Towards the end of March 1944 Evelyn Waugh wrote to his friend Lady Dorothy Lygon (pronounced Liggen), almost certainly the model for Lady Cordelia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Her father, the 7th Earl Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham), KG, was obliged to leave the country and settled on the Continent after what the Daily Telegraph called “acts unpardonable” (his fate much like that of Lady Cordelia’s father, Lord Marchmain, in the novel).
In fact the circumstances of this forced exile were decidedly unpleasant. Beauchamp was a political progressive, even a radical, and leader of the Liberals in the Lords. He was outed as a homosexual by his appalling brother-in-law, the Tory, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, wife-beating Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor (pronounced shit). Grosvenor, whose motives were personal dislike and a desire to ruin the Liberals, sent Beauchamp a note after his departure which read: “Dear Bugger-in-law, you got what you deserved. Yours, Westminster.” Lady Beauchamp seems to have been at something of a loss at first when the scandal broke, not really knowing what homosexuality might involve. King George V, at whose coronation Beauchamp had carried the sword of state, was not disposed to be understanding. He is rumoured to have said: “I thought men like that shot themselves.”
It was a delight to hear from you. I hope you will get this letter. I will try and make it suitable for the censor but my views nowadays are so different from what Brendan [Bracken] tries to make them that I may find myself in prison at any minute. It would be a pity if I got you into prison too.
At the moment I am in Chagford having a little rest between military duties and in consequence working harder than I have done for nearly five years. I am writing a very beautiful book, to bring tears, about very beautiful, rich, high born people who live in palaces and have no troubles except what they make themselves and those are mainly the demons sex and drink which after all are easy to bear as troubles go nowadays.
I have suffered terribly from the latter demon lately. In fact in London it is not unfair to say I never draw a sober breath. I was beginning to lose my memory which for a man who lives entirely in the past, is to lose life itself. In fact I got a little anxious about it but I found all I needed was congenial work. I have been here six weeks, the nut has cleared and I am writing better than ever I did. Little Laura [Mrs Waugh] comes to see me sometimes. She is living a life of startling heroism and is having another baby in a few weeks.
Since I saw you my military life has rather gone into the shadows. I drove a General mad, literally, and both he and I were expelled from that headquarters together. Then I became a parachutist. For one who values privacy there is no keener pleasure than the feeling of isolation as you float down, but it is all too shortlived, the ground is very hard and the doctors decided – as I could have told them – that I was too old to hope for many such pleasures ...
After my leg healed I was sent to be ADC to another General. That lasted 24 hours. I had the misfortune to upset a glass of claret in his lap at dinner. It is extraordinary how much wine there is in a glass & how far it spreads if it is thrown with gusto ...
The latest biography of Waugh, by Philip Eade, was reviewed http://www.drb.ie/essays/angry-old-man by Brian Davey in last November’s drb. Davey concludes:
As the modern world crowded in on Waugh from all sides he cast around for portals into this romantic past. One idea was to decamp to Ireland: he went as far as investigating the possible purchase of a castle. This conjures up an amusing image of a red-faced Tory in tweeds, ear-trumpet in one hand and cigar in the other, continually vexed by his neighbours. Since his wife, Laura, put paid to the plan when she heard of it, we shall never know what comedy he might have mined from rural life in mid-twentieth Ireland.
Waugh died on Easter Sunday 1966 after attending Mass in Latin. He was found in his downstairs lavatory. This seems a fitting end for a man whose life, like his work, was a mixture of sanctity and bleak comedy.