Note: This blog was originally published on the site of the University of Leicester.
Ahead of our Waugh’s Enemies event on Monday 25 September, Milena Borden gives a brief history of Waugh’s hostile relationship with Hugh Trevor-Roper – and asks what it tells us about Oxford’s post-war battle of ideas.
Posted by Waugh and Words on September 19, 2017in
There is no shortage of writing on the feud between Evelyn Waugh and Hugh Trevor-Roper. Most of it has tended to focus on Waugh’s hostile letters to Trevor-Roper and their incompatible characters. But what about looking into the story as a guide to the battle of academic ideas in Oxford after the end of the Second World War?
The son of a country doctor, Trevor-Roper read for two degrees, Classics and History, at Christ Church (1932 – 1937), became a Research Fellow of Merton College in 1938 and from 1957 until 1980 was Regius Professor of Modern History at Christ Church.
During the Second World War he was a code-breaker and also became an expert on Germany. One year before his retirement, he accepted to be Master of Peter House at Cambridge. In 1980 Trevor-Roper concluded his valedictory lecture with the words of Evelyn Waugh during one of their public spats twenty-six years previously: ‘One honourable course is open to Mr Trevor-Roper. He should change his name and seek a livelihood at Cambridge.’ He expressed regret that Waugh was no longer alive to enjoy his victory. Trevor-Roper was an admirer of Waugh as a prose writer, but was afraid to meet him in person because of their intense intellectual animosity.
Trevor-Roper’s first book The Last Days of Hitler (1947) became famous. It was enthusiastically reviewed and praised by established Oxford historians including Alan Bullock, Lewis Namier and Lawrence Stone. But one aspect of his book provoked angry reactions in Catholic circles. It claimed that Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, learned how to manipulate knowledge during his Jesuit education. Trevor-Roper also wrote that Himmler was like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, known for his role in the Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei affairs, because they both were kind to animals.
Waugh first wrote to Trevor-Roper privately and then made a public accusation in The Tablet. He accused him of seeking to promote his own prejudice in a sensational book: ‘There was not the smallest reason why Mr. Trevor-Roper should introduce Catholic theologians into this nasty story…They are dragged in ignorantly, maliciously and irrelevantly.’ But most importantly, it was Waugh, who first suggested that Trevor-Roper should make a correction in the next edition of the book. At the end, the New York publisher of The Last Days of Hitler demanded changes under the pressure of American Catholics and Trevor-Roper made some corrections in the second edition of 1950. In its preface, he specifically apologised for a factual inaccuracy: ‘…I must admit an error in my description of Goebbels. I stated that he was educated by the Jesuits. Though this is widely believed and repeated, I am satisfied that it is untrue, and that Goebbels learnt that brilliant casuistry that could distinguish between “concrete truth” and “poetic truth” from other sources.’
So, what does this quarrel tell us about Waugh, Oxford, and the bigger question – ‘What is history?’. Is it factual, unemotional and secular or is it inductive and tainted with beliefs, and religious faith? Waugh, a devout Catholic, argued against the idea that fascism could be linked to his religion, whereas Trevor-Roper – a staunch anti-Catholic – understood and accepted criticism only if it was on the ground of academic accuracy. Waugh extended his absolute disdain for the historical empiricism of C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, his history tutor at Oxford, to The Last Days of Hitler, the book, which A. J. P. Taylor called ‘a delight for historian and layman alike’. The quarrel reached a point where all could enjoy the infinite view of history debates at Oxford.
At the time of posting there are still a few places available for Waugh’s Enemies. Visit our eventbritepage now to join Alexander Waugh, Ann Pasternak Slater and Barbara Cooke in picking over Waugh’s hit-list.
Adam Sisman, Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography, 2010.
Martin Stannard, Evelyn Waugh: No Abiding City 1939 – 1966, Volume II, 1993.
The Tablet, 28 June, 1947.
H. R. Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, 1947; Second Edition, 1950.
James Macdonald’s new play staged at the Upstairs of the The Gatehouse is inspired by the Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill’s Second Wolrd War mission to Yugoslavia in the autumn of 1944. The venue is the charming 16th century Highgate village pub just under two and a half miles away from Waugh’s family home on 145 North End Road. The scene is the farmhouse in Topusko where their stormy friendship escalates to a comical antagonism fueled by the angry local cook, Zora Panic. The script followes closely the well documented wartime espisode with the name of Fitzroy Maclean who was the head of the mission dropped more then once during the two acts. Details such as Waugh’s “camel-hair dressing gown”, the £50 Bible reading bet and the box of Havana cigars sent from London seem to have been borrowed from the Earl of Birkenhead’s memoir “Fiery Articles” in “Evelyn Waugh and His World” (1973: 137). The pattern of the play is a circle of a dialogue with the two main heroes going back to where they started unable to escape the hillarious agony of cohabitaning in Tito partisans’ controlled area of Croatia.
Simon Pontin as Randolph and Martha Dancy as Zora managed to provoke laughter in the audience of around 30 people and a smile of approval from the playwright who attended the Preview night. The mantle of being Waugh falls upon the shoulders of Neil Chinneck, a young London actor, who attempts to blend wit and satire into the characher by threatening to kill Randolph and himself. He achives a decent presentation of Waugh at war although it is somewhat dry in expression and wiry in appearnce.
The German bombardment effects work well together with the the décor of the bare village room and Winson Churchill’s portarit on the wall. The choice of Vera Lynn’s songs as a musical background adds to the vitality of the performance. But it is the total lack of pretence that seems to be the main merit of the play.
At Campion Hall in Oxford
In March this year I visited Camion Hall: Jesuits in Oxford on Brewer Street in Oxford to see the place with which Evelyn Waugh’s name is so closely associated. The Secretary, Sarah Grey, arranged an appointment for me with Professor Peter Davidson who is the Senior Research Fellow and Archivist at the Hall. Davidson explained that the accounts of Waugh at the Hall are minimal, but there are three Waugh things on permanent display.
The first one is an Abyssinian religious painting of the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus, which hangs centrally in the hallway of the first floor. The body paint is preserved behind a glass displayed in natural light with a beautiful blue color dominating the imagery which also has a Coptic inscription on the top. Waugh presumably brought it from his travels in Abyssinia in the 1930s and gave it as a gift to the Hall’s Collection.
The second object is a Campion’s illegally printed book, which Davidson explained, Waugh must have bought on the book market in the 1930s before donating it to the Hall. It was rebound in red leather with delicate gold and is one of the five known copies of Rationes Decem (1587). The pocket size book is displayed in a glass cabinet covered with cloth together with other memorabilia including a relic silver box believed to have belonged to Campion containing traces of his blood.
Finally our small group of three reached the Chapel designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens with the Stations of the Cross on the walls leading to the Lady Chapel decorated by Charles Mahoney’s (1903-1968) mural commissioned by Waugh. The gentle seasonal representation of the Lady is full with garden flowers creating a natural English botanical landscape feel. Waugh knew Mahoney who worked over ten years on the mural and almost finished it except for one wall sketch in graphite. Davidson told me that the Chapel would have been almost the same during Waugh’s time. The mural is washed every five years with distilled water. As we were leaving the immaculate Chapel with an air of absolute order and stillness, we chatted a little bit about Waugh’s friendship with Father D’Arcy who was Master of the Hall (1933 – 1945) and a very important figure for English Catholicism.
At the end of my twenty five minutes visit, I glanced through the windows towards the simple geometrical garden of the Hall and took the leaflet from the table. On the back of it there was a description of the Campion Hall Collection: “Many of the works of fine and applied art in the collection were gifts from the circles of writers, artists and patrons who visited, and were inspired by, Campion Hall and its ethos, most notably Evelyn Waugh.”
Standpoint, February 2018
Letters, Page 10.
Robin Harris’s fine report from Zagreb, ‘Tito’s Crimes Should Never be Forgotten’ (Standpoint, Nov 2017) would have been applauded by Evelyn Waugh. Fifty five years ago almost to the date, in his Sunday Express article ‘Our Guest of Dishonour’ (30 Nov 1952). he asked, ‘Who is the man?’. Waugh argued that ‘Tito was simply his Comintern code-word. Marshal was a rank of the Red Army unknown in Yugoslavia. He had Stalin’s commission and Stalin sent him his marshal’s cap.’
Waugh protested to Anthony Eden’s invitation to Tito to visit London and was against the ‘English Conservative courtship’ of the Yugoslav leader. This was intensified by the split with Stalin in 1948, correctly judged by Harris as a matter of personal ambition rather then principal disagreement. [No doubt Waugh would have also enjoyed hearing more about Tito’s undignified personal life as he jokingly referred to him as a ‘she’ presumably meaning among other things that he was not a real ‘man’. ]
The main agreement he would have had with Harris is the deceptive misconception that Tito was a heroic ‘antifascist’ rather than a communist dictator. Waugh himself wrote an important report about the brutal elimination of Catholic priests by Tito’s partisans. He immortalised the British alliance with Tito in Unconditional Surrender (1961), the third part of his war trilogy Sword of Honour as the ultimate betrayal: ‘He was busy then, as now, in the work for which he has a peculiar aptitude – hoodwinking the British.’
Earlier in November, in Italy, the mayor and two town councillors of the town of Affile near Rome were sentenced to prison for using public money in 2012 to commission a memorial of Rodolfo Graziani, the Marshal in charge of the Italian invasion in Abyssinia in 1936 who later became a minister of defence to Benitto Mussolini’s fascist government from 1943 until the end of the Second World War.
Evelyn Waugh met Graziani during his war correspondent visit to Abyssinia in the summer of 1936. He described the meeting in Addis Ababa During the First Days of the Italian Empire, Part 2 of Chapter 6 of his travel book Waugh in Abyssinia (1936):
‘He gave me twenty minutes. I have seldom enjoyed an official audience more. His French was worse than mine, but better than my Italian. Too often when talking to minor fascists one finds a fatal love of oratory. …There was no nonsense of that kind about Graziani. He was like the traditional conception of an English admiral, frank, humorous and practical. He asked where I had been, what I had been, what I wanted to see. Whenever my requests were reasonable he gave his immediate consent. If he had to refuse anything he did so directly and gave his reasons. He did not touch on general politics or the ethics of conquest. He did not ask me to interpret English public opinion…I left with the impression of one of the most amiable and sensible men I had met for a long time.’ Waugh also wrote about the meeting in his diary: Thursday 27 August 1936, ‘Very fresh and business like. No Fascist speeches about the Roman civilization and the wickedness of sanctions. (The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie, 1976).
Graziani was sentenced to nineteen years imprisonment for war crimes in 1948 but served only two years and died in 1955. His memoir, which covers the invasion of Abyssinia, Una vita per l’Italia was published in Italy in 1998. Historians continue to argue about the extend of the damaged caused by the use of chemical gas in Abyssinia on his orders with the exact number of victims remains unconfirmed to this day with some claiming they were thousands. Evelyn Waugh wrote: ‘Gas was used but accounted for only eighteen lives.’ (Waugh in Abyssinia, 1936).
The Royal Academy of Arts in London is holding an exhibition ‘Works of Feeling: Pre-Raphaelite Book Illustration’ in its Library Print Room (free). The 42 black and white wood engraved illustrations include four by Gabriel Dante Rossetti (1828-1882). His life and art was the subject of Waugh’s first book, Rossetti: His Life and Works, (1928). I had this connection on my mind when I went to the RA. The works are displayed with taste on the walls of the small entry to the library on the second floor and also in four glassed cases. After exploring the exquisite engravings of Millais, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Solomon, Hunt, Sandys, Whistler and Poynter, I decided to inquire about Waugh and Rossetti and asked if there was a copy of his book in the library. But there was no card with his name in the hand- written Rossetti catalogue of that period.
Waugh wrote extensively about Rossetti’s illustrations in part ‘III. The Aesthetes’of his biography. Interestingly enough, a story he wrote then about how difficult it was for the Daziel Brothers workshop to manage Rossetti’s illustrations in Poems of Alfred Tennyson, (1857) is covered in the Introduction to the current exhibition by Amanda-Jane Doran, a contemporary art writer. It did feel that the new edition of Waugh’s biography of Rossetti in The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, Volume 16 (September 2017) would fill a gap in the RA collection.