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Hilaire Belloc - Allison Family collection

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS203

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the correspondence between Hilaire Belloc and the James Murray Allison family for the time period 1918-1941. Much of the correspondence in this collection has to do with the column Belloc contributed to "Land and Water," a periodical founded by James Murray Allison to cover aspects of the war efforts during WWI.


  • 1918-1941

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Biographical note

Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953), poet and author, was born on 27 July 1870 at La Celle St Cloud, near Paris. Belloc was born just before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war; a few weeks later the family retreated to England, having taken the last train out of Paris. When the Bellocs returned to the family home after the war they found that it had been wrecked and pillaged by Prussian soldiers. Belloc would have been too young to remember this episode, but accounts of it would have fuelled his lifelong prejudice against all things German. When he was only two years old his father died, and Bessie Belloc and her two children moved to England. He was educated at the Oratory School, in Birmingham, and after school tried many professions: farmer, French naval officer, draughtsman. In 1891 he traveled across the United States, mostly on foot, supporting himself by making drawings and selling them. In 1892, Belloc served in the French military--where he realized he was now more English than French--and upon his return to England he was admitted to Balliol College, Oxford where in 1895 he took a first degree in Modern History. In 1896, Belloc married Elodie Agnes Hogan, and in 1897 they had their first son, Louis. In 1900 he began his literary career; in 1902 he published The Path to Rome, which remains one of his most attractive and popular books. Most famously, Belloc became known as a polemical apologist for the Roman Catholic church, which he regarded as the only source of sanity and order in the world. He was an important influence on the small Roman Catholic community in England, giving them a new self-confidence, insisting that though they might seem to be a vulnerable minority in an offshore protestant island they were really part of the universal church with its centre in Rome. Although Roman Catholicism was central to Belloc's life and his writings, these reflect little of the serenity and hope of faith. His religion was a disciplined matter of the will and the intelligence, but his subjective stance to the world was a sad, stoic acceptance of the blows of fate.

From 1906-1910, Belloc served as a Liberal MP, but became disillusioned with the British Parliamentary system. In 1914 his wife died, and he never fully recovered. The outbreak of the First World War strengthened Belloc's attachment to France, a Catholic nation at the heart of civilization in conflict with protestant Germany, or ‘Prussia’, as he liked to call it; he regarded the Catholic south Germans and Austrians as at best misguided, at worst renegades. During the war he was much in demand as a commentator on military affairs, and this work temporarily restored his finances. It was at this time that began writing for James Murray Allison's publication "Land and Water." "Land and Water" reported on the war effort exclusively and, at its peak, had a circulation of 100,000 subscribers. Belloc's work for this periodical would bring him national recognition and his most success as a writer. Although Belloc's column at times generated considerable debate and controversy among his readers, his popularity as a commentator on the war brought celebrity status to Belloc and led to frequent requests to lecture on this subject around the country.

James Murray Allison had come to England with his family from Australia in the years preceding World War I to work for the London Times as advertisement manager. They settled in the Rodmell section of Sussex outside of London. The Allison family had first become acquainted with Hilaire Belloc on a social level, as their home was near Belloc's home at Kings Land where they first became acquainted. Belloc maintained a close relationship with the Allison family after the war. He often travelled with James Murray Allison around the countryside. Allison even acompanied Belloc on a trip to the Continent in 1929/? when Belloc was doing field research for his work on the Napoleonic battlefields. Allison kept a journal of their travels and had intended to publish them, before his untimely death in June 1929. Belloc maintained a correspondence with Allison's widow, Elsie, and their young son Jimmy over the rest of his life. Out of respect for Allison, Belloc completed his friend's 'Travel Notes' and saw it through to publication. The subject of much of the correspondence between Belloc and Elsie Allison is related to Belloc's work on this manuscript. Mrs. Allison did remarry shortly after the death of her first husband. The name of her second husband is not known, and she is referred to by the processor as Elsie Allison throughout the correspondence.

Unfortunately, Belloc's grief over Elodie was extended when his eldest son, Louis, an airman, was reported missing in action during WWI, and was later confirmed as dead; a further blow was the death of his friend Cecil Chesterton in December 1918 from an illness contracted on active service. His son Peter was killed in WWII. In his final years Belloc was a public figure with many friends and admirers, in the Catholic world and outside it; in his personal life, though, he was lonely, and increasingly wearied by having to turn out books for money. After a stroke in 1942 his health declined and he became senile within a few years. Hilaire Belloc died on 16 July 1953 at the Mount Alvernia Nursing Home, Guildford, Surrey, from shock and burns following a fall at King's Land when he was trying to put a log on a fire. He was buried at West Grinstead, Sussex, on 20 July 1953.

[Source: Bernard Bergonzi, ‘Belloc, (Joseph) Hilaire Pierre René (1870–1953)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 12 Dec 2014]


0.42 Linear Feet (1 Hollinger Document Case)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Joseph E. Jeffs, 1984 and possibly purchased.

Hilaire Belloc - Allison Family collection
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057