The formation of a conservative Catholic Intellectual: Douglas Francis Jerrold as a disciple of Hilaire Belloc

03 June 2015

That the highly prolific and versatileAnglo-French littérateur, historian, editor, and commentator Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953), like his friend and confrère Gilbert Keith Chesterton, made a profound impact on many Englishmen of conservative bent, especially intellectually inclined fellow Catholics, with regard to political, cultural, and religious issues early in the twentieth century, is widely acknowledged, but the way in which he did so has rarely been discussed in detail in published scholarly works.1 The assessment of the eminent historian and theologian Adrian Hastings is representative. In an essay titled ‘Some reflexions on the English Catholicism of the late 1930s’, he described a religio-cultural scene distinguished more by literary accomplishments than by theology or the pure vita academica in general: ‘It was a world, moreover, which had emerged, not from the discipleship of Newman or Acton or evenVon Hügel, but rather from the swelling circle of Belloc and Chesterton – and Belloc far more than Chesterton, perhaps because Belloc had been a Roman Catholic all the time and his spirit harmonised a great deal more readily with that dominant within the Church of this period.’With regard to the specific content of Belloc’s influence on a generation, Hastings noted that although his Catholic identity and eagerness to serve as an apologist permeated most of what he put to paper, he ignored almost completely the New Testament and theology as such. ‘The post-Bellocian Catholicism of the 1930s was moulded very strongly in this image,’ Hastings generalised.2 The pivotal question, which has never been adequately answered, is how this occurred. The authors of general surveys of twentieth-century English literary history have not evinced a particular interest in the question. Little about Belloc’s influence can be gleaned from works like Adam Schwartz’s The Third Spring: G.K. Chesterton, Graham, Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones.3 In this article I shall take steps towards filling this lacuna by exploring pivotal dimensions of Belloc’s ideational influence on one of his most productive Catholic disciples. Douglas Francis Jerrold (1893–1964) was an increasingly prominent man of letters in London from the 1920s until the 1950s. He wore several hats. Jerrold began his career in publishing on the staff of the Ernest Benn firm in 1923, and from 1929 until 1959 he served sequentially as director and chairman of Eyre and Spottiswoode. Jerrold also edited The English Review from 1930 until 1936 and The New English Review from 1945 until 1950; in addition, he contributed a plethora of articles to these periodicals. He was also a columnist in the weekly Catholic press. His two novels, The Truth about Quex and Storm over Europe, were published in 1927 and 1930, respectively, and a dramatisation of the latter was staged in theWest End in 1936. As a prolific amateur historian Jerrold also wrote several volumes of English and general European history.