Evelyn Waugh and the Magi 

Evelyn Waugh and the Magi

Some Christmas thoughts. I'm trying to find a quote in Waugh's letters. For now:


And this: a Prayer for the Magi:

“ ‘Like me,’ writes Waugh, ‘you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before. Even the cattle, they had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you, the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed, and a new defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars. How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating where the shepherds are run barefoot. How odd you looked on the road attended by what outlandish liveries laden with such preposterous gifts. You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you, and what did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod with a deadly exchange of compliments which there began that unending war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent. Yet, still, you came and were not turned away. You, too, found room before the manger. Your gifts were not exactly needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass. You were my special patrons and the patrons of all late comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the obscure truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who, through politeness, make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talent. For him, who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delegate. Let them not quite be forgotten at the throne of God when the end comes to their kingdom.’ ”

UPDATE: Found it shorter and neater in the letters. Not an easy book to find things in. In this case, not included in references to book about Helena (from which the prayer comes), no reference in index to Gospels or Magi. Now I see I should have looked under Epiphany. Sigh.

To Laura Waugh, January 9, 1945 (Evelyn still at war):

[blockquote]Have you ever considered how the Epiphany is the feast of artists. I thought so very strongly this year. After St. Joseph and the angels and the shepherds and even the ox and the ass have had their share of the crib, twelve days later appears an exotic caravan with negro pages and ostrich plumes. They have come an enormous journey across a desert and the splendid gifts look much less splendid than they did when they were being packed in Babylon. The wise men committed every sort of betise--even asking the way of Herod & provoking the massacre of the innocents--but they got there in the end and their gifts were accepted.[/blockquote]

I have always detested Christmas. Now I shall always celebrate the Epiphany instead.

This is very moving to me. Those of us who pride ourselves on some kind of taste, accomplishment, wisdom, feel compelled to pay homage, do so the best way we can, which turns out to be ridiculous or worse, yet we are accepted.

There are lots of references in the letters to Waugh's hatred of Christmas, especially having a lot of kids around.

Then this, from A Tourist in Africa (1960): The opening:

[blockquote]28th December 1958. On the third day after Christmas we commemorate the massacre of the Holy Innocents. Few candid fathers, I suppose, can regard that central figure of slate in Breughel's painting in Antwerp [i.e. Herod] without being touched by sympathy. After the holly and sticky sweetmeats, cold steel.[/blockquote]

Waugh announces with some pride that he made a point of vacationing, alone, beginning a few days after Christmas, for many years.

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