Contrasting Catholic writers

Efforts are underway to found a Belloc Society in Ireland. At the moment a small group are merely taking the initial baby steps, but they are serious about their scheme. Like the small Chesterton Society already in existence, both societies can be contacted in care of the Central Catholic Library at 74 Merrion Square, Dublin.

Though in their own day and perhaps down to the 1950s both writers enjoyed a great vogue, the change of outlook in the mid-1960s cast them both into the shadows. But now with renewed publications, active societies in the USA, the United Kingdom and in Europe, it could be said that a serious revival is underway.


Though they were satirically thrown together by George Bernard Shaw (pictured) as a single creature he called ëThe Chesterbellocí they are in fact quite contrasting writers, about whom many misconceptions are widely held.

Many admirers of Chesterton see him first and foremost as a Catholic apologist. But they forget that he only became a convert in 1922, a mere 14 years before his death. Many of the books they admire, such as the Fr Brown stories, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Man who was Thursday, The Flying Inn, even Orthodoxy, are not strictly the work of a Catholic, but an Anglican.  This alone should give some of the more conservative admirers of Chesterton here and abroad a moment for reflection.

Also though Chesterton is seen as a Catholic apologist, this is an activity of the last decade of his life. For much of his career he was what the staff of this paper are, a working journalist, responding to the immediate moment, rather than reflecting on it in an academic way. In fact aside from his newspaper contributions, Chesterton was present in public debate most of all through his full page diary column in the Illustrated London News, a magazine for which he wrote from 1905 down to his death in 1936. Of necessity this had to be wide ranging over news events, public affairs, literature and personalities in the public eye. As these columns are now hardly ever looked at by his admirers they are in their way a black hole in the approbation of GKC.

Universal range

By contrast Belloc (pictured) was a cradle Catholic; his ëPath to Romeí a natural one. Undoubtedly Belloc was the more scholarly of the two. In Chestertonís book on the poet Browning there were only two dates, and both were wrong. Belloc was a far more sober and exact scholar. But his too was astonishingly wide ranging mind. He was man of almost universal range in fact.

On my shelves I have a little book he wrote on warfare in England, which explains the marches and counter marches and battles of British history in terms of geography. His book on the British road, a private publication, is also a marvellously informative work, covering many aspects of roads, their routes, and their construction from Roman times onwards in England. 

These are merely side show books. They never compete with his great set piece biographies and more formal histories. It is a sad fact of life that his so active and creative mind was in the last years of his life clouded over by dementia. But such is life.

Literary habits

To truly appreciate both Belloc and Chesterton we would have to cultivate the more leisurely literary habits of the Edwardian era in England from which they emerged. In our hectic modern age this may be a difficult task.

However, for those really interest I should not forget to promote once again the reissue of Christendom in Dublin, GKCís book on the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin which the Irish Catholic published last year. Copes are still available now for Ä9.00 postage included.  All potential members of the Irish Chesterton and Belloc Societies will want to have a copy.