THE PEOPLE : WHERE ARE THEY IN BELLOC'S ENGLAND ?
BY HUGH DE BLACAM .HE old story tells of a learned devil who toiled through twenty thousand volumes of philosophy in order to ruin one soul,
when twenty thousand souls would have been ruined by any common devil, by cruder means.
That comes to mind with an opposite application, sometimes. What pains are taken to combat false philosophy and false history, in hope to make a convert of an heresiarch; and how little is done, in comparison, to reach the common, honest man, and to solve his simpler difficulties!
In his new book, An Essay on the Nature of Contemporary England (Constable, 2s. 6d. net), Mr. Hilaire Belloc declares that the anti-Catholicism of England "is fixed as far as one can affirm the permanence of anything human." This is a gloomy dictum, but Belloc defends it with marshalled reasons .that almost overwhelm the judgment. He draws a picture of English resistance to conversion which almost would make men give up hope if to do so were not forbidden. The Church, he says: " remains an object of instinctive hostility to Englishmen; and, even to those who feel no direct religious antagonism, the culture derived from Catholicism . , . is odious and despised."
The number of Catholics in England, he adds, apart from the Irish element, does not appreciably increase; and the small English Catholic body takes on the tone and colour of the Protestant world.
So, of the factors which shape the mind and history of modern England, " the traditional hostility to Catholicism" is, perhaps, the strongest, and it is secure.
Is Belloc right? To doubt it is to challenge the most penetrating historical writer of our day; yet one makes bold to do so.
The strength of Protestant prejudice,
everyone in these islands knows. Belloc has shown, none better, how it is entrenched in universities and schools, in libraries and in newspapers. We saw a delightful example of the contemptuous ipdifference to the Catholic fact which prevails in newspapers when the Cause of St. Thomas More was nearing its triumph. One paper reported that the Pope was expected to assent to the petition of Irish Catholics for the canonisation of the poet Tom Moore! (This was not in Beachcomber's corner, but in a news column.) In a graver way, the vehemence of Protestant prejudice was seen in the English Prayer-book debates, when a House of Parliament, mostly unbelieving, overruled the State Church because of the very hint of some simulacrum of Catholic practice.
Again, in international affairs, mark how Press and pulpit and street-corner tub all rage against the Catholic cause, now in arms in Spain! Grant all this, underline it and stress it and document it; but it does not carry as much weight, I suggest, as Belloc lays upon it. Official England, Church, State, Schools and Press : this is Protestant, yes; but what is Sam Weller saying to it all?
What Would " G.K." Have Said?
That is the question on which, perhaps, Chesterton for once would be found not wholly at one with Belloc. The common English, the longssuffering. cheerful. kindly under-folk, who did not deliberately renege the Faith but had it filched from them by their feudal pastors and masters; the underfolk who are freely and compulsorily deeducated, but retain a droll, sneaking suspicion of what they are taught—are these equally deliberately and irreconcilably Protestant?
I do not believe it. Neither they, nor the plain folk of the underworld of good nature in Belfast—to terrorise whom the drums are beaten and the pogroms of Catholics kept up—are bigoted like their over-lords; but what is done to reach and teach them? The very existence of the Hidden England and the Hidden Ulster is not recognised, at least in Belloc's essay Chesterton knew the truth, and wrote those lines like a trumpet call from captivity:
. . . But do not quite forget:
We are the people of England, and we have nor spoken yet."
What is Hidden!
Probably the greatest, most vital, most revealing Irish book of this century is Profe'ssor Daniel Corkery's The Hidden Ireland. In chapters of immortal prose, Corkery reveals and etches the image of that hidden Ireland of the people which was invisible to the most notable historians of the past; and he demonstrates, from the secret, rich and almost sacred poetry of the outlawed, Penal Gaels, how a great tide of spiritual and intellectual life flowed, of which the official world took no account. Such writers as Lecky drew merely the ascendancy—and it was but the husk and has gone.
Who will write a Hidden England, and draw those honest, common folk, who strove backward from official Protestantism in search of the Catholic home-life and comradeship and simplicity and comfort and joy, and tried to reproduce these in their groping sects, not knowing. (since no one told them) that they were seeking what Francis had to offer, and that they could gain it, but securely, only if they accepted, as well as Francis, Peter? Chesterton showed how the Christmas jollity of Dinglcy Dell was the survival of a Catholic festival, in a broken form, and how Sam Weller's laughter was a forlorn echo from the Middle Ages, when there were Sam Wellers in plenty. Who will go to the Sam Wellers of today and preach to them the lesson of their own history?
Commerce and Aristocracy
Bereac takes Commerce and Aristocracy as the other two marks, beside antiCatholicism, of modern England. No one will quarrel with his opinion that the economic structure is unlikely to change considerably; the fabric is too enormous to be reconstructed, or England made rural again, in measurable time. Planners must plan for a land which will be predominantly urban, so that politics in England must be radically different from politics in Ireland. where most of the nation is not proletarian and need not become so if a lesson is taken from England's late mistake.
As to Aristocracy, meaning rule by a close, hereditary, worried ascendancy, with neither effective freedom for the people nor the safeguard of a free monarchy, Belloc thinks that this has weakened of late. Americanism. the Jewish influx, easy wealth, the Press, cinema and radio, all have modified the supremacy of the oligarchy, although not enough to destroy the great ritual of snobbery which it set up two and three hundred years ago.
Here, of course, we have Belloc on one of his favourite themes, repeating one of his most helpful teachings. The Revolutionary ascendancy has controlled money, education, the Crown, and Parliament, for two centuries and a half. It crushed Catholicism and liberty. made a wilderness of once-populous Highland Scotland and nearly did the same for Ireland; it destroyed the English =peasantry and • reduced nine-tenths of the people to the state of an urban proletariat. No writer has taught these truths more thoroughly than Belloc. True, but does not the corollary follow, that this Revolutionary minority, this Whig ascendancy, is not the real nation of England at all?—and that, writing of it as England. Belloc is committing an error like Lecky's?
Catholicism Returns Of factors that are weakening the ascendancy, perhaps the chief is overlooked. I mean the Irish revolt and partial victory. Over three-quarters of Ireland, the nation that was hidden to Lecky now is master. The Penal darkness is gone. A transfor
mation is in progress as thorough as that which it corrects; and, as the Catholic life was blotted out as far as worldly violence could do it, so now, peacefully, sweetly reconquering, it is making a great region all its own once more.
That is a loss to the black ascendancy greater than was dreamed to be possible a hundred, nay fifty or less, years ago. From a quarter of the area of these islands, the ascendancy has passed away like smoke. That is not the whole measure of the victory; for the spectacle of freedom raises hope of freedom, and the ascendancy soon must feel the pressure of freedom even behind the line at which it sought to entrench itselr.
The Good and the Bad I do not allude to the Six Comities alone; though, naturally, it is there that the progress of the liberated part of Ireland most excites envy. The two-thirds of that area which is predominantly Catholic cannot be held from reunion forever; ultimate unity of the whole is inevitable, and when it comes, Irish grievance will be laid to rest. That will not end •the influence of Irish Christian democracy, however. It is active already as an example and inspiration. Workmen in England, Wales, Scotland, cannot fail to observe what gains accrue to humanity when government is directed by Catholic statesmen, pledged to the principles of the Encyclicals.
One might cite an example, the force of which is real though not obvious. It is not for nothing that Irish broadcasting has stirred up in Wales and Scotland greater ambitions for the Celtic culture in those
lands—that Welsh and Scots Gaelic plays, songs, lectures, music, are heard more often now. The Celtic culture is a popular culture, making much of the home and the field, the fair and the country gathering. It is exactly the culture which the Revolution, with its stress on artificial rules, its " class " bias, repressed The revival of Celtic culture is the opening of springs of popular inspiration. Where corm-ion men are Cymric bards, or members of an Irish " bardin court," they understand the dignity of man, and will not rest content as slaves.
Damaged by Jealousy From the Celtic territories. with the revival of manhood, may not there come the liberation of " the people of England who have not spoken yet "? That jealousy between Irish and English, which has done so much to hurt the progress of Catholicism in England, is a phenomenon of the Revolution. It is nurtured in schools, books and papers, by that caste which rise on the Penal subjection of Ireland. It is not felt among the folk; or at least, it is not felt to anything like the same extent. No one is better liked, better respected, among the under-folk in England than the Pat MacCarthies — big-bodied, readyworded, intrepid champions of them in a hundred issues with the boss; and mark that these Pat MacCarthies, who stand up so strongly for the workers' rights, are orthodox, not Communists; radical, if you will, but Christian. There is something to think over, when English democracy marches to a demonstration, and the band which leads them plays: "Who Fears to
Speak of 'Ninety-Eight? Sam Weller is a great friend of Pat McCarthy.
Faith Without Knowledge From these contacts in the common world, may not the conversion of great numbers follow? One reads Mr. Stanley B. James's fine essays on this theme. Then, one thinks of those sincere people, reared in total ignorance of Catholic historical truth, who persevere in ill-instructed forms of 'Christian worship because, in despite of all, they want to maintain those moral ideas which have come to them from generations past; one admires them, like the priestless Christians who held on in Japan, and longs for the day when friendly contact with Catholics will lead them on to enquiry and enlightenment. Such folk are many in Protestant Belfast, which is supposed to be the impregnable headquarters of Protestantism in these islands; yet how many families, even there, have been reconciled!
The Point of View One serious objection may be raised to this theory of a readiness for reconciliation among the common folk. It may be said that this is making Catholicism a class religion, or staking hopes on a class victory.
The answer is this:—
That to hope for the under-folk is not to despair of the others. It is a narrow and unsympathetic nature which has no feeling for Mr. Stanley Baldwin's Severn country, with its big houses and halfpatriarchal rural life. Let Merrie England come again in such places, and let the heralds of the Cotswold studios paint their shields in new tinctures and metals; aye, and let the revels go forward in Arden and Olivia's house—if it may be. That vision of a Tory countryside revived is not mean; no one is against it, if rural England can be Catholicised again. Yet there are thirty million city dwellers, without house or land or workshop of their own, in these islands, and those are the people who must be rescued from their plight of democracy, if at all and moved back to Christian ways by folk who speak their own common accent.
Those are the people, multitudinous yet dumb and driven, who appear nowhere in Belloc's sketch of contemporary England, and yet they are the brawn and blood of that country, and of north-east Ireland. Christianity was accused of class sympathises in ancient times, just because it went to the multitude, and found its converts so largely among slaves. Does not the rebirth of natives and civilisations usually come from the secret people, the folk, those whom the official world ignores, though in them is the sap of nationality, the promise of the future?