Queen Victoria @ 200

On Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday we should recall that Evelyn Waugh was a keen admirer of all things Victorian, if not necessarily the Queen herself. He wrote several articles dedicated to Victoriana at a time when it was not a popular taste. Another writer who shared the admiration for things Victorian was Waugh’s friend John Betjeman. The ear trumpet Waugh sported in his later years is probably the most memorable of his Victorian acquisitions. But the closest he ever got to the Queen herself may have been the 1927 party where he accompanied his Oxford friend Robert Byron who was dressed as Her Majesty (Diaries, p. 282). Anyone familiar with photographs of Byron will recognize an uncanny facial resemblance to Victoria.

There is at least one Waugh family connection to Queen Victoria. A paternal uncle, George Waugh, according to Michael Brennan “rose in the commercial world to become pharmacist to Queen Victoria.” Indeed, according to Alexander Waugh in Fathers and Sons, it was George, in partnership with his brother James Hay Waugh (Evelyn’s Great Grandfather), who successfully relieved the Queen of her gas pains. As owners of the Regent Street chemists, Waugh & Co., they invented Waugh’s Family Antibilious Pills, a mixture of cayenne pepper in soluble crystals.

Mark McGinness, writing in the Australian literary journal Quadrant comes up with another less direct connection. McGinness is mainly interested in discussing how Victoria manifested her concern for Australia through her colonial appointments, although she never made a visit there herself. One of his discussions implicates Evelyn Waugh:

Michael Davie, onetime editor of The Age and of Evelyn Waugh’s engrossing and revealing diaries, gives a lively account in his book, Anglo-Australian Attitudes (Secker & Warburg, 2000of a particularly fascinating viceroy, William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp. At the astonishing age of 29 he was appointed Governor of New South Wales. Eventually, despite being the father of seven and leader of the Liberal Party in the Lords, he was undone by his fondness for his valet and fled to the Continent in disgrace, becoming Waugh’s inspiration for Lord Marchmain. Well-born, rich and an exemplar of correct form (as a father he would address his own children as Lord Elmley, Lady Lettice, Lady Sybil), he seemed to the Colonial Secretary, that wily old imperialist Joseph Chamberlain, to possess the right stuff…

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