Arcadian Doubts

The latest issue of the magazine of Oriel College, Oxford (The Poor Print) has an article that opens with a passage from Waugh’s first novel, Decline and Fall:

‘You see, it wasn’t the ordinary sort of Doubt about Cain’s wife or the Old Testament miracles or the consecration of Archbishop Parker. I’d been taught how to explain all those while I was at college. No, it was something deeper than all that. I couldn’t understand why God had made the world at all.’

Doubt. That the was reason Mr. Prendergast gave for leaving the comfortable life of a parish priest in Worthing for the life of a master in a beastly North Wales school…

The author of the article (Fergus Higgins) returns to these thoughts as he awaits the funeral service of a young friend. In the church:

… another Waugh novel registered in my thoughts. This time his magnum opus: Brideshead Revisited. Waugh entitled the first chapter of the book ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ – ‘Even in Arcadia I am’. That is to say, even in the most idealised situation, death will always be present. The injustice that, in the Arcadia of his youth, this promising young man had met death, with the possibility of his future cut short before it could ever be fully realised, struck me.

His doubts then coalesce into remembrance of a poem (“Friday Morning”) by poet-songwriter Sydney Carter (1915-2004)  on the same topic:

You can blame it on to Adam,
You can blame it on to Eve,
You can blame it on the apple,
but that I can’t believe.
It was God that made the Devil,
And the woman and the man,
And there wouldn’t be an apple,
If it wasn’t in the plan.

It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

The article is headed by the reproduction of a 17th century painting. This is by Nicholas Poussin and is called “Et in Arcadia ego.” Thanks to David Lull for forwarding this artice.  

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