SUMMER TERM AT ASTON CLINTON
Below is the photograph taken outside Aston Clinton in the second term that Evelyn spent there. Have a look at the photos that head the last three pages and decide for yourself if the bike photo was taken at the same time. It’s the same jacket and might be the same tie, as can be seen at the head of ‘Evelyn at Aston Clinton and ‘First Term at Aston Clinton’, but the pictures may have been taken on another day around about the same time, by someone other than ‘the photographer from Tring’.
Evelyn Waugh in February 1926, taken by an unknown photographer outside Aston Clinton House School (detail from cover of Mad World by Paula Byrne.
Evelyn began a diary entry on Tuesday, 11 May, 1926, saying that on Thursday (May 6) he’d travelled to Aston Clinton. The summer term began in some confusion. There was a general strike (the coal, transport and print unions were all out) hence the stricken areas and fantastic traffic alluded to at the end of ‘Second Term at Aston Clinton’.
By Friday, May 7, there were only five boys in residence. By Sunday, two days later, there were fifteen in all, which I suspect would be about half the school roll. With Dr Crawford absent, Evelyn used the strike as an excuse to return to London and apply to be a special constable. However, the strike was called off on May 11 and Evelyn returned home (Golders Green) by 10 o’clock having spent a frustrating couple of days in London. Waugh notes (an addition to the entry headed May 11) that the next day (May 12) he got his discharge papers and returned to Aston Clinton.
There are no diary entries for the next sixteen days as Waugh, one presumes, got back into the rhythm of teaching. However, on Friday, May 28, he wrote that he’d had a pleasant week, having dined in London with a party that included Richard, having been to the Bell a couple of times, and having had a superb day in Oxford from which he’d arrived home safely ‘only by the grace of God’. I expect God had to spend quite a lot of his time looking out for drunk drivers in general and Evelyn in particular in those days.
On Monday, June 7, Evelyn wrote that he was just back from a lovely weekend in Barford. On Saturday he’d set out there on his bike, lunching at Bicester. The gardens at Barford were splendid and it had been hot all the time. Evelyn did some drawing, went to the cinema with Alastair, lunched on Sunday with people that Mrs Graham had invited and then went to a tennis party where he had to play with a borrowed racket and in his socks.
On Thursday, June 10, Evelyn wrote that on the Monday afternoon of the previous entry, he’d found Edmund out of bounds and whipped him with an ash plant. Edmund took the beating well and Evelyn gave him a Sulka tie to make amends for the punishment. Then on Wednesday, following a trip to London (partly made to stock up on Sulka ties) Evelyn had a horrible journey back. He suffered a puncture in the Strand and only got it mended after pushing the bike a long way. In Kilburn he ran out of petrol; then the tyre went flat again. He pushed the bike to Cricklewood where he abandoned it, not having much luck with garages. He was told that a milk lorry left at 5am for Aylesbury. So he went back to his parents’ house in Golders Green, had a bath and drank some beer and by midnight was asleep in an armchair in the library. At 3am his brother returned from a club and they talked until 4, at which point Evelyn walked back to Cricklewood. Alas, the milk lorry did not show up. At half past five a man in a van gave Evelyn a lift to Elstree. From there he walked to Bushey, got a bus to Watford, a train to Rickmansworth, another train to Wendover, and a taxi to Aston Clinton School. Hardly surprisingly, the diary entry ends with Waugh saying that since this jaunt he’d been rather tired.
The map below shows how Waugh made it from the Strand, bottom right, to Aston Clinton, top left. First he biked to Kilburn. Pushing the bike from Kilburn to Cricklewood would have taken an hour or two. Handy though that he was then just a couple of miles from his parents’ home. The map shows that the lift to Elstree in the early morn got him a third of the way to Aston Clinton, with the train journey from Rickmansworth to Wendover covering the bulk of the journey.
Anyway, he got there in the end, with Sulka ties trailing from every pocket so that he need never feel guilty again about beating charming boys who ventured out of bounds.
There is another break of nearly two weeks before the next diary entry appears on Wednesday, 23 June, 1926, which reviews the previous week. Evelyn had meant to go down to London to fetch his motor bike which had been languishing there for a fortnight, but had bumped into Pat Grinling on the platform at Tring, so they travelled up together and made a day of it, ending up in Pat’s Ascot home from where Evelyn couldn’t get back to the school for the evening’s prep. Instead the captain (Captain Hyde-Upward) had to break an engagement to do it, for which Waugh felt guilty. (Give him a Sulka tie, Evelyn, and feel the guilt evaporate into thin Aston Clinton air.)
On Saturday (that would be June 19th) Evelyn went to Oxford to meet with Richard who was up for the weekend. They dined at the George and had a party at Matthew Ponsonby’s rooms. Evelyn sat up until 3.30am talking to Matthew and began to warm towards him. Meanwhile at Aston Clinton, Edmund had gone away for the weekend which meant Evelyn talking to Charles for much of Sunday, the boy suffering from the loss of his room mate.
Monday was a quiet day, during which Evelyn went to see Claud who was back staying with his family in Tring. On Tuesday, Evelyn went to Oxford to see about a cheque that had been stopped. And on Wednesday, the day of the diary heading, Edmund and Charles had tea with Evelyn (probably in his room above the stables) during which they ate masses of strawberries and spilt milk. Were they punished for spilling their milk over Evelyn’s finest crockery? Did they leave Evelyn’s rooms sporting Sulka ties? Our Evelyn doesn’t say.
A diary entry made on Sunday, July 11, mentions that Charles had gone away and so Evelyn had been left to play with Edmund. Evelyn read one of his favourite books to the boy, Wind in the Willows. I wonder if it was the chapter ‘Mr. Toad’, because Evelyn’s time at Aston Clinton has a distinct ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ feel to it. Toad’s friends being worried about him, for example. Toad having desperate escapades. Toad escaping from Toad Hall and stealing a vehicle, even. In fact, if one changes the words ‘Toad’ and ‘car’ to ‘Evelyn’ and ‘bike’ in a few places, it makes a lot of sense:
‘Filled full of conceited thoughts such as these he strode along, his head in the air, till he reached a little town, where the sign of 'The Red Lion,' swinging across the road halfway down the main street, reminded him that he had not breakfasted that day, and that he was exceedingly hungry after his long walk. He marched into the Inn, ordered the best luncheon that could be provided at so short a notice, and sat down to eat it in the coffee-room.’
The way I see it, Evelyn had escaped from Aston Clinton School and had walked to the Red Lion in Tring (bear with me for a little). As you’ll see from the map below, the best route from the school (bottom left corner of the map) to the pub (marked with a red pin) would be via the Lower Icknield Way:
‘He was about half-way through his meal when an only too familiar sound, approaching down the street, made him start and fall a-trembling all over. The ‘brrm, brrrm!’ drew nearer and nearer, the bikes could be heard to turn into the inn-yard and come to a stop, and Evelyn had to hold on to the leg of the table to conceal his over-mastering emotion. Presently the party entered the coffee-room, hungry, talkative, and gay, voluble on their experiences of the morning and the merits of the chariots that had brought them along so well. Evelyn listened eagerly, all ears, for a time; at last he could stand it no longer. He slipped out of the room quietly, paid his bill at the bar, and as soon as he got outside sauntered round quietly to the inn-yard. 'There cannot be any harm,' he said to himself, 'in my only just LOOKING at them!’
‘The bikes stood in the middle of the yard, quite unattended, the stable-helps and other hangers-on being all at their dinner. Evelyn walked slowly round one, inspecting, criticising, musing deeply.
'I wonder,' he said to himself presently, 'I wonder if this sort of bike STARTS easily?'
Next moment, hardly knowing how it came about, he found he had hold of the handle and was turning it. As the familiar sound broke forth, the old passion seized on Evelyn and completely mastered him, body and soul. As if in a dream he found himself, somehow, seated in the driver's seat; as if in a dream, he pulled the lever and swung the bike round the yard and out through the archway; and, as if in a dream, all sense of right and wrong, all fear of obvious consequences, seemed temporarily suspended. He increased his pace, and as the bike devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Evelyn once more, Evelyn at his best and highest, Evelyn the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night. He chanted as he flew, and the bike responded with sonorous drone; the miles were eaten up under him as he sped he knew not whither (Oxford!), fulfilling his instincts (Oxford!!), living his hour, reckless of what might come to him (Oxford, Oxford, Oxford!!!)
In the next diary entry, which is nearly two weeks later, on Saturday, 24 July, the action moves to ‘the pub on the canal’ which may well be the Red Lion at Tring. So let’s take it slowly. On Friday Alastair came to stay at the Bell, Aston Clinton. That evening Alastair drove them to London where they partied, picking up an old chum, Tony Bushell, and partied on into the night at the Waugh home in Golders Green. Just before dawn they started back to Aston Clinton to arrive at about 5, Tony sleeping in Evelyn’s room in the stables, while Alastair slept in his car.
Saturday was a success too, Evelyn writes. Richard and Liza were around for dinner at the Bell, as was Claud and a Keble friend. Apparently there were a lot of boys there too, dining with a former pupil. Then Evelyn and Alastair took the party to ‘the pub by the river’. They got very drunk and Alastair swum the canal with a glass of beer in each hand and drank them. Alastair’s turn to play Toad, then? In the Google Maps image below, I’ve got Evelyn, Richard, Liza, Claud, Charles and Edmund watching Alastair Toading about on the river. Actually, one of them’s not there, so let’s assume Evelyn is ordering another round of drinks at the bar, which is marked with a cocktail glass.
Although that pub’s called The Red Lion, and so fits in with the above extract from The Wind in the Willows, the pub by the river might just as easily have been the Grand Junction Arms, also near Tring, equidistant from Aston Clinton.
What do I mean? I mean feast your eyes on the Google satellite image below. There is no-one missing this time, Evelyn is back from the bar, so assume they’re all standing on the bridge, pint or cocktail glass in hand, encouraging Alastair to make a Toad of himself. Glug, glug, glug... That’s half of pint one. Now for pint two:
Evelyn: “Go on, Alastair, work that elbow!”
Alastair holds two half-full glasses aloft while working his legs hard to keep afloat. He sings:
‘The clever men of Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But there’s none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr Toad!’
Claud is grinning hugely. Charles and Edmund are pissing themselves with laughter. Richard is holding hands with Liza, both feeling exquisitely happy and showing it, six months into their marriage. Evelyn calls from the bridge: “Drink, Alastair, drink.”
Alastair sups and sings:
‘The animals sat in the Ark and cried,
Their tears in torrents flowed.
Who was it said, "There's land ahead?"
Encouraging Mr. Toad!’
Next day, Evelyn was tired (would you believe?). He and Alastair went off to Windsor for dinner, where Alastair suggested that Evelyn write something that he could print.
Evelyn: “What a great idea! Why haven’t you asked me before?”
Alastair: “I did ask you before. When I was swimming in the canal yesterday.”
It took Evelyn four and a half days to turn the notes he’d made the previous November - when he’d had to lie on sofas having broken his ankle after a day’s filming in Oxford - into a piece of finished writing: PRB: an essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood from 1847-1854.
So by July 28th, the end of term, Evelyn had a finished piece of writing for Alastair to print at his leisure. Evelyn thought it was ‘quite good’. His father liked it very much. A friend, John Rothenstein had promised to help sell copies. All was set fair, then.
But what was - and is - this essay? Alastair only printed 50 (sublime and, in one respect, ridiculous) copies, which we’ll get to in ‘In the Fourth at Aston Clinton’. In 1982, the essay was published in an edition of 450 copies, with an introduction by Christopher Sykes. These now cost about £50 on abebooks and I haven’t chosen to invest in one. However, I’ve spent an hour with the copy held by the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, where I made a few notes as I read the slim volume.
In the intro, Christopher Sykes reveals that Alastair brought back a printer from his travels in Turkey to the Shakespeare Head Press. (Sounds like bringing coals to Newcastle, but what do I know about the non-Western tradition of printing?) According to Sykes, the original idea was that Alastair should do the writing and Evelyn would embellish the pages. Thankfully, that’s not what happened.
The book begins with an imagined scene involving teenage John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt when they met at the Academy School in London. It makes for an engaging start to the essay, while the rest of part one is taken up with an analysis of what distinguished Holman Hunt’s ideas about painting from the Victorian art of the day. Waugh based much of his essay on the opinions given in William Holman Hunt’s book, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. To some extent this was for personal reasons. Holman Hunt married an ancestor of Evelyn’s, Fanny Waugh, and when she died in childbirth, he married her sister, Edith Waugh. Evelyn’s copy of Holman Hunt’s book was in his library at his death and is now in the all-consuming vaults of the Harry Ransom Centre in Texas. I’d be interested to see the manuscript notations that occur throughout the text, but that is not likely to happen anytime soon. For now I’m content to know that the book is inscribed ‘Evelyn Waugh, Aston Clinton’. So Evelyn didn’t get hold of the book when researching his full-size work on Rossetti. Rather, he acquired it, and used it, while writing his earlier essay on the Pre-Raphaelites.
William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1852
In part two of the essay, Rossetti is introduced and his debt to Holman Hunt is emphasised. In the 1982 Dalrymple Press edition, six illustrations (not in the original printed by Alastair Graham) are included. These are all drawings of WHH, JEM and DGR by those same three core members of the PRB. In the above image WHH is saying: “Of course!” while JEM is saying “Slosh,” The latter could be read as an insult to Sir Joshua Reynolds whose idealisations went against PRB’s presiding principle of ‘truth to nature’.
The pair of prints which hang together in Birmingham Museum can also be read as Alastair asking Evelyn if they should get sloshed before dinner and Evelyn replying in the affirmative. Evelyn, Alastair and Claud Cockburn (who I’ve yet to tell you about): the Pre-Prandial Brotherhood?
Part three tells us what each of the three core members of the PRB were doing in 1850 and onwards. Rossetti caused internal strife by showing a painting at the George Gallery instead of - and prior to - the others showing at the Royal Academy. It was Rossetti too who let out the secret of what the initials PRB stood for, and in such a way that the press took against the group. John Ruskin wrote a letter to The Times, a much-needed defence of the Pre-Raphaelites, saving the day. Though Evelyn was loathe to think of him other than as the equivalent of a wine critic. That is, a connoisseur in his field but not able to link his speciality interest to life in general. Which was, I think, a harsh judgement.
By 1854 the Brotherhood was splitting up. Evelyn sums up Rossetti’s prospects with a flourish: ‘A patterned glamour lay before him: two years of superior accomplishment: one great painting: and then the wretched intoxication of stifling hair and luscious throats: a turgid and unhappy death.’ That writ large would be Evelyn’s first full-length book, Rossetti.
For MIllais, according to Evelyn, the future looked rosy. He was attracting high praise and his pictures were selling for large sums and he would soon be elected to the Royal Academy.
And Holman Hunt? He was about to leave England for the Holy Land. He had just completed two major pictures, The Light of the World which, Evelyn tells us, hung in every lodging house in Britain, and The Awakening Conscience, which Evelyn describes as ‘the noblest painting by any Englishman’.
Let’s explore these two pictures by Evelyn’s favourite painter (later Waugh bought and owned several works by Holman Hunt).The Light of the World may have been widely reproduced, but the original hung (and still hangs) in Keble College Chapel.
So each time Evelyn called on Claud Cockburn, while the latter was still at Keble College - which he was when Evelyn was making his notes on the Pre-Raphaelites in November 1925 - he had the option of looking in on the painting of Christ, carrying a lamp, knocking at a long-closed door that could only be opened from the inside.
William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1852
Evelyn (knocking on the door of Claud Cockburn): “It’s me, Evelyn. Come on out. Let’s get sloshed before dinner.”
Claud (muffled, from behind the door of this mysterious man’s rooms): “Of course!”
The second Holman Hunt that Evelyn praises in the essay, The Awakening Conscience, he describes as ‘absolutely splendid’ in his Rossetti. I don’t think he would have seen this in the original as it was in the hands of a Manchester family at the time. But an engraving of it is in Holman Hunt’s book so he was familiar with the picture in this form at least. Hunt’s book calls the picture The Awakened Conscience, and so does Evelyn in PRB, but the name that seems to have stuck is The Awakening Conscience.
The Awakening Conscience, William Holman Hunt, 1853
Actually, when Evelyn was lying on the sofa at Golders Green reading his way into the Pre-Raphaelites in November 1925, he mentions in his diary that by the second day he was sharing the same sofa with Sir Frederick Leighton’s Solitude. I guess that would have been a framed print of the image which I’m placing below:
Solitude, Frederick Leighton, 1890
There are obvious similarities between Solitude and The Awakening Consciousness. It’s as if the contemplating woman from Solitude has suddenly realised her position: she is the lover of a man who is toying with her; she has been stupid enough to turn her back on God and nature.
There is a huge file of this picture in the public domain which has allowed me to zero in on its details, as Ruskin did in his analysis. I feel pretty sure Evelyn had access to a good print of this painting, otherwise how could he have admired it so much? The detail below shows that there are rings on all the fingers of the woman’s hands. All except the marriage ring finger that is. So she is the man’s mistress, not his wife.
The Awakening Conscience (detail), William Holman Hunt, 1853
The painting now belongs to the Tate. Its website tells us: ‘A gentleman has installed his mistress in a house for their meetings. As they play and sing to Thomas Moore's ‘Oft in the Stilly Night’, she has a sudden spiritual revelation. Rising from her lover's lap, she gazes into the sunlit garden beyond, which is reflected in the mirror behind her. The mirror image represents the woman's lost innocence, but redemption, indicated by the ray of light in the foreground, is still possible. Intended to be 'read', the painting is full of such symbolic elements. The cat toying with the broken-winged bird under the table symbolises the woman's plight. A man's discarded glove warns that the likely fate of a cast-off mistress was prostitution. A tangled skein of yarn on the floor symbolises the web in which the girl is entrapped.’
The Awakening Conscience (detail), William Holman Hunt, 1853
The viewer sees the totality of her position if he/she looks long enough. What the subject sees is the beauty of the garden through the window. Will the glimpse of paradise enable her to reject those worldly pleasures that have been holding her down?
The painting is explicitly referred to in the ‘A Twitch Upon the Thread’ section of Brideshead Revisited. Bridey has just said something hurtful to Julia, in front of Charles, about her position of living in sin with first Rex and then Charles. When they get upstairs alone, Charles, who is a painter after all, asks Julia if she has ever seen a picture of Holman Hunt’s called ‘The Awakened Conscience’. Julia hasn’t. Charles had found a copy of Ruskin’s description of the painting in the book Pre-Raphaelitism a few days earlier. He fetches the book from the library and reads Ruskin’s description. Julia acknowledges that her feelings when Bridey said the things he did, matched those of the woman in the painting.
So Evelyn never forgot that painting of Holman Hunt’s. In fact, he brought it up at a crucial time in the book that meant so much to him.
Evelyn’s essay of July, 1926, ends with a page that’s much like the page below from Holman Hunt’s book. The essay ends with a page that Evelyn used again more-or-less word-for-word in Rossetti (a book full of very long direct quotes from Holman Hunt, Ruskin, Rossetti and others). It’s the Holman Hunt book that’s out of copyright though, not the Evelyn Waugh essay. So here is the conclusion to PRB, one step removed:
Page from Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood by William Holman Hunt.
Reading that over, my eye picks out the line ‘Did other men have such a sacred friendship as we had formed?’ I think the answer to that is ‘yes’. Evelyn and Alastair, for example. (Leaving out Claud for the moment.) In 1926, in setting out for Turkey. And then again later in 1926, setting out for Greece, Alastair was travelling to the east, as Holman Hunt had done, away from his sacred friendships. When Alastair left for Constantinople in April, Evelyn saw him off in his only respectable suit. Did he hand him a daguerrotype of a Rossetti on which he’d written the lines:
There’s that betwixt us been, which men remember
Till they forget themselves, till all’s forgot,
Till the deep sleep falls on them in that bed
From which no morrow’s mischief knocks them up.
Come to think of it, that’s what would have effectively happened later in the year when Alastair left for Greece. That is, if Evelyn slipped a copy of the by then printed and bound PRB into Alastair’s bag. Actually, that’s not quite what happened. Alastair must have been in Greece by the time PRB came out, because Alastair’s copy (which was given by Graham to Michael Davie in 1975 when he was editing the diaries, and which ended up being auctioned in 2007) is inscribed by Evelyn to the effect that he hopes that his own pilgrimage to Athens will come off though he is very broke as always. So the verse wasn’t in Alastair’s bag when he left England but the heartfelt message did get to him while he was staying in Athens.
Although the PRB essay is largely about male friendships - which is what dominated Evelyn’s life at the time - studying the Pre-Raphaelites meant taking an interest in the depiction of female beauty and religious conviction. Both these themes would become much more important in Evelyn’s life in the years to come. In that way, the essay was a significant departure for Evelyn. Indeed the more I look at The Awakening Conscience, the more I interpret it as Evelyn rising from the sensual clutches of Alastair. Has Evelyn seen the heterosexual light?
With PRB written it was time for the summer holidays. Evelyn had got himself invited along with Alastair and his mother on their tour of Scotland. Following that he would be in France for a few weeks, holidaying with Richard and Elizabeth. Shall I go into those expeditions, maps and all? No, I think I’ll leave it there for now and rejoin Evelyn at the beginning of the new term in the autumn.
I've just come back to this point in Waugh's life a year or so further on in my own and have now investigated Evelyn and Alastair's grand tour of the north of Britain.