2 November 2016

IDENTITY


Evelyn Waugh was once described as a man who thought of himself as being, in the sight of God, an English Country Gentleman of ancient and recusant ancestry. In fact, he was the son of a parvenu Anglican publisher quite well down in the Middle Class. I suspect that it is one of the characteristics of this last century and a half ... say, since the time of Disraeli ... I wonder why is it he that comes to my mind ... that we construct our sense of self-identity, not from our actual and family backgrounds, but from what we have discovered for ourselves; and not infrequently in reaction against our real and fearfully prosaic individual inheritances. Is it all to do with the cultural disintegration of this period?

I plead guilty to being myself a prime example of this embarrassing phenomenon of radical inauthenticity. I have always regarded myself as a Latin Catholic, deeply rooted in Classical Antiquity, but at home in ancient Rome while only a sympathetic visitor in ancient Athens ... where my wife, so much more of a Hellenist, is at home. Classicism Baptised makes me feel profoundly the product of the latinate culture and Liturgy which has shaped Western Europe for centuries. I am not, subjectively, in the least English; in fact ... well, Waugh once described me rather acutely in his account of Scott-King, another equally dim classics master: " ... he was filled, suddenly, with deep homesickness for the South. He had not often nor for long visited those enchanted lands; a dozen times, perhaps, for a few weeks ... but his treasure and his heart lay buried there. Hot oil and garlic and spilled wine; luminous pinnacles above a dusky wall; fireworks at night, fountains at noonday; the shepherd's pipe on the scented hillside ... he had left his coin in the waters of Trevi; he had wedded the Adriatic; he was a Mediterranean man." Hot oil and garlic and spilled wine ... ah, how that tugs at me even now while I sit here tapping at my computer in the chilly English autumn. My carnal temptations are to reach for Ovid's Metamorphoses when I should be saying my Office and to dream about Tiepolo ceilings while I should be making my meditation.  I rarely pass through London without going to gaze upon the statue of S Pius V, the Victor of Lepanto and the Author of Regnans in excelsis. He stands on the right hand side of the Lady Altar at Brompton; originally, with its spectacular North Italian pietra dura, from Brescia. It is where, through the generosity of the Provost, I said my first Mass in Full Communion with the See of Rome, before going across the road with two immensely dear friends from Papa Stronsay, and the brilliant, the convivial, Father Ray, to eat a French lunch and to drink a lot of French wine.

My father, on the other hand, was a British naval officer who was otherly romantic and squandered his affections on crooks like Drake and Raleigh; who loathed Irish, frogs, papists, waps, and dagoes; who entertained suspicions about people who mispronounced Trafalgar; and who had an enormous picture of Nelson upon his wall.

11 comments:

umblepie said...


Strange how your description of your father, with his likes and dislikes, makes him, to me a very endearing person, yet I do not share his views. There is something about him which is eminently reassuring, dare I say something 'British', something of the 'old school', to which we owe a great deal.

Unknown said...

Did your father prefer to say "TrafalGAR"? Just as the dagoes do?

Tony

Thomas said...

And when white dawn crawled through the wood,
Like cold foam of a flood,
Then weakened every warrior's mood,
In hope, though not in hardihood;
And each man sorrowed as he stood
In the fashion of his blood.

For the Saxon Franklin sorrowed
For the things that had been fair;
For the dear dead woman, crimson-clad,
And the great feasts and the friends he had;
But the Celtic prince's soul was sad
For the things that never were.

...

A proud man was the Roman,
His speech a single one,
But his eyes were like an eagle's eyes
That is staring at the sun.
"Dig for me where I die," he said,
"If first or last I fall —
Dead on the fell at the first charge,
Or dead by Wantage wall;

"Lift not my head from bloody ground,
Bear not my body home,
For all the earth is Roman earth
And I shall die in Rome."

from Ballad of The White Horse by G.K. Chesterton

Rubricarius said...

But how could your father, or anyone, dislike frogs? They are such charming, simple, creatures whose frolics on a sunny spring day are a delight to behold. One of the few things I have achieved in life is the estalbishement of a small breeding colony of Rana temporaria over the last 35 years - my bit for conservation.

Banshee said...

H.P. Lovecraft, the noted "cosmic horror" writer from Providence, Rhode Island, liked to think of himself as an English gentleman of the 17th century. He even wrote a period guidebook to Montreal, Quebec in this persona.

Banshee said...

I should mention, if you've never read Lovecraft, that his horror, fantasy, and science fiction stories set in New England are notorious for simultaneously being very alienated from it and showing a very exact eye for its beauties and strangeness. You can't think of a more local writer for any of the places where he lived and set stories. He's so American in all his worries, but not in his personal fantasy life.

Wunderbar said...

Father, I am quite aware that this happens to be some kind of a Britannic in-house, introspective meeting, so excuse me to be so cad (!) but i would like to remember an old post on your blog.

http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.com.ar/2014/10/chesterton-for-october-7.html

When it was published I found it so fine that I passed it to Spanish.
And, by the way, the GK Chesterton canonization cause was presented and started in Buenos Aires. That was before these times so cad.

austin said...

TRAffle-guh. Prosody of older poems as evidence:

Branwell Bronte:

They gaze on six and thirty years ago,
They see where fell the ‘thunderbolt of war’
On the storm-swollen waves of Trafalgar.

George Meredith:

Uprose the soul of him a star
On that brave day of Ocean days:
It rolled the smoke of Trafalgar
To darken Austerlitz ablaze

Mariana said...

I tried to post this earlier, but got to a funny page....

I come from a long line of Anglophiles. I forget the context, but once I said to my mother something ending with '...and the battles of Poitiers, Crecy and Agincourt.' To which my mother: 'But those were battles we lost!' Explanation: my mother went to a French convent school.

And I'm all for garlic in hot oil.

Traffle-guh? I had no idea...

John the Mad said...

As a former Canadian senior Royal Canadian Air Force officer I regard naval battles with some suspicion. I was present by happenstance at Trafalgar Square on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar .... however pronounced. Aa a young lieutenant in 1971 (draft dodger Trudeau the Elder having forced airforce and navy personnel to adopt army ranks - a misery since corrected for the Royal Canadian Navy, but not the RCAF. ) I had arrived in London without arranging accommodation. A RAF LAC came over and struck up a conversation and he said I could be put up at the Union Jack club. We decamped for there in a cab.

A pre-requisite to signing in to the club, however was to show my military ID card. They were horrified that a commissioned officer would attempt to worm his way into an NCO haunt. I had no idea it was a place unfit for my snotty station in life. They recommended I contact the Nuffield Club, (a commissioned officers club) which I did. The RAF LAC and I went on a heroic bender through the London pubs. I don't recall buying any drinks. Londoners kept coming up to me shaking my hand and saying "hello Canada let me buy you a pint." They were thanking me for the RCAF efforts in WWII. As a young man I was very moved by that ... and the LAC was delighted at the free beer. The kindness of the English to this Papist, Irish Canadian RCAF officer is something I'll never forget.

And yes (sigh) Francis is our pope.

Richard Tomlinson said...

The Brits always pronounce things differently. I once asked a friend from Oxford, "Do you know Fr. Hunwicke?" And he replied, Oh, you mean Fr. Hunnick!"