Rhode Island Library Commemorates Waugh’s 1949 American Visit

The St Thomas More Library of the Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island has mounted an exhibit commemorating Waugh’s visit to the school 75 years ago in March 1949. This was part of his lecture tour of Roman Catholic schools and universities in that year. Here’s a link to the notice posted on the internet. The written notice on the exhibit reads:

On March 20, 1949, the English writer Evelyn Waugh and his wife Laura, spent the night on our campus in the Manor House. This year marks the 75th anniversary of that visit which benefitted the Portsmouth Priory School.

Commemorative t-shirts were made in 2012 for the Evelyn Waugh Conference held in Baltimore, one of which is in the P. A. S. Library Archives. The t-shirts in this case are copies which feature Waugh’s self-portrait on the front, along with a tour  style listing of lecture dates on the reverse, showing Portsmouth/Providence as the final stop.

The visit to what is now called the Portsmouth Abbey School and the lecture which was delivered in nearby Providence were described in an article about the lecture tour published in Evelyn Waugh Studies. Here is the relevant text:

“Providence/Newport, Portsmouth Priory School, 20 March 1949. This lecture was sponsored by Portsmouth Priory School (now Portsmouth Abbey School), a Roman Catholic preparatory school near Newport, Rhode Island. It was announced in the Providence Journal on 20 March (“What’s Going On?” 2) and reported in the Providence Evening Bulletin on 21 March under a photo taken at the lecture (“Waugh Lauds Catholic Influence on British Writers,” 4). On 23 March, the lecture was reported on the front page of The Cowl, the student newspaper of Providence College. Waugh spoke on Sunday evening at Hope High School Auditorium, a public school on the east side of Providence. Dom Damian Kearney, OSB, came to Portsmouth Priory shortly afterward and gives this account of their visit:

The Waughs were met at the train in Providence by one of the monks, who was surprised to find Mrs. Waugh carrying the suitcase and offered to take it from her, only to be told by the author that she always carried the luggage, or words to that effect. When he was introduced at the lecture [by the Rev. Joseph Bracq, editor of the diocesan newspaper], his name was mispronounced, sounding something like “wawf”, which must have been disconcerting, but Mr. Waugh took it in good stride. Mr. Waugh stayed in guest quarters in the Manor House, which served as the main building for administration, guest facilities and reception rooms. [The Assistant Headmaster Francis Brady and his wife] presided at tea given in one of the reception rooms on Sundays and special occasions such as the Waugh visit. At the tea Mr. Waugh was on his best behavior and was most cordial; a number of the monks were present as well as several lay faculty. Also present was Mrs. Waugh.

Waugh’s visit is also mentioned in the memoirs of Sally Ryder Brady (A Box of Darkness, 2011). The Brady family, later to become her in-laws, were much taken with the Flyte family of Brideshead and “knew the book almost as well as they knew their Gospels.” One of the Brady children, Ellen, recalls meeting the Waughs:

As I remember (and I could be wrong, since I was fifteen at the time) the school wasn’t in session, which might explain why there isn’t any record of his visit. I clearly remember having breakfast at the high table on a Sunday morning with Dom Aelred Wall, … the then headmaster, Evelyn Waugh, and, I think, Mrs. Waugh and nobody else. The great man was surprisingly charmless. He carried a huge stick and smoked a huge stinky cigar and conversed rather rudely. Mrs. Waugh was quite plain and didn’t talk much. I clearly remember him walking away through the empty school dining room with his ridiculous stick, which he seemed to need for walking.

Waugh was also entertained in Newport by a family connected to his English Catholic friends. Edward Joseph Eyre was married to Pelline (née Acton, 1906-1998), granddaughter of Lord Acton (1834-1902), the famous historian and Liberal politician. Waugh’s friend Daphne Acton, the patron of Ronald Knox, was Pelline Eyre’s sister-in-law. Waugh later visited Daphne Acton and her husband John in Southern Rhodesia in 1959, as described in A Tourist in Africa (1960).” [Footnotes omitted.]

After the Providence lecture, the Waughs went back to New York where he had already lectured twice. They returned to England from New York, arriving in Southampton on 31 March 1949.

UPDATE: Paragraph added to library notice.





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