The trouble about gifted men is that they can never escape their gifts. Hilaire Belloc was gifted, and though he wrote millions of words of prose, scored thousands of arguments, everything finally was resolved in rhyme, which was his gift. Nothing in his histories, noted for their dogged Catholicism, is more scathing than his four lines about Protestant Queen Anne's Lord Treasurer, Godolphin:
I heard today Godolphin say
He never gave himself away.
Come, come, Godolphin, scion of Kings,
Be generous in little things.
Belloc's grandmother came from a noted Anglo-Irish family; his father was a French lawyer; his mother...