6th June 1901: Shabbily Dressed, Shabbily Treated

6th June 1901. Hilaire Belloc walks from two hours outside Epinal down to Remiremont

Belloc slept until mid-morning. Two or so hours later, he was in Epinal. There, he tells us,

… the people…, not taking me for a traveller but simply… a wandering poor men, were very genial to me.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003), p.66

For example, an apple seller gave him a lift on his cart and some of his apples for free and an ‘apothecary’ a balm which cured swelling in Belloc’s knee.

As an example of friendship, the case of the chemist is somewhat dubious. If Belloc paid for the balm, it was simply a transaction. Unfortunately, we are not told if he did or didn’t.

The second, and last, example of friendship on today’s leg of the pilgrimage occurs in retrospect. As his narrative winds towards Archettes, Belloc tells us about a man he met once in Colorado, USA who gave him ‘hospitality’ (The Path to Rome, p.68). This included sound advice and a music box. It might have included more but knowing how much he has digressed already, Belloc returns insistently to his pilgrimage.

It was evening when Belloc arrived in Archettes. He entered an inn – At the sign of the Trout of the Vosges – and there encountered an air of hostility. As I am focusing on friends and friendship, I ought to pass over it, but it deserves to be described and anathematised. Belloc says,

Two things I noticed at once when I sat down to meat. First, that the people seated at that inn table were of the middle-class of society, and secondly, that I, though of their rank, was an impediment to their enjoyment.

The Path to Rome, pp.71-2

Why? Because of his appearance as a result of sleeping rough and walking at all hours. Surprisingly, or perhaps not given his generosity yesterday to the man who wasted his time, Belloc does not rail against the middle-class people’s snobbishness. In fact, he defends them, and very strongly, too.

… those who blame the middle-class for their conventions… and who profess to be above the care for cleanliness and clothes and social ritual which marks the middle-class, are either anarchists by nature, or fools who take what is but an effect of their wealth for a natural virtue.

I say it roundly: if it were not for the punctiliousness of the middle-class in these matters all our civilisation would go to pieces.

The Path to Rome p.72

Belloc has much to say about the virtue of the middle-class and hypocrisy of anyone who criticises them but nothing about the right of anyone who looks like a tramp, or indeed is one, to be given the respect that is due to all men. For a Catholic, this is an omission. Given that it would undermine his defence of the middle-class, it is probably a deliberate one.

Did Belloc really believe his argument? Possibly not on the night. While at the inn, he went out of his way to show the other patrons that he was one of them: he lied about his journey, he made show of paying for his drink with a note, he showed them his sketches and talked knowledgeably about politics. It worked. ‘[t]heir disgust… soon turned to admiration.’ (The Path to Rome, p.74).

The ‘conservators and the maintainers’ (The Path to Rome, p.72) they may have been but friendly they were certainly not. Let ‘friends’ who expect you to be of their type and standard be anathema.

It wasn’t only the patrons of the Trout who treated Belloc contemptuously. So did the landlady. ‘[D]elicate and courteous’ (The Path to Rome, p.75) to her other guests, and despite his appearance, she overcharged him.

Upon leaving the Trout at the Vosges, Belloc continued on his way. At midnight, he reached Remiremont. As I write these words, evening is coming on. It is now 7:34pm. I wonder if by midnight I will be able to work out why Belloc chooses to defend the middle-classes when some of its representatives treated him so shabbily.

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