"YOU SEE, I'M A PUBLIC SCHOOL BOY."
What follows is a suppressed chapter from EVELYN! Rhapsody for an Obsessive Love. What do I mean? On considering an early draft, I decided this chapter didn’t contribute enough to the main thrust of my book, which examines the rise and fall of the love triangle between Evelyn Waugh, Evelyn Gardner and John Heygate.
It’s fine as a stand-alone episode though, I now realise in February, 2014. So let it stand alone as a monument to the blue-skyed day out that I enjoyed in September, 2007; a memorial to Evelyn Waugh’s time at Lancing between 1917 and 1921; and a taster for my presently unpublished book, copies of which, in an ideal world, every pupil at Lancing would be carrying under their arm as they walked from Geography to English classes.
Evelyn didn’t go to school until he was seven. It was at that age that he made his first diary entry. This includes the statement that his Daddy was a publisher whose office looked like ‘a offely dull place’. Yes, Evelyn grew up in an environment suffused with books. He was read to, encouraged to read, and allowed to join in the salon-style discussions that were the stuff of his father’s life. Arthur Waugh's house, Underhill, between Hampstead and Golders Green, provided the most literary of upbringings.
How else could it be that older brother Alec could write a novel about public school life on being sent down from Sherborne at the age of 17. The Loom of Youth deals discreetly with the presence of homosexuality at an English boarding school and it was both a best-seller and a sensation. Sensationally bad news for Sherborne, Dorset, which made Evelyn’s own going there impossible. Instead, at the age of 13, Evelyn was taken out of his local day school and enrolled at Lancing College on the South Downs.
I’m there now. I’ve walked uphill from Lancing Station to the edge of the downs where the town stops and the grounds of Lancing College start. There’s a ‘Private – Keep Out’ sign, which I ignore as I have given myself permission to roam for the day. Besides, the field of stubble in front of me is irresistible. It sweeps down and then rises steeply the way these downs do. I’m thinking that from the long summit of Lancing Hill there will be a view to the east of at least the college chapel, which I know from photographs to be one of the most imposing religious buildings in Britain.
From the top of the hill the view is indeed fantastic. Not just eastward to the spiky top of the chapel, but west along the spine of this down, north to the fields and hills of this lovely part of Sussex, and south to the coast. It’s a perfect day and I’ve got the landscape to myself, though I can see several figures sticking dutifully to the hedge-lined paths in the distance. A perfect spot for me to take stock, then.
I take off my pack, top up my liquid levels and toss my copy of The Lancing Diary onto the stubble that makes an ideal tabletop and a comfy enough seat. Evelyn kept a diary when he was at Lancing. It deserves to be published as a volume in its own right, not stuck at the front of the formidably large Diaries of Evelyn Waugh in a way that encourages the reader to skip through the Lancing section in order to get to the meat of the adult Waugh. A few days ago, I pulled apart my Penguin copy of the Diaries. I felt I could afford to do this because, ever since the glue that held together the Penguin started to crack, the copy I’ve actually been consulting is a sewn hardback. But so that I had something portable for this research trip, I extracted the Lancing section from the Penguin, put it within A5 card covers (the colour of straw, as it happens) and got my hands on a heavy-duty stapler. Before using the stapler, I printed Waugh's name on the cover, and below that ‘THE LANCING DIARY’. So I have with me a brand new Evelyn Waugh book in an edition of one copy. I doubt if it’s up to the standards of Maltby’s - the Oxford bookbinder that bound the original folio notebooks in which Evelyn wrote his diary - but in any case I have myself a book I can work with.
Evelyn didn’t start to keep the diary until September 1919. So his initial impressions of the place, and details of the harsh regime during the First World War, when the food was deplorable and the keen young masters were away fighting for their country, have not been recorded for posterity. Never mind, because what is recorded is a feast I’m still in the process of digesting.
The diary starts with Evelyn almost sixteen, at the start of the fifth form. His ‘enterprising time-table’ for Thursdays is Greek, double Maths, double Greek, with which he is unimpressed. The next day he shows what his true interests are by musing about what an excellent binding could be made of half black morocco, and half cloth of gold. He decides he will go through his own books and work out a scheme of ideal binding for each one. The day after that he records the arrival of a letter from Chapman and Hall enclosing a note from Stewart Craven, author of A Pair of Idols, expressing his admiration for the cover that Evelyn had designed for his book. Yes, the sixteen-year-old schoolboy was designing covers for the books that his father’s firm was publishing. What a welcoming introduction to what for some can be an impenetrable industry!
Evelyn reckons that as bibliographical curiosities he will buy a few ultramodern products from the Bomb Shop, the Beaumont Press and the Poetry Bookshop and have them specially bound. Though to bring about such an ambitious scheme he’ll need more cash from Chapman and Hall. That’s all right, because the next week he is commissioned to do another cover, ‘Invisible Tides by one Beatrice Seymour,’ he comments dryly. In order to get it done on time, he needs to get permission from the head of his House to draw in a classroom in ‘third evening’. The evenings at Lancing are as regimented as the days, divided into first evening (prep. before supper); hall (supper); second evening (prep. after supper); and third evening, which for the fifth form usually meant reading books of their own choice but at their allotted place in the House Room. Eventually Evelyn gets the cover finished, but is unhappy about the lettering. Never mind, because the commission is accepted by good old Arthur and the guinea duly delivered. And after getting information about a book on Rossetti, Evelyn plumps instead for Marlow’s Hero and Leander, which, when it arrives, delights Evelyn, as it has been bound far better than he expected, in quarter leather.
By this time, Evelyn has already remarked on what a ridiculous generation his is. He feels that his friend Molson is going to do something in life once he has got over certain affectations. Actually, Hugh Molson went on to be a Conservative MP for thirty years. He features on the TV biopic about Waugh made in 1983, wearing trousers whose waistband seems to wrap around his body at nipple level. According to Waugh in A Little Learning, Molson’s nick-name at Lancing was ‘Preters’. Why? Because when, as a new arrival, he was asked if he was interested in politics, his reply was: ‘Preternaturally so’. Cue laughter in the House. Evelyn observes that in the last generation people didn’t begin to think until they were nineteen, to say nothing about publishing books and pictures. He adds that time would tell if his generation was going to be any the better off for it's unnaturally early development.
A few weeks later, Evelyn remarks that his brother would seem to be overwriting himself. The younger brother has noticed Alec using the same phrase in an article on Compton MacKenzie in one literary magazine and in a review of the book in the Herald. The critical younger brother goes on to say that he wouldn't have thought he 'could afford to do that sort of thing yet'. Evelyn is keeping his diary surreptitiously at this stage. I reckon that if a fellow pupil had found it and read out its more precocious entries for the delectation of the rest, there would have been more laughter in the House and a new nick-name for ‘that awful tick Waugh’: ‘Precoshers’. Cue smiling on the broad summit of Lancing Hill.
OK. Let’s get in a bit closer to Evelyn circa 1919. But before I move away from the summit of Lancing Down, I try and remember what it is to be a teenager. Basically you are not responsible for who you are. (Pre-responsibility: what a let off.) Your parents chose to bring you into the world, while society dictates that you go to school. All the cool teenager does is make the most of things according to his/her still developing personality. I trust that young Evelyn, when he found himself alone on the Downs, or in a group running across them, made sure he kicked the stubble in such a way as to make it sing. I see teen-Evelyn with his socks around his ankles, kicking his way through the singing-ringing stubble…
I make my way back through the field towards the path which I can see from the map will join the road that sweeps up to the main entrance of the college at its east side. In The Lancing Diary, there’s a second major theme of that first term, the setting up of a debating society for the fifth form (the sixth form had its own). Evelyn was one of five boys (including Dudley Carew and Hugh Molson) that were in on the idea from the beginning. He reckoned that only a very few boys would be capable of reading papers on anything. He tells his diary that there are several subjects he would like to present, and pedantically lists them. If Evelyn was elected president, he would try and arrange that the first debate in the arts would be ‘This House is of the opinion that the nineteenth century Gothicist revival may be justified by the school buildings’, with some poor booby proposing the motion and Evelyn opposing it. One can’t help noticing that essentially Evelyn was pro-establishment, but that there was also something perverse in his make-up, so that the role of rebel also came naturally to him. I suppose that reflected the set-up at his home, which was basically enlightened Conservatism, but flawed by favouritism.
I’m looking at the school buildings now from ground level. The chapel is truly awesome, though clearly Evelyn’s didn’t like it. How could he have worked out his tastes in architecture by the age of sixteen? Perhaps I just have to imagine myself at some hypothetical debating society at my state school, proposing the motion: ‘This House is of the opinion that the early 1970s phenomenon of Glam Rock may be justified by the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. I might well finish my speech by quoting from the chorus of Bowie’s song, ‘Starman’:
‘Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie.’
The fifth form debating society, which was called the Dilletanti Club, needed to create an interest in itself within Lancing. Which it did. Evelyn had great difficulty in warding off boys who obviously knew nothing. He sneers in his diary at someone who wants to join the Dilletantis whose favourite painter was Landseer. Oh, dear, Precoshers, don’t you know that you only have impeccable taste because all your life you’ve been raised in a fifth form debating society called Underhill?
Evelyn got his wish to be made president of the Dilletanti. And he took it as a great compliment to be asked to speak in the sixth form debate. He was to propose the notion that ‘This House believes that reincarnation of souls is the most reasonable solution to the problem of human immortality’. Of course it isn’t, comments Evelyn. But he has a few ideas to defend the proposal with. When the debate took place later in the week, the proposers lost hopelessly. Everyone who stood up spoke against the proposal, with the exception of Molson, who would take any view if it was unconventional. Good old Preters, he is already my favourite Lancing schoolboy, Evelyn apart. I would dearly love to have heard him propose the notion that ‘This House believes that chest-banding of trousers is the most reasonable solution to the problem of masculine dignity.’ With everyone else speaking against the notion except Preters’ trusty pal Precoshers, who slowly rises to his feet and unbuttons his blazer to reveal the highest waistband that has ever been seen inside an English public school. The Ziggy link again seems irresistible:
‘Came on so loaded, man; well hung and snow-white tan.’
As I walk up the drive I see small groups of boys (and girls these days) loitering on the grass. It’s Saturday morning, the odd car is pulling up and taking the children away for the day. No-one pays me any attention, no doubt because the chapel is open to the public (as opposed to the school buildings) and that’s where I’m heading.
As I slip into what seems like a cathedral, I’m conscious that this structure played a big part in Evelyn’s life at Lancing. He attended two services here each day, with three full services being compulsory on Sunday. Today the vast space is empty except for a boy practising on the organ.
The building is full of the soaring sounds he is making. Is he conscious of the privilege? Was Evelyn conscious that he was soaking in religion through the majesty of an awe-inspiring building? Family and books at home; God and boys at school; a world war going on in the background. All that would be the making of Evelyn Waugh.
I sit in the nave looking towards the business end of the building – steps leading to a crucifix-topped altar. On a nearby seat there is a program left over from the previous Sunday’s service, which was a ‘Sung Eucharist to include the Presentation of New Prefects’.
I flick through the stapled pamphlet and read that at the end of the sermon the Head Master and the Chaplain were to move to the Chancel steps. Those to be made Prefect, wearing their gowns of office, were to come to the steps of the Chancel accompanied by the Second Master. The Second Master was then supposed to say:
‘Head Master, I present to you and this collegiate body, those who have been chosen to be Prefects, in recognition of their qualities of leadership, integrity and diligence.’
The Head master would then have said:
‘To be a Prefect is to be recognized as one to enhance the tone and ethos of this Christian community. This you must show by your general attitude and conduct. Your honesty and loyalty must be reflected in your attitude to work, self-discipline, bearing, responsibility to others and your courtesy around the school. Will you as Prefects, undertake to know the rules and customs of this place, and observe them yourselves, and see that others do the same?’
The Prefects were all then to say: ‘I will, the Lord being my helper.’
At the end of the formalities, the Chaplain would read the names of the new prefects. I don’t see a Molson or a Waugh on the list of new Prefects in 2007, but there is a Morrish and a Wright. Half the names are foreign this year, with oriental names being to the fore. I put down the pamphlet and gaze into the middle distance. There’s something inclusive and comforting about all that prefect stuff. At a state school, unless things have changed radically since my adolescence, the pupils are treated as a herd and are not fully introduced to the notion of personal responsibility as they are here. It’s a facet of Evelyn’s Lancing diary, I now realise. Rebellious though young Evelyn was, the diary reveals an acceptance of moral responsibility that must have been soaked up by the teenager through repeated visits to this Holy, humane place. Mind you, by the time Waugh was writing the opening scene of Decline and Fall, those grand titles of Head Master and Chaplain had been degraded to Junior Dean and Domestic Bursar, and the human beings bearing the titles were mocked gleefully.
With the organ still booming away (Peter Pastmaster learning to play the organ in Decline and Fall, briefly comes to mind), I burrow into my bag and bring out a second home-made book. This one was derived from another Penguin, Work Suspended and Other Stories. It’s called ‘Charles Ryder’s Schooldays’, a fragment that only came to light in 1982. It’s the beginning of a novel that Waugh wrote in 1945, shortly after the publication of Brideshead Revisited and immediately after re-reading his Lancing Diary. It’s a pity that Evelyn abandoned the work after a single chapter, because that only has a chance to cover the opening week of Evelyn’s fifth form. The story supplements the start of the diary by giving us a closer look at the relations between the boys and masters - and between the boys themselves - in Head House. However, unusually for mature Waugh, the scenes come over as claustrophobic - too many characters are introduced in too few pages. Also, what it reveals of human nature seems too specific to the public school environment. The exact way in which the dormitories bed down for the night is not written up in such a way that it becomes of general interest.
One of the scenes is set in this chapel, so I’m scanning pages for that. OK, here it is. Charles Ryder is sitting in the nave as I am. The story makes it clear that masters sit in the distinguished wooden stalls between the columns that separate the nave from the side aisles. In his story, Ryder points out Mr. A. A. Carmichael, who is described as a splendid wit and dandy. This is clearly based on the master J.F. Roxburgh who Evelyn devoted half a chapter to in A Little Learning. The chapter in question is called ‘Two Mentors’, and the other mentor is named as Francis Crease, also from Lancing days, who makes an appearance in the chapel scene in ‘Charles Ryder’s Schooldays’ as Frank Bates. Bates and Carmichael are sitting nearly opposite each other. And, as Charles Ryder registers to himself: ‘an unabridged gulf of boys separated these rival and contrasted deities, that one the ineffable dweller on cloud-capped Olympus, this the homely clay image, the intimate of hearth and household, the patron of the threshing floor and olive-press’. Again, not Waugh at his crisp best, instead a little wordy and striving for effect.
In A Little Learning, he clarifies the roles that these two figures played in his life. J.F Roxburgh was an urbane intellectual, an atheist, an aesthete and a leader, very much involved with the upper echelons of the school. Francis Crease was an artist-craftsman who lived alone, detached from the bustle of school life. Young Evelyn seems to have spent much of his schooldays under the influence of one or the other. But all that means is that they helped him develop. What Evelyn doesn’t say - either in the 1920 diary or the 1945 fiction - is something fairly obvious. They were both gay. He does touch on this in his autobiography though. I’ve just gone to the trouble of scanning the ‘Two Mentors’ chapter and I see that Waugh states of Francis Crease that today he would be identified as an obvious homosexual, though Waugh believes he was entirely without sexual interests. And further on in the chapter he states that Mr Crease was effeminate in appearance and manner, while J.F. was markedly virile, but it was the latter who was the homosexual. The elderly Waugh goes on to emphasise that first and foremost these individuals were sophisticates and intellectuals. He knew, in retrospect, that he was lucky to have come under their influence.
Back to Charles Ryder sitting here in the chapel. After endless scene-setting the service finally gets started and a more familiar Wavian note can be heard when he tells the reader that two small boys faint and have to be carried out by house-captains; while a third boy makes his own way out, bleeding at the nose.
I’m off, leaving the present day Preters pratting around on the organ. Actually, he’s stopped doing the soaring stuff and is now in the middle of a ‘and now for something completely different’ turn. But I’m off, following in the footsteps of young Evelyn. By the second term of the fifth form, the school had put him in touch with Francis Crease, the calligrapher who lived locally. It was arranged that each Thursday afternoon of the Easter term Evelyn would go to Lychpole Farm and receive art instruction. Evelyn mentions in the diary having a six-mile run to get art lessons. But the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map that I’ve bought to keep me on the right track today, shows that Lychpole Farm is just a couple of miles from Lancing College (which is just off the right edge of the map extract below). A mile over gently rising land to the west, then up over the steep flank of north lying Steep Down.
It’s a beautiful walk this sunny day. I stop to pick blackberries. I enjoy the sun dappling the chalk path, a path made wide and clear by generations of walking and running children. Yes, Evelyn mentions having to run to Lancing Ring, which I’m now approaching. Cross-country running, boxing, goalkeeping and cricket were the main sports that Evelyn joined in with: it wasn’t all academic pursuits and debating societies. He wasn’t a natural athlete but he tried his best for the House. As I walk, the top of Lancing College Chapel keeps coming into and going out of view. What I mean is, when I periodically take in the view over my right shoulder, sometimes the chapel is there and sometimes it’s not, depending on the lie of the land.
From the long ridge going north there is a fine view down into the valley where Lychpole Farm sits - one of a number of isolated buildings taking advantage of the shelter given by the surrounding downs. On the first Thursday, January 29, 1920, Evelyn was caught up here on the top of Steep Down in a heavy hailstorm. When he got to Lychpole, Crease had to lend his new pupil dry socks, trousers and shoes. With these basics taken care of, Crease showed Evelyn examples of his own and other calligraphers’ craft, and began to teach him techniques that he was then required to practice for himself.
The first text they work on together was Alec’s poem ‘Sherborne Abbey’, which must have been chosen to put Evelyn at his ease. What relaxed him even more was that when work was put away for the afternoon, the pair took tea in Crease’s handle-less blue and white Crown Derby china cups. Crease struck Evelyn as a true dilettante, by which the boy meant well-bred and individualistic. However, all Evelyn could really gather of Crease was that he had been in some distinguished post at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, but that his career had been spoiled by ill health. (Another case of being sent down for indecent behaviour, one can’t help suspecting.) At Crease’s instigation, they spend most of their tete-a-tete talking about the pupils at Lancing. Evelyn’s diary reveals that Crease hated one boy but had taken a great interest in another. After a subsequent lesson, Evelyn commented that over tea Crease would talk all the time of schemes to get Roberts, the much-fancied boy, over to Lychpole. Apparently, Crease wanted to see him eat, as he thought he was like a kitten. How would Crease know what the boy looked like? Because of those services that Crease attended at the college chapel. Certainly, it was there that Evelyn had first become aware of the mysterious caped figure that was giving him art lessons. That’s all decidedly creepy to a Twenty-First Century sensibility: boys left vulnerable to sexual predation by grown men.
In A Little Learning, Waugh recalls Francis Crease as having been of middle age, middle height, plumpish ‘with the pink and white complexion often found in nuns’. His gait was delicate, almost mincing. He spoke in soft tones rising to shrillness. Strange that Evelyn persisted with the opinion that Crease was entirely without sexual interests. A bit naïve, I think. But it doesn’t matter, because clearly Crease wasn’t romantically interested in Evelyn. How does that old joke go again:
Head Master: ‘Have you seen Evelyn?’
Art Master: ‘Yes, and I have to say he’s no oil painting.’
Head Master: ‘No, I mean have you seen him? He didn’t turn up to Hall this evening and he’s been missing since he set off for his art lesson after lunch.’
I’ve reached Lychpole Farm. It’s a well-maintained old farmhouse made of white flints, with a red tile roof and red bricks framing the doors and windows.
Time for a rest, I think. So I sit on the ground with my back to an outbuilding. It’s not like sitting in the chapel, or rather it is. The surroundings and the associations are élite and inspiring. Significantly, the place is separated from Lancing College by the mass of the down that I’ve just walked over. For Evelyn this surely allowed him to achieve some distance from all things to do with School, that squanderer of youth.
I delve into my travelling library. A sample of Evelyn’s script made under Crease’s influence is reproduced as a plate in A Little Learning. The extract begins mid-sentence, and it took me a while before I could read the clumpy dark characters, the letter ‘n’ being particularly old-fashioned. What I need to remember is that Evelyn must have stared at these words for hours on end, as he carefully wrote them out in script, until they were engraved in his mind:
beware and look to
wards the end of
things that be, the
last of sights, the last
And no mans life
account as sain ere
the full tale be told
and the darkness
find him without
I asked John Howard Wilson, an Evelyn Waugh expert from Lock Haven University, if he knew the origin of this quote. He told me it sounded like the end of Oedipus Rex, and provided the translation: ‘Count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.’ It’s true that Waugh and his contemporaries received a classical education, with truckloads of Greek and no popular music. However, the Rex that counts for my generation is T. And a lyric that’s engraved on my own mind, complete with the image of Marc Bolan pouting on the cover of ‘Telegram Sam’, goes like this:
‘Me, I funk, but I don’t care.
I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair.’
It must be one of the main differences between my generation and Evelyn’s: the fact that its snippets from pop songs that spring to mind rather than quotes from classical literature.
In the summer term, Crease was away from Lychpole. But Evelyn was allowed to come here in any case, to practise his script. Evelyn found that he enjoyed Lychpole almost as much when Crease wasn’t there. In the diary he mentions that he is working on a poem, 'The Bells of Heaven', which Crease had asked him to write out. Evelyn doesn’t go into detail. But, as it happens, that is the poem that Charles Ryder is described as working on in the school story, and here Waugh does go into detail which I can remind myself of now. Charles is using compressed thirteenth century script, apparently. The letters were first drawn faintly freehand in pencil. Then with a ruler and ruling-pen, Charles had inked in the uprights in Indian ink until the page was covered in short and long perpendiculars. He had then joined them with hair strokes of a mapping pen, and completed their lozenge-shaped terminals. The initial letter of each line had been left blank, then drawn as an old English capital using Shaw’s Alphabets for guidance. These had then been infilled with red vermillion, applied by a sable brush. On that Sunday morning in which Waugh zeroes-in on Charles working on 'The Bells of Heaven', Charles just has a single preliminary old-English capital to finish: a T. Charles is described as working with complete concentration, painstakingly slowly. But in his eagerness to see the end result, not slowly enough, and finally he realises that he has botched the job. It’s an absorbing scene, the one that is most likely to stick in my mind from ‘Charles Ryder’s Schooldays’. The words of Ralph Hodgson’s poem aren’t recorded in Evelyn’s diary, or in the school story, or in the autobiography, so I had to look them up. The poem is sentimental. I can’t see that Evelyn would have gained an enormous amount by staring for hours at:
Twould ring the bells of Heaven
The wildest peal for years,
If Parson lost his senses
And people came to theirs,
And he and they together
Knelt down with angry prayers
For tamed and shabby tigers,
And dancing dogs and bears,
And wretched, blind pit ponies,
And little hunted hares.
Time to make a move. I take a slightly different way back, cutting a corner that Evelyn would surely have done. And soon I am up on the spine of the down once more. After his sixth lesson, Crease accompanied Evelyn in his walk back to Lancing across these downs. In his diary for 26 February, 1920, Evelyn writes that Crease tried to make him see the beauty of those iridescent flaky clouds that had always struck the boy as ugly. Decades later in A Little Learning, Waugh devotes most of a page to a letter that Crease wrote him that same term. Crease begins by saying that while Evelyn had been in chapel, the evening had been one of extraordinary splendour. Crease wishes that Evelyn might have experienced and been touched by it. Crease then expresses the hope that Evelyn won’t, like so many others of intelligence, run after definitions of Art and Beauty while failing to find the thing in itself. The intense and heartfelt letter concludes with Crease wishing that Evelyn could have seen the flight of the gulls from the fields on the left of Lancing Ring, against the soft greens, greys, blues and rose colour of the evening. Hundreds of gulls ‘flying towards the sea in one long stream changing colour on the sunlight and making sad music as a prelude to the coming symphony of colour’.
Not bad for the teenage Evelyn’s development, I would have thought, to have an adult intellectual writing letters to him to supplement the ones that came regularly from home. Not bad that those letters from Lychpole were telling Evelyn to sniff the roses to be found in the vicinity of Lancing Ring. In A Little Learning, a second letter from Crease to Evelyn is quoted, written in the same spring. It begins:
‘What you asked today to have, no-one has completely and indeed many of the best only have sufficient light for the day or the nearest duty.’
What could Evelyn have asked for? Total illumination of the world and his place in it? Crease went on to advise his student that he must use sufficient light to illuminate the small things. If he despised those everyday things, darkness would come, not light.
‘It is only by taking note of the small things that more light will come that is any true light. Success and conceit close the windows.’
Crease goes on to say that Evelyn has more light than most, far more. But that he must be patient. By which he means, I suppose, that Evelyn must walk, and sniff, before he can run.
I keep walking, conscious that I need to speed up a bit if I am to get through Evelyn’s Lancing years this afternoon. Evelyn began a novel (the one that was facetiously dedicated to himself) in the first term of his sixth year. It was about a man whose brother was really two people. I guess Evelyn would have been fascinated by his own brother, Alec, the man who had written so successfully about his teenage homosexuality, and who was now living at Underhill with his first wife, Barbara, a woman who Evelyn spent much time with during the holidays. Alec and Barbara’s relationship was never sexually consummated, though I don’t suppose the 17-year-old Evelyn would have broached such matters in his book. Evelyn’s relationship with Barbara was intense but platonic, however he did have a romance of sorts with her younger sister Luned. This was probably begun just before the fifth form diary got underway. All mentions of ‘Lun’ in the diary are short and cold. After a year or so he finished whatever affair had been limping along in the holidays, though she kept hoping for more kisses, apparently. ‘What a fool is a fond wench,’ was Evelyn’s grosssly - but understandably - immature assessment of the situation.
When Evelyn abandoned the novel as a failure in January 1921, he gave the ‘abortion’ to Dudley Carew, who had grown to be fascinated and dominated by Evelyn. In long walks they took together over these downs, Evelyn would confidently express his own views on everything, and overwhelm poor Dudley’s own. When Dudley wrote a poem acknowledging this, Evelyn copied it into his diary. The first four lines of To E.A.W. read:
'You have broken all my idols,
Given me fresh creeds to keep.
You have waked me from my dreaming,
Shattered my sweet, careless sleep.'
The poem is quoted in A Little Learning, though ‘my’ in the fourth line above is carelessly misprinted as ‘by’. When he read the printed poem in 1963, the adult Carew was not impressed by Waugh’s anonymous characterisation of his one-time admirer. But now that I’ve read Carew’s naïve, still rose-tinted retort, A Fragment of Friendship, I can understand Waugh’s perspective, harsh though it may be.
Evelyn’s rebelliousness reached a climax in the second term of his sixth form. Although he’d never really liked sports, he’d joined in with gusto. However, he’d always hated the Corps, which was what the army-style drills and manoeuvres were called. The pseudo-military stuff was part of the school’s regime as a result of the First World War, no doubt, but it was pointless and boring as far as Evelyn was concerned. He organised his fellow housemates so that there was much dropping of weapons on the parade ground. Once the boys turned up with one boot polished and the other filthy. Evelyn was the ringleader and relished the ragging. But when it was put to him that without becoming a House-captain he wouldn’t achieve certain positions that he wanted to within the school, and that he would never become a House-captain without accepting the Corps, he immediately took steps to put his House back on-side with the Corps. Again, he was a rebel of sorts, but he was an ambitious insider first.
In the summer term of 1921, Evelyn wrote a play about public school life in three acts. Act one, How maiden aunts saw school. Act two: How popular authors saw school (That is, a lampooning of The Loom of Youth). Act three: How public school really was. The whole exuberant play went down well with boys, parents and masters. That most respected of masters, J. F. Roxburgh, a cultured Scot who went on to become headmaster at Stowe, felt there was ‘a touch on genius’ in the Midsummer Night’s Dream-style epilogue. An epilogue that Dudley Carew took the trouble of noting down in his own diary, making it available to all in his Fragment of Friendship.
In summer proper, Precoshers and Preters spent a fortnight together, reading history books for their Oxford scholarship exams. Their chosen place of out-of-term study in Birchington, Kent, turned out to be a red-brick semi-detached house which offended both of their finely-tuned sensibilities. They read textbooks for eight hours a day though, and went to church on Sunday. Actually, they couldn’t get in to Canterbury Cathedral one weekend, and the next found themselves attracted by a notice, attached to a strange little room by one of the cottages, indicating that the Gospel would be preached there every Sabbath evening at six, and that visitors were cordially welcome. Preters insisted they give this a go. There were about a dozen people in the low-ceilinged room. Their hearty singing reduced Preters to helpless laughter. As did the discussion that Preters himself instigated with a fatuous remark which was earnestly debated at great length by the simple-minded worshippers. One thing that Precoshers and his chum hadn’t been taught by Lancing was a respect for human beings that weren’t blessed with the talents, or with the sophisticated surroundings, that they took for granted. Though it was a lesson that Francis Crease did try to get across to Evelyn.
Back at Lancing in September 1921 for one more term, Evelyn became head of the debating society that he immediately closed down for some - no doubt self-serving - reason. He had the library to look after as well, and wrote in his diary that he enjoyed getting rid of 50 years of accumulated obsolescence, including ‘a portentous mass of biblical and devotional rubbish’. He found time to form the Corpse Club for people who were bored stiff. Evelyn was President of this, while Dudley Carew and Hugh Molson were amongst its eight members, though Evelyn in his diary notes that Carew was not really Corpse-like. They wore black silk tassels as sign of membership and put up notices written out on black-bordered mourning stationery.
Of all his official duties in that last term, the one he took most seriously was being editor of the school magazine. In the November issue, Evelyn reviewed a book about poetry by J.F Roxburgh, The Poetic Procession. Thanking him for the review, Roxburgh stated that if Evelyn used what the Gods had given him then he would do as much as any single person to shape the course of his generation. Talking of generations was one of Evelyn’s father’s hobbyhorses, so all in all it is no surprise that Evelyn’s December editorial for the school mag was about three generations. The old men that caused the First World War (his father’s generation) Rupert Brooke and the millions that lost their lives in it (Alec’s generation, though Alec himself survived the front line) and Evelyn’s own lot. What were those young men going to be like? Clear-sighted, hard, analytical and unsympathetic. Above all they would have a very full sense of humour, which would keep them from the commission of all sins, except those that were worth committing. For all that, Evelyn’s editorial ended on a bit of a downer: theirs would not be a happy generation.
How do 17-year-old Evelyn’s three generations compare with those that would make sense from my own 50-year-old perspective? Well, there’s my father’s generation, whose lives were dominated by the Second World War. My own generation, which grew up in the freedom-loving sixties and seventies. And then Thatcher’s Children for whom jobs and money became important again. Both Evelyn’s lot and my own were a post-war generation, maybe that explains the importance our respective peers gave - and continue to give - to developing a sense of humour. But is my generation ‘clear-sighted, hard, analytical and unsympathetic’, as Evelyn claims his own was? Not unsympathetic, I hope.
Preters and Precoshers have a great time at Oxford sitting their exams. Evelyn declares that he simply loved the General Paper. Soon he hears that he’s got his £100 a year scholarship from Hertford College. The last days of term can be enjoyed to the full. On Thursday 15 December 1921, Evelyn takes his leave of several people, masters, servants and boys. He ends up in the House Room where a number of people come in and talk, including Hugh Molson and Dudley Carew. Evelyn remarks in his diary that he thinks he was on rather good form.
I wonder if it struck the in-form Evelyn that if Arthur Waugh was the dominant influence on his life at home. Then the masters, J.F. Roxburgh and Francis Crease were his main influences at Lancing. Or was it as black-and-white as that? I’ve come to the end of my single Lancing day now. I’m still on the path that skirts the grounds of the college but I’m about to strike away from it, down towards the station. Pausing for a final time on a gate, I take a moment to go back through my copy of The Lancing Diary. In fact I take a few minutes to go through the diary and every time the surname of Francis Crease comes up I highlight it with a single broad stroke of a pink highlighter. And every time J.F. Roxburgh’s name comes up I wash over it with blue. You could say I’m coming up with a scheme of illumination for the text. When Crease first met Evelyn it was to consider a piece of his Lancing prize-winning art. The expert calligrapher praised Evelyn’s illuminations while being contemptuous of the script they embellished. I am far from being contemptuous of the text I’m doing my best to illuminate. As prose it is astonishingly mature for a schoolboy.
Eventually, I find myself once again in the diary at December 15, 1921. Evelyn on sparkling form as he chats with his chums. I dare say they wax nostalgic about their Lancing days, which may already seem to recede into the past as Oxford looms ahead. Evelyn had taken both Dudley Carew and Hugh Molson over to Lychpole with him on separate occasions in the fifth form. ‘The fifth form – remember way back then?’ Dudley hadn’t been impressed by Crease whom he repeatedly describes as affected and mincing in A Fragment of Friendship. Preters must have seen more substance in the older man, because he kept in touch with Crease after he went up to Oxford. And Evelyn himself? In 1927, the year he wrote Rossetti, Waugh wrote an admiring preface for a privately printed edition of Crease's designs. So on that last bright House social occasion, Evelyn may well be telling his peers what he wrote about Francis Crease in his diary at the beginning of the summer term in the fifth form: ‘I owe anything at Lancing worth remembering to him.’
Or perhaps, talking to his buddies, his peers, the cream of their generation, he prefers to recall that in the summer term of his sixth form, he wrote of the calligrapher that the spell was broken, his influence gone. That Evelyn could just see ‘a rather silly perhaps casually interesting little man.’ In A Little Learning, Waugh notes that in later years Crease lived in Bath, and that when the author was serving in the army in the Second World War he received a letter from Crease’s landlord telling him that he had died. As for Evelyn’s other mentor, it’s Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons who tells us that in 1954, Roxburgh, recently retired from his eminent position of first ever Head Master at Stowe, fell headlong into his bath while attempting to undo his cravat, and drowned. But each had their moment in the sun. Each had their input into the developing Evelyn. They have to be credited for that.
Flicking through The Lancing Diary, I see that pink dominates my scheme of illustration. Accordingly, I see Evelyn making the long walk over the grass slopes of Steep Down one last time to say goodbye to Francis Crease, ‘the sage of Lychpole’ as Roxburgh once facetiously referred to him. I like to think that, as the sun set on the South Downs, with Lancing College removed from sight and Hertford College not yet in view, the pair would have taken a warm and civilised leave-taking of each other.
Perhaps their exchange would have been as follows:
Evelyn walks away from Lychpole Farm. He walks over the downs, to be met on the top of Lancing Hill by Preters. They open their jackets to reveal that their style in trousers remains cutting-edged.
‘Where have you been, Precoshers?’ asks Molson.
‘I went to see Crease for the last time.’
‘And what did you find?
‘I found a rather silly perhaps casually interesting little man who reminded me of my rather silly perhaps casually interesting little father. Indeed I now believe Lychpole and Underhill to be two manifestations of the same curse against my true self. I do believe that If I’d stayed there five minutes longer, Crease would have had me transcribing the whole of A Tale of Two Cities.’
‘There’s only one city that matters, and you and I are going there.’
'Are you ready to swop this Gothic nonentity for the gleaming spires of Oxford, Molson?'
‘Preternaturally so, Waugh, preternaturally so.’
Where next? I write about Evelyn's time at Oxford in EVELYN! But the main thing about Evelyn's time there was his relationship with Alastair Graham and that's discussed here.