English essayist, historian, poet, sailor, and traveler Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) made a pilgrimage in the spring and early summer of 1901 from Toul, France to Rome, and he wrote a delightful book about his walk titled, The Path to Rome. As James Schall says, "The Path to Rome is thus not about Rome but about getting there through a Europe that reflects Rome at every step."
Being resolutely "incarnational," that is, he does not separate the soul from the body (which is common today), Belloc writes a great deal about food and wine and sleep in The Path to Rome. Early in his walk, Belloc asks about breakfast: "I would very much like to know what those who have an answer to everything say about the food requisite to breakfast?" He then recalls that Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare, and Spenser drank beer for breakfast with a little bread. He states that in his former army regiment the men drank black coffee "without sugar" along with a piece of stale bread, and as a sailor he ate "nothing for several hours" after rising. He notes of his countrymen:
Dogs eat the first thing they come across, cats take a little milk, and gentlemen are accustomed to get up at nine and eat eggs, bacon, kidneys, ham, cold pheasant, toast, coffee, tea, scones, and honey, after which they will boast that their race is the hardiest in the world and ready to beat every fatigue in the pursuit of Empire. But what rule governs all of this? Why is breakfast different from all other things, so that the Greeks called it the best thing in the world. . .?
Being of English stock, this explains my enthrallment with the foods of breakfast. I am naturally attracted to what my ancestors have been doing for thousands of years--eating. But, what is the rule that governs breakfast--that makes it "the best thing in the world?" If Belloc is right that "a little refreshing food and drink can do so much to make a man," then something traceable to the spirit may be occurring at breakfast tables around the world each morning. The spirit, which cannot be separated from the body, may be refreshed anew each day through the simple process of hunger followed by delight in the good.
I never thought of how much good bacon, eggs, and whole wheat toast could do for the soul until I read Hilaire Belloc.