The Magazine

Underhill Revisited

The child was the father of the man in the Waugh household.

Jun 25, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 39 • By EDWARD SHORT
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Once his first marriage was annulled, Evelyn married Laura Herbert, an imperturbable 19-year-old who spent most of her married life doting on her beloved cows. Alexander implies that Laura and Evelyn disliked their six children. Evelyn, it is true, told Diana Cooper, "I can only regard children as defective adults," but the letters he wrote to his children when they were unhappy at school (especially to his son Auberon) are models of parental affection and good sense.

Towards the end of his life, after he had survived the ordeal of bringing up Auberon, Evelyn mellowed. The hurt that Arthur had caused still rankled, but he could see it in a larger light. In his own unfinished autobiography, he paid the memory of his father a fitting tribute. Speaking of Arthur's recitations in the bookroom at Underhill, Evelyn recalled:

In these recitations of English prose and verse the incomparable variety of English vocabulary, the cadences and rhythms of the language, saturated my young mind, so that I never thought of English literature as a school subject, as matter for analysis and historical arrangement, but as a source of natural joy. It was a legacy that has not depreciated.

Fathers and Sons is a special book. It puts one in mind of something Francis Bacon said: "Use the memory of thy predecessors fairly, and tenderly; for if thou dost not, it is a debt will sure be paid, when thou art gone." Alexander Waugh has nothing to fear on that score.

Edward Short's book about John Henry
Newman and his contemporaries will be
published in the fall by Continuum.