The reason the Dead do not return nowadays is the boredom of it | “On the Return of the Dead,” Hilaire Belloc

“On the Return of the Dead”

by

Hilaire Belloc

from On Nothing and Kindred Subjects (1908)


 

The reason the Dead do not return nowadays is the boredom of it.

In the old time they would come casually, as suited them, without fuss and thinly, as it were, which is their nature; but when such visits were doubted even by those who received them and when new and false names were given them the Dead did not find it worth while. It was always a trouble; they did it really more for our sakes than for theirs and they would be recognised or stay where they were.

I am not certain that they might not have changed with the times and come frankly and positively, as some urged them to do, had it not been for Rabelais’ failure towards the end of the Boer war. Rabelais (it will be remembered) appeared in London at the very beginning of the season in 1902. Everybody knows one part of the story or another, but if I put down the gist of it here I shall be of service, for very few people have got it quite right all through, and yet that story alone can explain why one cannot get the dead to come back at all now even in the old doubtful way they did in the ’80’s and early ’90’s of the last century.

There is a place in heaven where a group of writers have put up a colonnade on a little hill looking south over the plains. There are thrones there with the names of the owners on them. It is a sort of Club.

Rabelais was quarrelling with some fool who had missed fire with a medium and was saying that the modern world wanted positive unmistakable appearances: he said he ought to know, because he had begun the modern world. Lucian said it would fail just as much as any other way; Rabelais hotly said it wouldn’t. He said he would come to London and lecture at the London School of Economics and establish a good solid objective relationship between the two worlds. Lucian said it would end badly. Rabelais, who had been drinking, lost his temper and did at once what he had only been boasting he would do. He materialised at some expense, and he announced his lecture. Then the trouble began, and I am honestly of opinion that if we had treated the experiment more decently we should not have this recent reluctance on the part of the Dead to pay us reasonable attention.

In the first place, when it was announced that Rabelais had returned to life and was about to deliver a lecture at the London School of Economics, Mrs. Whirtle, who was a learned woman, with a well-deserved reputation in the field of objective psychology, called it a rumour and discredited it (in a public lecture) on these three grounds:

(a) That Rabelais being dead so long ago would not come back to life now.

(b) That even if he did come back to life it was quite out of his habit to give lectures.

(c) That even if he had come back to life and did mean to lecture, he would never lecture at the London School of Economics, which was engaged upon matters principally formulated since Rabelais’ day and with which, moreover, Rabelais’ “essentially synthetical” mind would find a difficulty in grappling. Continue reading “The reason the Dead do not return nowadays is the boredom of it | “On the Return of the Dead,” Hilaire Belloc”

“On a Notebook” — Hilaire Belloc

“On a Notebook” by Hilaire Belloc

A dear friend of mine (John Abdullah Capricorn, to give him his full name) was commandeered by a publisher last year to write a book for £10. The work was far advanced when an editor offered him £15 and his expenses to visit the more desperate parts of the Sahara Desert, to which spots he at once proceeded upon a roving commission. Whether he will return or no is now doubtful, though in March we had the best hopes. With the month of May life becomes hard for Europeans south of the Atlas, and when my poor dear friend was last heard of he was chancing his popularity with a tribe of Touaregs about two hundred miles south of Touggourt.

Under these circumstances I was asked to look through his notebook and see what could be done; and I confess to a pleased surprise…. It would have been a very entertaining book had it been published. It will be a very entertaining book if it is published.

Capricorn seems to have prepared a hotchpotch of information of human follies, of contrasts, and of blunt stupidities of which he intended to make a very entertaining series of pages. I have not his talent for bringing such things together, but it may amuse the reader if I merely put in their order one or two of the notes which most struck me.

I find first, cut out of a newspaper and pasted into the book (many of his notes are in this form), the following really jovial paragraph:

“Archdeacon Blunderbuss (Blunderbuss is not the real name; I suppress that lest Capricorn’s widow should lose her two or three pounds, in case the poor fellow has really been eaten). Archdeacon Blunderbuss was more distinguished as a scholar than as a Divine. He was a very poor preacher and never managed to identify himself with any party. Nevertheless, in 1895 the Prime Minister appointed him to a stall in Shoreham Cathedral as a recognition of his great learning and good work at Durham. Two years later the rectory of St. Vacuums becoming vacant and it being within the gift of Archdeacon Blunderbuss, he excited general amazement and much scandal by presenting himself to the living.”

There the paragraph ends. It came in an ordinary society paper. It bore no marks of ill-will. It came in the midst of a column of the usual silly adulation of everybody and everything; how it got there is of no importance. There it stood and the keen eye of Capricorn noted it and treasured it for years.

I will make no comment upon this paragraph. It may be read slowly or quickly, according to the taste of the reader; it is equally delicious either way.

The next excerpt I find in the notebook is as follows:

“More than 15,000,000 visits are paid annually to London pawnbrokers.

“Jupiter is 1387 times as big as the earth, but only 300 times as heavy.

“The world’s coal mines yield 400,000,000 tons of coal a year.

“The value of the pictures in the National Gallery is about £1,250,000.” Continue reading ““On a Notebook” — Hilaire Belloc”

“Letter of Advice and Apology to a Young Burglar” — Hilaire Belloc

“Letter of Advice and Apology to a Young Burglar” — Hilaire Belloc

 

My dear Ormond,

Nothing was further from my thoughts. I had imagined you knew me well enough—and, for the matter of that, all your mother’s family—to judge me better. Believe me, no conception of blaming your profession entered my mind for a moment. Whether there be such a thing as “property” in the abstract I should leave it to metaphysicians to decide: in practical affairs everything must be judged in its own surroundings.

It was not upon any musty theological whimsy that I wrote; the definition of stealing or “theft”—I care not by what name you call it—is not for practical men to discuss. Nor was I concerned with the ethical discussion of burglary (to give the matter its old legal and technical title); it was lack of judgment, sudden actions due to nothing but impulse, and what I think I may call “the speculative side” of a burglar’s life.

You have not, as yet, any great responsibilities. No one is dependent upon you—you have but yourself to provide for; but you must remember that such responsibilities will arrive in their natural course, and that if you form habits of rashness or obstinacy now they will cling to you through life. We are all looking forward to a certain event when Anne is free again; in plain English, my boy, we know your loyal heart, and we shall bless the union; but I should feel easier in my mind if I saw you settled into one definite branch of the profession before you undertook the nurture of a family.

Adventure tempts you because you are brave, and something of a poet in you leads you to unusual scenes of action. Well, Youth has a right to its dreams, but beware of letting a dangerous Quixotism spoil your splendid chances.

Take, for example, your breaking into Mr. Cowl’s house. You may say Mr. Cowl was not a journalist, but only a reviewer; the distinction is very thin, but let it pass. You know and I know that the houses of none in any way connected with the daily Press should ever be approached. It is plain common sense. The journalist comes home at all hours of the night. His servant (if he keeps one) is often up before he is abed. Do you think to enter such houses unobserved? Continue reading ““Letter of Advice and Apology to a Young Burglar” — Hilaire Belloc”