Michaelmas Roundup

–Several religious journals carry a story by George Weigel about the elimination of the Papal States in the 19th century as part of Italy’s reunification. The article, as published in the interfaith journal First Things, opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh’s Catholic traditionalism was so deep, broad, and intense that self-identified “traditional Catholics” today might seem, in comparison, like the editorial staff of the National Catholic Reporter. Yet the greatest of 20th-century English prose stylists held what some Catholic traditionalists (notably the “new integralists”) would regard as unsound views on the demise of the Papal States: a lengthy historical drama on which the curtain rang down 150 years ago this month.

In the third volume of Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy, the novels’ protagonist, Guy Crouchback, makes Italy’s surrender in World War II and King Victor Emmanuel III’s flight from Rome the occasion to lament, to his father, the papacy’s acquiescence to its loss of the Papal States: “[This] looks like the end of the Piedmontese usurpation. What a mistake the Lateran Treaty was . . . How much better would it have been if the popes had sat it out and then emerged saying, ‘What was that all about? Risorgimento? Garibaldi? Cavour? The House of Savoy? Mussolini? Just some hooligans from out of town causing a disturbance . . . ’”

To which Gervase Crouchback, a man of insight informed by deep piety, replies in a letter:

“Of course in the 1870s and 1880s every decent Roman disliked the Piedmontese. . . . And of course most of the [Catholics] we know kept it up, sulking. But that isn’t the Church. The Mystical Body doesn’t strike attitudes and stand on its dignity . . . When you spoke of the Lateran Treaty did you consider how many souls may have been reconciled and have died at peace as a result of it? How many children may have been brought up in the faith who might have lived in ignorance?”

–Charles Moore writes in The Spectator of his thoughts on elevation to the peerage:

I believe I am Etchingham’s third peer. […One of the] others was Lord Killearn who, as Miles Lampson, was our imposing plenipotentiary in Egypt during the war. He is said to have originated the phrase ‘Get your tanks off my lawn’, addressing King Farouk. According to the not always reliable Evelyn Waugh, Lampson sent a telegram to Winston Churchill after Randolph Churchill had dined with him in the embassy in Cairo in 1941. It said: ‘Your son is at my house. He has the light of battle in his eye.’ Waugh claimed that ‘Unhappily the cypher group got it wrong & it arrived “light of BOTTLE”. All too true.’

–The Daily Express publishes a listing of the favorite 6 books of Charles Spencer, author, broadcaster, 9th Earl and uncle to Prince William and Harry. At the top of his list is:

PUT OUT MORE FLAGS Evelyn Waugh ( Penguin Classics, £ 9.99) I reread this masterpiece of black comedy as Covid- 19 appeared. Waugh’s targets in this 1942 novel – the bogus “experts” and the profiteers who appear at times of crisis – still resonate strongly today.

–Jane Shilling writes in the Daily Telegraph about the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on returning university students:

For students, the real loss will be of life lessons not to be found in the seminar room or the library. Of these, the first to go will be permission to be silly. For countless generations of undergraduates, a degree has offered a brief window of freedom through which to explore new experiences, meet new people, make mistakes and learn how to be a grown-up. It is a process that often involves a certain amount of boisterious behaviour – “its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins”, as Evelyn Waugh put it in Brideshead Revisited. But in the shadow of Covid, tolerance of student peccadilloes promises to be sharply curtailed.

–A local newsblog from the Sevenoaks Chamber of Commerce also quotes Waugh about the beginning of the school year:

“It is typical of Oxford … to start the new year in Autumn.” As August turned to September, the weather has definitely taken an autumnal turn and the Summer holidays are long forgotten as we go into “back to school” mode. Even if you don’t have any connections to school-age children, the calendar continues to revolve around the 3 term system.

My quote actually comes from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and it does raise a good point; who came up with the new academic year starting in the Autumn? Oxford and Cambridge certainly have their idiosyncrasies and special terminology as we’ve discussed before in this blog. While the Autumn term is known as the Michaelmas term in Oxford, it follows the standard UK convention of making a fresh start in September.

Waugh himself did not matriculate in Michaelmas Term. He started in January (Hilary Term). Although he was not to know it at the beginning of his student career, this would later cost him the award of a degree. He took his finals in the summer at the end of his 8th term and passed with a low third. This resulted in loss of his scholarship at Hertford College, and his father refused to pay the fees for his 9th term which was necessary to fulfill residency requirements. This may have had more to do with Evelyn’s prodigious debts than with the poor exam results. His father (New College) had also graduated from Oxford with a third-class degree.

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