With a friend’s recent gift to me of his just re-published 1936 anthology of Hilaire Belloc’s essays, I had with gratitude the welcome occasion to re-read — and even to read aloud to my wife again in the evening — two of those essays I have always cherished: “The Good Woman”; and “The Portrait of a Child.” With poignancy and plangent tones, Belloc’s prose — even as a young man of early middle age — conveys his deep-heartedness to us still, as he cumulatively touches upon many vivid and inspiring themes, such as: feminine graciousness and the influence of a woman’s quiet charity; and the radiating presence of her goodness in gesture and in movement; and, then, too, a little child’s joyful innocence seemingly beatified, and the deeper meaning of blessedness, holiness, and of the sacred — with the awful necessity of loyalty and sacrifice in this world.
Although the 1936 Dineen Anthology was first published when Belloc was sixty-six years of age, — five years before he would have his first incapacitating stroke, and so very soon after the commencement of World War II and the shattering 1941 loss of his second son (Peter) — the two essays I wish now to consider are earlier compositions: two pre-World War I essays, which were first published in 1906 and in 1910, respectively. In 1906, Belloc was only thirty-six and he but forty years of age in 1910, and yet he had a discerning and plaintive heart even then. Soon that classically restrained melancholic strain and noble elegiac tone were to increase, and especially after he was to know the loss of his beloved wife, Elodie, and also his eldest son, Louis. (Elodie died on Candlemas, 2 February 1914; and Louis, himself a combat aviator in World War I, died in 1918, late in the War, and his body, despite several efforts, was never recovered.)