Among Hard Drinking Hypocrites and ‘Eight Good Men’

A young Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb.

Right now I am reading Paula Byrne’s book Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (2009; Am. ed. 2010). It is a good book if you are interested in Evelyn Waugh and his best known novel Brideshead Revisited. And do not mind, it should be added, ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ and hanky-panky stories about some of the Oxford students, including Waugh, during the 1920s. There are also some juicy tales about poorly behaved members of the English aristocracy and one member of the Royal family. But back to Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford. Being banned from entering the city’s pubs, there were many ‘drinking clubs’ at the university, and Waugh belonged to the hard drinking Hypocrites’ Club.

The Hypocrites’ Club soon became associated, Paula Byrne writes, ‘with flamboyant dress and a manner that had the distinct smack of homosexuality’. This set them apart from other clubs at the university, ‘let alone the rowing and rugger clubs’, she writes. In her book it is the oarsmen that are the bad boys, attacking and often beating up members of the Hypocrites. No names are mentioned among the rowers probably because they are all just one brutal force in the eyes of the author.

However, there is one ‘oarsman’ mentioned in Byrne’s book, a man who did not belong to the undergrads, but to the fellows and professors, the famous critic, poet, novelist and man-of-letters, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who was know as just ‘Q’. He had studied at Trinity College, Oxford, and he rowed there. Q continued on to an academic career and became a lecturer at Trinity.

In 1912, he was appointed to the King Edward VII Professorship of English Literature at Cambridge, and was also elected to a Fellowship of Jesus College. I have read some verse and books by Q and also two biographies about him, Freddy Brittain’s Arthur Quiller-Couch: A Biographical Study of Q (1948) and A. L. Rowse’s Quiller-Couch: A Portrait of ‘Q’ (1987). Nevertheless, I was surprised to find a ‘rowing verse’ in Mad World, written by Q:

Once, my dear – but the world was young then –
Magdalen elms and Trinity limes –
Lissom the blades and the back that swung then –
Eight good men in the good old times –
Careless we, and the chorus flung then
Under St Mary’s chimes!
(from “Alma Mater”)

In the early days of HTBS, in July 2009, Q is mentioned in an entry together with his friends, Freddy Brittain and Steve Fairbairn. Re-read it here.

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