IN THE FOURTH AT ASTON CLINTON
The picture below is a still from The Scarlet Woman, from a scene that was shot in November 1925, when Evelyn was in his second term at Aston Clinton. But there are no photos I know of from the Christmas Term of 1926 so this shot will have to do. It shows a glimpse of the inner man, I think. Evelyn caught in mid muse.
On Monday, 27 September, 1926, Evelyn wrote in his diary that he believed that this was the day he was due to return to Aston Clinton. He thought it would be bitterly cold driving down on his bike and, indeed, by the time he got to the end of the diary entry, he decided to go to Aston Clinton by train as it was pissing down. It was the beginning of the end of Evelyn’s biking era, whose heyday was the Easter Holidays of 1926.
The next entry is on Saturday, 2 October. Evelyn tells us he had been paying off his debts in Oxford. He was determined to live a life of sobriety, chastity and duty. What else? Alastair had sent him some proofs of PRB, however Evelyn had rather lost interest in the project between writing and proof-reading. What else? Following his Grand Tour of the north of Britain with Alastair and Mrs Graham, Evelyn had explored the Loire Valley with RIchard and Elizabeth Plunket Green. What else? Evelyn was finding it difficult to adapt himself to being back at school - having been in civilised society for a couple of months it was hard to return to the boys’ level.
On Thursday, 7 October, Evelyn wrote that he had bought a suit from Anderson and Sheppard for 15 guineas. When he went to try it on a few days later, while acknowledging that it was well made, he couldn’t help noting that it made him look ‘distressingly dapper’. Never mind, Evelyn, perhaps the appearance of PRB will cheer you up. I say that because, while in London, he met a Mr Bain, who was going to bind PRB.
The next entry, written on Saturday 23 October, tells us that on the Tuesday before, Evelyn fetched his bike from London. Then on the Thursday he rode his bike to Wendover and got the train from there to London where he tried on the suit once more at Anderson and Sheppard. The travel scheme didn’t work out very well as Evelyn went to sleep on the way back, travelling all the way to Aylesbury from where he had to walk the several miles home to Aston Clinton. On Friday he received a proof copy of PRB. His verdict? While it was nice to see it looking like a proper book, it was full of misprints.
Apparently, the book was dedicated to Elizabeth, Richard’s wife. I haven’t seen the book in its original form, but I have managed to get hold of the elegant title page, designed by Alastair:
What I also have, is a walnut cabinet, which has the letters ‘AG’ entwined in a circle, between two fruit-bearing trumpets in the middle of the door that fronts the cabinet’s main space. For the purposes of photo opportunity I’ve removed the early editions (the ones with the mottled black and red covers) of Waugh’s pre-WW2 novels from the top of the cabinet and placed the title page of PRB in between ‘Alastair’ and ‘Evelyn’. What do I mean? This is what greets meets my eyes when I walk into our Red Room:
More interesting, perhaps, when the door of the cabinet is lowered it reveals a photograph taken by Alastair Graham, probably in October 1928. The temple shown in the grounds at the back of of Barford House evokes an atmosphere of, amongst other things, Pre-Raphaelitism, and it may have been within the pillars of this classical folly that Alastair and Evelyn discussed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the possibility of Evelyn writing about it. Or was it simply where Alastair, Evelyn and Claud enjoyed drinking when they were together at Barford?
See Barford Revisited for more on this evocative old photograph. But for now let’s stay with the Michaelmas Term at Aston Clinton, 1926...
About this time there were a few literary things happening for Waugh. He was paid over £2 for ‘The Balance’, which had been written in 1925 while Evelyn was working at Arnold House, Llanddulas, and shortly after he’d left that school. The story had appeared in Georgian Stories in March, 1926, complete with one of the photos taken by the photographer from Tring (the one heading the page ‘First Term at Aston Clinton’). Also, he’d volunteered to take some poems of Harold Acton - who was having difficulty finding a publisher for them - round to Jonathan Cape’s offices. Lastly, Evelyn had been encouraged by the publishers of Today and Tomorrow to write a book that he’d suggested to them called Noah; or the Future of Intoxication. Perhaps, Evelyn included a still or two from The Scarlet Woman to help his pitch:
In contrast, Evelyn didn’t have much to say about the school in October. Instead, by 7 November he tells us that he’d written 2000 words of Noah, and three days later he had finished the first chapter. Any good? Evelyn thought so:
In the entry made on Wednesday, 10 November, Evelyn also tells us that a boy called Blackburn had been put into the dormitory with Charles and Edmund, so Evelyn didn’t go to see them any more. A week later, PRB arrived in book form. Alas, it contained an uncorrected mistake that Evelyn had noticed before but hadn’t put on the errata. On a copy that was sold at auction in 2010, it does say that in addition to the errata slip, there was one correction hand-written by Waugh. However, I’ve been told that there is no hand-written correction in Evelyn’s own copy, now at the Harry Ransom Centre. I’ve ordered a scan of the errata slip, together with scans of the pages referred to in the slip, and when these arrive I should be able to say more about Evelyn and Alastair’s comedy of errors.
Evelyn was still travelling to London via Wendover. But the Wendover to Aston Clinton legs were being made on a push-bike. What had happened to the motorbike?
On 22nd November, Waugh wrote that no-one had received a copy of PRB because Edmund had forgotten to post them out. Perhaps Edmund was beaten with an ash plant for this omission. If so, I suspect he wasn’t given a Sulka tie to make up for it, but a copy of PRB instead. Why do I say that? Edmund’s copy of PRB came up for sale at Christie’s in 2002 and this is how the dedication appeared:
Charles’s copy was also sold at auction, similarly inscribed as being from ‘the author’.
On November 25, Evelyn reported that Hatchard’s had declined to buy any copies of PRB. He couldn’t blame the oldest bookshop in London, because PRB, despite its slim page count, was so full of misprints. In the same entry, Evelyn expressed delight that Claud had come back to Tring to stay for a while. Evelyn met a stoat or a weasel on the way to Tring. (Very Wind in the Willows; very Toad of Toad Hall.) When he got there, Evelyn talked to Claud for several hours, enjoying two meals at his house, but returned to Aston Clinton eager to resume work on his Noah. What did he write about? What did he have in mind for the phrase ‘the future of intoxication’? Alas, the piece is lost.
On 30th November, Evelyn again went to Tring to dine with Claud and family. He seems to have made the journey on a bicycle (he definitely returned by cycle) so something surely had gone wrong with the motorbike.
I think it’s time to leave Evelyn to his broken motorbike, his ‘future of intoxication’ and say something about Claud Cockburn. What I know is principally taken from In Time of Trouble, an autobiography that was published in 1956. The book deals primarily with Cockburn’s career in radical journalism, but the early chapters deal with his upbringing.
He was born in Peking where his father was British Vice Consul. After living in England for a while, his father came out of retirement to take a diplomatic job in Budapest, so sixteen-year-old Claud found himself living in the Danube Valley out of public school term-time, and falling in love with the place. This meant developing a respect for politics in general and Communism in particular that he took with him into adult life.
Claud won a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford, and chapter five of his autobiography deals with his time there. The words ‘Evelyn Waugh’ come up precisely once in the book, in a paragraph about the Hypocrites Club which also names Harold Acton, Robert Byron, Christopher Hollis and Basil Murray. Was Cockburn writing at such a distance that he’d forgotten the very close association he’d had with Evelyn and Alastair? Never mind the Hypocrites Club, what about the Post-Prandial Brotherhood? If I go through Evelyn’s time at Aston Clinton, looking for interaction with Claud, I find this:
First Term at Aston Clinton
Claud lends Evelyn a book by Virginia Woolf. They drink together several times at the Bell in Aston Clinton and several times at Oxford. Though it was two of Claud’s friends, not Claud himself, that Evelyn dined with the mad evening that he broke his ankle in the aftermath of filming with Terence Greenidge.
Second Term at Aston Clinton
Evelyn meets Claud and Alastair in Oxford and the three travel in Alastair’s car to his studio at East Hendred. Claud is with Alastair at Barford the evening that Evelyn has a disastrous bike journey from Aston Clinton, resulting in them missing each other. Claud lunches with Evelyn on bread and cheese and brown sherry the day Evelyn ‘ran in’ his second bike, the Francis Barnett. Evelyn goes to a dance in Tring because Claud has fallen for a girl called Ruth Stevenson and wants Evelyn’s moral support; Claud greets Evelyn with a prodigious glass of brandy when he turns up on his motorbike.
Summer Term at Aston Clinton
Claud meets Evelyn at his house in Tring after having been away for a while. Claud is a member of the party that has dinner at the Bell then goes on to the pub by the river where Alastair swims in the canal with a glass of beer in each hand.
Could it be that over time Claud became ashamed of the association with Evelyn and Alastair? What exactly does Claud say about this period of his life in his autobiography?
He doesn’t give many dates, so it’s difficult to piece together the chronology. But he went up to Oxford in 1922 and underwent a four-year course in ‘Greats’. For a while he was editing The Isis. He didn’t do much work during the year so had to cram when it came to exam time. In the summer of 1926, Claud graduated with a second-class degree. He decided to apply for a Travelling Fellowship, the exams for which weren’t until the following spring. He spent the intervening months in France, improving his French, and in Vienna, doing the same to his German. He goes into the travelling in some detail and he goes into the Travelling Fellowship and his career prospects in some detail too. No Alastair and no Evelyn, though. What sad omissions!
But they had been very friendly, and decades later Claud acknowledged the closeness of their relationship in a piece that first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1973. The elderly Claud began by saying that, following the furore caused by the publication of Waugh’s Diaries, he was one of five individuals who ended up in a TV studio being interviewed about the Evelyn they remembered. Tom Driberg, another guest, reminded Claud that he had always been referred to by Evelyn as his ‘mad cousin’. Claud wrote in his article in The Atlantic Monthly:
He dubbed me "mad" because I lived, except during Oxford terms, in Budapest. This, as an awkward incident of life, seemed to him explicable, given that my father was in the foreign service. My madness consisted in taking the politics of Central Europe seriously. At our first meeting he said to me, puzzled: "You talk as though all that were quite real to you." His attitude toward what he unaffectedly referred to as "abroad" was only slightly caricatured by Mr. Pennyfeather in Decline and Fall, Mr. Pennyfeather thought that Love was like Abroad in as much as if people had not happened to read about them both they would have no interest in either. Since, in Evelyn’s view England, a partially imaginary England, was the centre of the world, all unEnglishness, such as finding Abroad real, was in the literal sense of the word, eccentric: slightly, in fact, mad.
Just as Claud Cockburn did not more than cursorily refer to Evelyn Waugh in his autobiography in 1956, so Evelyn, although often mentioning Claud in his 1926 diary, never said anything about his political views or his constant journeying to and from Europe.
The 1973 article by Cockburn goes on to give a long anecdote about Claud getting into debt. Evelyn persuaded him to write to his brother (also Claud’s cousin) for money. Alec refused to lend any, and Evelyn waged a war of revenge on ‘the bald-headed lecher’ on the principle that Alec had earned his money ignobly (through writing for the press) and was bound by family ties to give it away to a deserving cousin. The anecdote is fine as far as it goes, but it deals with a time when Evelyn was still at Oxford. Claud seems to have written nothing, ever, about the Aston Clinton era.
Later elderly Cockburn’s article does at least get into its stride:
‘After my first encounter with Evelyn, I wrote that my cousin, whom I found immediately attractive and stimulating suggested, with his eager, chaIlenging, yet bewildered stare, a boy who has just been told simultaneously that his pet rabbit has been lost but that, on the other hand it is known for sure that there is a pirate’s cave full of treasure somewhere in the garden if one can onIy find it.’
I should say that this extract follows a passage about the effect of the First World War on Evelyn’s generation.
‘I did not at the time understand the exact nature of the rabbit. Later, the shape and appeal of the creature emerged with increasing clarity from Evelyn’s novels and, in its most clear definition, from A Little Learning. Like all such largely imaginary creature, it changed shape from time to time according to the moods and needs of its owner. In its simplest form it was the England in which Evelyn believed himself to have existed as a child. That cleaner, greener land of his exclusive recollection and compulsive imagination bore little resemblance to the England of unprecedented and as yet unparalleled Sturm and Drang, in which, by 1914, syndicalist revolution and civil war were but narrowly averted by the outbreak of the international conflict.’
‘Later, the rabbit grew in size and symmetry. During its struggle for preservation in the mind of Its original owner, it grew finer fur, longer ears, and taught itself to roll and flash its eyes. The little patch of old England which Evelyn partly knew, and partly invented, became identified with religions and spiritual values: ultimately with civilization. Any creative artist so vigorous, so dedicated to the techniques and purposes or his art, as Evelyn was, is impelled to seek to impose a pattern upon apparent chaos. It was a peculiarity of British education at that period, and of the general situation of Britain between the wars, that the patterns, the lines to be drawn against chaos, were, in, the thinking of most young men, grotesquely limited, To my fellow students in Budapest, so unreal to Evelyn, it would have seemed incredible that there could exist a place such as Oxford where, for instance, Marxism, had been barely heard of. That did indeed appear to them an unreal dream world. Whether Marxists or antiMarxists, Catholics or Calvinists, they, after defeat and civil, war, saw the world and the possible patterns of the world in quite other terms than those visible to the dominant intelligentsia of Oxford. They saw more possible locations for the pirates treasure than Evelyn could possibly envisage.’
Alastair (standing in the temple at Barford, drinking): “Have you ever heard of Karl Marx?”
Evelyn (also standing in the temple): “As a matter of fact I have. He wrote under the pseudonym of Charles Dickens in this country and my father publishes his books to this day.”
‘This sense of England, simultaneously sharp and even ludicrously undeveloped, produced that flamboyant snobbery which so often startled, amused, or offended observers. He grew to identify England with the British upper class, and the upper class (more and more rigidly restricted to the Roman Catholic section of the upper class) with civilization.’
Alastair (holding onto a pillar of the temple, glass in hand): “Have you ever heard of Monsignor Knox?”
Evelyn (leaning against an adjacent pillar): “The man is a saint and a genius and one day I will publish his occasional sermons. Indeed one fine day I will write a biography of his life so tedious that the reader will feel his eyes bleed as he turns the pages.”
‘This snobbery was feverish, like a fever, it could have contrary effects, It could heighten his satiric awareness of the nuances and the absurdities of the peculiarly English type of class-ridden society under his observation. It could also (see Brideshead, passim) lower his vitality and enfeeble his powers of observation to the point where his vision was clouded by a ludicrous sentimentality: the naked emperor appeared very smartly dressed.’
Evelyn: “What do you think of my new suit?”
Alastair: “It makes you look distressingly dapper.”
Evelyn: “LIke Toad in the new Shepard illustrations of Wind in the Willows?
Alastair: “Just so.”
Evelyn: “Never mind, I have written a good deal more of Noah. If I am not mistaken it has the powerful stamp of Toad upon it. Shall we transfer to licensed premises?”
E. M. Shepard Illustration from Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
On Tuesday, November 30, Evelyn wrote that he dined with Claud and rode home on a bicycle. No mention of Claud having been to France to brush up on his French (as I presume he had been). No mention of Claud’s socialist ideals that were to be the driving force of his adult life and professional career.
The two men met but they didn’t meet. One was intent on scrutinising his own little life. The other was trying to get a grasp of the big picture. Alas, Claud, the picture doesn’t get any bigger than a single individual’s coming and going. As the writings of Evelyn Waugh ably demonstrate. As for yourself, well I know you once said:
But slogans and polished anecdotes don’t cut it for me. How about some personal honesty like the following:
Monday 6 December 1926
Evelyn tells us that he had had an idea or two lately for the finishing of Noah but had lacked the energy to put them into form. He was confined to the house and landed with all sorts of strange duties, such as rubbing moisturising lotion into the boys’ backs. He was tired of words and looked forward to a holiday that wouldn’t involve any reading or writing but just looking and maybe a bit of drawing.
Of course, it’s better to read the above in the original first person, EW, which one can in The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, edited by Michael Davie. But for now, try again, Claud.
145 North End Road, NW11
On the final day of term, Dr Crawford, after promising to raise Evelyn’s wages, gave him a cheque for the usual amount. Evelyn questioned the sum and was grudgingly given a small rise. Evelyn suspected that the next term would be his last.
October, 2013. I’ve now received details of the errata that were printed on a sheet of paper that was bound in with the first limited edition of PRB that Alastair Graham published. There are 10 errors listed on the sheet. “Holman Hunt” should read “Holman-Hunt”; “Pre-Raphaelitism” should read “Pre-Raphaelism”; ”accessability” should read “accessibility”; “Prieu-dieu” should read “prieu-dieux”. In one place “that” should read “of”. Two small words have been missed out. A quote is wrongly copied. “Finchly” should read “Finchley”; “desolved” should read “dissolved”.
Why were these mistakes not properly corrected within the book itself? Let me consult Waugh’s Diaries to remind myself of the order of events... On October 2, 1926, Alastair sent Evelyn ‘paste up proofs” of PRB. Presumably Evelyn corrected them, because, on October 7, Alastair arrived in London with the sheets of PRB. It’s possible that Alastair went off to Greece at this point leaving Evelyn to complete arrangements for the book.
In the same diary entry, which covers several days, Evelyn mentions meeting a binder called Bain and making an arrangement for the binding of PRB.
Then, in the diary entry of October 23, it’s mentioned that Bain had sent Evelyn a proof copy of PRB, which the author says is agreeable to look at but full of misprints. I think at that stage, Evelyn must have come up with the list of errata, which couldn’t be incorporated in the book itself, because Alastair, the printer, was no longer in the country. An errata sheet had to be set up in print separately, possibly by Bain. On Wednesday 17 November, the finished book arrived with an uncorrected mistake that Evelyn had noticed before but forgotten to put into the errata.
So it seems that responsibility for the errata was down to Evelyn, not Alastair. It’s incredible, because the errata themselves are so ridiculous. Holman Hunt is not hyphenated. Surely Evelyn would have know that since he was his relation and had consulted a copy of the man’s autobiography. And ‘Pre-Raphaelitism’ is the accepted term, not ‘Pre-Raphaelism’, with Holman Hunt’s autobiography actually being called Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. One begins to wonder whether the list of errata was a joke. And yet Evelyn sounded serious when he wrote in his diary that a mistake had been missed from the errata sheet. Altogether, very strange. Stranger still (and I doubt if this is the uncorrected mistake mentioned above, but it could be) is that Evelyn gets a fundamental piece of information wrong on the first page. If the scene takes place in 1847, as Evelyn states, John Everett Millais was nearly 19, not nearly 16.
So here is not just Alastair Graham’s but my own tribute to Evelyn Waugh’s first published book:
Would I bid for a copy of this book if another of the original 50 copies came up for sale at auction? Given its Aston Clinton and Alastair Graham provenance, I certainly would. Though it’s also certain that a number of other people would outbid me for the item.
Ah well, one can’t have everything. I have to be content with this website and the prospect of writing Last Term at Aston Clinton