Evelyn Waugh first saw Piers Court - with his future wife and mother-in-law - on Monday 21 December, 1936. He noted in his diary that it was absolutely first class.
At the beginning of February the house was conveyed to him (no mention of Laura). By then he’d already bought ‘two very fine carved pedestals’ which he was having converted at enormous expense into bookcase ends.
On April 13, a week before his wedding day, he wrote in his dairy that he was arranging his books and his clothes at Highgate. That would presumably mean he was boxing up the books and having them moved from his parents’ house to his own place in Gloucestershire.
Evelyn: “I’ve forgotten to pack my copy of the first edition of Decline and Fall, Laura. You’ll have to look after it in the meantime.”
Laura: “But we’re getting married.”
Evelyn: “Carry it around in your hand, darling. Who cares if people think it’s a hymn book.”
Laura: “You look rough, dearest.”
Evelyn: “Of course, I look rough. Cocktail party all afternoon, yesterday. Then dinner with the Yorkes. The last three nights I’ve been ‘slightly tipsy’, ‘rather tipsy’ and ‘rather tipsy’. My use of adverbs being profoundly ironic. And, don’t forget, I may only be 34 but I left the best of myself up the Amazon, four years ago.”
That reminds me that the bookplate that Evelyn used before settling at Piers Court, influenced by the lettering of Eric Gill, and which I’m facetiously assuming was inside the book that Laura is holding in the above photos, was as below. Evelyn had walked down the aisle with Laura Herbert, with an annulment of his first marriage to Evelyn Gardner in his pocket. But had the Pope annulled his very first marriage to books? We’ll soon see:
Bookplate courtesy of Evelyn Waugh Library, Harry Ransom Center, Univ. of Texas.
There are only seven letters from 1937 included in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh. In an undated one, though clearly written early in the year, he wrote to his brother Alec, suggesting it might be a good idea for them to validate a Waugh family coat of arms and crest, now that he was marrying, buying property and ‘procreating’. Below is what resulted. The coat of arms - consisting of stars and sheaves of wheat (Waugh’s side) and lions (Laura Herbert’s side) was on the pediment of his own home by 1938. It also made its way into the library, as we’ll see.
On honeymoon in Portofino, he wrote in his diary: ‘Lovely day, lovely house, lovely wife, great happiness.’ He might have written ‘Lovely day, lovely house, lovely wife, unfinished manuscript.’ Because although I may have been joking above about Decline and Fall, he was so far behind with the writing of Scoop that he’d no choice but to take it with him on honeymoon.
Laura: “Are you ready for bed, darling?”
Evelyn: “Up to a point, my love.”
Months later, on November 15th, Evelyn wrote in his diary that he’d told the carpenter how disappointed he was that the shelves in his library weren’t finished. But a few days later he was able to say that the shelves were finished and looked superb. I guess Evelyn would have wasted no time in transferring his books from temporary storage to permanent showcase.
To coincide with this, Evelyn had arranged - at his own expense, apparently - for his publishers, Chapman and Hall, to reset the type for his first four novels and to print twelve copies of the books on large paper which he then got bound by Maltby of Oxford. Maltby’s being the company that Evelyn had long used to bind his personal diaries, amongst other luxury items. By early January, 1938, he was able to say that he’d given away six of the twelve copies. I’m not sure who to at this stage, but that’s info I’ll be looking out for. The copies are numbered, and it’s the four books numbered ‘1’ that took pride of place in his library at Piers Court and which are now in Texas.
Actually, I know that one of the sets of books was given to Alec Waugh, Evelyn’s brother. In due course, Alec’s son inherited them and, further down the line, he sold them to Alexander Waugh, Evelyn’s grandson. So that’s one set of the twelve that still has a good home down in Somerset.
And I’ve just stumbled across the information that the set of books numbered 4 were up for sale on abebooks in 2006. I suspect they were Graham Greene’s copies as the estate of his wife, Vivien, was being disposed of. Alongside the signed large paper editions numbered 4 (on sale for £20,000), was the signed (‘Graham, with love from Evelyn’) copy of Officers and Gentlemen, on sale for £15,000.
And I’ve just been told that Arthur Waugh got a set, as did Tom Burns who commissioned Waugh in Abyssinia and was director of The Tablet for which Waugh wrote a good deal over the years.
One of the four books in the special printing was Decline and Fall, of course. This large-paper copy of the book is the only copy of Decline and Fall that is in Waugh’s Library at the Harry Ransom Center. I take this to mean that, without infinite space in his library (though it was a pretty large room at Piers Court, as we’ll see), Evelyn chose to be careful what he gave shelf space to. It still surprises me that the Waugh Library lacks a copy of the first edition of Decline and Fall, complete with the wrapper that Evelyn designed himself. Perhaps Laura left it behind in Portofino, having put it under her pillow following some late night reading while Evelyn was burning the midnight oil writing Scoop.
Less surprising is that there is no copy of the Penguin edition of the book which first came out in January of 1937. This paperback, Penguin’s first issue of an Evelyn Waugh title, was a development which would ultimately result in a much larger readership for Waugh, but that didn’t mean Evelyn had to find rooms for the plebby little books in his grand library, did it?
The above is a scan of my copy of Decline and Fall. It’s a 1938 impression, though the cover is the same as the 1937 one but for the words ‘THE BODLEY HEAD’ where ‘FICTION’ comes on either side of the middle panel. Actually, the Penguin cover I fell for as a 17-year-old in 1974 was the one below. It still gives me a thrill to look at it. It still brings to mind a phrase from Brideshead, I mean when Charles Ryder, by then a captain of infantry during the Second World War, talks of ‘the languor of youth.’
The badge on Paul Pennyfeather’s blazer reminds me that if I’d had anything to do with the design of Evelyn’s coat of arms, it would have featured three penguins rather than rampant lions. But that’s just my own heritage.
To conclude on Decline and Fall, then. The Waugh Library in Texas does not include the original Chapman and Hall book. That’s 288 pages, each 19cm tall. It does not include the Penguin paperback, (256 pages, each 18cm tall). It does, however, contain one of the special 1937 edition (235 pages, each 27cm tall). The book of books, given its provenance. Can we move on quickly now? Yes, let’s move on.
Actually, before leaving the subject of special editions of the first four Waugh novels, it might be worth mentioning The Folio Society. That company tries its best to come up with special editions of the finest books, and the books it makes are indeed splendid objects. However, its choice of titles is hit and miss. There is no Folio Society edition of Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies or A Handful of Dust, but they did produce an edition of Black Mischief in 1980. Now Black Mischief is my least favourite of the four books. Moreover, the original Chapman and Hall book was illustrated by the author. The Folio Society edition dispenses with Waugh’s drawings, Quentin Blake having been commissioned to come up with a few sketches instead. Personally, I’d rather have seen a full-blooded version of A Handful of Dust or Vile Bodies, neither of which was illustrated by Evelyn’s own hand. Nevertheless, I’ll be looking out for a copy of the Folio Society’s Black Mischief, slipcase and all, for Our Evelyn’s Library.
OK, onwards. What particularly interests me is what Evelyn would have been reading in 1937, the first year of his new life. And I’m going to research what he was reading year by year until he died in 1966. In other words, I want to take a look at the second half of Evelyn’s life through the prism made up of the books that he read. After all, as his friend Anthony Powell intimated, books do furnish a life. We are what we blooming well read.
The website of the University of Texas reveals that the Waugh Library in the Harry Ransom Center contains 51 books that were published in 1937. You can get to that list yourself online. First, as clicking from this webpage doesn’t seem to work, type or paste this link into your browser: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/ Then type in ‘Waugh Library’ in the Keyword Search and choose the ‘Harry Ransom Center’ from the menu of options. Then click ‘Go’. This takes you to a list of 2940 items. Where it says ‘Keyword’ in the menu in the top left corner, change that to ‘Special Collections’. This gets you down to 2799 items from which you can then choose to ‘Limit/Sort search’. In the ‘Year of publication’ option, type ‘1936’ in the ‘After’ box and ’1938’ in the before box. Hey Presto! - the list of 51 books published in 1937 that ended up in Evelyn Waugh’s library.
15 of the the 51 are books by Charles Dickens, an edition published by the Nonesuch Press which was edited by Arthur Waugh. These books have Arthur’s bookplate on them and they would have come into Evelyn’s library, not on his father’s death in 1943, but on his mother’s death in 1954. Perhaps by then Evelyn would have got over the mixed feelings he felt for Dickens via his father’s nightly reading during his childhood, which came out so powerfully in A Handful of Dust. Indeed with the success of that book in 1934 and the subsequent death of his father it would be understandable if the Nonesuch Dickens became treasured possessions of Evelyn’s. However, I must ignore them for present purposes. Remembering that what Evelyn was reading in 1937 is what I’m after.
A couple of the books look as if they were bought in order to research Helena or The Loved One, which were written in the 1940s. But, by and large, in this largely pre-paperback era, Evelyn Waugh bought - or was given - newly published hardback books, which he read shortly after getting them. This is particularly true of 1937 when Graham Greene was editing Night and Day and persuaded Evelyn to review books for the weekly publication. 20 of the 51 books on the list are review copies. Incidentally, many of the reviews that Evelyn wrote have been collected in the volume Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh (EAR for short), edited by Donat Gallagher, a must-have for any Waugh scholar.
Graham Greene, who was educated at Berkhamsted School and Balliol College, Oxford, knew many of the same people that Evelyn did. He would no doubt have sent Evelyn books by their peers, either because Evelyn asked him to, or because Graham would know that Evelyn would want to read and review them. And so we get to the five books that I’m most interested in from 1937. Five that were written by Waugh’s fellow Oxford-educated elite. His champagne-quaffing chums, if you like:
Continual Dew: a little book of bourgeois verse by John Betjeman (1906-1984; Marlborough College and Magdalen College, Oxford).
The Fragrant Concubine: a tragedy by Bryan Guinness (1905-1992; Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford).
Stranger Wonders: tales of travel by Christopher Sykes (1907-1986; Downside and Christ Church, Oxford).
Tinpot Country: a story of England in the Dark Ages by Terence Greenidge (1902-1970; Rugby School and Hertford College, Oxford).
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1905-1941; Eton and Merton College, Oxford).
Let’s consider these in a particular order:
1) The Fragrant Concubine.
Bryan Guinness was an heir to the Guinness brewing fortune and he married Diana Mitford in 1929. Evelyn Waugh dedicated Vile Bodies to the couple, partly because they were central to the Bright Young Things set. The dedication reads ‘With love to Bryan and Diana Guinness’. Actually, Evelyn really must have been good buddies with the pair because he also dedicated Labels, his travel book which also came out in 1930, to the pair. The dedication reads as the one to VB, adding ‘without whose encouragement and hospitality this book would not have been finished’, which is an allusion to the turmoil in Waugh’s life after the defection of his first wife, Evelyn Gardner.
So what’s the book about and is it any good? I don’t know. Evelyn didn’t review it for Night and Day, which may suggest he didn’t think much of it. The detailed listing of the book at the HRC tells us that the item is 63 pages long. It’s the author’s presentation copy to Evelyn and a letter written by Bryan Guinness in December 1937 has been glued into the book. I’ve checked on its availability at abebooks and there aren’t any secondhand copies for sale as I write on March 19, 2013. So that’s that for now. Next...
2) Tinpot Country.
Terence Greenidge was a close friend of Evelyn’s at Oxford, and it was they who made The Scarlet Woman together in 1924 (see a great chunk of this website). Tinpot Country was reviewed by Evelyn in Night and Day (alongside To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway), but that is not one of the weekly pieces that Donat Gallagher chose to include in EAR, more’s the pity. Availability of the book itself on Abebooks? Not as I write, though I’ll be keeping my eyes open for it.
3) Stranger Wonders and 4) The Road to Oxiana
The books by Christopher Sykes and Robert Byron are reviewed side by side in Night and Day, so hats off to Donat Gallagher for including it in EAR. Evelyn headlines his feature ‘CIvilization and Culture’, and in the middle of it he claims that Mr Sykes is civilised and Mr Byron is cultured. By this distinction he means that Sykes feels most at home in Europe, England being an outlying province of Christianity. Whereas Byron is ‘insularity run amok’. In other words Byron sees England as a blessed place beyond which lies vast tracts of alien land. ‘He admits no limits to his aesthetic curiosity and no standards of judgement but his personal reactions.’ Obviously, Evelyn’s instincts lean more towards Christopher Sykes, indeed he tries to plug him as writer without seeming to do so. One of the eight stories, Waugh describes as ‘that rare, supremely delightful, barely detectable unreality - the inebriation of the first bottle’. Then he claims ‘Mr Sykes’s drawings are expressive but very ugly on the page, I should have preferred the book without them.’ Christopher Sykes would one day by Evelyn Waugh’s official biographer, and in that essentially sympathetic biography, Sykes seems reluctant to delve too deeply into the negative sides of Waugh’s character. Perhaps, bearing in mind Evelyn’s advice about his drawing, he thought it would look ugly on the page.
There are 4 copies of Stranger Wonders available from Abebooks at prices ranging from £65 to £175. Too much for this Waugh Library of mine. The most expensive item comes from the library of John Sutro, another friend of Evelyn Waugh’s from Oxford, indeed another of the four individuals that financed The Scarlet Woman.
The Robert Byron book in the Texas Waugh Library is a 1950 reprint (available from Abebooks for £25: I’m tempted by the cover below) rather than the 1937 book, which is not at the HRC. A bit strange since Waugh obviously had the book in 1937 in order to review it. Possibly someone borrowed the book from Piers Court without returning it. Interesting that Waugh owned a copy of the book printed nine years after the author’s death. In 1948, Evelyn wrote to Harold Acton (another Oxford contemporary of whom more shortly) that while it wasn’t time to say so in public, he detested Robert in his final years and thought him ‘a dangerous lunatic better dead’.
One has to ask oneself whether the above cover would look more appealing to a modern audience if the following was written under Robert Byron’s name: ‘A dangerous lunatic better dead’ - Evelyn Waugh. I think so. Celeb opinion sells. And lit celeb opinion sells books.
I’ve saved the best for last: Continual Dew by John Betjeman who was a close friend by 1937, indeed Evelyn and Laura went to stay with John and his wife, Penelope, for a weekend in January, 1937. This slim book of poetry was Betjeman’s first publication except for an even slimmer book of poetry. True, he was three years younger than Evelyn, but by Betjeman’s age in 1937, Waugh had written two biographies, four novels and three books of travel. John Betjeman was a late developer, one might say, a Magdalen tortoise rather than a Hertford hare.
Although Waugh reviewed Betjeman’s book in Night and Day, the review is not reprinted in EAR. However, when the book was reprinted by John Murray in 1977, a facsimile edition to the one that appeared in 1937, the dust-jacket included a quote from Evelyn’s review as follows:
‘Mr Betjeman’s poetry is not meant to be read, but recited - and recited with almost epileptic animation; only thus can the apostrophic syntax, the black-bottom rhythms, the Delphic climaxes, the panting ineptitude of the transitions be seen in their true values.’
That’s great. It’s got a giggle component (black-bottom rhythms) that the book is full of. I read ‘recited’ as ‘retched’ the first time I read the quote.
Here is the cover of the facsimile that I bought from abebooks for £1.64 plus postage, a most pleasing financial transaction if I may say so, though I’m not saying I was anything like as pleased as Harry Ransom felt in 1968:
The illustration refers to the most famous poem in the book: Slough. The first verse begins:
‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
It isn’t fit for humans now.’
But the direct reference of the drawing is to the last verse, which goes:
‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.’
The book is full of names of places in England. Certain ones, the more classical, seem to be approved of. However, John Betjeman does not like the lower-middle class lifestyles associated with certain towns, something that he shares with Evelyn Waugh. ‘’Come friendly bombs and fall on Dursley’, is not a line I remember reading in Waugh’s diary, though often enough he comments unfavourably on the town on the doorstep of the charming village of Stinchcombe, on the edge of which Piers Court proudly stood, bristling with books. I can’t disagree about lower-middle class taste on the whole, but one has to remember what’s happening here. John Betjeman and Evelyn Waugh were individuals who were given the very best of education, and they were sneering at those who lacked their advantages.
It’s also true to say that John Betjeman was as church mad as Evelyn. It’s just one denomination, one ecumenical matter (as Father Ted would say) after another in Continual Dew, and all the time the bells of St Mary’s are ringing out over Oxford. You have to smile, you really do. (Is it me sneering now, from my Twenty-first Century vantage point?)
Actually, I’m not sneering, I’m smiling in quite another way. The book, my facsimile, is a thing of beauty. Four different illustrators have been used plus many found images from ‘pre-war sources’. In the middle of the book there is a section of poems printed on tissue paper instead of the thick cream paper that the rest of the book is printed on. And these include the fabulous Dorset. Before I go into the thought-provoking content, here’s how it looks:
The poem, amongst other things, is a tribute to Thomas Hardy, an author who Waugh also admired. The first verse lists a host of real Dorset place names, then juxtaposes a suburban line with a rural one, then ends with the lines:
‘While Tranter Reuben, T.S. Eliot, H.G. Wells and Edith Sitwell lie in Mellstock Churchyard now.’
Tranter Reuben is a character out of Hardy that was buried in Mellstock Churchyard, the fictional equivalent of Stinsford Churchyard that Hardy ended up in. While Eliot, Wells and Sitwell are three famous authors who were still alive when the poem was published in 1937.
The second verse does much the same thing, though it doesn’t bother with the suburban line, just concentrates on the rural scene. Let’s quote the whole thing:
‘Lord’s Day bells from Bingham’s Melcombe,Iwerne Minster, Shroton, Plush,
Down the grass between the beeches, mellow in the evening hush.
Gloved the hands that hold the hymn book, which this morning milked the cow
While Tranter Reuben, Mary Borden, Brian Howard and Harold Acton lie in Mellstock Churchyard now.’
There’s still a verse to go, but I feel Evelyn may have had a good old chuckle at this point. First, there’s a line that seems to have been written with Laura Waugh in mind, since she spent much of her married life at Piers Court looking after a few cows. Second, Harold Acton and Brian Howard were two more undergraduates who emerged as published writers (Brian Howard only just) from Evelyn’s generation at Oxford and who were still very much alive when the Betjeman poem was written. They were also two of the most notorious individuals, and very much central to the aesthetic set that Evelyn was a part of while at university. It’s been said that the outrageously camp Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited was one-third Harold Acton and two-thirds Brian Howard.
There’s a note at the end of the poem, stating that the names in the last lines of these stanzas have not been inserted out of malice or satire but merely for their euphony. Oh, yes, just as Evelyn Waugh does not have his tongue in his cheek when he says at the start of Brideshead:
‘I am not I: thou are not he or she: they are not they.’
Sebastian is actually written ‘Alastair’ a couple of times in the manuscript. But if Alastair Graham, Evelyn’s intimate friend and lover at Oxford, was in crucial ways the basis for Sebastian Flyte, the idea of the teddy bear, Aloysius, came from John Betjeman himself, who went around Oxford with a teddy called Archibald Ormsby-Gore.
The copy of Continual Dew that’s in the Harry Ransom Center is the 1937 edition. It’s a signed presentation copy from the author. Removed from the book has been a letter Waugh received from Betjeman in 1939. I don’t know what the letter says, but page 127 of The Letters of Evelyn Waugh suggests that Evelyn’s reply begins by thanking the poet, then stating that he hopes Verses Turned doesn’t mean that Betjeman subscribes ‘to the nonsensical ideas of Connolly that the rich are more selfish and nervous than the poor.’
I think you’re right, Evelyn, but then the poor have got much to be selfish and nervous about.
THe HRC copy contains an armorial bookplate of Evelyn Waugh. That harks back to the heraldry business Evelyn discussed with his brother early in 1937. As we’ll see on the next page, the coat of arms was carved on the front of Piers Court by 1938, but it appears to have taken until June 1943 for a bookplate to be designed (by an engraver called Osmond) incorporating the arms. However, Evelyn obviously made good use of the bookplate retrospectively. Here’s the one I’ve annotated for my copy of Continual Dew.
Bookplate, prior to annotations, courtesy of Alexander Waugh.
‘WORK ENRICHES’, according to our Evelyn’s Latin banner, and I couldn’t agree more. Before sticking the bookplate into my Continual Dew, I had to enquire of HRC as to whether Evelyn was in the habit of putting the bookplate on the front free endpaper or the front pastedown. Richard Oram promptly replied that it was generally the front pastedown. But in the books inherited from Arthur Waugh, whose own bookplate was already on the front pastedown, Evelyn’s own bookplate would be placed on the front free endpaper. I’m glad to hear that Evelyn felt no need to obliterate the sign of his father’s former ownership. Anyway, with this information to hand I could take things one step further:
So that’s it. The first book to enter Our Evelyn’s Library, though there is no special place to put it yet, all my shelving is full of books relating to other projects. I suppose I could employ a carpenter to make a facsimile of the shelves that have long since disappeared from the Waugh Library in Texas. But the phrase ‘prohibitively expensive’ flies to mind.
Oh well, there’s no hurry. Besides, one book doth not a library make.
Thanks to John Howard Wilson for information and advice.
Thanks to Alexander Waugh and to the Harry Ransom Center for demonstrating that working together is what it’s all about. Industria ditat is what we say in chorus at the end of each day’s toil in the Waugh vineyards.
If any reader has an unwanted copy of a book that was in Waugh’s library in 1937, then please consider donating it to Our Evelyn’s Library where it will be book-plated and, in due course, shelved. All donations to:
132 Perth Road