The Death of Old Thunder

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  C.S. Lewis, from The Abolition of Man

The French-Anglo Catholic writer, Hiliare Belloc (b. 1870- d. 1953), had a nickname which captured his bold and active personality, Old Thunder. I have reprinted quotes from Old Thunder on several occasions; I am thinking, in particular, of his bold public declaration of his Catholic religion while running for Parliament in 1906 (link).

Belloc was a man with a chest (C.S. Lewis).

Today, I ran across an account of Belloc’s death, which occurred on July 16, 1953; it is from the Joseph Pearce biography titled, Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc. This account is quite telling, as it affirms that Old Thunder retained, until death, his chest, his beliefs, his Catholic Faith:

“On 12 July, Eleanor Jebb discovered her father lying…He had apparently fallen…he was taken to the Mount Alvernia nursing home of the Franciscan Missionaries at Guildford. A statue of the Blessed Virgin was taken from King’s Land and placed in his room where he could see it. On the evening of 13 July, he received the Last Sacraments. Two days later, on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Belloc died, a few days short of his eighty-third birthday… The funeral took place at West Grinstead parish church on 20 July. Following the Requiem Mass, Belloc’s body was lowered beneath the soil of his beloved ‘South Country’ and beside the body of his beloved wife. After a separation of almost 40 years, they were once more together. Parted by death’s devastation, they were now reunited by its embrace. The tributes poured in from friends and enemies alike. His co-religionists hailed the death of a hero. The Tablet devoted an entire issue to his memory with contributors, such as Douglas Woodruff, Ronald Knox, Christopher Hollis, James Gunn, Frank Sheed and the Bishop of Southwark queuing up to pay homage. To Knox he was ‘a Master of English Prose’, to the Bishop of Southwark a ‘Champion of the Church’. ‘Christendom has lost a great swordsman,’ lamented his old friend D.B. Wyndham Lewis in the News Chronicle, ‘more rigorous and sustained in an attack than Chesterton, less chary of wounding an opponent’s feelings, better equipped than his friend perhaps for dueling à outrance by reason of his French blood . . .’ The paying of homage was not, however, the preserve of Catholics, as the Catholic Herald proclaimed proudly, ‘The Nation Pays Tribute to the Master.’ MacDonald Hastings, writing in the Daily Express, declared that ‘Hilaire Belloc was the last of the giants of the golden age of English literature.’ The Daily Mail concurred, declaring him ‘the last of the giants’. The leader-writer in The Times placed Belloc ‘somewhere between Mr Pickwick and Dr Johnson’, echoing Father Martin D’Arcy’s dubbing Belloc as the ‘Catholic Dr Johnson’.”

Yes, Old Thunder, held his Faith to the end, and, as such, we may retain the picture we have of him as a man with a chest, even to the end.

•Image: an elderly Hiliare Belloc by his hearth, evidence of his Catholic Faith clearly, or shall we say, boldly, on display