CARRY ON, GRIMES
LLANABBA CUM LLANDDULAS
I’m staying for a weekend in North Wales within a few miles of the village where Waugh taught at a school for two terms in 1925, a desperate year for him. Today, eighty-six years later, I have a local guide, Meurig, and an hour or so to make the most of being in Llanddulas, which features prominently as Llanabba, in Decline and Fall, which Waugh wrote and published in 1928, perhaps his happiest year.
First stop is Arnold House, which we’ve parked downhill from so as to approach as Waugh would have done. The school is found up a steep hill and it’s where Waugh gained his first work experience. It’s not a school now though. An article recently published in the Telegraph explains how the building has faired since Waugh’s time here. The piece suggests which part of the structure once contained classrooms. But there’s not much left of the school as was, and no trace of the manuscript of The Temple at Thatch which Waugh burned in the school boiler. I intend to wander between the buildings taking pictures. But first we have to get up there:
In the above photo, the path goes from left to right, gradually mounting the hill. Near the top, the image below shows the view you get looking back across the buildings...
And at the very top (so far) there is much the same view, as the photo below shows. The sign to the left of the garage reads ‘Arnold House’.
The plaque below is located between two of the windows that you can see in either of the last two pics, directly under the wooden-slatted balcony on top of the garage.
That’s not quite right. Waugh arrived in January of 1925 and was gone by summer of that year, never to return. I don’t go inside, instead I read from a diary entry Waugh made shortly after his arrival that the school is built on a hill so steep that the visitor has the confusing experience of going in the front door, going up two floors, and, on looking out of a window, finding oneself still on the ground floor. Though having made these moves one is looking out the back of the building.
Waugh tells us that in his day there were three pitch-pine staircases, one carpeted, the other two identical, with miles of passages covered with shiny linoleum. And that he had to spend much of his new life in a common room.
Actually, Waugh only had to inhabit the common room during school hours when he wasn’t teaching boys in a classroom. Out of school hours, he lived with two of his four fellow teachers in a nearby building, a house called Sanatorium which was reached by a ‘precipitous’ path between ‘dung heaps, gooseberry bushes and stone walls’.
The Sanatorium is pointed out to me by Meurig. The near-ruin is further uphill than the school and there seems to be a ‘precipitous’ path between the building and what’s left of Arnold House. I tell Meurig that I can see the manuscript of The Temple at Thatch. “Where?” He replies. “Oh, it’s got to be somewhere in the middle of that crap.” I suppose what I mean is, there’s just no way Waugh could or should have burnt it, whatever Harold Acton’s opinion of the work.
I turn around, looking uphill again, so as to consider the building where young Evelyn, schoolmaster ordinaire, lived for six months.
Fellow teachers Chaplin and Gordon lived here with Waugh. Chaplin was a nephew of the headmaster, Mr Banks. Gordon is described in the diary as a dull thing with a rimless pince-nez who was strict with the pupils. Looking up at a little window, I recall that in Decline and Fall, Paul Pennyfeather, the book’s protagonist and Waugh’s altar ego, shares a bathroom with Grimes, of whom more later, and with Prendergast, whom Paul successfully ousts from the pre-breakfast bath slot. ‘Prendy’ refers to one pupil as a nasty little boy if ever there was one, and he boasts of having caned twenty-three boys after the sports. Prendy’s distinguishing feature was a wig rather than a pince-nez, but perhaps either would leave one susceptible to being the butt of schoolboy humour.
”I must get on,” I tell Meurig. By which I mean I must get back to Waugh’s diary. On February 18, 1925, Evelyn tells us that on Sunday he began a terrible thing called week’s duty. This kept him busy from daybreak to nightfall, leaving him hardly time to read a postcard or go to the loo. Consequently, he was a nervous wreck and was taking it out on the children, beating even the charming ones.
Meurig drives us down the steep hill into the village, a route that Waugh would have walked every evening. On the way we pass an old house that is being demolished. I’m told that Waugh used to dine there with the owner, the man who let Arnold House to Mr Banks. This Professor Dawkins had associations with the Hypocrites Club, Waugh’s stamping ground for much of his Oxford time. I expect, in grim Welsh exile as Waugh saw it, any reminder of happily degenerate days would have been appreciated.
My guide stops the car at the Fair View Inn. This is the place known as ‘Mrs Roberts pub’ in both the Diaries and in Decline and Fall. Martin Stannard, in his biography of Waugh, also mentions the pub by name so it must be the right one. Meurig tells me that he himself used to drink here as a young man. He points out the bits of the building that are additions, because the establishment in Waugh’s time would have been much smaller. I wonder if it would have had the same pub sign, a sign that seems to show poor Evelyn walking along a never-ending Welsh mountain road.
First mention of the place by Waugh is in the diary entry he made on March 16, 1925. There he tells us that he went to the Fair View where a eunuch taught him a toast in Welsh. Evelyn wrote it down on an envelope which he later lost. However, it meant ‘Here’s success to the temperance workers’. This entry is echoed by one made on March 29 when Waugh writes that for the last ten evenings an old eunuch had been trying to teach ‘us’ Welsh. All the Evelyn had picked up was ‘Iechyd da I bob un’ and ‘llywddiant ir archos’, which were both toasts. Alas, Evelyn’s ‘eunuch’ would get too drunk to teach him anything else.
I ask Meurig what the toasts mean and I write his answers down on an envelope. He has to go now, though he’s been kind enough to buy me a drink and has promised to pick me up later. Which will be all too soon. Meurig’s been a generous guide, but I’ll breathe more easily when left to my own devices. Or rather, when left to Waugh’s diary at the beginning of his second term:
On 1 May, 1925, Waugh wrote that he’d returned to the school in a deep depression at the prospect of a further 14 weeks of exile from civilisation.
A significant thing about this entry is the mention of a new colleague, Dick Young. He’s cited again in the entry for Thursday, May 14, as being ‘monotonously pederastic’, talking only of the attractions of boys. Then a few days later Waugh writes that he and Young got drunk in the village pub and Young confessed his awful history. He was expelled from his school, sent down from Oxford, and made to resign his commission in the army. He had left four schools in a hurry, three in the middle of term ‘through his being taken in sodomy’ and one through his being drunk six nights in a row. Waugh expressed his amazement that Young went on getting better and better jobs. It was, Waugh noted, a bit like Robert the Bruce and the spider.
In Decline and Fall, Paul Pennyfeather is taken to Mrs Roberts pub by Young’s equivalent, Captain Grimes. There are four scenes involving the pair in the pub, but the first one is the longest and the most informative. The school that Grimes had been expelled from (with a letter of recommendation) was Harrow rather than Wellington. When facing a court martial from his regiment, an old Harrovian major came to his rescue. Eventually Grimes became a teacher. The progress he made in his vocation can be gauged by the following extract:
’Mrs Roberts brought them their beer. Grimes took a long draught and sighed happily. “This looks like being the first end of term I’ve seen for two years.” he said dreamily “Funny thing, I can always get on all right for about six weeks, and then I land in the soup. I don’t believe I was ever meant by Nature to be a schoolmaster. Temperament,” said Grimes, with a faraway look in his eyes - “that’s been my trouble. Temperament and sex.” “Is it quite easy to get another job after – after you’ve been in the soup?” asked Paul. “Not at first it isn’t, but there ‘re ways. Besides, you see, I’m a public school man. That means everything.”’
The scene in the pub finishes off as follows: ‘“Women are an enigma,” said Grimes, “as far as Grimes is concerned.”’
If Waugh had to be discreet about his fellow master’s sexuality in the novel, then he took the opportunity to be more forthright decades later when he came to write his autobiography. In A Little Learning, Waugh discloses that after a week or two of the summer term, to celebrate the proprietor of the school’s birthday, a holiday was ordained. The whole school was packed into buses and driven to the slopes of Snowdon, where games were played. Boys and teachers were allowed to chase each other. Back at Arnold House, with the boys in bed, the teachers sat in the common room discussing the miseries of the day:
‘Grimes alone sat with the complacent smile of an Etruscan funerary effigy.
“I confess I enjoyed myself greatly,” he said as we groused.
We regarded him incredulously. “Enjoyed yourself, Grimes? What did you find to enjoy?”
“Knox Minor,” he said with radiant simplicity. “I felt the games a little too boisterous, so I took Knox minor away behind some rocks. I removed his boot and stocking, opened my trousers, put his dear little foot there and experienced a most satisfying emission.”’
Waugh admired Young in spite of his pederasty, not because of it. He was at a low ebb himself, and admired a fellow who could keep bouncing back from the knocks that life handed out. Evelyn’s brother had told him that Scott Moncrieff (Proust’s translator) was ready to take Evelyn on as his secretary in Pisa. On the strength of this prospect, Evelyn had given in his notice at the school. But on the first of July he wrote in his diary that Scott Moncrieff did not, in fact, want his services. Waugh did not think that Mr Banks would let him take back his notice and his prospects overall seemed grim. According to his diary, the phrase “the end of the tether” kept cropping up in Waugh’s mind.
The story is taken up in A Little Learning, written in 1960. Waugh tells us that soon after getting the Scott Moncrieff elbow, he walked from school to beach with his thoughts full of death. He took off his clothes and began to swim out to sea. Drowning himself was his intention and he’d left a note with his clothes, a quote from Euripedes about the sea which washes away all human ills. Evelyn had even gone to the trouble of verifying its accuracy from a school textbook.
I’ve left the pub and made my way the hundred yards or so to the beach in question, following Meurig’s earlier directions. It’s an important place in Waugh’s personal story so I take a good look around.
I wonder if the bit in Welsh is the quote from Euripedes, about washing away all human ills. Or does ‘Dros Nos Yn Llwyr’ mean simply: ‘droppeth not your litter’?
Turning around I see a wind farm in the distance. Generating clean energy while at the same time putting off potential suicidees?
OK, back to 60 year-old Waugh’s own account of his suicide attempt at the age of 22, pre-wind farm: He describes the night as beautiful with of a gibbous moon. He swam out at an easy pace, but long before he reached the point of no return, he was disturbed by a sting on the shoulder. He had encountered a jelly-fish. He took a few more strokes and received a more powerful sting. The calm sea was full of the creatures. Waugh wondered if it was an omen. Or a sharp recall to common sense that Olivia would have given him.
Olivia was Evelyn’s would-be girlfriend. Trouble is she wouldn’t be his girlfriend. When Evelyn had arrived at the Welsh school at the beginning of his first term, he’d been greeted by a telegram, from a couple of Oxford pals, that read ‘On, Evelyn, On.’ Would they have sent a similar message to their friend in these bleak circumstances? ‘On, Evelyn, on to a watery grave.’ No, I think his many chums, including Olivia, would have wanted him back on dry land. Anyway, that’s what they did get.
Evelyn turned around, swam back through the track of the moon to the beach which earlier in the day had ‘swarmed under Grimes’s discerning eye with naked urchins’. There was no towel to dry himself with. He dressed and tore into pieces his pretentious classical tag, leaving the bits of paper to the sea, ‘moved on that bleak shore by tides stronger than any known to Euripedes, to perform its lustral office’. Then Waugh climbed the steep hill that led to the rest of his life.
I see what Evelyn meant. There is literally a sharp hill between the beach and the school. However, the land doesn’t really start rising until one gets past the Fair View, and it was here on July 3 that Young revealed his past to him. Evelyn recorded this in a diary entry, where he says that two things have happened to comfort him a little. First, Professor Dawkins has returned from Oxford. Second, Dick Young and Evelyn went out and got drunk drunk together.
Hmmm. It was during this summer term that Evelyn both burned the manuscript of The Temple at Thatch, thanks to Harold Acton’s cold and critical response to it, and started a new book. This was to be called ‘The Balance’, and it survives as a short story published in 1926 in a volume called Georgian Stories. For the first time I’m thinking of that story in conjunction with Evelyn’s meeting Young. Let’s see how that works by going back a bit:
May 1. Waugh meets Young. May 5. Waugh thinks about the paradoxes of suicide and achievement and works out the structure of a new book. He then negotiates with Young to buy a handgun.
These paradoxes dominate the final third of ‘The Balance’, when Adam Doure (effectively Evelyn) who has been rejected by Imogen Quest (Olivia) and enjoyed a final ‘blind’ at Oxford attempts suicide. In this fictional case, the suicide note is in Latin. So that’s four languages swirling around Evelyn’s mind when he’s down in the Denbighshire dumps. Welsh and English for giving toasts in the pub; Latin and Greek for writing suicide notes on the beach. (Pity Evelyn didn’t know much French or Italian. They would have come in handy if he was to have been the slightest use to Scott Moncrieff.)
May 14 (six weeks before Evelyn’s suicide attempt): Young talks to Waugh of the attractions of young boys. May 28: Evelyn is very keen on the idea that the first chapter of his book should be like watching a cinema film. He thinks that his story had promise.
Perhaps the best thing about ‘The Balance’ is Ernest Vaughan. That is the character who Adam enjoys his ‘blind’ with. On previous readings I’ve taken EV to be another altar ego of EW himself, and there is something in that. However, I’m now seeing something of a connection between Ernest Vaughan and Dick Young. Ernest’s Latin tag, written across his bedroom door in red chalk reads “UT EXULTANT IN COITU ELEPHAS, SIC RICARDUS’. Less a suicide note than a life-affirmity, I’m thinking. As Ernest says to Adam, there was no point going to any club, he’s been banned from the lot. An hour later, at the Crown, both Adam and Ernest are displaying signs of intoxication. Which makes me think of Young and Waugh at the Fair View. How does Evelyn express it in the diary entry of May 14 again?... Young and Evelyn went out and got drunk and Young confessed that he was expelled from his fine school, sent down from Oxford, and made to resign his commission. He has left four schools suddenly, three in the middle of term through his being taken in sodomy and one through his being drunk six nights in a row. And yet Young went on getting better and better jobs.
Actually, that reminds me of Ernest and the ‘blind’. So let’s get back to the Crown, Oxford. Adam orders more double whiskies. Ernest insists on sending a bottle of gin over to the party at the next table. This courtesy is rejected with ill grace. Ernest starts to sketch a portrait of Adam on the table-cloth. He calls it “Le vin triste,” and indeed Adam has been growing sadder as his guest has grown more happy. Adam drinks and wearily orders more. At length, very unsteadily, they get up and leave the pub.
Where next? Depends whether you’re in wonderful Oxford or grim North Wales, I suppose. Or maybe it works both ways. Adam and Ernest go to a public house in a poor part of town. Adam buys innumerable pints of beer for armies of badly dressed men. Meanwhile, Ernest is in the middle of an argument about birth control with a tramp whom he has just beaten at darts.
Yep, that could be Llanddulas all right. So let’s go on with The Balance. At another pub, Ernest, picked on by two “panders”, is loudly maintaining the abnormality of his tastes. Adam finds a bottle of gin in his pocket and attempts to give it to a man whose his wife interposes. In the end, the bottle falls to the floor and smashes.
In an entry made on July 26 (nearly a month after the suicide attempt), Waugh writes that the last two weeks of term have been spent either at Mrs Roberts’ public house or amongst Professor Dawkins raspberry canes. That’s a reference to the plush Plas Dulas. Would Young have been a welcome guest at that refined house? Well, perhaps ‘The Balance’ gives clues as to the answer to that.
A civilised party is being given in smart college rooms by someone called Gabriel. A voice is heard roaring “ADAM” outside the window and suddenly Ernest crashes in, looking extremely drunk. His hair is a mess, his eyes glazed, his neck and face red and sweaty. He sits down in a chair, immobile. He is given a drink which he pours onto the carpet. Adam is asked to take his impossible friend away. But Adam defends ‘this marvellous man’ and entreats people to get to know Ernest a bit better. Ernest saves the situation by announcing that he is going to be sick and, with great dignity, exits into the quad.
By my reckoning, Dick Young crops up in four of Waugh’s books. The Diaries, ‘The Balance’ (as Ernest Vaughn), Decline and Fall (as Grimes) and A Little Learning (the pseudonym ‘’Grimes’ is again used). What part did this man play in Waugh’s life? Did he inspire him to romantic recklessness? Or save him from suicidal impulses? Both, perhaps. And he inspired him - over and over again - to write.
There’s a footnote in the Selina Hastings biography of Waugh that mentions that in 1934 Dick Young published a book under a pseudonym. Not under the name Grimes, alas, but as Richard MacNaughton. It’s called The Preparatory School Murder. And the story is set at a school very much like Arnold House in Wales. Apparently, the main suspect is one of the masters, a Mr Erard. His rooms smell of drink and more than once Young’s protagonist surprises Erard emerging from the public-house in the village. MacNaughton goes on to write:
‘Erard seemed to have got out of tune with the normal conditions of life – to be unable to adapt himself, if you see what I mean, to the social outlook of his fellows.’
Spot on Grimesy! In the same year, 1934, Waugh published the desperate A Handful of Dust. But I’ve read that several times. So when I get back to base it will be Preparatory School Murder that I’m on the look out for. God’s, own book!
Meurig’s back. He notices a change in me. Yes, I have switched from pillar of cloud to pillar of fire mode. I show him Evelyn’s drawing of the Fair View’s lounge bar from the pages of Decline and Fall. The drawing occurs in the middle of the first long conversation between Grimes and Pennyfeather in Mrs Roberts bar. In fact, it comes right between the words ‘Grimes took a long draught and sighed happily’ and…
…‘“This looks like being the first end of term I’ve seen for two years.”’
Meurig looks from the drawing to me. I point out that underneath the fireplace, Waugh has signed the sketch and dated it, 1928. Underneath the signature is the drawing’s caption, which reads: “YOU SEE, I’M A PUBLIC SCHOOL MAN.”
Meurig takes it all in before doing me the favour of observing that he believes the fireplace in the Fair View used to be curved, as in the drawing. I ask him for a further favour. That is, to take a photograph of me in front of the fire posing as the life-force that is Grimes. As he takes the picture I’m thinking of a line of Ernest Vaughan’s from ‘The Balance’. I may be wrong, but it seems to me there’s a certain Welsh lilt to it: ‘WHO IS THIS BACH? I HAVE NOT SO MUCH AS HEARD OF THE MAN’.
I’m in the National Library of Scotland with The Preparatory School Murder by Richard MacNaughton on the desk in front of me. I have an appointment elsewhere in Edinburgh and so have exactly one hour to spare for this book. I don’t know if that will be enough, but I’ll just get on with it.
I see from the preliminary material that in 1934 The Fenland Press was located at 11 Henrietta Street. Now Decline and Fall was published - complete with Grimes innuendos - by Chapman and Hall, who operated from 12 Henrietta Street. So that’s all nice and cosy.
Turning over, I come across a poem by Ben Jonson written in 1603. It’s ‘Ode to a Dead Boy Actor,’ and it goes like this:
Twas a child that did thrive
In grace and feature
As Heaven and Nature seemed to strive
Which owned the creature.
So, yes, Grimes wrote this book all right.
Scanning the first chapter, I see that the book is set at St Anthony’s, Denbighshire. Following this up, I learn that a character drives to Abergele and then takes the coast road in order to be at the school by lunchtime. Now Abergele is within a few miles of Llanddulas, so we know exactly where we are: Arnold House.
The narrative follows a boy called David Kelham on his birthday. Cricket, diving board, birthday cake. I scribble down the odd line almost at random: ‘And yet between a man and a boy there is a great grief fixed. “Alas that youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close.”’
Alas, indeed, because young David Kelham (kill him?) dies in his sleep during the night following his birthday. It turns out that he was poisoned. There are two suspects, one of them is Charles Erard who used to work at the school. Erard (err hard?) was sent down from Cambridge without actually taking his degree, though he had read for it for three years. Does that describe Evelyn Waugh’s situation? Not quite, but it could be construed as revenge for what Waugh wrote about Young via Grimes. Especially as Young - via MacNaughton - goes on to say that Erard was ‘cashiered as an officer for being drunk on the front line’. What did Grimes do again? He disgraced his regiment and when given a revolver, a bottle of whisky and a chance to do the decent thing, he drank the whisky and got the giggles.
On the next page I learn that when Erard taught at the school it was noticed that he gave up morning chapel and that his rooms began smelling of drink.
MacNaughton ups the ante when a character reveals, when talking about Erard, that ‘it became clear beyond all possible doubt that he was totally unsuited for any further work as a schoolmaster.’ Accordingly, Erard was blacklisted with the Headmasters Association. In other words, Young is tarring Waugh with the same pederast brush as Waugh tarred Young with. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?
Then the shots become more random. A character declares: ‘If an educated un-selfcontrolled chap like Erard ever became truly down and out there’s no saying what silly ideas he might get into his head. He might in drink become exceedingly dangerous.’ Erard is later described as ‘one of those distressingly ineffective people who are endowed with a first class brain and third class gumption.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the impression Evelyn Waugh made on people before he found his vocation. In fact, the quote echoes what Cruttwell, dean of Hertford College, had written about Evelyn at the end of his time at Oxford: ‘I cannot say that your third does you anything but discredit. It is always at least foolish to allow oneself to be given an inappropriate intellectual label. I hope that you will soon settle in some sphere where you will give your intellect a better chance than in the History school.’ I don’t think Cruttwell had in mind a minor public school in North Wales, fraternizing with boys and a paedophile. But, then again, he might have done.
I’m enjoying this, but I’m running out of time already. I’ve located two scenes where Erard is interviewed by policemen in pubs. I can’t wait to read them, but that’s exactly what I will have to do. If I’m lucky I’ll get them photocopied before I go. Yes, that’s the plan.
I’m glad I copied the contents page of the book as well. I now see that chapter one of The Preparatory School Murder is called ‘Wednesday, June 14, 1933’. So it’s likely that Young sat down to write his book round about then. At which point Waugh had published Vile Bodies and Black Mischief, as well as Decline and Fall and Rossetti. So it was about time that Young proved who the real literary live-wire was.
In the first of the scenes I’ve copied, it is revealed that Erard too has changed professions since his days as a schoolteacher at St Anthony’s. He now works as a chemist in Chester. At the firm’s premises, a policeman, Sergeant Cross, learns that Erard will be out at lunch until 3 ‘o’clock, ‘though it was yet barely one’. To pass the time, the policeman goes into Chester Cathedral. While looking at a picture called Boy Cornwell; V.C., he notices ‘an odd-looking man dressed in a brown sports coat, grey flannel bags and a “Hawks” tie standing beside him. Despite the rather dissipated ensemble, there lingered about his pale, clear-cut features and well-shaped head an indefinable air of breeding and intellectual power. A faint but penetrating aroma of Harris tweed and whisky emanated from him.’
Grudging respect there, I suspect. Also, I need to compare this description with the one given of Evelyn by Derek Verscchoyle, Head Boy at Arnold House, as reported by Martin Stannard. ‘Instead of the neat suit, collar and tie, which camouflaged most masters, Waugh clad himself in baggy plus-fours and tweed jacket; over the collar of a roll-necked jumper sprouted half an inch of checked shirt. To cheer himself up during term he ordered hand-made shoes and cases of wine.’ Do these two individuals have something in common? Well, the “Hawks” reference, a Cambridge sports club, is a red herring, but the rest is close enough.
Perhaps Waugh’s interest in both Rossetti and Victorian painting in general is referenced, albeit ridiculously, in what Erard says to the policeman while they are both considering the painting of a brave boy. ‘Personally, Italian Primitives are more in my line: I love the grave spirituality of them; but I often come to look at this thing for the sake of the subject. The artist seems to have caught the mixture of awe and heroism in the earnest, almost yearning eyes of the boy without descending to sob-stuff.’
OK, so what happens in the scene? Erard offers the policeman a drink. Offer declined. But then when Sergeant Cross realises that the man he’s talking to is the very man he’s come to Chester to interview, he changes his mind. The scene continues: ‘Erard dived into the nearest bar, nodding a cheerful “good morning, my pet” (though it was afternoon) to the divinity behind the counter. Erard seemed to have a wide boozing acquaintanceship with, and to be a readily accepted member of, the rather drink-sodden group that hung round the saloon counter. The sergeant did the honours, and the two were soon ensconced on a large sofa behind a couple of foaming cans. The ex-schoolmaster was clearly of the type that drinks not by the glass but by the clock. ’“Here’s all the fun,” said Mr Erard conventionally, and raised his tankard reverently to his lips.’
What does Grimes say when taking a drink? Well, in the second scene in which he and Pennyfeather are drinking in Mrs Roberts pub, Pennyfeather comes up with the toast: ‘To the durability of ideals.’ Grimes responds ‘My word what a mouthful. I can’t say that. Cheerioh!’ It strikes me that MacNaughton’s creation, Erard, is both a critique of Waugh himself and a teasing echo of Grimes.
The policeman reveals that a pupil has died at St Anthony’s. When he reveals the name of the dead pupil, Erard expresses amazement. When the detective comments that Erard obviously knew the boy well, Erard’s reply is: “Yes, yes. Of course, a master becomes very – er – intimate with the boys in a school of that kind; and little Kelham was certainly one of this world’s choicer spirits: he could squeeze life to the pips every minute.’
Again, that’s a teasing echo of Grimes. If it’s also a critique of Waugh then Young via MacNaughton is sailing close to the wind. It’s him that’s the paedophile after all. Not Waugh.
Each of my photocopies contains two pages of the novel, and facing the end of the first scene I deliberately copied is an interesting paragraph. The sergeant is hypothesizing about Erard. ‘He appeared to be morose and sarcastic rather than bitter or revengeful – witness the contemptuous way in which, as they left the Cathedral, he had thrown a shilling into the “Freewill Offering” box with a cynical “There’s my tribute to the Church’s hypocrisy. Good God; what’s free-will, in the end, but a choice between Hell and Obedience?”’ And yet he had reverted a moment later to his whimsical mood. And he had given the shilling.’
That reminds me of when Grimes, in the first pub scene with Pennyfeather, talks about how much he owes his public school. He goes so far as to mention that he subscribed a guinea to the War Memorial Fund, and that he was really sorry that the cheque bounced.
But it also reminds me of Adam Doure’s witterings about freewill in ‘The Balance’. Of course it’s quite possible that Young had read that story. Presumably Georgian Stories, 1926 sold a few copies. That book came out in summer of 1926, just a couple of months after Young had been invited to stay with Evelyn at Aston Clinton, where Evelyn worked as a schoolmaster for eighteen months. I don’t know how long Young stayed, but on April Fools Day, Evelyn wrote: ‘Young of Denbighshire came down and was rather a bore – drunk all the time. He seduced a garage boy in the hedge.’
So where am I? Ah yes, homing in on Young/MacNaughton homing in on Waugh/Grimes.
In the second scene I copied, it’s an Inspector Hawtrey who goes to call on Erard. The officer is told that his quarry is certain to be found in the saloon bar of the Castle Arms. The interview quickly gets to the point. Erard asks if he is being accused of murdering the little boy. Hawtrey says: “I know the history of your – er – trouble in that quarter, Mr Erard.’ Soon Erard appeals to his interlocuter’s better nature with ‘And besides,,, well, you’re obviously a public school man yourself…’
And the funny thing is, it’s just at that point that Erard is dismissed as a possible murderer in Inspector Hawtrey’s mind. It’s what Inspector Hawtrey, Erard, Grimes, Young and Waugh all have in common. They’re public school men!
There’s more to it than that, though. It’s no surprise that MacNaughton lets Erard off the hook in the end. Because Waugh doesn’t just let Grimes off the hook, he exalts him. ‘Grimes… was a life force. Sentenced to death in Flanders, he popped up in North Wales; drowned in North Wales, he emerged in South America; engulfed in the dark mystery of Egdon Mire, he would ride again somewhere at some time, shaking from his limbs the musty integuments of the tomb.’
As Waugh concluded in Decline and Fall, Grimes was of the immortals. Did the subsequent history of Dick Young merit Evelyn’s eulogy to Grimes?
Well, let’s see. In 1928, the year Decline and Fall appeared, Young gave up being a school-master. He qualified as a solicitor in 1931 and worked for the family firm of solicitors, Young, Coles and Langdon, until 1938, in which period he managed to protect enough time in order to write The Preparatory School Murder. His connection with the family firm, based in Hastings, must have been tarnished in some way, since he makes no reference to this employment in his autobiographical entry in the Keble College Centenary Register. Perhaps, like Grimes, he had got himself in the soup and had to disappear leaving his clothes on the beach at Hastings. He worked as a solicitor in different towns from 1939 until 1956. It couldn’t have gone that well, because he ended up in the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, Winchester, the oldest charitable institution in Britain. Then again, it couldn’t have gone that badly, because he left his collection of German and Chelsea porcelain to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
So, in the end, Evelyn and Dick were both Oxford men. Waugh died in 1966, a few years before Young died in 1971. Yet it’s Evelyn who lives on, and I see him at this very moment, strolling through the Ashmolean Museum in his beloved Oxford, listening to the bells of St. Mary’s, glancing from the pages of his own masterpiece to the precious pieces of his old colleague’s legacy. Yes, the pieces reproduced below were donated to the Museum by none other than Richard Young:
‘Surely he had followed in the Bacchic train of distant Arcady, and played on the reeds of myth by forgotten streams, and taught the childish satyrs the arts of love?’
‘Had he not suffered unscathed the fearful dooms of all the offended gods of all the histories, fire, brimstone, and yawning earthquakes, plague and pestilence?’
‘Had he not stood, like the Pompeian sentry, while the Citadels of the Plain fell to ruin about his ears?’
‘Had he not, like some grease-caked Channel-swimmer, breasted the waves of the Deluge?
‘Had he not moved unseen when darkness covered the waters?’
There we must leave it, for I have nothing else to show you. On one level, because Evelyn finds the gallery containing the Ashmolean’s French and German collection of porcelain shut. On another, because, while the Ashmolean’s website has got round to putting its English porcelain online, it has not yet done so for the no doubt exquisite German pieces.
Evelyn and Dick. What a pair of lovebirds. Then and forever Oxford. That’s EISTEDDFOD in Welsh.
Where next? Evelyn's schoolmastering career continued at Aston Clinton, as introduced here.