Columbus Day Roundup: Cricket, Latin and Name Extinction

–In what is perhaps this week’s most interesting story, the Independent newspaper has posted a history of the Hollywood Cricket Club. This is by Leonie Cooper and describes in some detail the club’s founding, growth and membership. Evelyn Waugh makes a contribution:

Founded in 1932 by British character actor and one-time England test cricketer Charles Aubrey Smith, the Hollywood Cricket Club was a home away from home for Brits in Los Angeles at the boom of the talkies. […] Smith was already in his late sixties when he formed the club. Before acting on the London stage, Smith had been a professional cricketer, playing for both Cambridge and Sussex. It wasn’t just the cricket that made him every inch the stereotypical British gent – there was the bristly handlebar ’tache and fondness for smoking a pipe, too. Such was Smith’s stature that fellow Brit Evelyn Waugh would immortalise Smith’s Hollywood years in his death industry novella The Loved One. Here Smith would take the form of Sir Ambrose Ambercrombie, an endearingly pompous expat committed to holding up an extreme version of Englishness for himself and his fellow UK transplants. “The captain of the Hollywood Cricket Club was the redoubtable, craggy C Aubrey Smith,” wrote David Niven. “A famous county cricketer, he had a penchant for suddenly nipping out from behind the umpire and firing down his fast ball… He had been nicknamed ‘Round the Corner Smith’. His house on Mulholland Drive was called ‘The Round Corner’; on his roof were three cricket stumps and a bat and ball serving as a weather vane.”

Among the interesting bits of information on offer is that PG Wodehouse, not much of a batsman, when in LA on scriptwriting assignments, would stop by the Club’s Griffith Park grounds and act as scorekeeper. The Club’s founder C Aubrey Smith died in 1948, the year The Loved One was published.  The Griffith Park cricket pitch has been converted to other uses, but the pavilion is still there, now serving cucumber sandwiches to wedding parties.

–James Marriott writing in the Times newspaper addresses the “British affliction of mistaking fusty learning [inherent in Oxbridge educations] for intellectual heft.” He cites the recent example of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer:

It’s now clear that an appreciation of Latin poetry and a PhD in 17th-century coinage aren’t enough to stop a man from crashing the economy. Kwasi Kwarteng’s intellectual armoury sounded intimidating but it turns out that when the pound is jittering and kicking like a spooked mule, you can’t soothe it with a few well-chosen verses from Horace. Intriguingly, even as bits of the economy were falling off and bursting into flames, the chancellor’s allies continued to insist their man was “formidably” intelligent. The guy writes poetry in Latin. And if you ever wanted an informed opinion on the coinage crisis of 1695-97 . . .

He goes on to discuss how Americans are similarly confused by attributing unwarranted intelligence to successful businessmen and notes this example of how the English see through this American prejudice from an Evelyn Waugh novel:

In Britain, the notion that businessmen are philistines is a matter of long tradition. In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh informs readers that the Canadian entrepreneur Rex Mottram is unable to appreciate a glass of fine burgundy because its complex taste reveals that “the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his”.

It’s . . . a drink? In few other countries would it even begin to make sense to associate expensive booze with esoteric wisdom. You don’t have to meet many aristocrats to become sceptical of the idea that drinking in posh clubs is making them smarter.

–The New Statesman marks the anniversary of the James Bond films with a reference to Waugh’s reaction to the first of them:

Sixty years ago, on October 5, 1962, the first James Bond film, Dr No, was released in the UK. Evelyn Waugh, a friend of Ian and Ann Fleming, accompanied them to the premiere, after a swell dinner party. He was not impressed. In his diary, Waugh recorded: “We entered in darkness and left unobserved by the paying audience; not at all like a gala performance of opera with tiers of boxes, promenade and tiaras sparkling under chandeliers. The film was totally fatuous and tedious, no mystery, not even erotic.” A few months later Waugh wrote to Ann Fleming remembering what he could about “Bond’s passions” in the movie: “In the film I think he dallied during a sweaty siesta… and then went off in a boat with a prize cock-drop – a sort of Swedish games mistress. But I was not very attentive.” So much for Ursula Andress.

Waugh, it seems, did not feel that he had been present at an historic event for the nation as a whole. Yet that evening launched one of the defining cultural icons of Britishness to this day, up there with the Beatles, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the late Queen Elizabeth, whether we like it or not. James Bond is the longest continually running film series; it is estimated a quarter of the global population has seen at least one Bond film. …

The article goes on to explain how the franchise and its budget grew and grew beyond its original roots. It seems unlikely that these efforts would have made any difference to Waugh.

America magazine remembers J F Powers, an American writer whom Waugh admired and befriended. This may have been intended to mark the 75th anniversary of Powers’ first book publication. See previous post. The article opens with this:

What is worse, a sin of commission or one of omission? In the case of the obituary writers of The New York Times over the decades, the latter failings call out more loudly for repentance. Any survey of the accounts of lives of religious novelists is all the evidence you need. With what words would you bury Evelyn Waugh? The Times chose “Evelyn Waugh, Satirical Novelist, Is Dead at 62.” His greatest triumph, Brideshead Revisited, is described as (not kidding) “a tragic recounting of the decline of a great English family.”

J. F. Powers didn’t fare much better. This finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction for 1957, the winner of that award in 1963, a writer hailed as a literary lion by everyone from Flannery O’Connor to Philip Roth to Mary Gordon to Frank O’Connor, was dispatched upon his death in 1999 with “J. F. Powers, 81, Dies; Wrote About Priests.”

I suppose it’s not entirely wrong: Both of his novels (Morte D’Urban in 1962, Wheat That Springeth Green in 1988) and many of his short stories had priests as protagonists, and surely no American writer has ever captured the quotidian existence of parish priests better than Powers. But you wouldn’t bury a writer with “Hemingway: Wrote About Drunks,” nor “Melville: Wrote About a Whale.” There’s a sneer behind the headline, the passing regret that J. F. Powers didn’t write about something more compelling.

The article goes on to describe Powers’ career that was marred by the frustration of a 25 year writer’s block with respect to his second novel. The subject of Waugh’s friendship is not developed further, although the two writers reviewed each other’s books, corresponded and met each other over several years.

The Economist magazine has an article about a new program to promote the study of Latin and Greek in English schools. It opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh, a novelist, valued his classical education. Not because it enabled him to understand ancient languages: Waugh could remember no Greek, write no Latin and enjoyed reading neither. But it did enable him to excel in a more important exercise: spotting and judging those who knew less than he. Such people (“most Americans and most women”) betrayed their deprivation with sentences of “inexcusable vulgarity”. “I do not,” he wrote, “regret my superficial classical studies.

Latin occupies an odd place in English curriculums. One part proper subject, two parts smug social shibboleth, to have chanted “amo, amas, amat” in a Latin class has long implied membership of another kind of class altogether. The decline and almost fall of Latin in state schools in the 20th century did not diminish its social cachet, because numbers in fee-paying independent schools remained high. In 2020 eight times more pupils sat Latin gcse at Eton, a posh school, than in the entirety of Northumberland. Waugh considered Latin the mark of a gentleman. Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University, puts it more briskly: it gets seen as a subject for “posh white boys”.

The Independent newspaper has also done a survey of name popularity and has determined that the name Evelyn for boys has become extinct in the 21st century. It provides a list of 10 most commonly used names in the past that are now extinct and describes the process as follows:

…the definition of extinct is a name that doesn’t appear in the Office for National Statistics dataset of babies’ first names in England and Wales since 2000, or in the Scottish records for 2020 and 2021. The ONS dataset omits names that are recorded only once or twice in a year, on grounds of confidentiality – so “extinct” means no more than two in any year since the turn of the century.

Here’s the comment on Evelyn’s extinction: “Nominated by Paul Edwards. Extinct for boys. Never mind Waugh, it is the 21st most popular name for girls: 1,729 in 2021.” Among the other boys’ names facing extinction are Branwell, Hilary and Torquil.


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