Sligger Urquhart and Sikh, Balliol, c 1914; Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart, Album 7; photograph © Balliol College, Oxford; used with permission
Mr Samgrass in Brideshead Revisited, Sillery in A Dance to the Music of Time and Irwin in The History Boys are cited by Jacob Heilbrunn as “overweening” fictional historians in a review of Adam Sisman, Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2010, in the The National Interest, September-October.
The model for Samgrass (All Souls) is usually said to be Maurice Bowra (Wadham), but he must have had elements of FF (“Sligger”) Urquhart, the snobbish homosexual Dean of Balliol from 1918 to 1934, in him. Some have suggested Isaiah Berlin (All Souls), who was perhaps more of a social snob than Bowra. It is impossible for people now to know what Bowra’s social reputation was based on. The best that can be said of his reported jokes is that one had to be there. But the impression he made on generations of undergraduates and others was deep.
Anthony Powell (Balliol) was a pupil of Urquhart, which Waugh (Hertford) was not. He also knew Bowra, I think, better than Waugh did. He placed Sillery in a setting based on Urquhart’s salon (is a college named?), but denied drawing on him otherwise. He also denied modelling him on Bowra. He seems, rather, to have used Sir Ernest Barker, who wasn’t an Oxford man.
The model for Alan Bennett’s Irwin (teaches at a fictional school in Sheffield, but an Oxford man) seems to have been Niall Ferguson (Jesus and elsewhere).
CRMF Cruttwell, dean of Hertford, gained a kind of immortality by having various dubious and very unacademic characters in several of Waugh’s pre-war novels named after him. Sniggs and Postlethwaite in Decline and Fall are too sketchy to be based on anyone.
Sligger had been a model for Walter Pater’s “imaginary portrait” Emerald Uthwart, published in The New Review in 1892. Waugh even acted him in a silent film, The Scarlet Woman, that he made as an undergraduate, and he draws a portrait of him in his biography of Ronald Knox. Horace Slughorn in the Harry Potter books may be distantly related to him. For Toynbee, Urquhart was the archetypal college-bound historian. The prospect of his own career taking such a path horrified him.
I mentioned Urquhart in a post called Balliol, Trinity Term 1914, one of the better posts here. There are now over 2,000 photos by or of him in the Balliol archive at Flickr (Urquhart albums 1, 6, 7, 8 and 9, more than when I did the earlier post), some taken in Oxford, some abroad, often at the chalet which his father had built in the valley of Chamonix, to which Sligger brought many visitors. It became known as the Chalet des Anglais. There are a few at Balliol College Archives. “Every available inch of mantelpiece and walls [in Urquhart’s rooms] was covered with photographs of previous generations of undergraduates”: Humphrey Carpenter, The Brideshead Generation.
If the overweening Trevor-Roper has not yet been the model for a fictional character, then one day he will be. Alan Bennett improbably acted him in the 1991 ITV half-comic drama-documentary about the Hitler diaries fiasco, Selling Hitler.
Toynbee was not a social climber or snob, but married into the family which owned Castle Howard. As an undergraduate at Oxford, he came to know the Regius Professor of Greek (the chair was at Christ Church), Gilbert Murray, who was married to Mary Howard (1865-1956), daughter of the Earl of Carlisle. In March 1910 he was invited to visit the family seat (Vanbrugh). Lady Mary’s parents were living, but the 9th Earl died in 1911, leaving the Dowager Countess (née Stanley) the head of the family. In September 1913 Toynbee married the Murrays’ daughter Rosalind.
Rosalind’s alcoholic, left-leaning brother Basil is said to have been the model for Waugh’s anti-hero Basil Seal in Black Mischief and Put Out More Flags. And Nancy Mitford writes to Evelyn Waugh on September 12 1964: “Ph Toynbee [Toynbee’s son] [...] seems to be a re-incarnation of old Baz” (Charlotte Mosley, editor, The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, Hodder and Stoughton, 1996).
Trevor-Roper’s snobberies were rampant, but they did not prevent him, as they should have, from mocking Toynbee thus (The Prophet, review of McNeill’s biography of Toynbee, New York Review of Books, October 12 1989):
“There was a good chance, given the countess’s power and whims, that this favorite granddaughter might ultimately inherit Castle Howard and the great estate which went with it. Then the financial circumstances of the Toynbees would change. They would live in aristocratic grandeur, entertaining the great and writing immortal works.”
Toynbee and Rosalind joined the Labour Party in 1918 (they abandoned it around 1922; Toynbee would vote Liberal thereafter). The Khaki election and the eclipse of the Liberal Party were “an intolerable and unexpected turn of the screw” for the Countess. “Those who had abandoned the Liberal cause and joined with Labour counted as nothing less than traitors in her eyes; and, of course, Toynbee and Rosalind were among the guilty.” Quotations from McNeill.
The Countess would write to him on May 2 1919 and rail against “the great catastrophe of the election”. “And after all what have you to do with Castle Howard? This beautiful place so lovable for those who accept it with a simple affection and clear conscience – but such a jarring false note, such a mockery for those who have joined the ranks of the people who have declared war on such as we, who dwell in great rooms filled with private galleries of books and pictures. Is it not anathema to your comrades? Then why come here?”
May 6: “I understand that you and Rosalind enrolled yourselves in the Labour Party last winter: that party is fighting hard the Liberals (sic) and will smash us if they can. … I have been an intense passionate lover of my Liberal creed and party all my life long. … If I were to have as my guests … those who belong to a party that seeks to compass our destruction, there could be no vivid, helpful, comforting talk for me. We should have to keep off political subjects and that would make intercourse very unreal and dry and very different from our old breezy, happy times.”
One is reminded of Forster. Howards End, no less. Who would inherit England? If Castle Howard could be called England.
The Toynbees never did inherit Castle Howard. The teetotal Dowager, who died in 1921, left it to her teetotal daughter Mary, not to her sons or to the grandson, the 11th Earl (1895-1963), who had inherited the earldom in 1912; but the Murrays declined the inheritance. It passed to the Dowager’s only surviving son, Geoffrey Howard (1877-1935), in whose family it has remained. Toynbee and his wife got a smaller house next door, Ganthorpe Hall, and do not appear to have resented the Murrays for their decision.
Castle Howard was made into Brideshead in both the good eleven-hour 1980 ITV adaptation and bad 2008 film adaptation of Waugh’s novel. The description of Brideshead doesn’t match Castle Howard exactly (there is a dome at Castle Howard, but no columns), but it is close enough.
The film is bad because, like many others, it substitutes vague atmospherics for drama and acting. Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain is a kind of short-cut and conveys nothing of the class or period. Matthew Goode is a vacuous Charles Ryder. But the main error is that Julian Jarrold has decided that the story is about “guilt”. “Catholic guilt.” Sebastian’s problem may be “guilt”, but “guilt” is not part of Christian moral thinking and was not in Waugh’s mind. Waugh’s theme was: “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters”.
Perhaps it is as well that Toynbee did not live permanently in Castle Howard or his
Ambition with a great screaming A
(letter to Robert Darbishire, January 30 1910) might have got out of hand. He might have seemed even more eccentric. Kenneth Clark wondered on television in a gallery in the Vatican whether “a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room”. He added in the book: “except, perhaps, in the reading room of the British Museum”.
Toynbee to Robert Darbishire, Saturday March 5 1910:
I am going off to-day week with Gilbert Murray to Castle Howard, a fenced city of his parents-in-law, somewhere in Yorkshire. I wonder if Lady Carlysle (is it so spelt?) will be in residence? – like Lady Mary, I am told, plus temperance, raised to the tenth power. It will be very amusing and delightful.
Sebastian drives Charles to Brideshead on a “cloudless” day in June 1923. Toynbee arrived on March 12 1910 in equally sunny, but colder, weather; but
The Sun makes up for all.
Earlier in the same letter to Darbishire:
It is a great and marvellous place, early 18th century style on the vast scale, with pictures and lakes and statues and libraries and all manner of things.
Lady Carlysle is obviously a mighty force, but not, perhaps, so formidable. Would though that I was less entirely at sea about politics [footnote: Lady Carlisle was intensely interested in social causes; cf. West, Gilbert Murray: A Life, pp. 25-27.] – domestic matters, I mean, for I only read the foreign sheet of the Times, while police courts, cabinet crises, football leagues, and such “own dirty linen” I eschew. However, I shall doubtless know plenty about home politics before I go away. Do you like Canalettos? They cover all the walls in the room where we eat [Toynbee on Canaletto] – I won’t call it the dining room, for there are at least twenty like it. There are also Wattses [he describes a Watts in Experiences], and crowds of nice solid books of the eighty years ago kind.
Altogether, it is more peaceful, and less of a “fearful joy” [Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College] than I expected.
In 1913 he would spend his honeymoon there.
1980 music by Geoffrey Burgon.
Apropos the picture at the top: Balliol had Indian connections. In 1853 entry to the Indian Civil Service was opened through a competitive exam. Many applicants passed through Balliol. Toynbee’s uncle, the original Arnold, had been tutor there in charge of ICS candidates. In the early twentieth century (or before?: the first Indian(s) at Oxford had arrived in 1871) Balliol admitted a number of Indian and other Asian students, which strengthened the contrast between Balliol and its more socially conservative rival Trinity. The Boden Chair of Sanskrit (established 1831) has been attached to Balliol since 1880.
Sligger and friend, c 1914; Balliol College Archives, FF Urquhart, Album 7; photograph © Balliol College, Oxford; used with permission
Christian B Peper, editor, An Historian’s Conscience, The Correspondence of Arnold J. Toynbee and Columba Cary-Elwes, Monk of Ampleforth, with a Foreword by Lawrence L Toynbee, OUP, by arrangement with Beacon Press, Boston, 1986, posthumous