Always good to receive an intriguing email concerning Evelyn Waugh. This one came on the evening of January 14, 2023:

Dear Mr McLaren,

I am a reader of your Waugh web-blogs and very much enjoyed your book 'Evelyn!' I thought you might be interested in some thoughts on who might have been the inspiration for the character Arthur Potts in 'Decline and Fall'.

I don't know much about Waugh but have made a few discoveries about Graham Greene, including uncovering two early stories which, I believe, are likely his first published work. Greene also used his friends and enemies as models for his characters and he was caught out in 'Stamboul Train', when J.B Priestley identified himself as Q.C.Savory forcing Greene to adjust his text. But Greene did still manage to 'smuggle' another author into that book - Mr Kalebdjian a servile hotel manager in the last chapter of the book, is a dig at Dikran Kouyoumdjian, otherwise known as Michael Arlen, author of 'The Green Hat' and very famous at the time.

And it's a 'friend' of both Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh who was, I'm fairly sure, the inspiration of Arthur Potts. Not Anthony Powell whom, I suppose, could be suggested by his initials, but someone else very well known in the Waugh world - Peter Quennell.

My identification of Quennell as an inspiration for Potts is based on two lines in the book.
"I bicycled over to St Magnus's at Little Beckley and took some rubbings of the brasses there. I wished you had been with me."
If you read the first volume of Quennell's 1975 autobiography 'The Marble Foot', it contains these lines:
"Having bought a 'heel-ball' - a disc of solidified blacking - and a role of white absorbent paper, I would bicycle around the country, and visit every neighbouring church."
Quennell therefore had the same hobby as Potts. I think Waugh is mocking his 'friend' quite beautifully here, turning a hobby into a way of suggesting that the incredibly 'hetero' Quennell might have other desires.
A second sentence from the book mocks Quennell in a similar way when Potts quotes "A most interesting article in the 'Educational Review'," implying perhaps that Potts might have some 'Grimes-like' habits.
Peter Quennell was a frequent contributor from 1924 through to the late twenties to an academic educational journal called 'Education Outlook' with both written pieces and illustrations. Waugh would likely have seen these contributions while teaching in Wales and Aston Clinton and taken his inspiration from there.

You cover in your blog why Waugh later mocked Quennell. At this time, I suspect there were three reasons;
1) His early success - his first book was in fact 'Masques and Poems' in 1922 , (not the later 1926 book that you suggest) and for a brief time he was highly feted - hence possibly there was some jealousy from Waugh.
2) The fact that when Waugh went down from Oxford, Quennell usurped him as the leading friend of Harold Acton.
3) Quennell was successful with women. Waugh at this time was not.

I think that most of 'Decline and Fall' was written before Quennell's review of 'Rossetti' which certainly set Waugh against Quennell for a while. But I haven't seen the manuscript and I suppose Waugh could have made some late alterations after the review to make Potts a version of Quennell. An old friend that then betrays you might be an apt description of this episode and would apply to Quennell.

I note that you feel that the anonymous review in 'Life and Letters' of 'Decline and Fall' is by Quennell. I would disagree. Peter Quennnell would in my view have certainly recognised a version of himself as Arthur Potts in the book and would have been unlikely to rave about it. Indeed, in the eighties 'Arena' documentary he is the most begrudging of those who discuss the book, referring to it I think as very much an 'undergraduate' book.

Anyhow, I hope you find this interesting. I used to live in Beckley, drink in the Abingdon Arms and know there is just one 'brass' worth 'rubbing' in the church - where Waugh sat one morning sheltering from the rain in 1924 awaiting his University downfall, cramming from a volume of Gibbons' 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', and probably first thinking of the title of his first novel.

And that 'rubbing' is quite unusual as it contains the first known usage in the English language of the word CONSURRECTION, which Paul Pennyfeather would never have found out.

Good luck with all your work

'Edward Stringer'

So today, January 15, I have written back as follows:

Dear 'Edward' (if I may)

That is a marvellous email you’ve sent me and I’ve been thinking it through since reading it yesterday.

You may well be right about Quennell being Potts, but in any case an essay on it should make a compelling addition to my Waugh website. After all, I already go into some detail about
Grimes being Dick Young and Margot Beste-Chetwynde being Evelyn Gardner’s sister, so by nailing Potts in the same way we would be doing this brilliant novel a great service. Such scholarship!

I wonder if you would go along with our writing it up in a way that foregrounds the research. The essay could start by my using quotes from your email, then quotes from this reply, and so on. I would love to use photos taken in the Abingdon Arms, of you nursing your pint as you think things through. You could either be in an image in the pub (a selfie, is the phrase, I believe), or you could be anonymous and it could be the pint on the table of the Abingdon Arms. It would also be good to have a photo of the brass that has the word CONSURRECTION on it. I can’t wait to play with that word in connection with the two chapters in 'Decline and Fall' called ‘Resurrection’.

In 'Decline and Fall' there are several pub scenes with Pennyfeather and Grimes, and that famous line-drawing by EW commemorating them. By effectively having us discussing Quennell and Waugh in an Abingdon Arms setting there would be a lot going on:

You and me
Waugh and Quennell
Waugh and Young
Pennyfeather and Grimes
Pennyfeather and Potts

I have found the quote in 'The Marble Foot' that you refer to. I must quote the whole thing from 'Brass rubbing' to ’through the evening’, just cutting out eight lines after ‘its sepulchral inhabitants’. The whole thing reads like a metaphor for masturbation, which I would have to handle with care, bringing out the humour but trying not to be explicit.

The same goes for the second Potts quote that you have alerted me to. When I read that 'Educational Review' bit in D&F, it's outrageousness surprised me. It’s even too much for Grimes who is handed the second letter from Potts for his perusal. Again, I would have to write that up to preserve Waugh's humour of 1928, but not offend the socially accepted values of 2023. Maybe it would be enough to have the Grimes/Pennyfeather line drawing by Waugh and change the caption to:

“This same Potts,” said Grimes after he read the letter, "would appear to be something of a stinker."

I have seen the D&F manuscript. It says 'Arthur Potts' throughout, my notes suggest. But the thing is, there are no mistakes in the first few pages, it is a very clean document, and so it was revised by hand some time into the writing process. I think that leaves room for what you suggest to have happened. Indeed, given that the 'Rossetti' review would have come out while Evelyn was still writing 'Decline and Fall', he would have been bound to want to have this kind of revenge.

Re Quennell’s anonymous review of D&F. Given the backlash against Quennell’s review, and given how brilliant the novel clearly was, Quennell would have been very wary of saying anything negative in print about D&F. But I’ll read it again and think about all that when I get going with this.

Part of the reason I suggest a continuation of correspondence is that I am in the middle of adding essays to another website, about On Kawara, and I can’t commit to wholeheartedly writing about Arthur Potts right now. I certainly could and will in a month or two. But if I am to progress this now it would be with a few more words and possible pics that would make it irresistible to be pushed through sooner rather than later.

Thanks for writing.

All best,

Here I am on the same day that I wrote that reply, pushing on regardless. Waugh was already at Oxford when Quennell arrived there in 1923. Waugh had visited him a year or two before, when he'd been at Berkhamsted school, and so he'd felt inclined to look up Quennell in his Balliol rooms shortly after his arrival at Oxford. We don't know what they talked about, exactly, but it wouldn't surprise me - now I've had the benefit of 'Ed Stringer's insights' - if Quennell had mentioned his church visiting and brass rubbing habits at one or both of those meetings.

Here is the extended, glorious quote from Quennell's memoir,
The Marble Foot, which came out in 1976, long after Waugh's death:

'During afternoons when I was free from work or games, I pursued my own interests. Brass rubbing was now a favourite pastime. Having bought a "heel-ball'"- a disc of solidified blacking - and a roll of white absorbent paper, I would bicycle around the country, and visit every neighbouring church. Ancient parish churches, the more remote and neglected the better, were among the sacred places of my youth; and even today, as I push open a church door and recognise the curiously compounded smell that meets me when I cross the threshold, the scent of damp plaster and old masonry, of worm-eaten wood and dusty coconut-matting, mummified hassocks and shrivelled prayer-books, I feel the same expectant pleasure. I was usually alone, unless some solitary devoted old woman should happen to be polishing a lamp or arranging Michaelmas daisies in a side-chapel; and I would begin by examining the fabric itself and its sepulchral inhabitants: the cross legged crusader upon whose armoured flanks boys had been carving their names for the last five hundred years… Next, I would pull up the mats and discover hidden brasses. Making an impression by clamping my paper to the brass, then rubbing my heel-ball regularly up and down, was an easy but delightful task, which I continued until a clear-cut image had slowly taken shape upon the surface; and the completed picture rolled up beneath my arm, I could ride home through the evening.'

Over to Grimes, talking to Pennyfeather in Mrs Roberts' pub after having read that passage by Quennell:

Line illustration for Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, 1928. Annotated by Duncan McLaren.

Over to Dick Young, the original for Grimes, responding to Quennell's youthful writing:

Peter Quennell with James Stephens, 1929. Photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell. Annotated by Duncan McLaren

Let's open up Decline and Fall at the Arthur Potts passages. He's first mentioned in chapter six of Part One, in which he writes Paul Pennyfeather two letters. In the first letter, he commiserates with Paul for the circumstances in which Paul has been sent down from Scone College, Oxford, and tells him that Lumsden of Strathdrummond, whose fault it was, is offering Pennyfeather £20 in recompense. Then Potts adds:

'I bicycled over to St. Magnus's at Little Beckley and took some rubbings of the brasses there. I wished you had been with me.'

Does that have homosexual overtones? Perhaps it does. Here is how the passage appears in the
Decline and Fall manuscript, which is housed in the Harry Ransom Centre, Austin, Texas.

Extract from Decline and Fall manuscript by Evelyn Waugh, 1928.

The manuscript is underlined to let the printer know that this text, being a letter, should be in italics. What a lovely word 'Beckley' is. I now have several people's word that there is at least one brass in Beckley Church worth rubbing. Arthur Potts, Peter Quennell and 'Edward Stringer'. God bless those masters of a bygone art.

And so to Potts' second letter, which arrives two days later, and makes the link between
Educational Review for which Potts wrote, and Educational Outlook, to which Quennell contributed, 'Ed' tells me, writings and drawings.

Line illustration for Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, 1928. Annotated by Duncan McLaren

In Decline and Fall, Arthur Potts leaves his Oxford college and joins the League of Nations. He tells Paul Pennyfeather this in the chapter called 'An Interlude in Belgravia', during which conversation Paul is reminded of his old self and the tame life he has left behind.

In the chapter of Part Two called 'Resurrection', where Grimes turns up from the dead, as it were, and talks with Paul at King's Thursday, this happens:
Hardly had Grimes left the house when a tall young man with a black hat and thoughtful eyes presented himself at the front door and asked for Mr Pennyfeather. It was Potts.'

I'm going to reproduce quite a large chunk of the manuscript at this point:

Extract from Decline and Fall manuscript by Evelyn Waugh, 1928.

As you can see from the manuscript, which is becoming untidy now, Waugh removed 'Arthur' from in front of Potts (top line). Having become involved with Margot, Paul Pennyfeather was growing away from his old friend as well as his former self.

Ostensibly, Potts was hoping to see round the remarkable house, designed by Otto Silenus. Why would that be? Well, Peter Quennell's father was a celebrated architect. In his Wikipedia entry it states: '
He co-designed a 'show house' with Walter Crittall at 156-158 Cressing Road, Braintree, Essex. The house incorporated many modernist features such as a drying yard for clothes, a scullery, a larder, fuel store, outside lavatory, living room, parlour, three bedrooms and an inside bathroom and hot press.' Hmmm. Not as modern as King's Thursday with its octopus tank, etc. Let's go on a tour of that house:

'Paul and Peter [Pastmaster] led him [Potts] all over it and explained its intricacies. He [Potts] admired the luminous ceiling in Mrs Beste Chetwynde's study and the India-rubber fungi in the recessed conservatory and the little drawing room, of which the floor was a large kaleidoscope, set in motion by an electric button. They took him up in the lift to the top of the great pyramidical tower, from which he could look down on the roof and domes of glass and aluminium which glittered like Chanel diamonds in the afternoon sun.' If ever Peter Quennell had exaggerated his father's achievements as an architect when talking to Evelyn Waugh, he would have regretted doing so while reading this passage. Evelyn liked nothing better to insult fathers, his own and those of his middle class Oxford friends.

'As soon as he [Potts] and Paul were alone he [Potts] said, as though casually: "Who was that little man I met coming down the drive?"

Paul puts Potts off the scent by suggesting the little fellow was from the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. But Paul reckons Potts was doing 'Divorce Court shadowing' and had been on the trail of Grimes. Though, when challenged, Potts claims to be still working for the League of Nations…

An intricate weaving of reality and fiction, mockery and culture. And funny, very funny. I make that 499 successful jokes up to this point in the novel.

Potts turns up again a few pages later when Margot is interviewing prostitutes with a view to employing them in South America:
There's a young man just like your friend Potts on the other side of the street," said Margot at the window. 'And my dear, he's picked up the last of these poor girls, the one who wanted to take her children and her brother with her.'
"Then it can't be Potts," said Paul, lazily.'

At the beginning of the chapter in Part Two called 'A Hitch in the Wedding Preparations', there is a sentence that reads:
'Paul asked Potts to be his best man, but a letter from Geneva declined the invitation.'

Later in the same chapter, Paul has to travel to France to sort out a problem with the girls sent off to Rio.
'Paul did not have to travel alone. Potts was at Croydon, enveloped in an ulster and carrying in his hand a little attaché-case.
"League of Nations business," he said, and was twice sick during the flight.
At Paris Paul was obliged to charter a special aeroplane. Potts saw him off.
"Why are you going to Marseilles?" he asked. "I thought you were going to be married."
"I'm only going there for an hour or two, to see some people on business," said Paul.
How like Potts, he thought, to suppose that a little journey like this was going to upset his marriage. Paul was beginning to feel cosmopolitan - the Ritz today, Marseilles tomorrow, Corfu next day, and afterwards the whole world stood open to him like one great hotel, his way lined for him with bows and orchids. How pathetically insular poor Potts was, he thought, for all his talk of internationalism.'

Quennell did talk a lot about his foreign travels. He went abroad every holiday while at Oxford, losing his virginity to a prostitute in a Parisian brothel and exploring Greece. He talks about such adventures at length in
The Marble Foot. For example: 'Hiring an old horse, I traversed the breadth of the Peleponnese from Sparta to Olympia, and stayed at a solitary peasant's hut.' The peasant family let Peter have the only bed in the hut. 'I slept uneasily until a horde of bed-bugs began to penetrate my shirt and trousers, and I had the sensation of being boiled in oil, such was the agony of scalding and itching discomfort that possessed me all night long.'

Anyway, back to
'Paul saw the young ladies to their ship, and all three kissed him goodbye. As he walked back along the quay he met Potts.
"Just arrived by the morning train," he said. Paul felt strongly inclined to tell him his opinion of the League of Nations, but remembering Potts' prolixity in argument and the urgency of his own departure, he decided to leave his criticisms for another time.'

And that's about it as far as Potts' involvement in Decline and Fall is concerned. Except it is mentioned in passing that Potts gives a dull speech about the work of the League of Nations to prison inmates in Part Three of the book.

Peter Quennell's review of Evelyn Waugh's
Rossetti came out in the May, 1928, issue of The New Statesman. This is what it said:

'There are many periods, further removed in time, which are much closer to us in sympathy than the days of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In those earlier periods we have discovered, or think we have discovered, fresh virtues; their outstanding virtues were exactly those which our personal and intellectual life most conspicuously lacks. The memory of them persists like the memory of some delightful and irrecoverable island, a delightful memory, it is true, but not an integral part of our heritage. The vice of their method, besides, emerge in rather pitiful relief, viewed by the cruel light of modern aesthetics. Aware of those deficiencies, a new biographer has undertaken Rossetti’s defence. And herein lies, perhaps, the chief weakness of the monograph; we could have been spared Mr. Waugh's lengthy analysis of Rossetti's pictures, as against a detailed and elaborate representation of the entire group. Rossetti is exalted at the expense of his contemporaries. We need a collective, not a single portrait. The conduct of the Pre-Raphaelite adventure, its enthusiasm and impetus, is, on the whole, more entertaining than its actual results.

For enthusiasm was their primary characteristic, and Mr. Waugh seems to have approached his subject with something of a kindred alacrity and zeal. Flippancy he abhors; anecdote, especially when the anecdote is scandalous, he shows a commendable anxiety to avoid. His treatment is consequently a little sparse and curtailed. Half the colour of the movement is implicit in their nicknames, their slang, their hurriedly scrawled letters and reported snatches of conversation…'

Basically, it criticises the book for being about one Pre-Raphaelite rather than them all. The first value judgement about the book is preceded with: 'the chief weakness of the monograph'. The review went down like a lead ball-bag in the Waugh household.

But it was too late for Evelyn to do anything about it.
Decline and Fall was due out in September, 1928, and by April 27 Waugh had written to Harold Acton: 'I have finished the novel. I think it is quite amusing. I am at work doing illustrations for it. May I dedicate it to you?' There is no way that the Potts quotes would have been added at this stage. They are an integrated part of the main thrust of the narrative which was written at the Barley Mow in February, March and, at the latest, April, 1928.

But, of course, that didn't matter. Evelyn had already had a go at Quennell in the manuscript. Quennell was Potts the creep; Potts the onanist; Potts the self-serving, hypocritical bore.

Decline and Fall came out a few months after Rossetti. Quennell had been subjected to abuse from Waugh's friends for giving Evelyn's first book such a feeble and equivocal review in public. So what did Quennell do when the sparkling novel fell into his lap? An exercise in damage limitation? This is the anonymous review that appeared in Life and Letters:

'Decline and Fall contains true satire on such verities of modern society as the power of money and the anaemia of schoolmastering. True satire implies a latent philosophy of life, which is not the less genuine because it is wittily or fantastically expressed. In this it differs from the purely preposterous, as popularised by Mr Alduous Huxley.

'But the general tenor of the book is wholly refreshing: it intends to be funny; and it produces, in fact, a degree of laughter which is embarrassingly physical under the hostile silence of a crowded railway carriage.

'At the beginning of the year, Mr Waugh contributed, in a life of Rossetti, a definite addition to the history of English aesthetics. Thus at the age of 25, he is presented in two entirely different lights. And there is no doubt that his inevitable success as a writer will result from much the same fusion of satirical exploitation of weakness, with technical ability, to illustrate morality, as made Hogarth a painter.'

True, the anonymous reviewer seems to have decided to mention
Rossetti in a slightly more positive fashion. But the reference to Hogarth suggests to me the pen of Quennell, who went on to write a book about the eighteenth century painter decades later. Moreover, in January 1929, Evelyn wrote a piece in the Evening Standard plugging several of his Oxford peers, which stated: 'I can mention five writers all known already to a considerable public who seem to me to sum up the aspirations and prejudices of my generation. These are, first, Mr Harold Acton, poet and novelist; Mr Robert Byron, the art critic; Mr Christopher Hollis, the Catholic apologist; Mr Peter Quennell, Poet and literary critic; and Mr Adrian Stokes, philosopher.' I'm surprised Henry Yorke and Cyril Connolly don't get a mention, but in any case Quennell did, so Waugh had forgiven him his Rossetti equivocation. Or rather, Waugh had decided that it was in everyone's interests if they presented a united front and indulged in some pro-Oxford, group loyalty. Evelyn had come to accept that with the Rossetti review, he had 'taken one for the team', but now the team was back on track. 'One for all, and all for one!'

An email has come in to my Inbox, early on January 16, 2023:


Thanks so much for your e-mail. I'm still digesting all that you say and will reply at length later. But in the meantime here is something I've put together about this episode - in a combination I hope of the styles of 'Janet and John' and 'Duncan McLaren'. To explain further, the brass in question is high up, above a priest-hole in Beckley Church. I have many pictures and have 'done' the rubbing which I will forward.

All the best, 'Ed'

I open the Word document and read, hoping that this is something I will be able to make use of in the present essay:

Peter and Evelyn go to Church

The two friends walked hand in hand through the lych gate towards the church.

“I’m glad that we’ve made up,” said Peter. “I don’t like it when we have these little tiffs.”

Evelyn grimaced as he pulled Peter through the church door. “Don’t be such a sop, Peter. Follow me. I’ve something I’d like to show you.”

Peter was intrigued. He wondered what Evelyn had in mind. They turned into the main chapel of the church and Evelyn led Peter down the aisle before turning to his right.

“Now tell me what you see,” Evelyn said.

Peter looked. There was a big hole in the wall, “There’s a hole.”

“You are such a dolt, Peter. Look above the priest-hole.”

Peter looked up and noticed a brass, pinned above the hole. “How exciting!” he exclaimed.

Evelyn sighed. “I thought that as nearly a hundred years have passed, we should finish our rubbings together.” Evelyn had found that being dead for nearly sixty years had mellowed his outlook.

“But, it’s so high,” said Peter.

“I’ve an idea,” said Evelyn. “You stand in front of the priest-hole and I’ll climb onto your shoulders and start the rubbing.”

"Evelyn, you always seem to have all the fun.” Peter gave Evelyn one of his most saturnine looks before offering his cupped hands to his friend.

Evelyn with a great deal of huffing and puffing climbed onto Peter’s shoulders.

"Why Evelyn, you’ve put on a little weight since our Oxford days,” complained Peter. “It’s funny. This reminds me of something, ‘On the shoulders of giants.’”

“You are such a fool, Peter. Surely this is me on high, raining shit down on those that lie beneath. Hand me the paper and the wax.”

Evelyn grasped the crayon and began to rub furiously.

“Oh, please be careful,” said Peter, staggering under Evelyn’s weight.

Eventually, Evelyn jumped down and showed Peter the results of his work.

Brass rubbing by 'Ed Stringer'.

“CONSURRECTION?” said Peter, looking a little puzzled. “That’s a bit disappointing - especially after almost a hundred years.

“Oh Peter, you are an ungrateful toad. Don’t you realise that this was written in the seventeenth century. It’s their equivalent of an e-mail - only a little slower.”

"What’s an e-mail?” said Peter.

"Oh, enough is enough,” said Evelyn. "I think it’s time we went back to sleep."


That made for a delightful interlude!

Consurrection: what does it mean? Neither Cassell's Dictionary nor Google sheds light. Perhaps it means the unsatisfactory experience of coming back to life as an old person. For Evelyn, resurrecting as the young man who wrote
Decline and Fall would have been splendid, whereas resurrecting into the feeble, toothless 62-year-old who gave up the ghost in 1966 would have been most unwelcome. In the above story, it would seem that the Evelyn has been resurrected somewhere in between. Though, in the end, Evelyn decides he and Peter have been ill-advisedly resurrected. Or consurrected.

Now let's get back to
Decline and Fall. Because although Potts plays little part in Part Three of the novel - which Paul mostly spends cooped-up in one prison or another - by the end of it, Paul is back at Scone College, exactly a year after being sent down. As luck would have it, it's the second chapter called 'Resurrection' where Paul meets a new friend. Take it away, Evelyn Waugh:

'There was also an undergraduate from another college, a theological student called Stubbs, a grave young man with a quiet voice and with carefully formed opinions. He had a little argument with Mr Sniggs about the plans for rebuilding the Bodleian. Paul supported him.'

The likes of Quennell always have to have an opinion about every cultural happening of the day. Besides, was he not his architect father's son?

'Next day Paul found Stubbs' card on his table, the corner turned up. Paul went to Hertford to call on Stubbs, but found him out. He left his card, the corner turned up.'

What is going on? Well, for a start, Waugh has decided to use his own college in the story, so Stubbs is made a Hertford man, as Evelyn was. To have Stubbs go to Balliol College, as Quennell did, would have been a Middlesborough-type error. I should explain. In Potts' second letter to Pennyfeather, the educational methods of 'Innesborough' High School are mentioned, though Evelyn wrote 'Middlesborough' in his manuscript. As for the card business, let's turn to Quennell's
Marble Foot for explanation:

'I had my card engraved. Georgian Oxford preserved many of the habits of Edwardian society; and undergraduates, when they visited a friend but found that he was not at home, were accustomed to drop their card upon his table, adding perhaps a few scribbled words and carefully turning down a corner.'

It wasn't considered the done thing to leave a brass rubbing then? To show that one's time was precious and never to be wasted.

'Two days later a little note came from Hertford: "Dear Pennyfeather, I wonder if you would care to come to tea next Tuesday, to meet the College Secretary of the League of Nations Union and the Chaplain of the Oxford prison. It would be so nice if you could.'"
Paul went and ate honey buns and anchovy toast. He liked the ugly, subdued little college, and he liked Stubbs.'

Evelyn Waugh wanted to like Peter Quennell. When at Oxford, they were both bright, middle-class lads who struggled to keep up with their rich peers. But Peter was tall and calculating while Evelyn was short and loyal. Evelyn loved his friends in those days, and his friends loved him back. Peter was ambitious for himself, and his rise to being the most prominent reviewer of his day, and a chum of Cyril Connolly's, says much about his urbanity and resolve. Evelyn hated the sight of sensitive, poetical Peter doing his thing for dull, ambitious Peter.

'As term went on Paul and Stubbs took to going for walks together, over Mesopotamia to Old Marston and Beckley. One afternoon, quite light-hearted at the fresh weather, and their long walk, and their tea, Stubbs signed 'Randal Cantuar' in the visitors' book.'

As Randal Cantuar had been the Archbishop of Canterbury since both Evelyn and Peter had been born, up until 1928, this is quite funny. But the visitors' book for what building? I ask myself. Why don't I check the manuscript at this point? Actually, the passage about Stubbs is much shorter in the manuscript than in the published novel. Just half a page (the bottom half) of heavily corrected script.

Extract from Decline and Fall manuscript by Evelyn Waugh, 1928.

Clearly, Evelyn took pleasure in coming back to the ending of his hilarious novel and polishing it up. However, the passage I'm interested in does exist in the manuscript. Let's focus on it:

Extract from Decline and Fall manuscript by Evelyn Waugh, 1928.

This doesn't clarify what property was being visited. But it does suggest that Evelyn's first thoughts were that Stubbs sign some other name in the visitors' book. 'Randal Cantuar' was a manuscript correction.

Extract from Decline and Fall manuscript by Evelyn Waugh, 1928.

Perhaps one needs some 'ink rubbing' technique to decipher what has gone on. Any suggestions, dear reader, concerning the original name? I think it begins with B.

As for that other matter, could it be Beckley Church - site of the brass rubbing we've heard so much about and seen with our own eyes - which had a visitors' book? Good old Beckley, where Evelyn holed up in a caravan in the car park of the Abingdon Arms with Alastair Graham in the wet summer of 1924, reading
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Alastair: "I've had a marvellous idea."

Evelyn: "What's that then?"

Alastair: "My first novel is going to be called
Of the Roman Empire.

Evelyn: "I think Peter has first dibs on any League of Nations spin-off title."

Alastair: "The fucking bastard."

Evelyn: "You said it."

'Paul rejoined the League of Nations Union and the O.S.C.U. On one occasion he and Stubbs and some other friends went to the prison to visit the criminals there and sing part-songs to them. "It opens the mind," said Stubbs, "to see all sides of life. How those unfortunate men appreciated our singing."'

Sometimes I ask myself if there is a laugh - an actual laugh - in every single paragraph of
Decline and Fall. I suspect there is.

'One day in Blackwell's bookshop, Paul found a stout volume, which, the assistant told him, was rapidly becoming a best-seller. It was called 'Mother Wales', by Augustus Fagan. Paul bought it and took it back with him. Stubbs had already read it. "Most illuminating," he said. 'The Hospital statistics are terrible. Do you think it would be a good idea to organise a joint debate with Jesus on the subject?" The book was dedicated 'To my wife, a wedding present'.'

The Marble Foot is dedicated, pathetically, 'To My Wife'. I wonder how long it took the relevant Mrs Quennell (there were at least four of them) to relieve herself of the gift and for it to turn up amid the scent of damp plaster and old masonry, the worm-eaten wood and dusty bookshelves, mummified hassocks and shrivelled prayer-books of a second-hand bookshop.

'One day, at the beginning of his second year, as Paul and Stubbs were bicycling down the High as from one lecture to another, they nearly ran into an open Rolls-Royce that swung out of Oriel Street at dangerous speed. In the back, a heavy fur rug over his knees, sat Philbrick. He turned round as he passed and waved a gloved hand to Paul over the hood.
"Hullo!" he said; "hullo! How are you? Come and look me up one day. I'm living on the river - Skindle's"
Then the car disappeared down the High Street, and Paul went on to his lecture.
"Who was your opulent friend?" asked Stubbs, rather impressed.
"Arnold Bennett," said Paul.
"I thought I knew his face," said Stubbs.'

The name 'Arnold Bennett' crops up in the Index of Quennell's book
The Sign of the Fish, which was published in 1960. It's the sort of name that Quennell would have been used to dropping throughout his career of reviewing books and writing literary biographies which long ago stopped being readable. Or read.

For many years, post-Oxford, Evelyn was greeted in the streets of London or Oxford by beautiful, rich, high-spirited friends. People who loved him. For years Peter Quennell looked on in envy. But Peter was tall. And he was calculating. So he made the most of his talents. But in doing so he had to put up with being the object of a master-class in mockery. This can be seen in the essays, which I wrote a few years ago, that can be found on my other Evelyn Waugh site. At that time I did not know that the humiliation had begun in
Decline and Fall. The episode in Jamaica is the place to start, as it is the first thing I wrote about Waugh/Quennell acrimony. Later I came back to the theme when writing about Quennell for my very own lockdown Brideshead Festival. There is little repetition between these pieces and I commend them to you for the laughter they will induce. Oh, and all Quennell's reviews of Waugh's books are discussed in this essay. Dull? I don't think so.

I'll just round off now as I have to go to Tesco to buy wine, and more wine, really quite good wine.

Below we have Grimes, as Evelyn Waugh, talking to Quennell:

Line illustration for Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, 1928. Annotated by Duncan McLaren

I think it's worth telling that joke again. Don't you? Here goes, with Grimes talking via his original, Dick Young:

Peter Quennell with James Stephens, 1929. Photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell. Annotated by Duncan McLaren

And so we come to the end of a three-day binge of original scholarship. It is a long time since Evelyn Waugh wrote Decline and Fall but still researchers are coming up with new discoveries about the way his imagination worked.

The mysterious 'Edward Stringer' has dropped two more jewels into my Inbox. Suggesting quite rightly that the lumbering oaf that is Lumsden of Strathdrummond in
Decline and Fall's prelude is a take on Drummond of Hawthornden, the author of A Cypress Grove which Waugh had been much taken with in 1925. 'Ed' suggests also that Alastair Graham would have been amused to read on page two of D&F that among those members travelling to Oxford for the annual Bollinger dinner would have been 'smooth young men of uncertain tastes from embassies and legations'. Alastair was just one such smooth young man working at the British Embassy in Cairo (or was it Athens?) at the time and unable to come to Evelyn Waugh's wedding to Evelyn Gardner in the glorious summer of 1928 when Evelyn, like Paul, was beginning to feel cosmopolitan - the Ritz today, The Barley Mow tomorrow, the Abingdon Arms next day, and afterwards the whole world stood open to him like one licensed hotel, his way lined for him with Bolly and oysters. How pathetically insular poor Alastair was, he thought, for all his talk of internationalism.'

Let me thank 'Ed Stringer' for his part in what I think of as a fertile collaboration, and sign off as On Kawara would:

JAN. 17, 2023