Straight to Thel’

Here’s an old essay of mine from the 1990s. It was deliberately written in a pompous and convoluted academic style, but I decided it was a bit too pompous and convoluted, and have toned it down accordingly. The subtitle is a reference to both Athanasius contra Mundum, “Athanasius against the world”, and “Sebastian contra mundum”, a section of Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited.


Total Waugh: Contra Immundum

Quoniam dicebant: Spiritum immundum habet.

   Evangelium secundum Marcum, III, xxx.

Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.

   Gospel According to Mark, 3:30.

A little over three decades ago Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) died on the lavatory from the cumulative effects of excessive drinking and drug-taking. If he is at this moment peering exophthalmicly down on the earth from the traditional Roman Catholic heaven he espoused in his lifetime, he would not be pleased by any comparison with the death of a rather more famous American: and yes, such a comparison would be most unjust. Waugh’s excesses were in “bromide and chloral and crème de menthe”;1 he did not eat hamburgers, nor did he wear satin jump-suits, nor was he a cretin who happened to have a pleasant negro-effect singing voice; and his point of departure for the hereafter was a country house in Somerset called Combe Florey. But his death was, like Elvis Presley’s, an undignified and more than faintly ludicrous one.

Death and the Mortician

And perhaps also a just one. Death in Evelyn Waugh’s novels very often takes undignified and ludicrous forms: in Decline and Fall, a prison chaplain is butchered with woodworking tools; in Black Mischief, the daughter of an English diplomat is served up to an ex-lover at a cannibal feast; in A Handful of Dust, an English lord of the manor finds a living death imprisoned by a jungle patriarch with a taste for readings from Dickens; in The Loved One, a semi-literate American mortuary cosmetician commits suicide by injecting herself with poison, and is disposed of in an animal crematorium. Waugh was a cruel man, a bully and a snob, and what happens to his characters very often reflects his character. Just as the works of the Marquis de Sade are partly wish-fulfilment fantasies of gross sexual power, so the works of Evelyn Waugh are partly wish-fulfilment fantasies of gross social power.

They are, for example, full of ironies and barbs and sniggers at social upstarts or outsiders. Trimmer, Beaver, and Atwater, the great triumvirate of Waughian Untermenschen,2 are detestable because they are not gentlemen and do not know how to behave when they try to be. Nor, of course, would the working classes: they however are not detestable, merely ludicrous, because they at least know their place.

Given that Waugh was a snob and a bully, that he was also a reactionary Roman Catholic is perhaps not surprising. Given that he was a very intelligent man, with an acute sense of the ridiculous, perhaps this is surprising. Waugh took very little seriously. He disliked and distrusted (temporal) authority and those who exercised it:

[M]any of the motives which make us sacrifice to toil the innocent enjoyment of leisure … are amongst the most ignoble — pride, avarice, emulation, vainglory and the appetite for power over others.3

and satirized it and them (he was certainly a conservative, but more in an aesthetic and economic sense than in a political). He disliked and distrusted modernism and modernists:

His strongest tastes were negative. He disliked plastics, Picasso, sunbathing, and jazz — everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime.4

and satirized it and them with gusto. Perhaps he also disliked and distrusted himself, for he took himself as little seriously as he took almost everything else, and satirized himself mercilessly in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. He seemed to take only two things seriously: the English language, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Condemning Catholicism

I can understand, and am very grateful for, his attitude to the former; his attitude to the latter once puzzled me. The Roman Catholic Church is not now, and never has been, a humane or intellectually respectable institution. I would call it and many of the things it teaches at best grotesque and at worst evil. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example, one of its chief propaganda weapons, was perhaps in herself a worthy, even a saintly person. She believed, however, that it is infinitely preferable for human beings to be born and starve to death than for them to be aborted or prevented by contraception.

Perhaps this sort of thinking came easily to a mind trained, as young Roman Catholic minds were before the Second Vatican Council, in the doctrine that eternal damnation can be yours for the price of a small mortal sin. The death-camps of the Nazis, overseen by a hierarchy of which a startlingly high proportion were brought up as Roman Catholics,5 endured some dozen years; Hell, the death-camp of the Roman Catholic God, endures for ever. The Roman Catholic Church still teaches this doctrine of infinite punishment for finite transgression with other uncouth absurdities; many, in some countries most, of its professed adherents no longer apply its teachings in everyday life; in time it will succumb to the decadence that is already rooted in it (and that is now in full, glorious flower in the Church of England).

Orwell explains

But it was not decadent for most of Waugh’s life, and Waugh seemed to accept all of its traditional doctrines fully. He converted in 1930; in 1935, he wrote a biography of the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion6 in which one learns a great deal about the cruelties practised by the youthful Church of England on those who refused to renounce Roman Catholicism, the age-old faith of these islands. During the period covered by the book, the St. Bartholomew’s massacre took place in Paris.7 This is noted in passing

He [William Cecil, chief adviser to Elizabeth I] had not foreseen the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, which had broken the supremacy of the Huguenots …8

The supremacy of the Huguenots was “broken” by the murder, with great savagery, of thousands of men, women, and children. On hearing the news, the deeply pious King of Spain, Philip II, was seen to smile for the first time in years, and the Pope, Pius V, ordered a medal struck in celebratory commemoration.9 Waugh mentions none of this, and none of the semi-genocidal activities of the Spanish army in the Netherlands over the period.

The concept of double-think is perhaps useful in explaining these omissions. In 1984, Orwell wrote

“It [the Newspeak word “blackwhite”] means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white … This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought … known in Newspeak as doublethink“.10

A further example of doublethink would perhaps be to believe that the persecution of Roman Catholics by Protestants proves that Protestantism is wrong, while the persecution of Protestants by Roman Catholics proves that Roman Catholicism is right. Orwell, who recognized the Roman Catholic Church for what it was, almost certainly drew on the psychology of the religious as well as the political believer in formulating the concept. It is not, however, the only or even a necessary means of explaining Waugh’s apparently irrational religious beliefs. It may not be, as I shall try to demonstrate, the true means.

Preposterously short

The first step I made towards discovering what possibly were Waugh’s true motives for becoming a Roman Catholic was not a literal one. On holiday in the Seychelles last year, I was re-reading his collected journalism and came upon a passage, a notice from the Oxford university paper Isis, that had not caught my attention before:

LOST, LOST, O LOST: Mr Evelyn Waugh regrets to announce he has lost a walking-stick made of oak, preposterously short with a metal band around it. It is a thing of no possible value to anyone but himself; for him it is an incalculable loss. If it should fall into the hands of any kindly or honest man or woman, will he or she bring it to the Isis office, and what so poor man as Mr Waugh is can do, shall not be lacking.11

For some reason, on this occasion, my attention was caught — and held. I read the passage through several times, not quite sure why I did so. I was conscious of only one strong impression, which was that in spite of its jocular air the notice seemed to indicate a very strong desire on Waugh’s part to be re-united with his stick. The stick is mentioned again in Anthony Powell’s Oxford memoirs, The Infants of Spring:

Evelyn Waugh … was excluded from [the Hypocrites’ Club12 at this period for having smashed up a good deal of the Club’s furniture with the heavy stick he always carried [London, 1976, pg. 154; my emphasis]

Why was a stick heavy enough to smash pre-war furniture “always carried” by its owner? Unless he was joking about his own lack of height, why should Waugh describe a stick that was “preposterously short” as a walking-stick? And what was the significance of the metal band?

One possible, absurd answer is that the stick was a magic wand or talisman. The term immediately conjures up laughable Tinkerbellesque or Enid-Blytonian associations. If one tries to purge one’s mind of these and take the term in an austere, occultic sense, it has to be admitted that the equation “stick = magic wand” answers all the questions raised by the Isis notice and extract from Anthony Powell’s autobiography. Nonetheless, it remains absurd. What possible connexion could there have been between Evelyn Waugh and the Black (or even the White) Arts? None, surely? A passage from his part-autobiography, A Little Learning (1964), proves that this is not so. Waugh is describing his life immediately after Oxford:

I also wrote some pages of a novel I had begun … it was named The Temple At Thatch and concerned an undergraduate who inherited a property of which nothing was left except an eighteenth-century classical folly where he set up house and, I think, practised black magic.13

This slight doubt about the plot is not found in a letter he wrote in 1925, shortly before beginning the novel:

I am going to write a little novel … “The Temple At Thatch” … about madness and magic.14

Waugh did what he had written he would. He sent the manuscript for comment to Harold Acton (1904-94), a friend whose aesthetic judgment he trusted. Acton was not enthusiastic and Waugh “took the exercise book in which the chapters were written and consigned it to the furnace of the school boiler.”15 The school was in north Wales, at Llanddulas, where Waugh was working as an assistant master and where, from his own words, his first attempt at a novel seems to have been drawing on the experience of his days at Oxford. A great deal has been written, by Waugh himself, by his contemporaries, by his later commentators, about those days, but some important evidence is gone for ever. Waugh kept a diary during his time at Oxford, but part of it is no longer available to us:

I have been living very intensely the last three weeks. For the past fortnight I have been nearly insane … My diary for the period is destroyed … I may perhaps one day … tell you of some of the things that have happened. It will make strange reading in the biography.16

Christopher Sykes’s biography of Waugh describes his going through an “extreme homosexual phase [at Oxford] … unrestrained, emotionally and physically”.17 Were entries pertaining to this period what prompted Waugh to destroy the diary? Quite probably yes — in part. But there may have been something more, something that would later provide material for his first novel: some kind of involvement in the occult.

Wild honey in the wilderness

That the extremity of this period may have taken in more than homosexuality is suggested by another letter Waugh wrote at the time to Dudley Carew, an old friend from Lancing, in which he said

St. John has been eating wild honey in the wilderness. I do not yet know how things are going to end. They are nearing some sort of finality. One day I will tell you things to surprise you and sell an edition of the biography if faithfully recorded.

St. John’s “eating wild honey” is a playful reference to Waugh’s less well-known second Christian name and to John the Baptist, of whom the New Testament says this: “John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:4; see also Mark 1:6). It is also, very likely, a reference to homosexual activity. However, the remaining lines are not so easy to interpret as references to this. How can sexual indulgence be regarded as “nearing some kind of finality”? On the assumption that St. John’s “wild honey” refers to the pleasures of non-penetrative activities like fellatio and mutual masturbation, these words may refer to an impending decision as to whether or not to indulge in full homosexual intercourse, and yet they seem rather hyperbolic to bear this interpretation — particularly in the light of what follows. Why should Dudley Carew, a contemporary and great admirer of Waugh at Lancing, be surprised by Waugh’s participation in homosexual activity? Because Waugh had not, like so many others, indulged in it at Lancing?

If so, why should the circumstances of Waugh’s participation at Oxford help to sell the biography Carew had long intended to write? That many young men were homosexually active for a period was taken for granted by those of Waugh’s or Carew’s public-school background; that those same young men should make public admission of this fact in later life was certainly not. Homosexual practice was illegal at the time, and would remain so for decades; by the vast majority of those forming the market for Waugh’s putative biography, it would have been regarded as sordid and shameful, as Waugh himself must surely have recognized.

Mass appeal madness

Yet the strains evident in the interpretation of these words as references to homosexuality disappear when one assumes that they refer instead to participation in the occult. Among the book-reading public of the day, and of many days to come, the occult was very popular: the novelist Dennis Wheatley enjoyed enormous success with books like The Devil Rides Out (1934), in which a black mass is celebrated near Stonehenge and there is a euphemistic but unambiguous description of black magicians pissing into a chalice containing pieces of holy wafer.

Such things were sordid, certainly, but also fascinating, and one could easily imagine a biography containing details of Waugh’s undergraduate dabbling in the occult provoking great interest. The dabbling need not be taken seriously, nor would it be an admission of participation in anything illegal: it would seem perversely sophisticated, rather than simply perverse. Given the hedonistic cynicism he was cultivating, if Waugh was aware of and being invited to join in occult practice at Oxford, he might very well have expressed himself in the words given above.

The assumption that he did see some participation in the occult bears exegetic fruit not only here, then, but also in the plot of The Temple At Thatch, in his destruction of his diary, and even in his concern at the loss of a heavy stick. It may also be usefully applied to his conversion to Roman Catholicism, which can now be seen as a reaction to, or even a flight from, memories of his involvement, which may have been a far more frightening or intense experience than he had anticipated. That he chose to enter the Roman Catholic church rather than resume the practice of Anglicanism, in which he was born and brought up, adds weight to this reading. A reaction against a mildly affecting involvement in the occult might send one into a mild faith but defecting Satanists, like defecting communists, seem more naturally to become Roman Catholics than to become Anglicans. It must be remembered, of course, particularly in the case of an imaginative and aesthetically sensitive person like Waugh, that to be affected by an experience is not necessarily to have been a direct participant in it.

Straight to Thel’

Evidence for Waugh’s involvement in the occult nonetheless remains. More can be added to what has already been presented: the most direct (and least known) available to date is perhaps best approached through a more famous work. In Brideshead Revisited, the flamboyant, stuttering, homosexual aesthete Anthony Blanche is described as having “practised black art in Cefalù”.18 Cefalù, a small town in Sicily, is a shorthand for Aleister Crowley’s infamous Abbey of Thelema, which was based nearby. Later in the novel, the narrator’s lover Sebastian Flyte signs off a letter with the phrase “Love or what you will”, which is a hidden reference to two famous dicta of Crowley’s — as we shall shortly see.

Elsewhere, Waugh referred to Crowley directly. In A Little Learning he speaks of his election as secretary to the Hypocrites’ Club12 and continues:

My predecessor in the office, Loveday, had left the university suddenly to study black magic. He died in mysterious circumstances in Alistair [sic] Crowley’s community and his widow, naming herself “Tiger Woman”, figured for some time in the popular press, where she made “disclosures” of the goings-on at Cefalu [sic].”19

Later he speaks of the hostess of many of the parties he attended in London after leaving Oxford:

There was Mary Butts, a genial, voluptuous lady of the avant-garde who wrote short stories and at the time consorted with a man who had been in Alistair Crowley’s black-magical circle at Cefalu.19

It is possible that his acquaintance with Crowley was not entirely third-hand, as we can see from examination of a short story called “A Step Off The Map” that he wrote in 1933. Waugh’s short stories are not particularly good, for the most part, and “Out of Depth”, as “A Step Off…” was later renamed, does not stand out even amongst them for its literary merit. It is however of extraordinary interest from the point of view of this article, for it describes a dinner party encounter had by a lapsed American Catholic with a man called Jagger (later renamed Kakophilos, Greek for “lover of evil”)20 who is unmistakably based on Crowley: “an elderly, large man, quite bald, with a vast white face that spread down and out far beyond the normal limits … a little crimson smirking mouth”. The American, who is named Rip after Rip van Winkle, is introduced to the bald man, who quotes the two most famous dicta of Crowley’s new religion of Thelema (Greek θέλημα, meaning “will”):

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,” said Dr Kakophilos, in a thin Cockney voice.

“Eh?”

“There is no need to reply. If you wish to, it is correct to say, Love is the Law, Love under will.'”

“I see.”

Rip does not take Kakophilos or his dicta seriously, but finds himself unable to resist the force of his personality and becomes involved in an occult experiment that projects him five hundred years into the future, to a London in which “[g]reat flats of mud, submerged at high water, stretched to his feet over the Strand”. Europe has reverted to barbarism; Rip is treated almost as a pet by the savages inhabiting the ruins of London, and is eventually presented to a party of black African anthropologists for study at a coastal military base. He finds only one sane and familiar thing in this new world: a Roman Catholic mass conducted in Latin by a black priest at the base. Somehow he returns to the Twentieth Century. The story ends with him speaking with another Roman Catholic priest in most curious fashion, considering that his involvement in the time-hop had been quite involuntary:

“Father,” said Rip, “I want to make a confession… I have experimented in black art…”21

The story is not well-known. According to Martin Stannard’s study of Waugh’s life to 1939,22 it is now out of print. It was substantially revised for inclusion in Waugh’s short story collection Mr Loveday’s Little Outing and Other Sad Stories (Chapman and Hall, 1936) and “Waugh did not include it in Penguin Books’ Work Suspended and Other Stories (Harmondsworth, 1947)”.23 Did its autobiographical elements become embarrassing to him as time passed? Margot Metroland and Alastair Trumpington, characters from his early romans à clef, appear in the story, and though Rip is named from the time-travelling Rip Van Winkle, is it entirely fanciful to see a resemblance between this harsh and somewhat violent monosyllable and that of Waugh’s own surname?

Missing from the collection

Perhaps not. But on more prosaic grounds his neglect of the story is not inexplicable: it is not very good, and seems to have been written partly as emotional catharsis following the break-up of his first marriage — “a period of considerable anxiety”.23 However, this latter fact may point again towards autobiography. Perhaps Waugh found this period of anxiety bringing to mind a similar one at Oxford, and perhaps the story drew on relevant memories.

The link between Oxford and Crowley has already been presented in the extract from Brideshead Revisited. The exegesis of this extract is, however, incomplete. Anthony Blanche was based, by Waugh’s own admission, on Harold Acton,24 to whom, as has already been described, Waugh sent his first novel for comment. We are now in a position to see rather more in this fact. Was Waugh interested merely in Acton’s aesthetic judgment, or also, and perhaps more importantly, in Acton’s occult expertise? Was Waugh’s introduction to the “black art” made through Acton? Was Acton’s unenthusiastic response to The Temple At Thatch based less on the book’s artistic demerits than on the fact that it revealed too much, was too indiscreet?

An obvious way of trying to answer such a question would be to consult the letter in which Acton passed judgment on The Temple at Thatch. Part of this read: “Too English for my exotic taste. Too much nid-nodding over port. It should be printed in a few elegant copies for the friends who love you.” Or so Waugh gave the world to believe. The letter itself cannot contradict him, for it seems to be no longer extant. Christopher Sykes, discussing it in his biography of Waugh, suggests that Acton’s judgment was “a hard blow and it may be significant that, though Evelyn kept all his letters from Harold Acton, this particular letter is missing from the collection.”25 Significant certainly, but precisely how? Is it likely that Acton had participated with Waugh in occultic practice, and so should be consulted by Waugh on a literary fruit of this? Evidence that strengthens the case for the participation of them both is found in Humphrey Carpenter’s The Brideshead Generation, a polybiography that presents a far more detailed picture of the Oxford of Waugh’s day than any book devoted specifically to Waugh:

Emlyn Williams [an Oxford contemporary of Waugh’s] … records that lurid gossip was circulating about the Hypocrites, such as ‘they’re supposed to eat new-born babies cooked in wine.’26

Acton was the leading light of the Hypocrites, Waugh a prominent acolyte. Yet there is, I feel, no need to assume that this gossip is literally true, for it is typical of the hyperbole associated with such aspects of the occult as worship of the devil, whether serious or pretended. It is in fact reminiscent of the gossip that circulated two hundred years before about Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hell-Fire Club, another group of hedonistic, dissolute, and aristocratic young men.

Imputing the occult

In those days, however, when non-attendance at church, let alone religious heterodoxy, was regarded as shocking and devilish, the gossip was likely to be have been excited by rather less than its equivalent in Waugh’s day. The Hypocrites would have had to do rather more to excite the gossip of their day, and so it was likely to contain more truth, without, of course, necessarily being entirely true. One may dabble in the occult without worshipping the devil, and one may worship the devil without eating new-born babies cooked in wine. But if one is rumoured to have done the last in a period in which the occult was attracting increasing participation, the likelihood of one’s having done the first is not negligible.

I believe that I have by now established that the imputation of some involvement in the occult to the reactionary Roman Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh is not so ludicrous as it might at first have appeared. This involvement nonetheless remains speculatory, and that it may have extended to the point of participation in satanic ritual or devil-worship can only be more so. And yet if it is, for the sake of argument, taken as a donnée of Waugh’s experience, much light is cast on aspects of his adult character, and certain remarks made both by him and by his acquaintances assume new significance.

As his brother-in-law Auberon Herbert recognised and said, Evelyn Waugh could be “an awful shit”. Waugh recognised this himself, and would claim, on being taxed with the gulf between his behaviour and the demands of his religion, that if he had not been a Roman Catholic he would have been far worse. The phrase he chose was “scarcely human”. Roman Catholicism was for him a defence against the malevolence he knew to be within himself. Cyril Connolly had made a similar observation. In an article he prepared on Waugh but never published, he said that

Waugh’s Catholicism was a force that saved him from … this “demon of destructiveness” … “which might otherwise have destroyed him”.27

The metaphor chosen here need not be seen as of particular significance, and yet it occurs elsewhere in reaction to Waugh’s behaviour. At one period, Waugh made strenuous efforts to persuade John Betjeman to become a Catholic, warning him again and again of the literal damnation that awaited him if he remained extra Ecclesiam, or “outside” the One True Church. Betjeman’s wife Penelope told Waugh that his propagandizing had affected her husband badly: “[he] thinks you are the devil and wakes up in the middle of the night and raves”.28 Again a jocular comment, but again it uses a diabolic metaphor. Such metaphors are not exhausted. There is a curious passage in Christopher Sykes’ biography describing how

Evelyn had long been an admirer of Hilaire Belloc [and] asked Duff [Cooper, husband of Diana] if he would introduce him to the great man … When the appointed day came around, Evelyn arrived neatly dressed, in a state of perfect sobriety, and on his best behaviour … [After the lunch was over and Waugh had left for an urgent appointment,] Duff asked Belloc what he thought of his brilliant young friend.

‘He is possessed,’ replied Belloc.

How, Duff often asked, how, except by supernatural means, did Belloc know?29

On its own, any of these references might be unimportant: together I believe they offer good support for the claims of this article, not least for what some will call the most extravagant of these. Involvement in certain forms of the occult is known to be dangerous, and whether one accepts a literal or a psychological interpretation of them, the realities of demonic possession cannot be dismissed. Evelyn Waugh may have participated in satanic ritual at Oxford and been possessed by a “demon” in one or another sense for the rest of his life. The supernaturalism he espoused as a Roman Catholic may have pre-dated his conversion and been based on terrifyingly personal experience.

He described possession once in his novels, in Helena (1950), a literary treatment of the story of St Helena, the discoverer of the true cross. The novel is set between the third and fourth centuries A.D. and makes use of “certain wilful, obvious anachronisms which are introduced as a literary device”.30 They do not, it has to be said, meet this end very successfully, either in such passages as

“What a spread!” said Princess Helena, when she had guzzled. “What a blow-out!”31

or in an extremely interesting scene in which Waugh describes the Emperor Constantine and his wife Fausta witnessing a prophecy made by a young African witch who has been possessed by a devil:

Music, unheard to the watchers, was sounding in the girl’s heart, drumming from beyond the pyramids, wailing in the bistro where the jazz disc spun. She had stepped off the causeway of time and place into trackless swamp. [She begins to speak:] “Zivio! Viva! Arriba! Heil!” … 32

Writing in 1950 of a ceremony taking place in the Fourth Century AD, Waugh draws on imagery from the 1920s and ’30s. He re-uses themes — blacks, travel in time, swamp — that, as we have seen, he had first used in 1933 in “Out of Depth”. Is the link between such incongruencies, the ultra-modern and the ultra-primitive, to be found in the occult, encountered by Waugh both in England and in Africa during his extensive travels there in the early 1930s?

Darkness and the macabre

Anyone answering this question in the negative must still, surely, see the need for an explanation of the way such things occurred not once in Waugh’s work but twice, separated by more than a decade and a World War, and of the way they find echoes not only in the remainder of his fiction but also in his correspondence, his life, and the reaction of his friends and acquaintances to his personality. Waugh has long been recognised as a complex and tormented man whose work is full of darkness and the macabre. I would suggest that the true extent of his complexity and torment and the true roots of his obsessions have never been recognised. Does Waugh deserve a place among the greatest writers in English in this or any other century? Undoubtedly. What were the obsessions and influences that prompted him to that place? This is a question that I have tried to answer fully for the first time here. Time may never tell, but I believe that at the very least I have shown that the full truth about Waugh’s life and religious beliefs may still wait to be confirmed. Waugh as occult practitioner. Waugh as worshipper of the devil. Waugh possessed. Implausible things? Impossible things? Or, as Waugh himself may have predicted, no more than “things to surprise”?



NOTES

1. Evelyn Waugh, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, ch. 2

2. In Men at Arms, A Handful of Dust, and Work Suspended respectively. If Hooper and Mulcaster from Brideshead Revisited and Corker from Scoop are added to the list, the ergative suffix “-er” can be seen to be of great importance in Waugh’s nomenclature of contempt. The first person narrator of Brideshead, Charles Ryder, is perhaps shielded by his patrician “y”, perhaps reflects Waugh’s anxieties about his own social status: he was once described to his face by Duff Cooper, the husband of Waugh’s longest-lasting and most aristocratic correspondent Diana Cooper, as a “common little man … who happens to have written one or two moderately amusing novels” (Philip Zeigler, Diana Cooper, Hamish Hamilton, 1980, pg. 266).

3. Evelyn Waugh, “Sloth” in The Seven Deadly Sins, ed. Raymond Mortimer, London, 1962. Reprinted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher, London, 1983 (pg. 572).

4. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, ch. 1., “A Portrait of the Artist in Middle Age”

5. Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler (who based the organization of the S.S. on that of the Jesuits), Heydrich and Eichmann, inter alios. This over-representation of Catholics was found also among the smaller cogs of the Nazi machine. It is true that Catholics tended not to vote for the Nazis in elections but then communists tended not to vote for the Nazis either: I don’t think anyone could regard this latter fact as rehabilitating Stalinism.

6. Edmund Campion: Scholar, Priest, Hero, and Martyr, re-published by Oxford University Press, 1980.

7. Campion was born in 1540 and executed in 1581: the massacre took place on the 24th of August, 1572.

8. op. cit., pg. 96

9. Pius V was canonized in 1712. Waugh’s biographer Christopher Sykes, himself a Catholic, commented of one passage in Waugh’s treatment of Pius: “This is to evade by rhetoric the fact that Pius V was a persecutor who went to extremes considered shocking even by the standards of his time, and that he never seems to have scrupled to support his principles by the use of atrocity.” (Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, Penguin, London, 1977, pg. 208.)

10. Taken from the appendix to 1984. In formulating the concept of doublethink, Orwell was perhaps thinking of precept 13 in Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises (1548): “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.” Loyola founded the Jesuits, the “intellectual shock-troops” of the Roman Catholic church.

11. The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, pg. 18

12. The Hypocrites’ Club was “notorious not only for drunkenness but for flamboyance of dress and manner which was in some cases patently homosexual”. Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning, W.J. Mackay & Co., Chatham, Kent, 1964, pg. 179.

13. ibid., pg. 223. Waugh’s eldest son Auberon Augustus would later write in his memoirs (Will This Do?, Century, London, 1991) of a schoolfellow called “Brenninkmeyer who shopped me for trying to hold a Black Mass in the chemistry laboratory” (ch. 4, pg. 69).

14. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, pg. 87

15. A Little Learning, pg. 228

16. The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980, pg. 12

17. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, pg. 78

18. Brideshead Revisited, ch. 2, pg. 47 of the 1984 Penguin paperback. The extract is taken from a description of Anthony Blanche’s travels and experiences that falls in a section called ET IN ARCADIA EGO. The occult associations of this Latin tag are well-documented: see, for example, Baignet, Leigh and Lincoln, The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail, Jonathon Cape, 1982.

19. pg. 180; pg. 211

20. From κακός, “evil”, + ϕίλος, “loving”.

21. The extracts are taken from the revised version of the story, which was re-printed in The Fifth Mayflower Book of Black Magic Stories, ed. Michael Parry, Mayflower, 1976.

22. Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years, 1903-1939, JM Dent & Sons, London, 1986.

23. Both references to pg. 345 of The Early Years.

24. “There is an aesthetic bugger [= homosexual] who sometimes turns up in my novels under various names… 2/3 Brian [Howard] 1/3 Harold Acton”, Waugh wrote in a letter of 14 March, 1958 to the Earl Baldwin (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, pg. 506). In his discussion of Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, Christopher Sykes argues convincingly that the proportions are reversed in this particular character. Brian Howard (1905-58) was a flamboyantly homosexual Old Etonian poet whom Waugh had first known at Oxford.

25. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, pg. 99

26. The Brideshead Generation, pg. 79

27. ibid., pg. 377

28. idid., pg. 395

29. op. cit., pg. 181

30. Introduction, pg. x

31. op. cit., ch. 1, pg. 18

32. ch. viii, pg. 187

Locke’s LOX

“He that will not set himself proudly at the top of all things; but will consider the Immensity of this Fabrick, and the great variety, that is to be found in this little and inconsiderable part of it, which he has to do with, may be apt to think, that in other Mansions of it, there may be other, and different intelligent Beings, of whose Faculties, he has as little Knowledge or Apprehension, as a worm shut up in one drawer of a Cabinet, hath of the Senses or Understanding of a Man.” — John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), viâ David Wootton’s The Invention of Science (2015)


Performative Post-Scriptum

The title of this incendiary intervention is intended to suggest the idea of Locke’s ideas acting as a rocket-fuel for the imagination like LOX or lox, meaning “liquid oxygen explosive; later interpreted as representing liquid oxygen” (OED).

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #66

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Pygmies and Secret PolicemenFootball Against the Enemy, Simon Kuper (1994)

Writhing Along in My AutomobileCrash: The Limits of Car Safety, Nicholas Faith (Boxtree 1998)

A Boy and His BanditBeloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinoüs, Royston Lambert (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1984)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #61

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Orchid KidThe Orchid Hunter: A Young Botanist’s Search for Happiness, Leif Bersweden (Short Books 2017)

Deep in the DarkThe Tunnel, Eric Williams (1951)

Faces and FactsThe Self-Portrait: A Cultural History, James Hall (Thames & Hudson 2014)

Persian PoolReligions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present, Richard Foltz (Oneworld 2013)

Hooky HereUnknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, Peter Hook (Simon & Schuster 2012)

#MiTooMorbidly Miriam: The Mephitic Memoirs of Miriam B. Stimbers, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (TransVisceral Books 2018)


• Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #56

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Sympathetic SinnerThe Light of Day, Eric Ambler (1962)

Voy PolloiThe Voynich Manuscript: the unsolved riddle of an extraordinary book which has defied interpretation for centuries, Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill (Orion paperback 2005)

Non Angeli, Sed AnglicaniThat Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People, Andrew Brown and Linda Woodhead (Bloomsbury 2016)

Geller FellerThe Magic of Uri Geller, as revealed by the Amazing Randi (1982)

Voy VehThe Voyeur’s Motel, Gay Talese (2016)


• Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #55

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Arms and the ManagerPassage of Arms, Eric Ambler (1959)

Tods and ToadsThe Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, Beatrix Potter (Frederick Warne 1989)

La Guerre et la GauleLe Tour de Gaule d’Asterix, René Goscinny et Albert Uderzo (Hachette 1967)

The Hurt Shocker – an exclusive extract from Titans of Transgression, ed. Dr Miriam B. Stimbers and Dr Samuel P. Salatta (TransVisceral Books, forthcoming)

Schlock XpressThe Bad Movie Bible: The Ultimate Modern Guide to Movies That Are So Bad They’re Good, Rob Hill (Art of Publishing 2017)

Brott und der TodThe Maximum Security Yoga Club, Mikita Brottman (TransVisceral Books 2017)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Science or Sorcery?

Note: I was surprised when I re-read this article on CAS from 2004, because I didn’t find its prose particularly painful or embarrassing. I’ve made only one big change, restoring the comparison that I originally began the essay with but which I suppressed for publication at the Eldritch Dark for fear of seeming gratuitously offensive. Everything in the essay, including the comparison, is of course intended to be taken with complete seriousness. Tolkien is one of the authors I have most often re-read, but, as I’ve said before, I wish that someone would translate Lord of the Rings into English.


Science or Sorcery? Interrogating the Supratextual Interface of Klarkash-Ton and the Hobbitual Offender, Simon Whitechapel

The scientific spirit, which cannot leave anything alone and aspires to draw the whole universe of objects, people, ideas and even feelings into its own dull, inhuman empire, was certain, sooner or later, to cast its screwed-up, calculating eyes on the splendour in the grass and the glory in the flower. — Peter Simple, The Stretchford Chronicles (1980).1

Où sont les neiges d’antan? (Where are the snows of yesteryear?) — François Villon, Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis (1461).

If the Earth were a human body, the United States of America might well be identified as a cancer. There are three strong parallels: growth, greed, and influence. Cancers grow explosively, gobble energy, and spread in their worst forms to every part of the body. Mutatis mutandis, the United States has done the same, growing in a couple of centuries from a tiny colony to a continental superpower that now consumes perhaps a fifth of the world’s resources with only a twentieth of the world’s population,2 and that exports its culture and language to every corner of the world. More and more people outside its borders are growing up to think, act, and talk like Americans, discarding their own histories and cultures as they do so. This American triumph has coincided with, and in part been built on, the triumph of modern science, and like science the United States is based on a rejection of tradition and a belief in the possibility, and even the necessity, of progress.

But as Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), one of the founders of modern science, pointed out, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. He was talking about physics, but actions have reactions in the mistier world of culture too and simultaneous with the rise of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came the rise of the literary genre of fantasy. Like its coeval science fiction, fantasy represents a flight from the present, but where science fiction flies more or less optimistically into the future, fantasy flees more or less pessimistically into the past: it could be defined as an attempt to write as though America did not exist. America offers democracy, science, and rationalism; fantasy rejects them in favor of monarchy, magic, and mystery.

And understandably so: like America itself, democracy, science, and rationalism are profoundly unnatural things, appearing very late in human existence and truly accepted and appreciated by very few of us, for they do not appeal to the irrational and numinous aspects of our nature. America is unnatural because it is deracinated, a conscious, rational experiment in nation-building whose immigrant citizens are cut off from their roots in ancestral history and homeland. The popularity of fantasy in America and the societies its rootless culture has most heavily influenced proves that millions of us feel the loss. Fantasy’s rejection of science and flight from the scientific American present can be summed up by these lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954-5) in which the wizard Gandalf describes his confrontation with the wizard Saruman, who has recently exchanged his white robes for robes of many colors:


“I liked white better,” I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it no longer white,” said I. “And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”3


Isaac Newton broke white light in precisely that way with a prism, gaining knowledge as he discarded wisdom. But there was more to Tolkien’s rejection of Newtonian reductionism than simply science: Newton was also a Protestant, and America is a Protestant nation. Like science, Protestantism is based on a rejection of tradition, and because, like America, it is deracinated, it withers very readily: where its offspring rationalist secularism leads, Protestantism sooner or later follows.4 Tolkien (1892-1973) was Catholic, belonging to a church with deep roots, and though his books are early symptoms of her present decadence, they contain all the anti-rational, loss-assuaging ingredients listed above: monarchy, magic, and mystery. One of those books is, after all, called The Return of the King, and the pessimistic, future-fleeing aspects of fantasy are clearly symbolized by the way Tolkien sets his evil empire of Mordor in the east, where the sun rises, and his haven of peace in the west, where the sun sets.

But beside being Catholic and anti-rationalist, Tolkien was, more importantly, a bad writer. His most famous book, The Lord of the Rings, epitomizes what Europeans would see as the worst failings of American popular culture: it is sentimental, shallow, and clumsy.5 His attempt to flee the American present in some ways carries America with it. And that is one of the great ironies of fantasy literature: its most popular, and least subtle, exponent is European, while one of its greatest and most subtle is not merely American but Californian, living and dying in the most “future-crazed”6 state of all: Clark Ashton Smith was born in 1893 in Long Valley, near Sacramento, and died in 1961 a few miles north in Auburn.

But CAS had an English father and did not grow up in any of California’s cities, which may be much more important than it appears. California is one of the youngest states of one of the world’s youngest nations, but its landscape is ancient and its landscape is what CAS was most familiar with: he grew up on his father’s “forty acres” of homestead.7 Straight lines and right angles are rare in nature, ubiquitous in modern cities, and they may have much stronger effects on our psychology than we realize.8 In the old worlds of Europe and Asia, where cities are thousands of years old, streets wind and twist, because the cities of Europe and Asia have grown rather like plants; in the new world of America, streets run in straight lines intersecting at right angles. American cities are planned, rational attempts to conquer and control unplanned, irrational geography, and perhaps the reputation of New Englanders for subtlety and guile rises from their surroundings. Cities like Boston are old enough to have grown in the winding, twisting old world fashion, and perhaps they train their modern inhabitants in the oblique and indirect. CAS’s friend and mentor H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an urban New Englander: could he have developed his subtle, allusive fiction had he grown up in a city like Chicago or New York, where the streets may train the mind in linearity and directness?9 Could the rural CAS have developed his subtle, allusive fiction had he grown up in a city like San Francisco or Los Angeles?

I would suggest not, but that there is more to an artist’s growth than his physical surroundings is clearly proved by Tolkien, who lived in ancient, alinear England and wrote his crude fantasy amid the winding, twisting streets of Oxford. However, human beings inhabit societies too, and though Lovecraft and CAS may have escaped the stultifying effects of American town-planning, perhaps they benefited from the liberating effects of American politics. The races of Tolkien’s world are clearly based on the English class system: the hobbits, for example, are the rural proletariat and minor bourgeoisie, the orcs are the industrial proletariat, and the elves are the aristocracy whose well-nourished scions Tolkien encountered at Oxford. Compare these passages, the first from Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), the second from Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937):


About six of them came into my room, the rest stood mouthing outside. My dear, they looked too extraordinary. They had been having one of their ridiculous club dinners, and they were all wearing coloured tail-coats – a sort of livery. ‘My dears,’ I said to them, ‘you look like a lot of most disorderly footmen.’ Then one of them, rather a juicy little piece, accused me of unnatural vices. ‘My dear,’ I said, ‘I may be inverted but I am not insatiable. Come back when you are alone.’10


‘Well, well!’ said a[n Elvish] voice. ‘Just look! Bilbo the hobbit on a pony, my dear! Isn’t it delicious!’ ‘Most astonishing wonderful!’ Then off they went into another song as ridiculous as the one I have written down in full. At last one, a tall young fellow, came out from the trees and bowed to Gandalf and to Thorin.11

Tolkien and Waugh were both snobs and both, as it happens, of below average height. Tall Lovecraft’s and tall CAS’s fiction does not suffer from this snobbery, and although the stories of their friend Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) – who grew up in rural Texas – continually pluck the chords of monarchy, magic, and mystery, his hero Conan becomes a king by brawn and brain, not by birth. But Howard, although a far better writer than Tolkien, is the least interesting of the Weird Tales triumvirate, and CAS’s fiction is aristocratic in more than its mention of kings and emperors. He did not write for the canaille, which is why he used words like canaille:


Yes, indeed, one could write numerous reams on the subject of style. The style – or lack of it – required by nearly all magazine editors, [sic] would require a separate treatise. The idea seems to be that everything should be phrased in a manner that will obviate mental effort on the part of the lowest grade moron. I was told the other day that my “Door to Saturn” could only be read with a dictionary.12

One of the reasons popular American culture has been so successfully exported is that it has evolved to appeal to the lowest common denominator: it is “phrased” so to “obviate mental effort”, and ideally to bypass the intellect altogether. The simplicity and directness of an American export like rock’n’roll, whose appeal is based on strong rhythms and high volume, are mirrored in the simplicity and directness of American exports like hamburgers and Coca-Cola, whose appeal is based on fat, salt, and sugar. In short, American culture is democratic and inclusive, not aristocratic and exclusive like European culture. And so a second great irony of fantasy literature is that the European Tolkien is far more democratic and far more successfully exported than the Californian Clark Ashton Smith: Tolkien’s writing is crude and strongly flavored, the literary equivalent of hamburger and coke, while the haute cuisine of CAS remains unknown to many of the millions who read and re-read Lord of the Rings – or watch and re-watch its recent translation into film.

And perhaps that is another part of the key to CAS: fiction that can be translated readily and successfully into film, as Tolkien’s has been, tends to be superficial and direct. CAS’s greatest stories could not be successfully translated into film without being transformed in fundamental ways; that is, without being mutilated. This is another way in which CAS is profoundly un-American. America’s most successful and most characteristic export, advertising its culture to the world, has been film, and film, because it is the most powerful of media, is also the most destructive, killing imagination and feeding passivity and voyeurism.13 Cinema’s inbred cousin, television, exaggerates cinema’s failings and commits the additional crimes of trivialization and superficiality: watching a film at the cinema at least has a sense of ritual and occasion, and lasts about as long as a religious service; watching the same film using a television has no sense of ritual or occasion and can be interrupted and postponed at will.

CAS, born blessedly long before television and no movie-goer, was defiantly logophilic and logocentric, and in that sense is far more modern than artists who work in or are influenced by film: vision has existed for many millions of years among animals and the art based on it, appealing to universal simplicities, crosses boundaries of culture and even species with relative ease: recall the Greek tale of Zeuxis’s trompe l’oeil grapes pecked by birds. True language, on the other hand, appeared only with human beings and the art based on it, being far richer and far more subtle, does not cross barriers of culture with ease and without transformation and distortion. And here is a third great irony of CAS’s relation to JRRT. Tolkien, the professional scholar of language in the homeland of English, wrote with far less sensitivity and richness, beating drums and blasting trumpets where CAS played flutes and citheræ. But if fantasy is an attempt to write as though America did not exist, perhaps it took an American to know precisely how best to perform the nullification.


Notes

1. The Stretchford Chronicles: 25 Years of Peter Simple, The Daily Telegraph, Purnell & Sons, Bristol, 1980, “A graded land”, pg. 165.


2. A factoid often dragged out (with varying figures – sometimes consumption goes as high as two-thirds) by whining liberals and eco-puritans. The precise ratio is impossible to know, but America certainly out-consumes Europe, just as Europe out-consumes the Third World.

3. The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, ch. II, “The Council of Elrond”.

4. “Mark 4:5 And some [seed] fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: 6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.” Because they have deep roots, Catholic and Orthodox Christianity resist the scorching sun of secularism much more effectively.

5. The Hobbit, with much less ambition, achieves much more.

6. Peter Simple, The Stretchford Chronicles: 25 Years of Peter Simple, The Daily Telegraph, Purnell & Sons, Bristol, 1980, “Let them be left”, pg. 173: “Environmentalists, conservationists, anti-pollutionists: the dull, pseudo-scientific words, endlessly repeated – imports, like so much else, from future-crazed America – can arouse in certain moods a perverse rage to build oil-refineries all over Dartmoor.”

7. “As I Remember Klarkash-Ton”, George F. Haas, from The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith, Arkham House (see online copy).

8. In one famous psychological experiment, Zulus who lived in round huts and ploughed in curves were found to be much less susceptible to certain optical illusions (e.g. the Müller-Lyer arrow illusion). See, for example, the discussion in R.L. Gregory’s Eye and Brain: the Psychology of Seeing.

9. See Lovecraft’s short story “Haunter of the Dark” (1936), set in the New England city of Providence but with a protagonist from the straight-lined, right-angled Wisconsin city of Milwaukee: “As Blake climbed higher, the region seemed stranger and stranger, with bewildering mazes of brooding brown alleys leading eternally off to the south. … Twice he lost his way …”

10. Op. cit., Book One, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 2

11. Op. cit., Chapter 3, “A Short Rest”.

12. Clark Ashton Smith: Letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Necronomicon Press, West Warwick (Rhode Island), 1987, pg. 23, “c. mid-December 1930” (see online copy).

13. In fantasy’s sister genre, horror, England and America again provide the most successful writer and one of the greatest, but this time England wins: the American Stephen King (1947-     ), the most successful writer of horror, is a cinematic writer weaned on film and has nothing of the subtlety and depth of the English M.R. James (1862-1936) (see CAS’s appreciation “The Weird Works of M.R. James”).

© 2004 Simon Whitechapel

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #39

— Croyez-vous aux idées dangereuses ?
— Qu’entendez-vous par là ?
— Croyez-vous que certaines idées soient aussi dangereuses pour certains esprits que le poison pour le corps ?
— Mais, oui, peut-être.

  Guy de Maupassant, « Divorce » (1888)


“Do you believe in dangerous ideas?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Do you believe that certain ideas are as dangerous for some minds as poison is for the body?”
“Well, yes, perhaps.”

Amateur ’Grammatics

There is much more to mathematics than mathematics. Like a tree, it has deep roots. Like a tree, it’s affected by its environment. Philosophy of mathematics is concerned with the roots. Psychology of mathematics is concerned with the environment.

On Planet Earth, the environment is human beings. What attracts men and women to the subject? What makes them good or bad at it?And so on. One interesting answer to the first question was supplied by the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam (1909-84), who wrote this in his autobiography:

“In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality. The mathematician finds his own monastic niche and happiness in pursuits that are disconnected from external affairs. Some practice it as if using a drug.” – Adventures of a Mathematician (1983)

That’s certainly part of maths’ appeal to me: as an escape from reality, or an escape from one reality into another (and deeper). Real life is messy. Maths isn’t, unless you want it to be. But you can find parallels between maths and real life too. In real life, people collect things that they find attractive or interesting: stamps, sea-shells, gems, cigarette-cards, beer-cans and so on. You can collect things in maths too: interesting numbers and number patterns. Recreational maths can feel like looking on a beach for attractive shells and pebbles.

Here’s a good example: digital anagrams, or numbers in different bases whose digits are the same but re-arranged. For example, 13 in base 10 equals 31 in base 4, because 13 = 3 * 4 + 1. To people with the right kind of mind, that’s an interesting and attractive pattern. There are lots more anagrams like that:

1045 = 4501 in base 6
1135 = 5131 in base 6

23 = 32 in base 7
46 = 64 in base 7

1273 = 2371 in base 8
1653 = 3165 in base 8

158 = 185 in base 9
227 = 272 in base 9

196 = 169 in base 11
283 = 238 in base 11

2193 = 1329 in base 12
6053 = 3605 in base 12

43 = 34 in base 13
86 = 68 in base 13

But triple anagrams, involving three bases, seem even more attractive:

913 = 391 in base 16 = 193 in base 26
103462 = 610432 in base 7 = 312046 in base 8
245183 = 413285 in base 9 = 158234 in base 11

And that’s just looking in base 10. If you include all bases, the first double anagram is in fact 21 in base 3 = 12 in base 5 (equals 7 in base 10). The first triple anagram is this:

2C1 in base 13 = 1C2 in base 17 = 12C in base 21 (equals 495 in base 10)

But are there quadruple anagrams, quintuple anagrams and higher? I don’t know. I haven’t found any and it gets harder and harder to search for them, because the bigger n gets, the more bases there are to check. However, I can say one thing for certain: in any given base, anagrams eventually disappear.

To understand why, consider the obvious fact that anagrams have to have the same number of digits in different bases. But the number of digits is a function of the powers of the base. That is, the triple anagram 103462 (see above) has six digits in bases 7, 8 and 10 because 7^5 < 103462 < 7^6, 8^5 < 103462 < 8^6 and 10^5 < 103462 < 10^6. Similarly, the triple anagram 245183 (ditto) has six digits in bases 9, 10 and 11 because 9^5 < 245183 < 9^6, 10^5 < 245183 < 10^6 and 11^5 < 245183 < 11^6:

7^5 < 103462 < 7^6
16807 < 103462 < 117649
8^5 < 103462 < 8^6
32768 < 103462 < 262144
10^5 < 103462 < 10^6
100000 < 103462 < 1000000
9^5 < 245183 < 9^6
59049 < 245183 < 531441
10^5 < 245183 < 10^6
100000 < 245183 < 1000000
11^5 < 245183 < 11^6
161051 < 245183 < 1771561

In other words, for some n the number-lengths of bases 7 and 8 overlap the number-lengths of base 10, which overlap the number-lengths of bases 9 and 11. But eventually, as n gets larger, the number-lengths of base 10 will fall permanently below the number-lengths of bases 7, 8 and 9, just as the number-lengths of base 11 will fall permanently below the number-lengths of base 10.

To see this in action, consider the simplest example: number-lengths in bases 2 and 3. There is no anagram involving these two bases, because only two numbers have the same number of digits in both: 1 and 3 = 11 in base 2 = 10 in base 3. After that, n in base 2 always has more digits than n in base 3:

2^0 = 1 in base 2 (number-length=1) = 1 in base 3 (l=1)
2^1 = 2 = 10 in base 2 (number-length=2) = 2 in base 3 (l=1)
2^2 = 4 = 100 in base 2 (l=3) = 11 in base 3 (l=2)
2^3 = 8 = 1000 in base 2 = 22 in base 3 (l=2)
2^4 = 16 = 10000 in base 2 = 121 in base 3 (l=3)
2^5 = 32 = 1012 in base 3 (l=4)
2^6 = 64 = 2101 in base 3 (l=4)
2^7 = 128 = 11202 in base 3 (l=5)
2^8 = 256 = 100111 in base 3 (l=6)
2^9 = 512 = 200222 in base 3 (l=6)
2^10 = 1024 = 1101221 in base 3 (l=7)

Now consider bases 3 and 4. Here is an anagram using these bases: 211 in base 3 = 112 in base 4 = 22. There are no more anagrams and eventually there’s no more chance for them to occur, because this happens as n gets larger:

3^0 = 1 in base 3 (number-length=1) = 1 in base 4 (l=1)
3^1 = 3 = 10 in base 3 (number-length=2) = 3 in base 4 (l=1)
3^2 = 9 = 100 in base 3 (l=3) = 21 in base 4 (l=2)
3^3 = 27 = 1000 in base 3 (l=4) = 123 in base 4 (l=3)
3^4 = 81 = 10000 in base 3 (l=5) = 1101 in base 4 (l=4)
3^5 = 243 = 100000 in base 3 (l=6) = 3303 in base 4 (l=4)
3^6 = 729 = 23121 in base 4 (l=5)
3^7 = 2187 = 202023 in base 4 (l=6)
3^8 = 6561 = 1212201 in base 4 (l=7)
3^9 = 19683 = 10303203 in base 4 (l=8)
3^10 = 59049 = 32122221 in base 4 (l=8)
3^11 = 177147 = 223033323 in base 4 (l=9)
3^12 = 531441 = 2001233301 in base 4 (l=10)
3^13 = 1594323 = 12011033103 in base 4 (l=11)
3^14 = 4782969 = 102033231321 in base 4 (l=12)
3^15 = 14348907 = 312233021223 in base 4 (l=12)
3^16 = 43046721 = 2210031131001 in base 4 (l=13)
3^17 = 129140163 = 13230220113003 in base 4 (l=14)
3^18 = 387420489 = 113011321011021 in base 4 (l=15)
3^19 = 1162261467 = 1011101223033123 in base 4 (l=16)
3^20 = 3486784401 = 3033311001232101 in base 4 (l=16)

When n is sufficiently large, it always has fewer digits in base 4 than in base 3. And the gap gets steadily bigger. When n doesn’t have the same number of digits in two bases, it can’t be an anagram. A similar number-length gap eventually appears in bases 4 and 5, but the anagrams don’t run out as quickly there:

103 in base 5 = 130 in base 4 = 28
1022 in base 5 = 2021 in base 4 = 137
1320 in base 5 = 3102 in base 4 = 210
10232 in base 5 = 22310 in base 4 = 692
10332 in base 5 = 23031 in base 4 = 717
12213 in base 5 = 32211 in base 4 = 933
100023 in base 5 = 301002 in base 4 = 3138
100323 in base 5 = 302031 in base 4 = 3213
102131 in base 5 = 311120 in base 4 = 3416
102332 in base 5 = 312023 in base 4 = 3467
103123 in base 5 = 313102 in base 4 = 3538
1003233 in base 5 = 3323010 in base 4 = 16068

Base 10 isn’t exempt. Eventually it must outshrink base 9 and be outshrunk by base 11, so what is the highest 9:10 anagram and highest 10:11 anagram? I don’t know: my maths isn’t good enough for me to find out quickly. But using machine code, I’ve found these large anagrams:

205888888872731 = 888883178875022 in base 9
1853020028888858 = 8888888525001032 in base 9
16677181388880888 = 88888888170173166 in base 9

999962734025 = 356099992472 in base 11
9999820360965 = 3205999998606 in base 11
99999993520348 = 29954839390999 in base 11

Note how the digits of n in the lower base are increasing as the digits of n in the higher base are decreasing. Eventually, n in the lower base will always have more digits than n in the higher base. When that happens, there will be no more anagrams.

Some triple anagrams

2C1 in base 13 = 1C2 in base 17 = 12C in base 21 (n=495 = 3^2*5*11)
912 in base 10 = 219 in base 21 = 192 in base 26 (2^4*3*19)
913 in base 10 = 391 in base 16 = 193 in base 26 (11*83)
4B2 in base 15 = 42B in base 16 = 24B in base 22 (n=1067 = 11*97)
5C1 in base 17 = 51C in base 18 = 1C5 in base 35 (n=1650 = 2*3*5^2*11)
3L2 in base 26 = 2L3 in base 31 = 23L in base 35 (n=2576 = 2^4*7*23)
3E1 in base 31 = 1E3 in base 51 = 13E in base 56 (n=3318 = 2*3*7*79)
531 in base 29 = 351 in base 37 = 135 in base 64 (n=4293 = 3^4*53)
D53 in base 18 = 53D in base 29 = 35D in base 37 (n=4305 = 3*5*7*41)
53I in base 29 = 3I5 in base 35 = 35I in base 37 (n=4310 = 2*5*431)
825 in base 25 = 582 in base 31 = 258 in base 49 (n=5055 = 3*5*337)
6S2 in base 31 = 2S6 in base 51 = 26S in base 56 (n=6636 = 2^2*3*7*79)
D35 in base 23 = 5D3 in base 36 = 3D5 in base 46 (n=6951 = 3*7*331)
3K1 in base 49 = 31K in base 52 = 1K3 in base 81 (n=8184 = 2^3*3*11*31)
A62 in base 29 = 6A2 in base 37 = 26A in base 64 (n=8586 = 2*3^4*53)
9L2 in base 30 = 92L in base 31 = 2L9 in base 61 (n=8732 = 2^2*37*59)
3W1 in base 49 = 1W3 in base 79 = 13W in base 92 (n=8772 = 2^2*3*17*43)
G4A in base 25 = AG4 in base 31 = 4AG in base 49 (n=10110 = 2*3*5*337)
J10 in base 25 = 1J0 in base 100 = 10J in base 109 (n=11900 = 2^2*5^2*7*17)
5[41]1 in base 46 = 1[41]5 in base 93 = 15[41] in base 109 (n=12467 = 7*13*137)
F91 in base 29 = 9F1 in base 37 = 19F in base 109 (n=12877 = 79*163)
F93 in base 29 = 9F3 in base 37 = 39F in base 64 (n=12879 = 3^5*53)
AP4 in base 35 = A4P in base 36 = 4AP in base 56 (n=13129 = 19*691)
BP2 in base 36 = B2P in base 37 = 2PB in base 81 (n=15158 = 2*11*13*53)
O6F in base 25 = FO6 in base 31 = 6FO in base 49 (n=15165 = 3^2*5*337)
FQ1 in base 31 = 1QF in base 111 = 1FQ in base 116 (n=15222 = 2*3*43*59)
B74 in base 37 = 7B4 in base 46 = 47B in base 61 (n=15322 = 2*47*163)