24 December 2008

The Belloc Family Christmas

George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton

A.N. Wilson, biographer of Hilaire Belloc, writes of his subject's yearly traditions:
Belloc's great essay on "A Remaining Christmas", which describes how they decked the hall with holly and laurel from the nearby farm; then put up the tree and adorn it with candles; then invite in all the nearby children to be fed, and to revere the crib which had been set up beside the great fire in the hearth.

Those who were staying in the house would then have dinner and troop upstairs to squeeze into the chapel. "And there the three night Masses are said, one after the other, and those of the household take their Communion."

Then everyone slept in late, and ate a turkey dinner. (Elodie was American, and perhaps they were among the earliest to eat this American bird as their Christmas dinner rather than the more traditionally English beef or goose.)
Wilson, invited by Belloc's grandson to make a documentary of Belloc's life and to include his home in the film, recounts the experience:
There are few houses in England, certainly few writers' houses, which have a more potent atmosphere than King's Land, with its chapel on the first floor, where he so often prayed, and where the Mass was so often said. The wall is papered with those little cards given out at Requiems, asking for prayers for the repose of the departed. And central to the chapel is the old piece of black-rimmed writing paper on which Belloc has inscribed his wife's name. It is grimy with his frequent fingering, for he touched and kissed it as often as he prayed here.
The camera crew came into the house. I felt awkward about their going anywhere near the chapel, but Julian, who felt in some degree oppressed by his grandfather, as by the Catholic faith, was all the more eager to bring to that hallowed place the glare of artificial light and the intrusion of a microphone. However often they tried to make their electrical equipment in the chapel at King's Land work, it failed. Either the lights popped, or the sound failed, usually both. The electricity of HB and of Elodie was much stronger than the electricity of the BBC. I felt, too, not merely the Bellocs, but the old Catholic Thing fighting back against the intrusion of the modern.
Belloc died on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 1953, and is buried in the churchyard of the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Consolation near his wife, who predeceased him by forty years; his sons predeceased him by, respectively, thirty-five and twelve years, each dying in a World War.