Selected Essays

Selected Essays

Selected Essays

Selected Essays

Excerpt

It has long been a commonplace of literary criticism to deplore the diversity and the enormous volume of Mr. Hilaire Belloc's work, and to suggest that if he had written less, and within a narrower range of subject, he would have written better. That large, ill-educated public which is the outcome of compulsory education likes its favourites to write the same book over and over again, once a year; and in an age of specialists, many critics find difficulty in believing that a man who has done so many different things with his pen as Mr. Belloc, and at such a pace, can have done them all well. Asked once why he wrote so many books of all kinds, Mr. Belloc is said to have replied, 'Because my children are howling for pearls and caviare.' A less sophisticated explanation can be found after a study of his work. The possessor of an exceptionally well- stocked mind in a strong and healthy body, he has written about everything that engages his intellect or his emotions. His interests being manifold, and of a vigorous quality, the result has been more than a hundred books, covering almost every department of literature. To such a writer the essay is a godsend. It enables him to overflow from his books. For the essay is a short piece of prose in which the author reveals himself in relation to any subject under the sun. The driving force of a good essay, that by which it lives and moves, is the character of its author. There are a hundred kinds of essay, because it is an intensely personal form of art, but whatever his method, the essayist discloses his own character. With Montaigne or Lamb or Stevenson it is done intentionally. With Macaulay or Matthew Arnold it is done unintentionally.

Mr. Belloc's essays, whatever the subject, whatever the . . .

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