Wauchope

Some names are so unusual that they hit you when you see them out of context. Wauchope is the name of a character in T.S.Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes. I suppose I’d vaguely assumed the name was made up by Eliot – it’s such an odd one. So I was surprised a few weeks ago to find it in the index of Blackwood’s Magazine for April 1918 –

The Battle that Won Samarrah by Brig.-General A.G.Wauchope, C.M.G., D.S.O. (Late Black Watch)

It’s an account of the war in Mesapotamia, fought over much the same area as our current miserable Iraq campaign.

Is this where Eliot got the name from when he wrote his fragments of Sweeney Agonistes five years later? He maybe read Blackwood’s, because he admired  Charles Whibley, who wrote a monthly column there, but suggesting influence would just be speculation.

All that the Brigadier has in common with the Wauchope of the play is a military background. Lieutenant Sam Wauchope is a Canadian ex-soldier, now hanging around the London demi-monde. I’m not sure how you pronounce his name – War-chop? War-shop? Either version stresses the military. His friend Captain Horsfall was presumably in the cavalry.

I’m slowly gathering material for a longish paper on Eliot and the Great War; Sweeney Agonistes ought to be a key text, but it’s so fragmentary and enigmatic that it’s hard to know what to make of it.
Wauchope and Horsfall have brought two Americans to meet Dusty and Doris, but it’s not clear on what basis. Sam is referred to as “Loot” Sam Wauchope – are we supposed to take a mercenary hint from “Loot”? Is this a bit of genteel pimping? Or are he and Horsfall going to get the two Americans into a poker game, like the one in Bordeaux?
There is at least a suggestion of false pretences, as the Americans have been confused into thinking that Sam is “a real live Britisher.”

Sam, of course, is at home in London.

– much like Eliot himself, who could also have been taken for “a real live Britisher.”
The introduction of ex-soldiers into the demi-monde of Sweeney Agonistes maybe suggests that Eliot wanted his play to be seen as a picture of post-war society, with the war contributing to a loosening of moral standards.

The Brig.Gen Wauchope who wrote the Blackwood’s article seems to have been a very different kind of person, full of the wartime idealism that Eliot tended to regard sceptically. Here is his view of the Mesapotamia campaign:

And watching those columns of Englishmen and Highlanders, of Hindus, Gurkhas, and bearded Sikhs advancing to the coming conflict, one felt the conviction that this struggle was being fought for the sake of principles more lofty, for ends more permanent, for aims less fugitive, for issues of higher seriousness to the cause of humanity, than those that had animated the innumerable and bloody conflicts of the past.

History has by and large not agreed with this verdict on that campaign; and I suspect it will be even less charitable towards our part in the current conflict there.

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