Power Without Grace in a Foetid Termitary of Power: Insights from Evelyn Waugh

Dr. Robert Hickson

1 December 2022

Saint Edmund Campion (d. 1581)

Power Without Grace in a Foetid Termitary of Power:

Insights from E. Waugh’s Saint Helena and Saint Edmund Campion


Evelyn Waugh on Saint Edmund Campion (1946, 1948): “It [my own novelist-narrative presentation] should be read as a simple, perfectly true story of heroism and holiness….The martyrdom of Father Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion’s. In fragments and whispers we get news of other saints in the prison camps of Eastern and South Eastern Europe, of cruelty and degradation more frightful than anything in Tudor England and of the same pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended. The hunted, trapped, murdered priest is amongst us again, and the voice of Campion comes to us across us the centuries as though he were walking at our side.” (Page x of the two-fold Preface to the 1948 American Edition of Edmund Campion.)


Evelyn Waugh on Saint Helena and Her Gradual Development of Her Cultivation and Her Womanhood: “The work of empire prospered, frontiers were everywhere restored and extended, treasure accumulated. But, out of sight on the shores of the Propontis [Sea of Marmara], ….; in the inmost cell of the foetid termitary of power, Diocletian was comsumed by huge boredom and sickly turned towards his childhood’s home.” (Helena—Chapter 5—page 100—my emphasis added.)


Evelyn Waugh’s Words of the Emperor Constantine with His Now Christian Mother, Helena:

“I know I am human. In fact I often feel [, mother,] that I am the only real human being in the whole of creation. And that’s not pleasant at all, I can assure you. Do you understand at all, mother?”

“Oh, yes, perfectly.”

“What is it, then?”

Power without Grace,” said Helena. (Chapter Nine—Recessional—page 183—my emphasis added.)


Constantine, now as Emperor, was still not to be considered a Christian, but he nonetheless had a private, sincere, and deeply searching conversation one day with his Mother, Helena. Here is how their ideas developed:

“Now you [Mother] are going to start nagging about baptism again.”

“Sometimes,” Helena continued, “I have a terrible dream of the future. Not now, but presently, people forget their loyalty to their kings and emperors and take power for themselves. Instead of letting one victim bear the frightful curse they will take it all on themselves, each one of them. Think of the misery of a whole world possessed of Power without Grace.” (Helena, page 186—my emphasis added.

Moreover, Helena reminded her son: if he was still “determined to rule,” he must do it, “but not without Grace, Constantine.” (186—my accent added) And thus not without the Sacrament of Baptism!

Later in Waugh’s admirable novel, in its chapter entitled Epiphany, Helena eloquently makes a heartful and mature prayer for her spiritually lax or slothful son, Emperor Constantine. Helena speaks to us on Twelfth Night (or Epiphany) in the Holy Land just before she discovers the True Cross, her Mission.

Passages from pages 222-224 of Epiphany will now be presented, and the whole section be savored and recommended to the reader.

For example:

But by Twelfth Night she [Helena] rallied and on the eve set out by litter along the five rough miles to the shrine of the Nativity. There was no throng of pilgrims. Macarius [the Bishop] and his people kept Epiphany in their own church. Only the little community of Bethlehem greeted her and led her to her room they had prepared. (222)

After a little time, Helena said to herself:

“This is my day,” she thought, “ and these are my kind.”….

“Like me,” she said to them [the late coming, adoring, Three Kings], “you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They [the shepherds] had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way….How laboriously you came…..where the shepherds had run barefoot!….You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!

Yet you came, and were not turned away. You found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.

You are my especial patrons,” said Helena, “and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, and of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

“Dear cousins, pray for me,” said Helena, “and for my poor overloaded son. May he, too, before the end fine kneeling-space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. And pray for Lactantius and Marcias and the young poets of Treves and for the souls of my wild, blind ancestors; for their sly foe Odysseus and for the great Longinus.

“For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.” (pages 222-224 of Chapter Eleven: Epiphany to the 1950 book, Helena—my emphasis added.)


We have attempted to counterpoint two books by the same author, Evelyn Waugh—one on Edmund Campion and on Saint Helena.

It discussed “Power without Grace” and its contrast, “a Feotid Termitary of Power.” Also a Mother’s prayer for her overloaded son, also an Emperor. With loyal prayers for others, as well, especially for the vivid!


©2022 Robert D. Hickson

“Blessed Be He Who Has Saved a Child’s Heart From Despair”

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                         6 November 2022

                                                 Saint Leonard of Limoges  (d. 559)

 Josef Pieper (d. 6 November 1997—R.I.P)

“Blessed Be He Who Has Saved a Child’s Heart From Despair”

Some Reflections from The Diary of a Country Priest (1937) by Georges Bernanos


“Don’t let your hour of mercy strike in vain.” (The Paperback 1954 Doubleday Edition, page 48)


“Blessed be he who has saved a child’s heart from despair.” (Ibid., Page 41)


“What is this Sloth which can merit the extremity of divine punishment? St.Thomas’s answer is both comforting and surprising: tristitia de bono spirituali, sadness in the face of spiritual good. Man is made for joy in the love of God, a love which he expresses in service. If he deliberately turns away from that joy, he is denying the purpose of his existence. The malice of Sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty… but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair.” (Evelyn Waugh, Collected Essays, page 573 of the “Sloth” Essay.)


In view of Georges Bernanos’ 1937 spiritual novel The Diary of a County Priest—first published in French, just before the outbreak of World War Two—we now also come to understand better (and often thus savor) a fresh supernatural Beatitude: about saving a child from despair.  Does it not gradually become a binding obligation of our Catholic Faith in its fuller virtue?

That is to say, “Blessed be he who has saved a child’s heart from despair.” Such a Beatitude  comes from, and depends upon, Grace—i.e., the indispensable (and gracious) Order of  Grace.

My German wife, Maike Maria, was immediately touched by this implicit beatitude—and was freshly inspired—by this effectively proposed new Beatitude; and she thus guided me also at the challenging end of my preparatory, mortal temporal life, too. We shall try to convey in this short essay some of these intimate insights.

For example, it will relate how the sacrament of Extreme Unction channels and prepares  a stronger  life of grace with clarity and strength. Moreover, there are two forms of hopelessness: despair and presumption. The Sin of Spiritual Sloth is one of the Seven Capital Sins, and an effective preparation for the Sin of Despair. Other interwoven insights will now follow, especially about growing in Spiritual Childhood and letting the Little Ones come loyally and affectionately to Christ.

Indeed, at the core of these reflections is “the concept and reality of spiritual childhood.” We are to live and die supernaturally alive in sanctifying grace. The Lord also spoke of (and to), the Little Ones –unless you become a little one….!

The Diary of a Country Priest ends with the diarist’s  words as he died:

“Does it matter? Grace is everywhere….” (page 233, my emphasis added).

The priest (Curé) of Ambricourt now thus introduces us to his parish and village:

My parish is bored stiff; no other word for it. Like so many others! We can see them being eaten up by boredom, and we can’t do anything about it. Some day perhaps we shall catch it ourselves – become aware of the cancerous growth within us. You can keep going a long time with that in you.

This thought struck me yesterday on my rounds. It was drizzling. The kind of thin, steady rain which gets sucked in with every breath, which seeps down through the lungs into your belly. Suddenly I looked out over the village, from the road to Saint Vaast along the hillside – miserable little houses huddled together under the desolate, ugly November sky. On all sides damp came steaming up and it seemed to sprawl there in the soaking grass like a wretched worn-out horse or cow. What an insignificant thing a village is. And this particular village was my parish! My parish, yes, but what could I do? I stood there glumly watching it sink into the dusk, disappear…. In a few minutes I should lose sight of it. I had never been so horribly aware both of my people’s loneliness and mine. I thought of the cattle which I could hear coughing somewhere in the mist, and of the little lad on his way back from school clutching his satchel, who would soon be leading them over sodden fields to a warm sweet-swelling byre…. And my parish, my village seemed to be waiting too – without much hope after so many nights in the mud – for a master to follow towards some undreamed-of, improbable shelter.

Oh, of course I know all this is fantastic. Such notions can scarcely be taken seriously. A day-dream! Villages do not scramble to their feet like cattle at the call of a little boy. And yet, last night, I believe a saint might have roused it….

Well, as I was saying, the world is eaten up by boredom. To perceive this needs a little preliminary thought: you can’t see it all at once. It is like dust. You go about and never notice, you breathe it in, you eat and drink it. It is sifted so fine, it doesn’t even grit on your teeth. But stand still for an instant and there it is, coating your face and hands. To shake off this drizzle of ashes you must be for ever on the go. And so people are always ‘on the go.’ Perhaps the answer would be that the world has long been familiar with boredom, that such is the true condition of man. No doubt the seed was scattered all over life, and here and there found fertile soil to take root; but I wonder if man has ever before experienced this contagion, this leprosy of boredom: an aborted despair, a shameful form of despair in some way like the fermentation of a Christianity in decay.

(Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest, translated from the French by Pamela Morris, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1937, 1954, pages 1-2 – my emphasis added)

Despite the many pervasive manifestations of sadness and intimate sorrow, the Curé of Ambricourt touches the heart and affirms almost everyone he meets. For example: experience the betrayed Countess, also young Chantel; and the sensitive French Foreign Legionnaire (and motor-cyclist), and the Curé de Torcy (the faithful mentor of the idealistic and younger priest).

The reader will be profoundly enriched by this text, and he will want to savor its slow wisdom and eloquence—at least more than thrice down the years.

Let there be hope for the Little Ones. And a yearning for sustained Grace.      


Hilaire Belloc the Sailor and His Salty “Song of the Pelagian Heresy”

Dr. Robert Hickson

12 September 2022

The Holy Name of Mary


[Expressed Manly Love for the 1902-1912 Sussex, England:] “The Southern Hills and the South Sea / They blow such gladness into me, / That when I get to Burton Sands / And smell the smell of the Home Lands, / My heart is all renewed and fills / With the Southern Sea and the South Hills.” (Hilaire Belloc, Complete Verses, page 89.)


“So that no one may be shocked, my song [said the Sailor] shall be of a religious sort, dealing with the great truths. And perhaps that will soften the heart of the torturers….For this song that I [the Sailor] am proposing to sing [at the Inn] is of a good loud roaring, but none the less it deals with the ultimate things….Now it cannot be properly sung unless the semi-chorus (which I will indicate by raising my hands) is sung loudly by all of you together…for dear life’s sake….Such is the nature of the song.” (The Four Men (1912), pages 89-90.)


“Oh, he didn’t believe / In Adam and Eve, / He put no faith therein! / His doubts began / With the fall of man, / And he laughed at original sin!” (The Four Men, page 93—an emphatic “semi-chorus” character mark of the Pelagian Man, as it was first sung aloud and then led more fully by the Sailor himself.)


In the concise doctrinal essay—along with its salty and robust songs—as they are presented immediately below this compact introduction, we may also fittingly read some four pages of Hilaire Belloc’s own 1912 book, entitled The Four Men1 about the dominant aspects of the four symbolized named characters (Myself, the Poet, the Sailor, and the elderly—and often wise—Grizzlebeard).

In the preparatory surrounding 1902-1912 context, “the Sailor” himself takes the initiative to compose and deliver the “Song of the Pelagian Heresy” to their three companions and to the growing onlookers at their inviting Inn.

Moreover, the Sailor stipulates that the growing audience’s response to each of three semi-chorus’ must be heartfelt, robust, and loud! We shall further discuss the context and aftermath—and the Sailor’s ongoing reflections—after closely we also now read the vivid “Song of the Pelagian Heresy.”2 We may now also consider the various 1902 and 1912 Modernisms already sabotaging the Catholic Faith. Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X were clear about what is, sub gratia, at stake. Both, for example, were attentive lest a “rally to Democracy” could and would subtly become a “rally to the Revolution”!


Pelagius lived in Kardanoel,

And taught his doctrine there:

How whether you went to Heaven or Hell,

It was your own affair.

How whether you found eternal joy,

Or sank forever to burn,

It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,

But was your own concern.


Oh, he didn’t believe

In Adam and Eve,

He put no faith therein!

His doubts began

With the fall of man,

And he laughed at original sin!


With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,

He laughed at original sin!

Whereat the Bishop of old Auxerre —

(Germanus was his name),

He tore great handfuls out of his hair,

And called Pelagius Shame:

And then with his stout Episcopal staff

So thoroughly thwacked and banged

The heretics all, both short and tall,

That they rather had been hanged.


Oh, he thwacked them hard and he banged them long,

Upon each and all occasions,

Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong,

Their orthodox persuasions!


With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,

Their orthodox persu-a-a-sions!

Now the Faith is old and the Devil is bold —

Exceedingly bold indeed;

And the masses of doubt that are floating about

Would smother a mortal creed.

But we who sit in a sturdy youth,

And still can drink strong ale,

Ohlet us put it away to infallible truth,

That always shall prevail!


And thank the Lord

For the temporal sword,

And for howling heretics too;

And whatever good things

Our Christendom brings,

But especially barley brew!


With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,

Especially barley brew!


© 2022 Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, The Four Men (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1912)—310 pages. The setting is in 1902 A.D.

2See Complete Verse: Hilaire Belloc (London: PIMLICO, 1970 and 1991), pages 90-92 for the complete and compact “Song of the the Pelagian Heresy.” We shall later add some reflections on the context and incentive for the big “Song.”

Hilaire Belloc’s Poems on Courtesy: His Poignant Humility before Our Lady and Child

Dr. Robert Hickson

28 August 2022

Saint Augustine of Hippo (d. 430 AD)

Anthony S. Fraser (d. 2014)


“For you that took the all-in-all the things you left were three. /A loud voice for singing and keen eyes to see, / And a spouting well of joy within that never yet was dried! / And I ride.” (Hilaire Belloc’s “The Winged Horse,” Stanza IV)


“I challenged and I kept the Faith, / The bleeding path alone I trod; / It darkens. Stand about my wraith, / And harbor me—almighty God.” (Hilaire Belloc’s “The Prophet Lost In The Hills At Evening” —the Last Stanza)


“The frozen way those people trod / It led towards the Mother of God; / Perhaps if I had travelled with them / I might have come to Bethlehem.” (Hilaire Belloc’s “Twelfth Night,” —the Last Stanza)


While I recently re-read a selective brief anthology of Hilaire Belloc’s verse, I found myself recurrently moved by his gracious depictions of the Blessed Mother and Her Consoling Child. It prompted me, as well, to recall the new Beatitude as expressed in Georges Bernanos’ spiritual novel, The Diary of a Country Priest (1936 in French, 1937 in English) The main character, recalling his lonely childhood, suddenly said: “Blessed be he who has saved a child’s heart from despair.

In view of his adventurous and rumbustious manhood, Hilaire Belloc gradually disclosed his “manly spiritual childhood.

I wish now to present some representative examples from Hilaire Belloc’s own varied verses, starting with his verses entitled “In a Boat,” “Twelfth Night, and some other exemplars, until we finally and happily face the gracious words of “Courtesy” and the counterpointing CODA on Sorrow of Soul.

All references are to 1951-selection, as published before Belloc died on 16 July 1953. (See H. Belloc’s Songs of The South Country (London: Gerald Duckworth & CO., 1951), pages 32.)

Hilaire Belloc’s evocative Marian Verse is called “In a Boat”:

Lady! Lady! / Upon Heaven-height, / Above the harsh morning / In the mere light. / Above the spindrift / And above the snow, / Where no seas tumble, / And no winds blow. / The twisting tides, / And the perilous sands / Upon all sides / Are in your holy hands. / The wind harries / And the cold kills; / But I see your chapel / Over far hills. / My body is frozen, / My soul is afraid: / Stretch out your hands to me, / Mother and maid. / Mother of Christ, /And Mother of me, / Save me alive / From the howl of the sea. / If you will Mother me / Till I grow old, / I will hang in your chapel / A ship of pure gold.

Hilaire Belloc’s additional Verse, touching upon Sacred History, is entitled “Twelfth Night”:

As I was lifting over Down / A winter’s night to Petworth Town, / I came upon a company / Of Travellers who would talk with me. /

The riding moon was small and bright, / They cast no shadows in her light. / There was no man for miles a-near. / I would not walk with them for fear. /

A star of heaven by Gumber glowed, / An ox across the darkness lowed, / Whereas a burning light there stood / Right in the heart of Gumber Wood. /

Across the rime their marching rang, / And in a little while they sang; / They sang a song I used to know, / Gloria in Excelsis Domino. /

The frozen way those people trod / It led towards the Mother of God; / Perhaps if I had travelled with them / I might have come to Bethlehem.

Such art and such faith and implicitness help prepare us to savor Belloc’s poem, “Courtesy.”


by Hilaire Belloc

Of Courtesy, it is much less / Than Courage of Heart or Holiness, / Yet in my Walks it seems to me / That the Grace of God is in Courtesy. /

On Monks I did in Storrington fall, / They took me straight into their Hall; / I saw Three Pictures on a wall, / And Courtesy was in them all. /

The first the Annunciation; / The second the Visitation; / The third the Consolation, / Of God that was Our Lady’s Son. /

The first was of St. Gabriel; / On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell; / And as he went upon one knee / He shone with Heavenly Courtesy. /

Our Lady out of Nazareth rode – / It was Her month of heavy load; / Yet was her face both great and kind, / For Courtesy was in Her Mind. /

The third it was our Little Lord, / Whom all the Kings in arms adored; / He was so small you could not see / His large intent of Courtesy. /

Our Lord, that was Our Lady’s Son, / God bless you, People, one by one; / My Rhyme is written, my work is done.


The Prophet Lost In The Hills At Evening

Strong God which made the topmost stars
To circulate and keep their course,
Remember me; whom all the bars
Of sense and dreadful fate enforce.

Above me in your heights and tall,
Impassable the summits freeze,
Below the haunted waters call
Impassable beyond the trees.

I hunger and I have no bread.
My gourd is empty of the wine.
Surely the footsteps of the dead
Are shuffling softly close to mine!

It darkens. I have lost the ford.
There is a change on all things made.
The rocks have evil faces, Lord,
And I am awfully afraid.

Remember me: the Voids of Hell
Expand enormous all around.
Strong friend of souls, Emmanuel [Christ],
Redeem me from accursed ground.

The long descent of wasted days,
To these at last have led me down;
Remember that I filled with praise
The meaningless and doubtful ways

That lead to an eternal town.

I challenged and I kept the Faith,
The bleeding path alone I trod;
It darkens. Stand about my wraith,
And harbour me — almighty God.


© 2022 Robert D. Hickson

Hilaire Belloc’s The Modern Traveller (1898): An Ironic Adventure and Boasting Satire

Dr. Robert Hickson

5 August 2022

Our Lady of the Snows (355-366 AD)


“I never shall forget the way / That Blood upon this awful day/ Preserved us all from death. / He stood upon a little mound, / Cast his lethargic eyes around, / And said beneath his breath: / ‘Whatever happens we have got / The Maxim Gun, and they have not.’” [The words of Captain William Blood] (See authors Hilaire Belloc with Basil T. Blackwood, Belloc’s good friend and gifted illustrator, in their work, The Modern Traveller (London: Edward Arnold, 1898), Page 41.)1


[G.K. Chesterton’s words in 1916 recalling his first meeting with Belloc in 1900, and it was also in a little restaurant in Soho Square in London:]

“When I first met Belloc he remarked to the friend who introduced us that he was in low spirits. His low spirits were and are much more uproarious and enlivening than anybody else’s high spirits. He talked into the night; and left behind in it a glowing track of good things. When I have said that I mean things that are good and certainly not merely bon mots, I have said all that can be said in the most serious aspect about the man who has made the greatest fight for good things of all the men of my time.

“We met between a little Soho paper shop and a little Soho restaurant; his arms and pockets were stuffed with French Nationalist and French Atheist newspapers. He wore a straw hat shading his eyes, which are like a sailor’s, and emphasizing his Napoleonic chin. [….]

“There were many other uses of his genius, but I am speaking of this first effect of it upon our instinctive and sometimes groping ideals. What he brought into our dream was this Roman appetite for reality and for reason in action, and when he came into the door there entered with him the smell of danger.” (G.K. Chesterton’s, 6-page Introduction to the following 1916 text: Hilaire Belloc: The Man and His Work, by C. Creighton Mandell and Edward Shanks (London: Methuen & Co Ltd., 1916, pp. vii and ix.))


When Hilaire Belloc in 1898 first published The Modern Traveller, he was a vivid twenty-eight years of age and of high-spirit. He had already publicly presented his sequence of comic and cautionary tales for children. Most of these tales also bore memorable, pertinent illustrations by his friend, Basil Blackwood, to include his presence in Belloc’s 1898 depiction of foreign travel: of a three-person varied piece of a largely fatal trip to Africa. The narrator (Mr. Rooter) of Belloc’s tale himself somehow survived the long-range trip, but his companions perished cruelly, both of them: Captain William Blood (the leader and a high financier); and Commander Henry Sin (of doubtful non-English parentage and of alien cosmopolitan heritage).

For example, here is a brief presentation from pages 7 and 8 out of the 1898 book’s 80 pages:

Poor Henry Sin from quite a child, / I fear, was always rather wild; / But all his faults were due / To something free and unrestrained, / That partly pleased and partly pained / The people whom he knew. / Untaught (for what our times require), / Lazy, and something of a liar, / He had a foolish way / Of always swearing (more or less), / And, lastly, let us say / A little slovenly in dress, / A trifle prone to drunkenness; / A gambler also to excess, / And never known to pay. / As for the clubs in London, he / Was Pilled at ten, expelled from three. / A man Bohemian as could be— / But really vicious? Oh, no! / When these are mentioned, all is said. / And then—Commander Sin is dead: / De Mortuis cui bono?

Soon thereafter the perceptive reader may also have a contrasting introduction to Captain William Blood:

Now William Blood, or, as I still / Affectionately call him, Bill, / Was of a different stamp; / One who, in other ages born / Had turned to strengthen and adorn / The Senate or the [Military-Strategic] Camp. / But Fortune, jealous and austere, / Had marked him for a great career / Of more congenial kind— / A sort of modern Buccaneer, / Commercial and refined. / Like all great men, his chief affairs / Were buying stocks and selling shares. / He occupied his mind / In buying them by day from men / Who needed ready cash, and then / At evening selling them again / To those with whom he dined. / But such a task could never fill / His masterful ambition….(18-19)

Moreover we now come to consider another doubtful contrast of character, as it is proposed by Mr. Rooter the Narrator, and sole survivor, as the third member of their ironical adventure in Africa:

Sin loved the bottle, William gold; / ‘Twas Blood that bought and Sin that sold, / In all their mutual dealings, / Blood never broke the penal laws; / Sin did it all the while, because / He had the finer feelings. (22)

We may now also contrast the ways Mr. Rooter presents both his text’s beginning, as distinct from the purported conclusion of his equivocal (if not mendacious) report to the invited interviewer who is coming in from the droll journal called the Daily Menace:

The Daily Menace, I presume? / Forgive the litter in the room. / I can’t explain to you / How out of place a man like me / Would be without the things, –/ The Shields and Assegais and odds / And ends of little savage gods, / …. And so the Public want to hear / About the expedition / From which I recently returned: / Of how the Fetish Tree was burned; / Of how we struggled to the coast, / And lost our ammunition; / How we retreated, side by side ; / And how, like Englishmen, we died. / Well, as you know, I hate to boast, / And, what is more, I can’t abide / A popular position. (5-6)

On the text’s final three pages, we discover our Narrator’s dubious presentation of his purportedly wondrous endurance in captivity, his patriotic singing under torture, and his overall display of (reported) trustworthy virtue:

The nails [inflicted by the tribal African natives] stuck in for quite an inch, / But did I flinch? I did not flinch. / In tones determined, loud, and strong / I sang a patriotic song / Thank Heaven it did not last for long !/ My misery was past; / My superhuman courage rose / Superior to my savage foes; / They worshipped me at last. / With many heartfelt compliments, / They sent me back at their expense, / And here I am returned to find / The pleasures I had left behind. / …. / Only permit me once again / To make it clearly understood [to “a busy journalist” (79) likely far too bored “to hear a rhapsody” (79) ] / That both those honorable men, / Command Sin and Captain Blood, / Would swear to all that I have said, / Were they alive; but they are dead! (77-80)

Captain William Blood had earlier consented to ambush (along with his two companions) a local Tribal King—during his customary morning walk alone. But they failed, despite their employed weaponry; and they were consequently captured and punished. Part of their merciful “Parole” (65) allowed their ransom, after the captives had sufficiently establish their “worth.” The King at first displayed his leniency, but then this called forth Captain Blood’s response, according to our surviving Narrator, Mr. Rooter:

The King—I really must confess— / Behaved uncommon handsome; / He said he would release the three / If only Captain Blood and he / Could settle on a ransom, / And it would clear the situation / To hear his private valuation. / “My value,” William Blood began, “Is ludicrously small. / I think I am the vilest man / That treads this earthly ball; / My head is weak, my heart is cold, / I’m ugly, vicious, vulgar, old, / Unhealthy, short, and fat. / I cannot speak, I cannot work, / I have the temper of a Turk, / And cowardly at that. / Retaining, with your kind permission, / The usual five per cent. commission, / I think that I could due the job / For seventeen or sixteen bob.” / The King was irritated, frowned, / And cut him [Blood] short with, “Goodness Gracious! / Your economics are fallacious! / I quite believe you are a wretch, / But things are worth what they can fetch.” (71-72)

Not long before this passage and event, Captain Blood had dealt with a mutiny. He even confidently promised a resort to an effective new weapon:

Whatever happens we have got / The Maxim Gun, and they have not” (41)

Later on, Commander Sin and Mr. Rooter the Narrator, pathetically separated themselves from Captain Blood so as to find and retrieve “a certain bag of gold” (72) for the Tribal King as Ransom for all three of our adventurers. “Poor William [Blood]! The suspense and pain / Had touched the fibre of his brain.” (72) Nonetheless, the King spoke firmly, though politely, of his captive’s probable fate:

The King was perfectly content / To let us find it [the known, remote “bag of gold”]; —and we went. / But as we left we heard him [the King] say, / “If there is half an hour’s delay / The Captain will have passed away.” (73)

Hilaire Belloc has so many shades of meaning and suggestion in his vivid narrative verse.

I hope that Belloc’s combinations of comedy, irony, swaggering bombast, and tragedy be especially appreciated in the audible nuanced reading of The Modern Traveller (1898)! G.K. Chesterton saw so much goodness and purity in young Hilaire Belloc, even when he habitually enters the room with the sense of reality and thus that “smell of danger.”


© 2022 Robert D. Hickson

1Further citations to the original illustrated 1898 book shall be placed in the main text above, in parentheses. The Complete Verse of Hilaire Belloc—but without the poetic and artistic illustrations—is a reprint of a 1970 version as edited by Gerald Duckworth & Co LTD 1970. It contains a few changes, to include a new introduction by A.N. Wilson in a Pimlico edition of 1991. The Modern Traveller is to be found on pages 165-204 of the 1991 reprint.

Revisited: Hilaire Belloc’s Belinda: A Tale of Affection in Youth and Age (1928)

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (Pixabay)

Dr. Robert Hickson

25 July 2022

Saint James the Greater (Santiago)

[The Author’s Additional Note Is Presented Here on 25 July 2022, Which Is Some Three Years Later Than the Original 29 June 2019 Text. The current note is also on the Liturgical Feast that honors Saint James the Greater, as well as Saint Christopher.

[During the years 2019-2022 our daughter and our son have grown in maturity and energy; and they are yet still receptive to good and enduring Classics as well as distinctly worthy Catholic Literature, such as The Betrothed of Alessandro Manzoni. I would include Hilaire Belloc’s Belinda: A Tale of Affection in Youth and Age (1928, 1929). For example, it was the first time recently (2022) that my gifted German wife completely heard Belinda being read aloud to her, slowly and gratefully savored. (I read aloud from an illustrated 1929 text as published in London and New York by the Harper & Brother Publishers, on 188 small pages of the main text of the Tale.)

[My wife and I both now hope that Isabella Maria will soon read Belinda again, and thus to consider more fully its variety and its purity and its chivalric nobility, to do it now more slowly and thus more deeply to be henceforth intimately cherished. So too is our hope and purposiveness with our son, Robert Richard, who is now eleven years of age, and soon to be almost twelve years old. Isabella Maria, moreover, is herself now fourteen years old, somewhat restive as she is more than half-way to her fifteenth birthday. May Belinda be (or become) an External Channel of Grace to the Little Ones, and even a Sacramental for both their mother and their father. Yes, indeed, a purifying Sacramental.

[We shall now present below a representative selection of Hilaire Belloc’s inimitable Tale of Deep and Sincere and Varied Affections, in the Youth and in the Aged, as first published in 2019.]

[RDH, 25 July 2022–Feast of James the Greater]

Hilaire Belloc’s Belinda: A Tale of Affection in Youth and Age (1928)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                29 June 2019

The Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Hilaire Belloc’s Arrival Afoot in Rome (in 1901)


“’I have told you,’ he [Sir Robert Montgomery, Belinda’s father,] said, that ‘I know—I understand—the affections of youth….I married late: you have a father too much advanced in years for your opening life. Your mother, who is now a saint in Heaven, you never knew. But I myself, long before your age [now eighteen], had among my companions one to whom the deepest of human affections was far, far from unknown.’” (Hilaire Belloc, Belinda: A Tale of Affection in Youth and Age (Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publication, 2014—a re-print of the 1928 First Edition), page 31—my emphasis added)


“Such, gentle reader, were the loves of Belinda and Horatio; tried as by fire, torn asunder, rejoined, they attained at last to wedded felicity under an ancestral roof, until, after the brief accidents of this our mortality, they were united forever in Paradise.” (Hilaire Belloc, Belinda: A Tale of Affection in Youth and Age, page 130)


Over the last few weeks, my wife and I have eagerly attempted to introduce our daughter (11) once again to some unmistakably challenging examples of excellent literature: such as Alessandro Manzoni’s 1840 historical novel of the early seventeenth century, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi). We are now gratefully reading that book aloud together—along with our young son (8)—especially some of the extended central passages of that eloquent and memorable novel—with my wife herself now expressively and adroitly doing the reading. We are doing this, in part, so as to prepare an excited Isabella for her own reading soon of the entire demanding 500-page novel, now from the beginning.

Moreover, I have also thought that Isabella would thereby then be ready to read another, but shorter (130-page), nineteenth-century historical novel of purity (with its frequently gracious and expressed affections, as well as with some passionate robustness and youthfulness and vividly “chivalrous daring”). That is to say, Hilaire Belloc’ own cherished 1928 novel, Belinda: A Tale of Affection in Youth and Age.1

Hilaire Belloc especially cherished this carefully constructed and nuanced romantic tale; a tale of protective and attentive affection and the fidelity of faithful memory. (He had slowly composed and refined his gradually forming novel for some five years, between 1923 and 1928, and only then did he consent to publish his completed text.)

Set in England and France, the resultant Tale of Affection now tells us, in large part, about a young man of twenty-three and a young woman of eighteen, two neighbors who, having a common boundary between their spacious properties, had once been childhood playmates. But this Horatio and Belinda have just discovered in their unexpected outdoor meeting something deeper and more enduring. Something that touches and soon profoundly affects their faithfully plighted hearts.

However, this developing bond and its likely fuller maturation unto marriage displeases several persons, some of them in Belinda’s own family (to include her father) and some of them truly vulnerable men and already in deep debt and deceitful suitors of Belinda, such as Sir Henry Portly of Molcombe Abbey (43) and his intrusively malicious litigious agent, such as sly Lawyer Fox of Bath.

Because of certain customary limitations and strict prohibitions made by Belinda’s father, Sir Robert Montgomery, which were to be applied while he is to be away from Wiltshire for two important weeks in London, Belinda and Horatio are thwarted. They are not permitted to be with each other, but they could only write letters to each other. However, and fatefully, these four actually written letters of deep affection were intentionally blocked from their delivery—because of the malicious interdiction of a complicit lonely spinster woman.

Leaving Belinda, Horatio first goes apart from home on horseback, thinking that Belinda herself has rejected him and his sincere love. He intends to go permanently abroad to the main continent of Europe (to France at first). However, as it turns out, Horatio shows, now as a wandering pauper in France, much more of his virtuous moral character. With “chivalrous daring,” he even rescues from a gang of robbers by night a distinguished noble French woman who originally had come from England many years ago. Because he had been wounded in the rescue, he was taken by the widowed Marquise to her nearby Château and it was proposed to him, quite firmly, to remain there himself until he had fully healed. (The widow’s name, we gradually discover, was Esmeralda de la Ferronnière and she had been in retirement since about 1824, the year of death of the French King, Louis XVIII, when her own husband, the Marquis, also died.)

Not long after Horatio’s nighttime escorted arrival at the Château, Sir Robert Montgomery himself, along with Belinda and their whole entourage, came to seek a rescue themselves, after one of their three carriages (especially a smaller chaise) broke down and gravely wounded their lead horse.

When Robert Montgomery heard from one of the servants the spoken name of the Marquise of the Château, he was stunned. Thus began many memories from his own youth and his germinating affections, as well. This helped him better understand Belinda’s own plighted heart and “long fidelity,” as well as her special sufferings recently (which was why her father decided to take her on a refreshing tour to continental Europe). Self-knowledge grew and was expressed—though sometimes with restraint—also to the once-beloved and still cherished Marquise de la Ferronnière herself, who had her own cherished memories of deep affection and Robert’s own “long fidelity” (116).

Most movingly, Horatio and Belinda met again and understood the belatedly revealed reasons for their earlier and painful misperceptions of each other, especially as to why their own very affectionate love-letters were not received and then reciprocated. The honorable character of Horatio grew in the eyes of Sir Robert and Esmeralda, as well as of Belinda—and that much-tested young couple was now at last permitted to marry there in France. Belinda and Horatio prepared for their wedding and soon were bound in sacred matrimony by Reverend John Atkins, their accompanying Anglican vicar and Belinda’s own tutor, especially in intimate matters of religion. Then would soon come the return to England of the whole extended company, to include Marquise Esmerelda herself, where she would dwell for long portions of the year. For, the two Wiltshire estates of Halston and Marsden would now “eventually unite in their common patronage the two livings” (129) and then invite a beloved friend and companion of long ago to dwell there, even permanently, but in a companionship of fittingly gracious, respectful purity and thus “without peril.” (125).

In an earlier passage, Belloc—or rather the Narrator—deftly reveals part of the novel’s fertile theme:

They err who pretend that the years, though they may obscure, can eliminate a primal passion. The soul is immortal. If once it suffer the imprint of that one emotion [love] which links time with eternity, the imperishable mark remains. The flood will return in full, unconquerable might, provoked by a tone, a scent, a glance, a name. This man [Sir Robert Montgomery], so far advanced in the business of living, already conscious of the grave, had suffered a resurrection from the dead. He had heard the name of Ferronnière…. He heard a voice, he rose and trembled, the great doors were ceremoniously opened, and the woman appeared. (114)

Let us also briefly try to present the comparable courtesy and purity of youth, now that we have hopefully been touched by the gracious conduct and sentiments of Sir Robert and his affectionate companion of long ago, Marquise Esmeralda. We shall introduce the unexpected meeting of Belinda and Horatio out of doors, each of them walking near or along a stream that forms part of the boundary between their own individual family estates. First, we consider Belloc’s presentation of the awakening and subsequent wandering walk afield of Belinda “close on noon” (13):

She woke, indeed, to the day and place, yet these were changed as though now infused with wonder….So, dreaming in full wakefulness, the girl…wandered under the high sun across the lawn…toward a dense wood of pines; there she proposed to rest awhile in the shade, and commune with a little brook which eddied clear under a plank thrown across its waters, and ran with a happy murmur to join the Avon near at hand. The stream formed part of the boundary…and…[she] turned her feet toward that spot….

Upon the farther bank, in the neighbouring park from which the stream divided her, a sandy slope…led up by a narrow path…to a great grove which hid the old and ruinous house of Halston beyond [i.e., Horatio’s home]. Thence, at the same hour, with high noon past, and the more powerful sun distilling every savour from grass and leaf and earth, Horatio sauntered out, bound no whither, filled with the power of summer which grew to harvest all around….The grove summoned him to its recesses; he received the influence of the great beeches and their shade as though the half darkness were alive. He came out into the further blinding light, and the sound of the stream below beckoned him insensibly down the path to the water between the wealths of fern.

She saw him as he came through the bracken, with active carriage, with uplifted face. It seemed to her that there was something there inspired; and her imagination put courage and adventure into his advance, as though he were setting out on a quest. He turned a corner of the path to cross the rustic bridge, and was aware of one [who is] scarcely known yet deeply known, whose airy figure among the solemn pines arrested all his being. When he had approached and discovered her face, it was not the familiar feature of a friend, but Radiance personate. In him, for her, [there] approached a god.

The moment was magical. It was as though some music had transformed the world….But in the heart of the high wood a Presence, shining in a shaft of light, triumphantly let fly the arrow from the bow. (13-16—my emphasis added)

To appreciate more fully the personal qualities and religious-philosophical orientation of Belloc’s chosen Narrator of this Tale of Affection, we may now consider the way he is presented to us at the outset, especially on the first two pages. We may thereby notice what is there, but also what is not there—such as the absence of the Catholic Faith and of a fair presentation of earlier Catholic History:

Within the [Anglican] parish, and adjoining the village, of Marlden, in a stately mansion known as The Towers, whose ample lawn sweeps down in smooth luxuriance to the pellucid waters of the Avon, resided a gentleman respected throughout the County of Wiltshire as Sir Robert Montgomery….

The baronet (for such was his rank) enjoyed the esteem of his equals, the respectful affection of his inferiors, and the devotion of an only daughter, an only child, upon whom her mother (long dead) had bestowed the pleasing name of Belinda.

That devotion of the widowed father repaid with a particular and careful attention, the dignity of which could hardly veil his deep, his doting fondness. No expense was spared in providing Belinda’s earliest years with a solid grounding in the rudiments of polite learning, while, as her girlhood blossomed into riper charms, a further selection of instructors drawn from both sexes perfected her in Italian, French, the art of painting in water-colours, every department of deportment, and the pianoforte.

Thus did Belinda Montgomery, as she entered her eighteenth year, unite every refinement of culture to beauty of an entrancing mould; a mind naturally apt and generous, trained to its fullest powers, informed a frame of surpassing grace, and the whole was inspired by a soul wherein had been firmly planted the precepts of our sublime religion. (1-2—my emphasis added)

We may now wonder about the meaning of the “our” in “our sublime religion.” (2) Who is it, for example, who largely conducted Belinda’s own formative religious education?

We shall fittingly now meet at least one of her teachers, “the Reverend John Atkins,” (2) who will also be the one who later marries Belinda and Horatio. But the Narrator presents now the matter of Belinda’s deeper religious formation:

To this last and awful matter the good vicar of the parish, the Reverend John Atkins, had applied himself with constant zeal. His living (of which Sir Robert was patron) did not so completely engross his time as to forbid him the hours required for the young lady’s spiritual education: nor were the emoluments of such a task ungrateful to one whose humble needs were but narrowly met by the tithe and glebe of the parish.

Under such guidance Belinda grasped in turn the nature and attributes of her Creator, the scheme of the Atonement, the promise of a blessed Heaven, the menace of a dreadful Hell, the original institution of Episcopacy; and the errors of Rome upon the one hand, of dissent upon the otherThe Book of Common Prayer was her constant companion, and on the richly inlaid table of her private boudoir lay open, for daily consultation, the Holy Bible. (2—my emphasis added)

Near the end of Belloc’s presented Tale, we see not only some of the more comic elements in Reverend Atkins’ beliefs and words and professional conduct; but also some of his deeply warm affection and good-hearted sentimentalism:

In the room which had been set aside for the chapel of the [marriage] ceremony,… the household was assembled, the Reverend Mr. Atkins vested and prepared. He had required, he had demanded, he had obtained, a glass of port wine and a biscuit, which was his invariable custom to consume before a Celebration, in protest against the Romish novelties of certain [Anglican] colleagues. As, with practiced intonation, he recited the profound phrases of the Marriage Service, the Marquise, who had missed for so long the beautiful Liturgy of her youth, was deeply moved; while old Fanchette, the only French domestic not a Papist and, therefore, privileged to attend, was equally affected by the sacred scene, though, being ignorant of the English tongue (a Huguenot [Calvinist] from the Vaudois), she could do no more than reverently follow the rhythms of the sacred office.

Averse though he was to the extempore usage of the Caledonian Communion [the Scotttish, and perhaps Calvinist Rite?], Mr. Atkins did not forbear to add at the end of his ministration a short but heartfelt prayer of his own for the young people [Belinda and Horatio] who would eventually unite in their combined patronage the two livings of Halston and Marlden. Tears stood in the eyes of the good old man as he alluded with a native delicacy to the possibility of offspring. Himself a celibate,…the more pathetically did he extend both hands in benediction over the bowed heads of the kneeling couple, while his uplifted eyes sought Heaven in a prayer for their fruitful happiness. (129-130—my emphasis added)


The reader of this tale of affection and purity will also gratefully find many memorable displays of Hilaire Belloc’s capacious versatility and depictions of lapses of true and chivalrous nobility. For example: Sir Robert Montgomery’s unexpected outburst and eloquent diatribe against the perceived character of Horatio Maltravers and his lineage (25); the presentation on the debt bondage of certain gentry and the cold manipulations of the financial oligarchs (to include the looting of the monasteries, both historically and now) (41-46); Horatio’s hospitable welcome at an inn and the special gift of his horse, Crusader (66-71); the voyage by ship from Dover to France (71-72); the Marquise’s rescue (78).

In the presence of his daughter Belinda, Sir Robert Montgomery passionately rejected her own choice, demeaned her beloved, and had an astonishing outburst at last, full of Shakespearean invective:

“Horatio!” he thundered. “Horatio Maltravers? A beggar’s brat, disreputably dragged up by a hermit? A pauper? A young wastrel? An out-at-elbows fellow, a scrap and rag-bag, a rotten Oxford coxcomb all curls and debts, a miserable futility.” (25)

On high finance and debt bondage and desperate (often immoral) attempts to become unsnarled:

This lamentable situation [of progressive and often compound interest and resultant “debt bondage”] had risen from an action only too common upon the part of the gentry. Sir Henry’s father [Sir Orlando Portly] had the fatal imprudence to speculate on ‘Change [sic—the Financial Exchange]….

The rumor spread by Herr Amschel—later and better known as Baron de Rothschild—that the glory of Britain had set on the field of Waterloo [fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815], had led Sir Orlando…to sell…in the hope of reaping an immense profit when all should be acquainted with the fatal truth [the purported loss of victory]. He [Sir Orlando] had not allowed for the business acumen of the great banker. For Amschel-Rothschild had secretly procured the news of victory in advance of all, and had had the admirable foresight to spread accounts of defeat for the better preparation of the market.

It was upon these accounts that Sir Orlando [Portly] had [disastrously] speculated in London, confident in the ruin of our cause. (42-43—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Horatio’s necessary stopover at an inn in Dover, en route to France, because of the rough seas:

The landlord, standing at the door to welcome a guest [Horatio] whose distinguished bearing he had justly appreciated at his approach, bowed low to receive him, and asked him what service he might render.

“Let my horse [Crusader],” answered the gentleman dismounting, “be led to his stable, whither I will accompany the groom to see that all is in order: the saddle and its bags carefully lodged aside, the creature’s coat well rubbed down, a rug provided, and an ample feed of good oats—for a man’s first duty is to his mount. Next I will ask for a simple meal with a bottle of your best, and that disposed, I will beg a word with you.”….

“I would be brief. You have seen me accompany to his stall my best friend….Take, take I pray you, this steed of mine—the final object of my domestic affections—for I depart from England, and for ever! He is worthy of your acceptance….you will give him the home I desire….With you he will be secure from the sloth, the folly, the cruelty of bad horse-masters….I leave him in good hands. I ask no more….I go abroad for long, for long indeed. If you will harbour my gallant, my faithful Crusader, it is upon me that the boon is conferred.”

He was silent.

“Sir,” replied the host, in deep tones of ill-concealed emotion. “I shall keep him not as a gift, but as a trust, until I have the honour and pleasure of seeing your face again. (69-70—my emphasis added)

Then came Horatio’s journey by ship to France in the heavy storm:

Within a few minutes [out of the protective haven] the winds embraced her in full violence….The waves rose mountains high as the shore receded into the murk….The Captain (whose name was Beaver) affirmed, with rough sea-oaths, that in all his 317 crossings of the Channel he had never known so fearful a hurricane, and in the thickness of the flying scud the white sea-walls of England [of the cliffs of Dover] turned ghostly as though leagues away, (71-72—my emphasis added)

Then came Horatio’s answer to a question the Marquise Esmerelda posed to him after he had rescued her from night-robbers in France, a question as to his “destination”:

“Destination,” he answered, “I have none. I am a wanderer, self-exiled from the home of my childhood. I seek but the next hostelry [inn], thence to continue through the world my trackless and lonely way.”

“Nay,” said she decidedly, in that clear voice to which its mere hint of a French habit added a subtle charm, “then our course is plain. You must accompany me to my Château, which is near at hand, and there remain till you are healed of your wound. I will take no denial. That you are a gentleman your idiom, your gait, your accoutrement assure me. That you are the bravest of the brave [especially with your openly “Chivalric Daring” (81)] (she concluded, with an assuring glance) you have yourself proved.” (78—my emphasis added)


© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1See Hilaire Belloc, Belinda: A Tale of Affection in Youth and Age (Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2014—a re-print of the 1928 first edition). The first edition, as published in England in 1928, was published in London by Constable & Co. LTD. The American First Edition was published in New York and London by Harper & Brothers in 1929, and that edition additionally contains eight Illustrations. All future references, however, will be to the 2014 re-print text by Loreto Publications, and the references will placed above in parentheses in the main body of this essay.

Maurice Baring’s Elegiac Presentation of The Lonely Lady of Dulwich

Dr. Robert Hickson

3 June 2022

Saint Clotilde (d. 545)

West Point Graduation 58 Years Ago (Class of 1964)

Maurice Baring on the Mystery of Mortal Beauty and the Supreme Sacrifice:

The Lonely Lady of Dulwich(1934)



“She was beautiful, in spite of looking listless and pale at the moment. Yes, she was beautiful, more than beautiful, he thought, and he wondered why she was so particularly beautiful; and he wondered for the millionth time at the mystery of mortal beauty.” (Maurice Baring, The Lonely Lady of Dulwich, 1934), (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), page 25, chapter three—my bold emphasis added.)


“The opportunity had come to her [Zita] at last to make just such a sacrifice as she was longing to make—the supreme sacrifice. Yes, she would face all the consequences, even if it meant leaving Robert [her mixed marriage and longstanding sacramental husband]. It would prove [sic] to Walter [Price] how much she loved him.” (Maurice Baring, The Lonely Lady of Dulwich, 1934, page 130—my bold emphasis added,)


“The Harmers [Robert and Zita] were to start on Wednesday, and on the Sunday morning Zita went to Mass at Saint Philippe du Roule. Zita was not, or had not been, until now, a religious woman. She [as a Catholic] was just pratiquante: that is to say, she went to Mass on Sundays and abstained on Fridays. She fulfilled her Easter duties. But that was all.

“The church was crowded and stuffy. Zita was a prey to distractions until a Dominican got into the pulpit and began to preach. She found it was impossible not to listen to him, although she tried. He was eloquent and forcible, and he seemed to be speaking to her personally and individually, as if he was aware of her personal difficulties and secret thoughts. He pointed out among other things how necessary it was that the individual should cheerfully accept sacrifice for the good of the community. The Church might seem hard on the individual; the hardness must be faced and accepted. He [the Dominican] had spoken, too, of the danger of illicit love [as with the efect of “Queen Guinevere” (page 136), given her own betrayal of King Arthur]. Zita listened to this eloquence unmoved. His words applied to her.” (Maurice Baring, The Lonely Lady of Dulwich, 1934—pages 75-76—my bold emphasis added.)


“Walter Price [the journalist] had christened her [Zita as] Queen Guinevere because one day she [Zita] had said to him: ‘Robert’s name is Arthur as well as Robert, but he can’t bear the name, and he can’t bear being called Arthur, even in fun,’ and Walter had said: ‘That’s because he doesn’t want you to be Guinevere.’” (Maurice Baring, The Lonely Lady of Dulwich, 1934—page 136—my emphasis added.)


One of Maurice Baring’s distinctive and recurrent talents in prose and verse—especially about his fallen comrades and close friends in war—is his heartfelt presentation of dignified elegy, not just of tragedy. His writing vividly conveys in small ways an elegiac atmosphere, also with his subtle tones.

In this brief essay about Baring’s short 1934 novel—The Lonely Lady of Dulwich—we may poignantly and gradually follow much of the life and sorrows of Zita, a Catholic woman and her mixed marriage and her resultant yearnings and their grave consequences, after she had lost, through death, her only child soon after birth.

This essay invites a willing reader to enter into the sorrows and indifferent negligence, or nonchalance, of this haunting woman with her enduringly beautiful (but insufficient) ways. We shall thereby likely come to consider more closely and more fully the meaning and the purposes of “mortal beauty.” We hope that the sequential hints already given above in the Epigraphs will have also already stirred a sincere and searching reader—fostering the desire to acquire and to savor this little novel of much elegiac import.

The novel is a portrait of an increasingly lonely lady, a portrait that is both musical and picturesque, as well as literary. After having been raised for five years in a Catholic convent, Zita as a young woman had to face the impoverishment of her mother due to the somewhat irresponsible way of living of her adventurous and robust father who then had suddenly died. Zita was the youngest of three beautiful sisters. More out of convenience than out of love, she married a wealthy man, Robert Harmer, with whom she then lived for some decades as a couple, living the life of an upper class family in England, traveling and vacationing and enjoying varied entertainments.

She is a formal Catholic, following the Church’s daily precepts with regard to the life of a Catholic. Yet, at the same time, her life seemed not so touched by Grace. While living with her husband in Paris, she is touched by the attentiveness of a poet, Jean, who tried to convince her to go to Algeria with him and leave her husband. Even after hearing at Mass a piercing homily by a Dominican priest, her heart, however, seems not to turn away from her adulterous plan; merely her husband’s urging her to implement what he surmised was her plan made her alter her plans at the last moment.

When she later more deeply fell in love with a younger journalist, Walter Price, she was willing to reveal to him her past history and love story with the now-deceased, but famous poet, only to make, in her eyes, a seemingly “supreme sacrifice” for Price (who then was already secretly engaged to a different and younger woman). Price published then his candid story about her disloyal past that destroyed her current life, with her husband sending her away without a word, never to speak with her or even see her again. Two years later, he died, and she was a widow. This beautiful lady wound up living her last twenty or thirty years alone in the village of Dulwich outside of London.

The way Maurice Baring presents the larger, often implicit, story of Zita, the tones and enduring mysteries are important. Often they are even evocative of the sacraments and of the sacred. It sometimes alluringly included what was also essentially missing. That is to say, what G.K. Chesterton had profoundly called “The Presence of Absence.”


© 2022 Robert D. Hickson

A Sequence of Formative and Cumulative Insights

Dr. Robert Hickson

5 April 2022

Saint Vincent Ferrer O.P. (d. 1419)

Blessed Juliana of Mount Cornillon (d. 1258)



“What then is this Sloth which can merit the extremity of divine punishment? St. Thomas’s answer is both comforting and surprising: tristitia de bono spirituali, sadness in the face of spiritual good. Man is made for joy in the love of God, a love which he expresses in service. If he deliberately turns away from that joy, he is denying the purpose of his existence. The malice of Sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty (though that can be a symptom of it) but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair.” (Evelyn Waugh, “Sloth,” from The Essays, Articles, and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, page 573.)


“Courage can only come from love, and from unselfishness.” (Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam, page 88.)


“Turgenev,” said Yakovlev, “says that man is either a Hamlet or a Don Quixote. You are a Don Quixote, only you have none of the Spaniard’s kindness and humility. If you are a Don Quixote you should be chivalrous.” (Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam, page 225.)


“Your ideas [said Yakovlev to Christopher] spring from rage and are spurred by reaction and so may easily turn to sourness instead of balm. And the essence of sacrifice is balm.” (Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam, page 128.)


“One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world.”

“I didn’t think about it in that way. I don’t think I rebelled against it, because I thought my father was happier dead and at peace, than alive and in pain; but I was just stunned. Apart from that, I have not experienced real sorrow; only disappointment and disillusion.”

“A priest once said to me, ‘When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret of life.’” (Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan, p. 178)


“In the Mass of Paul VI, there is an attenuation of Sacrificium, Sacramentum, and Sacerdotium.” (Arnaud de Lassus’ humble and faithful, private personal words to me, during his visit from France in the 1970s.)


“The Gift of Final Perseverance is a “Great Gift” – a “Magnum Donum.” (Council of Trent)


Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam!” – The Jesuit Motto. (Father John A. Hardon, S.J. always accented the COMPARATIVE “Maiorem” – one must always try to give MORE.)


While recently preparing to be with a gifted young Catholic Priest and Confessor, I unexpectedly recalled – as I was serenely waiting – some varied insights from which I have cumulatively benefited down the years, both from personal bonds and from good literature. May our readers come to intertwine the meaning of these varied presentations above, as if they were a counterpoint, together with the following comments.

We propose therefore to conclude with two examples: one a Lutheran German once a 1939 exile to the U.S. (Dr. Fritz Kraemer, d. 2003); and an American Jesuit scholar (Father John A. Hardon, S. J., d. 2000).

  1. Fritz Kraemer on his strongly accented concept and perceived practice of “PROVOCATIVE WEAKNESS” whereby someone is so weak – in the Church or State or Culture – that he is “thereby provocative to others.” This concept still has many formidable applications!
  2. Father Hardon: “What we have is Nature; what we need is Grace….We are only as courageous as we are convinced. But what are we truly convinced of?”


© 2022 Robert D. Hickson

Quixote at Oxford: Maurice Baring’s Literary Insights into Foreign Literatures

Dr. Robert Hickson

24 February 2022

Saint Matthias



The man who has the rooms opposite mine [at Balliol College, Oxford University] is a Spaniard. A nobleman very cultivated and amiable. His name is Quixote. Consulted him last night as to what to do about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Quixote said it was entirely a point of honour.” (Hamlet the Dane’s own words taken from his Lost Diary, as presented by Maurice Baring in his 1913 collection, Lost Diaries (London: Duckworth & CO., 1913), page 213—my emphasis added—(The entire entry of Hamlet’s “Lost Diary” will be found on pages 206-215, which is the last presented piece in the book.)


“Yes, but you know I think great men, very great men, are never bitter—men like Goethe and Shakespeare.” (Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929), page 59—my emphasis added.)


Shakespeare understood everything. Especially young people. I always think someone must have been unkind to him. He talks so painfully of ingratitude, but although he is sad and tragic he is never bitter, he is sweet. He is like Beethoven. Out of his great sadness there comes a fountain of joy.” (Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam , page 50—my emphasis added.)


Turgenev,” said Yakovlev [the Russian teacher and mentor of Christopher Trevenen], “says that man is either a Hamlet or a Don Quixote. You are a Don Quixote, only you have none of the Spaniard’s kindness and humility. If you are a Don Quixote you should be chivalrous.” (Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam, page 225—my emphasis added.)


This brief essay intends to counterpoise two of Maurice Baring’s own sustained literary efforts—one of them in 1913 and one of them in 1929 after the Great War—namely, first an extended parody of variously imagined Lost Diary Entries from different points of history; and then an Historical Novel about varied temporal and sacred matters, to include various moral purifications from disappointed loves.

Moreover, Hamlet and Don Quixote, especially at two points, are vividly presented together and thus thereby become for us even more distinctive and contrasting characters. The contrast clarifies the mind, especially by way of Baring’s unusual contrasts and magnanimously designed ironies.

Let us resume with Yakovlev’s earlier words to Christopher Trevenen and his growing maturity:

“Turgenev [the Russian author]…says that man is either a Hamlet or a Don Quixote. You are a Don Quixote, only you have none of the Spaniard’s kindness and humility. If you are a Don Quixote you should be chivalrous.”

“Don Quixote, fortunately for him, was mad.”

“He was very sane too.”

“You mean that I am neither mad nor sane?”

“Neither mad, nor sane enough.

“I will try and improve,” said Christopher, and he laughed.

“For a person who is steeped in oriental literature, it is surprising how little of the oriental serenity you have assimilated.”

“I suppose it is my Irish blood.”

“Yes, but I should have thought that would have been tempered by your mother’s common-sense.”

“That is because I am neither one thing nor the other; an exile everywhere.”

“We are all of us exiles,” said Yakovlev, “one must carry one’s country with one. The Kingdom of Heaven is within.”

“Yes, for those who have found it.” (Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam (1929),1 pages 225-226)

Before Hamlet records his sudden meeting with Quixote at Oxford, and before this visiting Danish Prince only partly then comes to accept what the chivalrous Spaniard had advised in honour, Prince Hamlet had—in bold script—entitled his own overall selective reflections, with these words:

From the Diary of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, during his Stay at England, whither he was Sent to Study at the University at Oxford, under the Special Care of Polonius. (206)

(In Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, Hamlet, Polonius is the father of Laertes and of Ophilia; moreover, after Polonius himself was later accidentally killed by Hamlet, the desire for vengeance was more widely stirred and spreading, all of which the magnanimity of Maurice Baring has attempted to mollify and mitigate in his Lost Diary.)

An earlier entry of Prince Hamlet’s Balliol Diary reads as follows:

Went to Abingdon for the day. When I came back I found that havoc had been made of my rooms [likely done by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?]: both the [musical] virginals broken to pieces—all the furniture destroyed, and all my pictures including a signed portrait of Ophilia [his beloved].

Have my suspicions as to who has done this. Shall first make certain and then retaliate terribly. In the meantime it will be polite to conceal my annoyance. (207)

Then toward the conclusion of his diary-entry, Hamlet resourcefully and honouably says:

Friday. –Must really settle this business of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern [those Danes on a mission] soon. It is beginning to prey upon my mind. They are quite insufferable….Fencing match [against Cambridge University] is to take place next week, here [at Oxford University].

Saturday.–The man who has the rooms opposite mine is a Spaniard. A nobleman very cultivated and amiable. His name is Quixote. Consulted him last night as to what to do about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Quixote said it was entirely a point of honour. That if I were certain they were guilty, and certain likewise that they had purposely insulted me, I should challenge them each, separately, to personal combat, with sword and rapier. I pointed out, however, that whereas I was a champion swordsman, and indeed had been chosen to represent the University, they had no skill at all. Moreover, I considered that to challenge them to fight would be doing them too much honour. Quixote said I must indubitably take action of some kind, or else I would incur the suspicion of cowardice. (213-214)

Then “at that moment” came a stealthy surprise, as was to be seen from their open window:

I [Hamlet] saw in the darkness, walking stealthily along the wall a man whom I took to be Guildenstern. Seizing a bottle of white wine from Xeres with which Quixote had entertained me, I flung it out of the window on to the head of the skulker, but alas! It was not Guildenstern but the [College] Dean himself! (214)

Soon there came some acute and partly comic consequences:

Monday.– [I] Again appeared before a [Balliol] College meeting. Accused of having wantonly wounded, and almost murdered the Dean. Protested my innocence in vain. It was further suggested I was intoxicated. Lost my temper, which was a mistake, and called the Dean a villain, losing control over my epithets.

Sent down [expelled] for the rest of the [academic] term. Polonius is very angry. He has written to my father [King Hamlet the true king, not uncle Claudius the usurper] suggesting that I should not go back to Oxford, nor seek to enter Cambridge either, but to go to Wittenberg instead [where “Mr. Faustus”—Faust—occultly dwells and teaches]. Owing to my abrupt departure the fencing match with Laertes [Polonius’s son] will not come off. No matter, a day will come, when maybe I shall be revenged on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We go to London to-day. (214-215—Finis)

Once again Maurice Baring transposes with subtlety and modest charm a well-known and deftly interwoven literary text, or fragment. In this case, it was the fuller-developed tragedy of Hamlet.

May this deft parody lead us to re-read and more adequately to appreciate the intimate tragedy with its accompanying burdens of revenge.

May we also now better appreciate the clarifying counterpoise of those vivid characters of Prince Hamlet of Denmark and Don Quixote of La Mancha.


© 2022 Robert D. Hickson

1Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929). All further references are to this text, and are placed above in the main body of this brief essay for convenience. See also the earlier 1913 text: Maurice Baring, Lost Diaries (London: Duckworth & CO., 1913). Page references are in parentheses above in main body of the essay.

Two Emperors in Trouble and a Mother’s Prayer for Her Groping Son

Dr. Robert Hickson

6 January 2022

Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord

Two Emperors in Trouble and a Mother’s Prayer for Her Groping Son:

Evelyn Waugh’s 1950 Presentation of Saint Helena’s Deepening Faith and Eloquence



“’I know I am human. In fact I often feel [says Constantine himself to his Empress Mother as the reigning Emperor; and, moreover, still “an unbaptized convert” (138)] that I am the only real human….And that’s not pleasant at all, I can assure you. Do you understand at all, mother?

‘Oh, yes, perfectly.’

‘What is it, then?’

Power without Grace,’ said Helena [the future Saint Helena].

‘Now you are going to start nagging about baptism again.’

‘Sometimes,’ Helena continued, ‘I have a terrible dream of the future. Not now, but presently, people may forget their loyalty to their kings and emperors and take power for themselves. Instead of letting one victim bear this frightful curse [of just and sustained ruling] they will take it all on themselves each one of them. Think of the misery of a whole world possessed of Power without Grace.’…

‘We talked of it years ago….I have always remembered your words [,Constantine]. You said: ‘If I wish to live, I must determine to rule.’ ‘

‘And that is true today.’ [said her son, Emperor Constantine]

But, not without Grace, Constantine.’

Baptism. It always comes back to that in the end. Well, I’m going to be baptized, never fear. But not yet. In my own time. I’ve got other things to do before that…. [even though he was still “one indeed who was not yet formally admitted as a catechumen”! (138)]….’”

(Evelyn Waugh, Helena (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1950), pages 185-186—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original.)


In the inmost cell of the foetid termitary of power, Diocletian [the Emperor Diocletian] was consumed by huge boredom and sickly turned towards his childhood’s home. He ordained a house of refuge on the [Dalmatian coast] shores of the Adriatic.” (Evelyn Waugh, Helena, page 100—my emphasis added)


“Everywhere Constantine prospered until he became blandly [so presumptuously and delusively?] aware that he was invincible….There were glimpses of [his son, Crispus] a nobler figure; young Crispus, all dash and fidelity, last warrior of the high Roman tradition on whose shield the fanciful might descry the fading blazon of Hector [of Troy]. Reports of him [and his death] came to Helena….His name was remembered always at her palace Mass. For Helena had been baptized.

“None knows when or where. No record was made. Nothing was built or founded. There was no public holiday. Privately and humbly, like thousands of others, she stepped down into the font and emerged a new woman. Were there regrets for her earlier loyalty? Was she persuaded point by point? Did she merely conform to the prevailing fashion, lie open unresisting to Divine Grace and so without design become its brimming vehicle? We do not know. She was one seed in a vast germination. (Evelyn Waugh, Helena, page 132—my emphasis added)


“’I’m only teasing, Lactantius [said Helena, but before she herself became a Christian]. Of course I know why you are all so excited. I confess I am a little uneasy myself. It’s this story that is going around that my boy has turned Christian. Has he?’

‘Not exactly, ma’am, as far as we can learn. But he has put himself under the protection of Christ.’

‘Why will no one ever talk plain sense to me? Am I too stupid? It is all I have ever asked, all my life, a straight answer to a straight question; and I never get one….All I want is the simple truth. Why don’t you answer me?’

After a pause Lactantius said: ‘Perhaps because I have read too much. I’m not the person to come to with straight and simple questions, ma’am. I don’t know the answers [to your several questions]….We all have the chance to choose the Truth….As you know he [Constantine] has brought the Church into the open.’

‘Beside Jupiter and Isis and the Phrygian Venus.’ [said Helena]

Christianity is not that sort of religion, ma’am. It cannot share anything [of the sort] with anybody. Whenever it is free, it will conquer.’

Perhaps there was some point in the persecutions then.’

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ [said Waugh’s Lactantius to an attentive and receptive Helena, though as yet unbaptized; Helena, pages 127-128]


In 1912, three years before World War I began, Hilare Belloc first published an essay entitled “The Decline of a State.”1 And this compact essay, full of fresh insights, unexpectedly concluded with a memorable and challenging sentence:

Those who have least power in the decline of a State are priests, soldiers, the mothers of many children, the lovers of one woman, and saints. (242)

After my further reflecting upon Belloc’s selection of especially vulnerable persons in a time of decline and disorder, I recalled some passages from Evelyn Waugh’s historical novel, Helena (1950), especially two of Waugh’s formulations about the insufficiency of “Power”: Emperor Diocletian’s own boring and “foetid termitary of power”; and Emperor Constantine’s own self-sabotaging “power without Grace” as envisioned and articulated to her son by his mother, Helena, and concerning an imagined future ochlocracy or mob rule that is likewise trying to rule “without Grace”.

In this context, we may even slightly expand Belloc’s original phrase concerning the vulnerable: namely,“those who have least power in the decline of a state [and amidst “power without Grace”].”

With this slight amendment in mind, we now propose to examine Belloc’s essay more closely. It will be conducted “on the premise that sustained power without Grace is inherently selfsabotaging and is presented by a ‘foetid termitary.’” (Waugh’s scented termite analogy is a vivid one for sure!)

One of Belloc’s main contributions is his examination of the influence and destructive consequences of “two vices” (240)—“Avarice” and “Fear”—in the decline of a State, especially as practiced in “an oligarchic State, or aristocracy as it is called.” (237) For example, he says:

In the decline of a State, of whatever nature that State be [democratic, despotic, oligarchic, or aristocratic], two vices will immediately appear and grow: these are Avarice and Fear; and men will more readily accept the imputation of Avarice than of Fear, for Avarice is the less despicable of the two—yet in fact Fear will be by far the strongest passion of the time [i.e., during the time of a growing decline]. (240—my bold emphasis and italics added)

By way of clarifying contrast, Belloc elsewhere in his writings often accents the perilous combination of “insecurity and insufficiency” both of which all too often tend to increase the passions and the vices of Avarice and Fear.

Let us now consider some of Belloc’s framing introductory words to his analysis:

The decline of a State is not equivalent to a mortal sickness therein. States are organisms subject to diseases and to decay…; but they are not subject to a rhythmic rise and fall…. A State in decline is never a State doomed or a State dying. States perish slowly or by violence, but never without remedy and rarely without violence. (237—my emphasis added)

Belloc then refers to the “texture” (237) of a State and its decline, namely whether or not it is mostly democratic, despotic, oligarchic or aristocratic—or some combination of them. For example, and also promptly recalling his own England as of 1911, he says:

An oligarchic State, or aristocracy as it is called, will decline principally through two agencies which are, first, illusion, and secondarily, lack of civic aptitude. For an oligarchic State tends very readily to illusion, being conducted by men who live at leisure, satisfy their passions, are immune from the laws, and prefer to shelter themselves from reality. Their capacity or appetite for illusion will rapidly pervade those below them, for in an aristocracy the rulers are subjected to a sort of worship from the rest of the community, and thus it comes about that aristocracies in their decline accept fantastic histories of their own past, conceive victory possible without armies, wealth to be an indication of ability, and national security to be a natural gift rather that a [disciplined and virtuous] product of the [informed] will.(237-238—my emphasis added)

Now he passes on to the second factor (or “agency”) of a growing “lack of civic aptitude” in the decline of a State:

Such [oligarchic-aristocratic] communities further fail from a lack of civic aptitude…,which means that they deliberately elect to leave the mass of citizens incompetent and irresponsible for generations, so that, when any more strain is upon them, they look at once for some men other than themselves to relieve them, and [they] are incapable of corporate action upon their own account. (238—my emphasis added)

Belloc then touches upon real differences between “a great State or a small one” (238) and the factors of “indifference, faction, ignorance, and private spite” (238). States are “rooted originally in commerce, in arms, or in production” whether as they be artisan or be peasant-agricultural. He weighs and differentiates “the basis of the State” (239) more specifically and more concretely. These candid observations we recommend to the attention of the reader, that he may better savor the diversities.

It is fitting that we now further consider Belloc’s focused insights and his illustrations of “Avarice” and “Fear” and their sabotaging influences in a growing decline of a State.

First, Avarice, as a passion and vice, thus an habitual deadly sin, under conditions of decline:

Avarice will show itself not indeed in a mere greed of gain (for this is common to all societies whether flourishing or failing), but rather in a sort of taking for granted and permeation of the mere love of money, so that history will be explained by it, wars judged by their booty or begun in order to enrich a few, love between men and women wholly subordinated to it [money], especially among the rich: wealth made a test for responsibility and great salaries invented and paid to those who serve the State [a declining State, moreover]. This vice will also be apparent in the easy acquaintance of all who are possessed of wealth and their segregation from the less fortunate, for avarice cleaves society flatways, keeping the scum of it quite clear of the middle, the middle of it [society] quite clear of the dregs, and so forth. It is a further mark of avarice in its last stages that the rich are surrounded with lies in which they themselves believe. Thus, in the last phase [of avarice’s illusion], there are no parasites but only friends, no gifts but only loans, which are more esteemed favours than gifts once were. No one [is] vicious but only tedious, and no one a poltroon but only slack. (240-241—my emphasis added)

Although Belloc’s analysis is largely a secular analysis, Waugh’s Saint Helena—if not her son—would have detected new and crippling forms of Fear and of Cunning Carnal Prudence and Weakness without Grace. We may also consider the broken trust and increasing fears in our own society and decomposing civilization, at least as of 2022:

Of Fear in the decline of a State it may be said that it is so much the master passion of such decline as to eat up all others. Coming by travel from a healthy State to one diseased, Fear is the first point you take. Men dare not print or say what they feel of the judges, the public governors, the action of the police, [of] the controllers of fortunes and of news….Under the influence of Fear, to tell the least little truth about him [“a powerful minister”] will put a whole assembly into a sort of blankness.

This vice [of Fear] has for its most laughable effects the raising of a whole host of phantoms [subtle deceptions, or sensate “fake news,” perhaps?], and when a State is so far gone that civic Fear is quite normal to the citizens, then you will find them blenching with terror at a piece of print, a whispered accusation [e.g., about the immunities of International High Finance or the Money-Laundering of International Drug-Money Networks]. (241-242—my emphasis added)

By way of concluding his selectively nuanced essay, Belloc gives a glimpse of those who darkly and dubiously flourish in times of a State’s disorder and decline, as well as those who preserve some kind of independence or a deeply suffering vulnerability:

Moneylenders under this influence [of Fear] have the greatest power, next after them, blackmailers of all kinds, and next after these [two manipulative niche-operatives] eccentrics who may [“but, not without Grace”] blurt or break out [from under the vicious influence and atmosphere of Fear].

Those who have least power [under these secular and graceless and debilitating conditions] in the decline of a State are priests, soldiers, the mothers of many children, the [loyal] lovers of one woman, and saints. (142—my emphasis added)

It was a wise man who said that “those who are themselves uprooted tend to uproot others.”

Hilaire Belloc’s 1911-1912 essay on “The Decline of the State” is certainly resonantly enhanced in its complemetarity and counterpoise with Evelyn Waugh’s 1950 vivid historical novel, Helena—a novel about the times of Emperor Diocletian and Emperor Constantine and a newly germinating and spreading Christianity that Waugh himself so deeply cherished. (It was the only one he ever read aloud to his own beloved children.) Would that we knew whether Hilaire Belloc, who died in July of 1953, read Waugh’s moving 1950 novel with its supernatural perspectives on the indispensability of Grace.

In the 1960s, while a military officer in Southeast Asia, I one day somehow formulated to myself a principle about the mysteriously Permissive Acts of Divine Providence that was especially then consoling to me. It was a correlative relative proposition that went like this:

The greater the evil that God allows, the greater the good He intends to bring out of it.”

The faithful Practical Application of that Principle and Correlative Proposition goes like this:

“Therefore, here and now, I (we) must promptly collaborate with the Divine Intention and thus resourcefully and loyally try to bring about a GREATER good out of what God, and sometimes so mysteriously, has allowed to happen—also in combat and other forms of warfare!”

These are difficult principles and codes to live by. But “we are only as courageous as we are convinced,” as Father John A. Hardon, S.J. himself once solemnly and very supportively said to me.


Now comes an unforgettably beautiful literary passage: Let us thus now closely consider and gratefully savor St. Helena’s own cultivated prayers for her son (as well as for others) as offered to the Three Magi on the Feast of the Epiphany. Evelyn Waugh presents them at the end of his penultimate Chapter XI, which is aptly entitled “Epiphany,” from Helena by Evelyn Waugh (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1950), pages 221-224, here, printed for the reader’s sake without indentation:

Everyone in Jerusalem remarked on Helena’s vigour. The old lady was positively indefatigable, they all said. But in truth she was very weary. Winter set in. The convent was exposed, damp and chill. It was not thus, in Dalmatia, that she had planned her old age. She seemed to have come to the end of her questions. No one was helpful. No one was hopeful. At Christmas she had not the strength to ride out with the procession to Bethlehem. She went to communion in the convent chapel and that day allowed the nuns to make a fuss of her, spending the feast crouched over a wood fire which they lit for her in her room.

But by Twelfth Night she rallied and on the eve set out by litter along the five rough miles to the shrine of the Nativity. There was no throng of pilgrims. [Bishop] Macarius and his people kept Epiphany in their own church. Only the little community of Bethlehem greeted her and led her to the room they had prepared. She rested there dozing until an hour before dawn when they called her and led her out under the stars, then down onto the stable-cave, where they made a place for her on the women’s side of the small, packed congregation.

The low vault was full of lamps and the air close and still. Silver bells announced the coming of the three vested, bearded monks, who prostrated themselves before the altar. So the long liturgy began.

Helena knew little Greek and her thoughts were not in the words nor anywhere in the immediate scene. She forgot even her quest and was dead to everything except the swaddled child long ago and those three royal sages who had come from so far to adore him.

“This is my day, she thought, “and these are my kind.”

Perhaps she apprehended that her fame, like theirs, would live in one historic act of devotion; that she too had emerged from a kind of ‘ουτοπία’ [Utopia] or nameless realm and would vanish like them in the sinking nursery fire-light among the picture-books and the day’s toys.

“Like me,” she said to them, “you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed among the disconcerted stars.

“How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculations, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!

“You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which there began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!

“Yet you came, and were not turned away. You too found room at the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life there was room for you too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.

“You are my especial patrons,” said Helena, “and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have had a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.

“Dear cousins, pray for me,” said Helena, “and for my poor overloaded son [the Emperor Constantine himself, who was still unbaptized]. May he, too, before the end find kneeling-space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. And pray for Lactantius and Marcias and the young poets of Trèves and for the souls of my wild, blind ancestors; for their sly foe Odysseus and for the great Longinus.

“For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”


© 2019 and 2022: Robert D. Hickson

1Hilaire Belloc, First and Last (London: Methuen & Co. LTD., 1912—the second edition; 1911 was the first edition), pages 237-242. All further page references will be to the text of the Second Edition, and placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay.