Septimus Waugh in The Tablet

The Tablet’s latest issue celebrates the magazine’s 180th anniversary since its founding in 1840. One of the featured articles is a memoir by Septimus Waugh of his father’s religious beliefs and practices. As summarized by the editors: “Evelyn Waugh is often portrayed as a selfish and cantankerous father. By contrast, the youngest of his seven children remembers him as a gentle, melancholic man whose chief pleasure lay in parodying his condition.” Septimus begins by explaining his own attitude toward religion: “I was born a Catholic and accepted Catholic doctrine as something to be learned and obeyed in ­whatever form it might take.”

The article includes several anecdotes about Evelyn Waugh not previously published so far as I am aware. The first relates to religion as well as child rearing:

When I was six years old and undergoing instruction for First Confession and First Holy Communion, I discovered a great wheeze on my travel between convent and home. I would spend money given to me for the bus fare on sweets, having declared to the bus driver that my parents had failed to give me any money for the fare. This appeared to have been a successful ruse for a few weeks until, finally, two black-robed inspectors turned up at the house to demand of my parents why they had been failing to give their child money for his bus fares. I was, of course, hauled in to give an explanation for my behaviour, and admitted the theft of the money for sweets. But I announced that they could not touch me because I had confessed it, done penance and received absolution. That was good enough for my father. I think his lack of action encouraged in me a belief in the efficacy of truth.

There is also a story based on Septimus’s destruction of one of his father’s walking sticks followed by a discussion of his humorous attitude toward seemingly serious matters such as the church’s religious reforms. Here is an excerpt from the section about the Vatican II liturgical reforms:

Humour was the thing with which we attempted to cheer him up. Often the focus of his depression seemed to be the change of the liturgy into a rather crass vernacular. In particular he took exception to the translation of Et cum spiritu tuo – the response to Dominus vobiscum (“The Lord be with you”) – as “And also with you”. He would sit in the second row of our newly built red-brick parish church in Wiveliscombe muttering, “And with you too … Tohubohu”. The last part is apparently the Greek for chaos. My sister, Harriet, witnessed him retreating on one occasion to the car in the car park where he sounded the horn to the rhythm of “And also with you” when he felt that it was time for that response.

Septimus goes on to recount how he got one of the Downside monks in trouble by repeating to his father something he had overheard the monk say at school in opposition to a Papal pronouncement. The family’s own worship habits after their move from Dursley to Combe Florey are also discussed:

… The places where we congregated for Mass were frequently private chapels. Before it got its custom-built church, our local parish of Wiveliscombe met in a former haberdashery shop on the high street. We frequently went to Mass in the local mental hospital in Tone Vale which had a Catholic chapel, and a wonderful, eccentric old lady called “Bimber” Critchley-Samuelson had built a chapel in her house, which we attended when she had a priest staying. To be Roman Catholic was to have returned to a more ancient faith than the modern Anglican Church offered, and the ecumenical movement and the translation into the vernacular of the Roman Catholic liturgy by committee, even though the form of the Mass remained the same, was a problem for my father.

The article concludes with a story explaining how Ronald Knox’s reasons for not serving as an Anglican chaplain in the First World War may have contributed to the concluding scene of the novel Brideshead Revisited.



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