MR. BELLOC THE MAN
SHORT of stature, he yet dominates those in the room by virtue of the force within him. So abundant is his vitality, that less forceful natures receive from him an access of energy. This vigour appears, in his person, in the massive breadth of his shoulders and the solidity of his neck. With the exception of his marked breadth, he is well-proportioned in build, though somewhat stout. His head is rather Roman in shape, and his face, with its wide, calm brow, piercing eyes, aquiline nose, straight mouth and square jaw, expresses a power of deep reflection combined with a very lively interest in the things of the moment, but, above all, tremendous determination. He holds himself erect, with square shoulders ; but the appearance of a stoop is given to his figure by the habit, acquired by continual writing and public speaking, of moving with his head thrust forward.
In his movements, he is as rapid and decided as, in the giving of instructions, he is clear and terse. In debate or argument his speech is often loud and accompanied by vigorous and decided gestures ; but in conversation his manner is constrained and his voice quiet and clear with a strong power of appeal which is enhanced by a slight French lisp. At times he is violent in his language and movements, but he is never restless or vague. In everything he says and does he is orderly. This orderliness of speech and action is the outcome of an orderliness of mind which is as complete as it is rare, and endows Mr. Belloc with a power of detaching his attention from one subject and transferring it, not partially but entirely, to another. As a result, whatever he is doing, however small or however great the piece of work in hand, upon that for the time being is his whole vigour concentrated.
This almost unlimited, but, at the same time, thoroughly controlled and well-directed energy, is Mr. Belloc's most prominent characteristic. He is always busy, yet always with more to do than he can possibly accomplish. He has never a moment to waste. As a consequence, he often gives the impression of being brusque and domineering. His manner to those he does not know is uninviting. This is because the meeting of strangers to so busy a man can never be anything but an interruption, signifying a loss of valuable time. He is anxious to bring you to your point at once and to express his own opinion as shortly and plainly as possible. The temperamentally nervous who meet him but casually find him harsh and think him a bully.
He is nothing of the sort. He is a man of acute perceptions and fine feelings ; and with those whom he knows well he is scrupulous to make due allowance for temperamental peculiarities. When you have learnt to know him well, when you have seen him in his rare moments of leisure and repose, you realize how abundantly he is possessed of those qualities which go to form what is called depth of character. His humour and good-fellowship attract men to him : his power of understanding and sympathy tie them to him. He is the very antithesis of a self-centred man. His first question, when he meets you, is of yourself and your doings ; he never speaks of himself. He is always more interested in the activities of others than in what he himself is doing. He is engrossed in his work ; but he is interested in it as in something outside himself, not as in something which is a very vital part of himself. It is this characteristic which leads one to consider the whole of his work up to the present time as the expression of but a part of the man. Great and valuable as is that work it has been said of him that he has had more influence on his generation than any other one man Mr. Belloc's personality inspires the belief that he is capable of yet greater achievements.
This belief is supported by the undeniable fact that Mr. Belloc is an idealist. He has ideals both for individual and communal life. But ideals to him are not, as to so many men, a delight of the imagination or a means of consoling themselves for being obliged to live in the world as it is. They are guides to conduct and inspirations to action : a goal which is reached in the striving.
Most of us go about this world imagining ourselves to be not as we are, but as we should like ourselves to be. No man who is not wholly unimaginative can escape this form of self-consciousness. Certainly no man who has in him anything of the artist can escape it : less still a man who is so much of an artist as Mr. Belloc. It has been remarked of Mr. Belloc time and again that he would make an extraordinarily fine revolutionary leader, and it is interesting to find in Mr. Belloc 's work a description of one of the greatest revolutionary leaders which might in many respects be a description of Mr. Belloc himself. We refer to Mr. Belloc's description of the appearance and character of Danton. Though it would be absurd to suggest that Mr. Belloc has deliberately modelled his life on that of Danton, yet the resemblance between Mr. Belloc's own personality and the personality (as Mr. Belloc describes it) of Danton is so striking, that we cannot avoid quoting the passage at considerable length. It is interesting, too, to recall that this monograph, which is obviously based on very careful and deep research, was written by Mr. Belloc shortly after he came down from Oxford, and was the first work of importance he published. Mr. Belloc describes Danton thus :
He was tall and stout, with the forward bearing of the orator, full of gesture and of animation. He carried a round French head upon the thick neck of energy. His face was generous, ugly, and determined. With wide eyes and calm brows, he yet had the quick glance which betrays the habit of appealing to an audience. ... In his dress he had something of the negligence which goes with extreme vivacity and with a constant interest in things outside oneself ; but it was invariably that of his rank. Indeed, to the minor conventions Danton always bowed, because he was a man, and because he was eminently sane. More than did the run of men at that time, he understood that you cut down no tree by lopping at the leaves, nor break up a society by throwing away a wig. The decent self-respect which goes with conscious power was never absent from his costume, though it often left his language in moments of crisis, or even of irritation. I will not insist too much upon his great character of energy, because it has been so over-emphasized as to give a false impression of him. He was admirably sustained in his action, and his political arguments were as direct as his physical efforts were continuous, but the banal picture of fury which is given you by so many writers is false. For fury is empty, whereas Danton was full, and his energy was at first the force at work upon a great mass of mind, and later its momentum. Save when he had the direct purpose of convincing a crowd, his speech had no violence, and even no metaphor ; in the courts he was a close reasoner, and one who put his points with ability and with eloquence rather than with thunder. But in whatever he undertook, vigour appeared as the taste of salt in a dish. He could not quite hide this vigour : his convictions, his determination, his vision all concentrate upon whatsoever thing he has in hand. He possessed a singularly wide view of the Europe in which France stood. In this he was like Mirabeau, and peculiarly unlike the men with whom revolutionary government threw him into contact. He read and spoke English, he was acquainted with Italian. He knew that the kings were dilettanti, that the theory of the aristocracies was liberal. He had no little sympathy with the philosophy which a leisurely obligarchy had framed in England ; it is one of the tragedies of the Revolution that he desired to the last an alliance, or at least peace, with this country. Where Robespierre was a maniac in foreign policy, Danton was more than fa sane he was a just, and even a diplomatic man. He was fond of wide reading, and his reading was of the philosophers ; it ranged from Rabelais to the physiocrats in his own tongue, from Adam Smith to the Essay on Civil Government in that of strangers ; and of the Encyclopaedia he possessed all the numbers steadily accumulated. When we consider the time, his fortune, and the obvious personal interest in so small and individual a collection, few shelves will be found more interesting than those which Danton delighted to fill. In his politics he desired above all actual, practical, and apparent reforms ; changes for the better expressed in material results. He differed from many of his countrymen at that time, and from most of his political countrymen now, in thus adopting the tangible. It was a part of something in his character which was nearly allied to the stock of the race, something which made him save and invest in land as does the French peasant, and love, as the French peasant loves, good government, order, security, and well-being. There is to be discovered in all the fragments which remain to us of his conversation before the bursting of the storm, and still more clearly in his demand for a centre when the invasion and the rebellion threatened the Republic, a certain conviction that the revolutionary thing rather than the revolutionary idea should be produced : not an inspiring creed, but a goal to be reached, sustained him. Like all active minds, his mission was rather to realize than to plan, and his energies were determined upon seeing the result of theories which he unconsciously admitted, but which he was too impatient to analyse. His voice was loud even when his expressions were subdued. He talked no man down, but he made many opponents sound weak and piping after his utterance. It was of the kind that fills great halls, and whose deep note suggests hard phrases. There was with all this a carelessness as to what his words might be made to mean when partially repeated by others, and such carelessness has caused historians still more careless to lend a false aspect of Bohemianism to his character. A Bohemian he was not ; he was a successful and an orderly man ; but energy he had, and if there are writers who cannot conceive of energy without chaos, it is probably because in the studious leisure of vast endowments they have never felt the former in themselves, nor have been compelled to control the latter in their surroundings. . . . His friends also he loved, and above all, from the bottom of his soul, he loved France. His faults and they were many his vices (and a severe critic would have discovered these also) flowed from two sources : first, he was too little of an idealist, too much absorbed in the immediate thing ; secondly, he suffered from all the evil effects that abundant energy may produce the habit of oaths, the rhetoric of sudden diatribes, violent and overstrained action, with its subsequent demand for repose.