Tuesday, 25 July 2017

ON INNS, by Hilaire Belloc

In my article on the English inn as the basis for a Pioneer Little Europe, I mentioned Hilaire Belloc's love of inns. I had intended to include quotations from his essay from 1912, 'On Inns', published in his collection of essays This and That and the Other, but could not find my copy at the time. I then, in any case, had a better idea: why not put the whole thing on this blog, as it represents as important an article now as when it was first printed 105 years ago. Anyone who knows Belloc, is aware that he is one of our number, a staunch racial nationalist, concerned with both Europe as a whole and with its individual ethnicities. He is, as is always the way, described as an anti-Semite and Islamophobe by our enemies, for identifying those two great threats to European Man. 




Here am I sitting in an Inn, having gloomily believed not half an hour ago that Inns were doomed with all other good things, but now more hopeful and catching avenues of escape through the encircling decay.


For though certainly that very subtle and final expression of a good nation's life, the Inn, is in peril, yet possibly it may survive.


This Inn which surrounds me as I write (the law forbids me to tell its name) is of the noblest in South England, and it is in South England that the chief Inns of the world still stand. In the hall of it, as you come in, are barrels of cider standing upon chairs. The woman that keeps this Inn is real and kind. She receives you so that you are glad to enter the house. She takes pleasure in her life. What was her beauty her daughter now inherits, and she serves at the bar. Her son is strong and carries up the luggage. The whole place is paradise, and as one enters that hall one stands hesitating whether to enjoy its full, yet remaining delight, or to consider the peril of death that hangs to-day over all good things.


Consider, you wanderers (that is all men, whatsoever, for none of you can rest), what an Inn is, and see if it should not rightly raise both great fears and great affection.



An Inn is of the nation that made it. If you desire a proof that the unity of Christendom is not to be achieved save through a dozen varying nations, each of a hundred varying countries and provinces and these each of several countrysides - the Inns will furnish you with that proof.


If any foolish man pretend in your presence that the brotherhood of men should make a decent man cosmopolitan, reprove his error by the example of an Inn.


If any one is so vile as to maintain in your presence that one's country should not be loved and loyally defended, confound so horrid a fool by the very vigorous picture of an Inn. And if he imprudently says that some damned Babylon or other is better than an Inn, look up his ancestry.


For the truth is that Inns (may God preserve them, and of the few remaining breed, in spite of peril, a host of new Inns for our sons), Inns, Inns are the mirror and at the same time the flower of a people. The savour of men met in kindliness and in a homely way for years and years comes to inhabit all their panels (Inns are panelled) and lends incense to their fires. (Inns have not radiators, but fires.) But this good quintessence and distillation of comradeship varies from countryside to countryside and more from province to province, and more still from race to race and from realm to realm; just as speech differs and music and all other excellent fruits of Europe.


Thus there is an Inn at Tout-de-Suite-Tardets which the Basques made for themselves and offer to those who visit their delightful streams. A river flows under its balcony, tinkling along a sheer stone wall, and before it, high against the sunset, is a wood called Tiger Wood, clothing a rocky peak called the Peak of Eagles.


Now no one could have built that Inn, nor endowed it with admirable spirit, save the cleanly but incomprehensible Basques. There is no such Inn in the Bearnese country, nor any among the Gascons.


In Falaise the Normans very slowly and by a mellow process of some thousand years have engendered an Inn. This Inn, I think, is so good that you will with difficulty compare it with any better thing. It is as quiet as a tree on a summer night, and cooks cray-fish in an admirable way. Yet could not these Normans have built that Basque Inn; and a man that would merge one in the other and so drown both is an outlaw and to be treated as such.


But these Inns of South England (such as still stand!) - what can be said in proper praise of them which shall give their smell and colour and their souls? There is nothing like them in Europe, not anything to set above them in all the world. It is within their walls and at their boards that one knows what South England once did in the world and why. If it is gone it is gone. All things die at last. But if it is gone - why, no lover of it need remain to drag his time out in mourning it. If South England is dead it is better to die upon its grave.


Whether it dies in our time or no you may test by the test of Inns. If they may not weather the chaos, if they fail to round the point that menaces our religion and our very food, our humour and our prime affections - why, then, South England has gone too. If, if (I hardly dare to write such a challenge), if the Inns hold out a little time longer - why, then, South England will have turned the corner and Europe can breathe again. Never mind her extravagances, her follies, or her sins. Next time you see her from a hill, pray for South England. For if she dies, you die. And as a symptom of her malady (some would say of her death-throes) carefully watch her Inns.



Of the enemies of Inns, as of rich men, dull men, blind men, weak-stomached men, and men false to themselves, I do not speak: but of their effect. Why such blighting men are mowadays so powerful and why God has given them a brief moment of pride it is not for us to know. It is hidden among the secret things of this life But that they are powerful all men, lovers of Inns, that is, lovers of right living, know well enough and bitterly deplore. The effect of their power concerns us. It is like a wasting of our own flesh, a whitening of our own blood.


Thus there is the destruction of an Inn by gluttony of an evil sort - though to say so sounds absurd, for one would imagine that gluttony should be proper to Inns. And so it is, when it is your true gluttony of old, the gluttony our fathers made famous in English by the song which begins:


I am not a glutton 
But I do like pie.


But evil gluttony, which may also be called the gluttony of devils, is another matter. It flies to liquor as to a drug; it is ashamed of itself; it swallows a glass behind a screen and hides. There is no companionship with it. It is an abomination, and this abomination has the power to destroy a Christian Inn and to substitute for it, first a gin palace, and then, in reaction against that, the very horrible house where they sell only tea and coffee and bubbly waters that bite and sting both in the mouth and in the stomach. These places are hotbeds of despair, and suicides have passed their last hours on earth consuming slops therein alone.



Thus, again, a sad enemy of Inns is luxury. The rich will have their special habitations in a town so cut off from ordinary human beings that no Inn may be built in their neighbourhood. In which connexion I greatly praise that little colony of the rich which is settled on the western side of Berkeley Square, in Lansdowne House, and all around the eastern parts of Charles Street, for they have permitted to be established in their midst the 'Running Footman', and this will count in the scale when their detestable vices are weighed upon the Day of Judgement, upon which day, you must know, vices are not put into the scale gently and carefully, so as to give you fair measure, but are banged down with enormous force by strong and maleficent demons.


Then, again, a very subtle enemy of Inns is poverty, when it is pushed to inhuman limits, and you will note, especially in the dreadful great towns of the North, more than one ancient house which was once honorable, and where Mr Pickwick might have stayed, now turned ramshackle and dilapidated and abandoned, slattern, draggle-tail, a blotch, until the yet beastlier reformers come and pull it down to make an open space wherein the stunted children may play.


Thus, again, you will have the pulling down of an Inn and the setting up of an hotel built of iron and mud, or ferro-concrete. This is murder.


Let me not be misunderstood. Many an honest Inn calls itself an hotel. I have no quarrel with that, nor has any traveller I think. It is a title. Some few blighted and accursed hotels call themselves 'Inns' - a foul snobbism, a nasty trick of words pretending to create realities.


No, it is when the thing is really done, not when the name is changed, that murder calls out to God for vengeance.



I knew an Inn in South England, when I was a boy, that stood on the fringe of a larch wood, upon a great high road. Here when the springtime came and I went off to see the world I used to meet with carters and with travelling men, also keepers, and men who bred horses and sold them, and sometimes with sailors padding the hoof between port and port. These men would tell me a thousand things. The larch trees were pleasant in their new colour; the woods alive with birds and the great high road was, in those days, deserted: for high bicycles were very rare, low bicycles were not invented, the rich went by train in those days; only carts and caravans and men with horses used the leisurely surface of the way.


Now that good Inn has gone. I was in it five years ago, marvelling that it had changed so little, though motor things and money-changers went howling by in a stream and though there were now no poachers or gipsies or forest men to speak to, when a  too smart young man came in with two assistants and they began measuring, calculating, two-foot-ruling, and jotting. This was the plot. Next came the deed. For in another year, when the spring burst and I passed by, what should I see in the place of my Inn, my Inn of youth, my Inn of memories, my Inn of trees, but a damnable stack of iron, with men fitting a thin shell of bricks to it like a skin. Next year the monster was alive and made. The old name (call it the Jolly) was flaunting on a vulgar signboard swing in a cast-iron tracing to imitate forged work. The shell of bricks was cast with sham-white as for half timberwork. The sham-white was patterned with sham-timbers of baltic deal, stained dark, with pins of wood stuck in: like Cheshire, not like home. Wrong lattie insulted the windows - and inside there were three bars. At the door stood an Evil Spirit, and within every room, upstairs and down, other devils, his servants, resided.


It is no light thing that such things should be done and that we cannot prevent them.


From the towns all Inns have been driven: from the villages most. No conscious efforts, no Bond Street nastiness of false conservation, will save the beloved roofs. Change your hearts or you will lose your Inns and you will deserve to have lost them. But when you have lost your Inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.


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