Preface (The Path to Rome)

‘… and as to what may be in this book, do not feel timid nor hesitate to enter. There are more mountains than mole-hills …’
 

 

 

 

 

The Path to Rome

 

Hilaire Belloc

 

‘. .. AMORE ANTIQUI RITUS, ALTO SUB NUMINE ROMAE’

 

 


PRAISE OF THIS BOOK

To every honest reader that may purchase, hire, or receive this book, and to the reviewers also (to whom it is of triple profit), greeting™and whatever else can be had for nothing.

If you should ask how this book came to be written, it was in this way. One day as I was wandering over the world I came upon the valley where I was born, and stopping there a moment to speak with them all™when I had argued politics with the grocer, and played the great lord with the notary-public, and had all but made the carpenter a Christian by force of rhetoric™what should I note (after so many years) but the old tumble-down and gaping church, that I love more than mother-church herself, all scraped, white, rebuilt, noble, and new, as though it had been finished yesterday. Knowing very well that such a change had not come from the skinflint populace, but was the work of some just artist who knew how grand an ornament was this shrine (built there before our people stormed Jerusalem), I entered, and there saw that all within was as new, accurate, and excellent as the outer part; and this pleased me as much as though a fortune had been left to us all; for one’s native place is the shell of one’s soul, and one’s church is the kernel of that nut.

Moreover, saying my prayers there, I noticed behind the high altar a statue of Our Lady, so extraordinary and so different from all I had ever seen before, so much the spirit of my valley, that I was quite taken out of myself and vowed a vow there to go to Rome on Pilgrimage and see all Europe which the Christian Faith has saved; and I said, ‘I will start from the place where I served in arms for my sins; I will walk all the way and take advantage of no wheeled thing; I will sleep rough and cover thirty miles a day, and I will hear Mass every morning; and I will be present at high Mass in St Peter’s on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.’

Then I went out of the church still having that Statue in my mind, and I walked again farther into the world, away from my native valley, and so ended some months after in a place whence I could fulfil my vow; and I started as you shall hear. All my other vows I broke one by one. For a faggot must be broken every stick singly. But the strict vow I kept, for I entered Rome on foot that year in time, and I heard high Mass on the Feast of the Apostles, as many can testify™to wit: Monsignor this, and Chamberlain the other, and the Bishop of so-and-so™o™polis in partibus infidelium; for we were all there together.

And why (you will say) is all this put by itself in what Anglo-Saxons call a Foreword, but gentlemen a Preface? Why, it is because I have noticed that no book can appear without some such thing tied on before it; and as it is folly to neglect the fashion, be certain that I read some eight or nine thousand of them to be sure of how they were written and to be safe from generalizing on too frail a basis.

And having read them and discovered first, that it was the custom of my contemporaries to belaud themselves in this prolegomenaical ritual (some saying in a few words that they supplied a want, others boasting in a hundred that they were too grand to do any such thing, but most of them baritoning their apologies and chanting their excuses till one knew that their pride was toppling over)™since, I say, it seemed a necessity to extol one’s work, I wrote simply on the lintel of my diary, Praise of this Book, so as to end the matter at a blow. But whether there will be praise or blame I really cannot tell, for I am riding my pen on the snaffle, and it has a mouth of iron.

Now there is another thing book writers do in their Prefaces, which is to introduce a mass of nincompoops of whom no one ever heard, and to say ‘my thanks are due to such and such’ all in a litany, as though any one cared a farthing for the rats! If I omit this believe me it is but on account of the multitude and splendour of those who have attended at the production of this volume. For the stories in it are copied straight from the best authors of the Renaissance, the music was written by the masters of the eighteenth century, the Latin is Erasmus’ own; indeed, there is scarcely a word that is mine. I must also mention the Nine Muses, the Three Graces; Bacchus, the Maenads, the Panthers, the Fauns; and I owe very hearty thanks to Apollo.

Yet again, I see that writers are for ever anxious of their style, thinking (not saying)™

‘True, I used “and which” on page 47, but Martha Brown the stylist gave me leave;’ or:

‘What if I do end a sentence with a preposition? I always follow the rules of Mr Twist in his “‘Tis Thus ‘Twas Spoke”, Odd’s Body an’ I do not!’

Now this is a pusillanimity of theirs (the book writers) that they think style power, and yet never say as much in their Prefaces. Come, let me do so . . . Where are you? Let me marshal you, my regiments of words!

Rabelais! Master of all happy men! Are you sleeping there pressed into desecrated earth under the doss-house of the Rue St Paul, or do you not rather drink cool wine in some elysian Chinon looking on the Vienne where it rises in Paradise? Are you sleeping or drinking that you will not lend us the staff of Friar John wherewith he slaughtered and bashed the invaders of the vineyards, who are but a parable for the mincing pedants and bloodless thin-faced rogues of the world?

Write as the wind blows and command all words like an army! See them how they stand in rank ready for assault, the jolly, swaggering fellows!

First come the Neologisms, that are afraid of no man; fresh, young, hearty, and for the most part very long-limbed, though some few short and strong. There also are the Misprints to confuse the enemy at his onrush. Then see upon the flank a company of picked Ambiguities covering what shall be a feint by the squadron of Anachronisms led by old Anachronos himself; a terrible chap with nigglers and a great murderer of fools.

But here see more deeply massed the ten thousand Egotisms shining in their armour and roaring for battle. They care for no one. They stormed Convention yesterday and looted the cellar of Good-Manners, who died of fear without a wound; so they drank his wine and are to-day as strong as lions and as careless (saving only their Captain, Monologue, who is lantern-jawed).

Here are the Aposiopaesian Auxiliaries, and Dithyramb that killed Punctuation in open fight; Parenthesis the giant and champion of the host, and Anacoluthon that never learned to read or write but is very handy with his sword; and Metathesis and Hendiadys, two Greeks. And last come the noble Gallicisms prancing about on their light horses: cavalry so sudden that the enemy sicken at the mere sight of them and are overcome without a blow. Come then my hearties, my lads, my indefatigable repetitions, seize you each his own trumpet that hangs at his side and blow the charge; we shall soon drive them all before us headlong, howling down together to the Picrocholian Sea.

So! That was an interlude. Forget the clamour.

But there is another matter; written as yet in no other Preface: peculiar to this book. For without rhyme or reason, pictures of an uncertain kind stand in the pages of the chronicle. Why?

Because it has become so cheap to photograph on zinc.

In old time a man that drew ill drew not at all. He did well. Then either

there were no pictures in his book, or (if there were any) they were done by some other man that loved him not a groat and would not have walked half a mile to see him hanged. But now it is so easy for a man to scratch down what he sees and put it in his book that any fool may do it and be none the worse™many others shall follow. This is the first.

Before you blame too much, consider the alternative. Shall a man march through Europe dragging an artist on a cord? God forbid!

Shall an artist write a book? Why no, the remedy is worse than the disease.

Let us agree then, that, if he will, any pilgrim may for the future draw (if he likes) that most difficult subject, snow hills beyond a grove of trees; that he may draw whatever he comes across in order to enliven his mind (for who saw it if not he? And was it not his loneliness that enabled him to see it?), and that he may draw what he never saw, with as much freedom as you readers so very continually see what you never draw. He may draw the morning mist on the Grimsel, six months afterwards; when he has forgotten what it was like: and he may frame it for a masterpiece to make the good draughtsman rage.

The world has grown a boy again this long time past, and they are building hotels (I hear) in the place where Acedes discovered the Water of Youth in a hollow of the hill Epistemonoscoptes.

Then let us love one another and laugh. Time passes, and we shall soon laugh no longer™and meanwhile common living is a burden, and earnest men are at siege upon us all around. Let us suffer absurdities, for that is only to suffer one another.

Nor let us be too hard upon the just but anxious fellow that sat down dutifully to paint the soul of Switzerland upon a fan.

Read the whole book on-line here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7373/7373-h/7373-h.htm.


“Giovanni Paolo Panini, An architectural capriccio with figures among Roman ruins.” Attributed to Giovanni Paolo Panini. Public Domain.


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