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The Path to Rome   By: (1870-1953)

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By Hilaire Belloc



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... Continue reading book >>

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