 3 characters that are both expressions of Belloc’s own character, along with being 3 Classical manifestations of the character of Western Christian Man as he used to be. In The Four Men, Myself is joined by an old man, but one vigorous enough to accompany the 3 younger men across the countryside of Sussex. Myself and “Grizzlebeard,” as he agrees to be called, are joined by a Sailor, a profound realist and a fellow in the full flood of life, who shows this by being a singer of songs. The company is completed by a Poet, a man of visions and no money. They pass through the Sussex weald regaling one another with stories and songs and speak about the “Worst and Best Thing in the World.”
What is happening on one level in The Four Men is clearly Belloc’s own attempt at a medieval allegory. The three fellow-travelers are all archetypes expressive of one aspect of Classical Western Man. Grizzlebeard is the man of wisdom, full of ancient lore, singing dirges of the race and of the passing of youth. He is custodian of the household gods, he stands for order, historical continuity, and he views existence with a realism born of age and worldly insight. He is Tradition embodied. The Sailor is the adventurer in all men. He is the romantic who revels in his communion with the physical universe. The Poet, lean in body and ragged in appearance, is a man who is immersed in his visions and not at home in the material world of practicality. He belongs to the eternal company of Poets and Seers. He sees visions and dreams dreams.
What is most interesting about these 3 fellow-travelers is the fact that they are meant to be partial manifestations of the life and personality of Myself. They are “Other” and, yet, through their otherness we come to know Belloc himself. Philosophically speaking, it is the encounter with Otherness (i.e., the other made into a philosophical theme), which is the great question in modern philosophy. When Frederick Wilhemsen wrote his Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man in 1954, it was the Atheistic Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre that set about urging Modern Man to realize his destiny by casting out the other selves that he found in his soul. The Other, all others, are set over against the self, threatening its existence. To quote Wilhelmsen in this regard, “the world is a hedge of hard spikes aimed at the heart of the person, menacing it with otherness.
Today, in our iAge, which creates for many, certainly for our youth, an iWorld, the Other has been “flattened” and “pressed,” if we should use the Bellocian image of the pressed grape, by a technologically facilitated internet rendering of the “world.” It is a world substantially gutted of what the perennial philosophy knew of as “substantial form,” the very objective whatness of things. It is a quiddity, a“whatness,” an essence that expresses both the place that this thing occupies in the whole hierarchy of being and, consequently, what objective meaning it has, coming as that meaning would from the very heart of Divine Providence. Now beings, separated from them as we are by our mere cyber “touch,” are judged by their surface appearance and “clicked away” if the visual impression is not as momentarily enticing. What does “encounter,” “regret,” “disappointment,” and “longing” really mean in a Social Network World? The Other no longer challenges, it no longer presents those partial fulfillments of longing; longing that can only be fulfilled, ultimately, in the One Other, who has “made us for Himself.”
How did Myself and Grizzlebeard, the Sailor, and the Poet encounter the Other? How did Belloc, the common referent of all 4 Men, encounter the Other of the Created World and how does that type of encounter offer us hope for a healing of the divided psyche of Modern Man, even, the Modern Traditionalist Man?
One really does not have to puzzle over the question of Belloc’s preferred contact with Otherness. It is expressed best when, in The Four Men, the Sailor baptizes the idealist metaphysician he meets with a pint of beer “in the name of the 5 senses.” It is through his 5 senses that Belloc meets the world and affirms its goodness, a goodness that simply follows necessarily from its being. According to Belloc, “Every pleasure I know comes from an intimate union between my body and my very human mind, which last receives, confirms, revives, and can summon up again what my body has experienced. Of pleasures, however, in which my senses have no part I know nothing.” It is through the senses, the long maligned senses that man feeds on being, he is nourished for a while and then hungers again.
The encounter between the senses and the sensible world around us is not only essential for knowing the world as it is in itself, but the Bellocian Man is Aristotelian in being committed to the proposition that the soul is in potentia in itself and only becomes actual when it encounters what is actual in the world outside the self. Not only is the actuality of the mind of man dependent upon an encounter with the substantial forms present in the world, but according to the perennial philosophical tradition, to know the other is, in an intentional way, to be the Other as Other. Perhaps this is what we all love about Belloc. In his histories, his humorous poems, or his wanderings through the countryside of Italy or Sussex, he seems to give life to the most mundane of things, it is his life and, yet, it is the life of all that he encounters. It is here that Belloc becomes the Aristotelian-Thomistic Classical man. In order to know myself, I must first know what is not myself, that which is truly other. It is in the not-myself that I am revealed to myself. Every definition tells us both what a word means and indicates what the word does not mean. So too we can only identify ourselves as what we are by acknowledging, with a courageous and selfless affirmation, the Other , in its beauty, goodness, and truth.
In his embrace of the fallen world in affirmation of the goodness of things, we find Belloc revealing an “almost pagan prescience of the passing of things,” a mood of the second of November, the Day of the Dead. In The Four Men, Myself awakes “from a dream,” and Grizzlebeard tells him solemnly that it is the day of parting. The Four Men walk slowly and silently through the mists until they take “that lane northward which turns through Redlands and up to the hill of Elstead and its inn.” They then break bread together for the last time in communion of friendship, and the 3, led by Grizzlebeard, part company from Myself, who until the very end protests and urges yet another day of comradeship. To this suggestion, Grizzlebeard replied, ‘There is nothing at all that remains: nor any house; nor any castle however strong; nor any life however tender and sound; nor any comradeship among men, however hardy. Nothing remains but the things of which I will not speak, because we have spoken enough of them already during these four days. But I who am old will give you advice, which is this --- to consider chiefly from now onward those permanent things which are, as it were, the shores of this age and the harbors of our glittering and pleasant but dangerous and wholly changeful sea….Then they all turned about and went rapidly and with a purpose up the village street. I watched them, straining my sad eyes, but in a moment the mist received them and they disappeared.”
The Classical Natural Man, the Myself, had met the paradox built into the very life’s blood of Fallen Man, the more fully does man achieve his earthly destiny and bring to a certain pitch of perfection and actuality the possibilities originally latent within him, the more fully is he aware of Death. If a man is sane, he aims at becoming more and more. The closer one is to the fullness of natural human actuality, the closer one is to losing it all. Indeed, after Myself had left the 3, and hurried “into the loneliness of the high Downs” and having passed “quickly over the burial mounds of the old kings of Sussex,” “I…felt the full culmination of all the 20 tides of mutability which had thus run together to make a skerry of my soul. I saw and apprehended, as a man sees or touches a physical thing, that nothing of our sort remains….I recognized that I was in that attitude of the mind wherein men admit mortality. Something had already passed from me….Youth has gone out apart; it was loved and regretted and no longer possessed….so I went till suddenly I remembered with the pang that catches men at the clang of bells what this time was in November; it was the Day of the Dead.”
The Classical Man, the Bellocian Man of the Affirmation of Wine and of All Good Things of the Flesh, can only achieve what he seeks due to the fact of the Incarnation. The God-Man Who took Flesh is the God-Man Who died for Men on Mount Calvary. Here is another paradox of man’s existence. It was by sacrificing Himself, that the way was opened for Natural Man to be saved for eternity by being elevated to the very Life of God himself. Classical Man, the Man who has taken all that is good to himself, can only be saved if he selflessly expends all in the service of the Other, especially the Other in the selfless life of Charity. It was this Life of Charity, only to be found within the Church that was for Belloc, ultimately, the one beautiful thing. “If someone find a beautiful thing, whether done by God or by man, he will remember and love it. This is what children do, and to get the heart of a child is the end surely of any act of religion.” It is Belloc’s heart, frolicking amidst the children of men, which beckons us from our technological self-absorption, to a renewed childhood of eternal affirmation.
 Hilaire Belloc, The Four Men: A Farrago (Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1912), p. 3.
 Frederick Wilhelmsen, Hilaire Belloc: No Alienated Man, a Study in Christian Integration (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954), pp. 8-11.
 Ibid., pp. 11-12.
 Ibid., pp. 12-14.
 Ibid., pp. 16-19.
 Ibid., pp. 13-14.
 Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome (New York: G.P. Putnum’s Sons, 1902), p. 118.
 Wilhelmsen, pp. 16-19.
 Belloc, Four Men, pp. 297-299.
 Ibid., pp. 302-303.
 Ibid., p. 305.
 Hilaire Belloc, “The Idea of a Pilgrimage” in Hills and the Sea (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1906), p. 266.