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The curate who married the Evelyns: W. H. Aldis (1871-1948).

On 27 June 1928 at St Paul's Church, Portman Square in London, Evelyn Waugh married Evelyn Gardner. The young couple chose the curate, who charged three guineas, rather than the vicar, Dr J. Stuart Holden, who wanted five. [1] According to Selina Hastings, She-Evelyn giggled at the curate's mustache, heavy black boots, and Cockney accent (176). The identity of the curate has remained obscure, but recently Peter Dewey of Wales obtained, from the National Archives at Kew, the file for the Evelyns' divorce. The file contains a Certified Copy of an Entry of Marriage with the name of the curate: W. H. Aldis. He turns out to have been a fairly prominent man.

According to his biography, William Henry Aldis was born in 1871, the son of a confidential clerk in Reading. Though he felt the "handicap of not having been to a public school or university" (MacBeath 18), and though he took elocution lessons while at St Paul's (MacBeath 94), Aldis was no Cockney, and his family was well educated. His great-grandfather had been a Baptist pastor, his grandfather had been pastor of a chapel in Reading, and three of his uncles won honors in mathematics as Wranglers at Cambridge University.

Aldis himself prepared to become a surveyor, but in the summer of 1897 he attended the Keswick Convention, an annual meeting of Evangelicals in the Lake District. Despite his Nonconformist background, he committed himself to the Church of England. He decided to join the China Inland Mission (CIM) and left England in October. It was hazardous duty: Aldis was aboard two boats that were wrecked in the Yangtze River, and he twice had shots fired into his home in China. He reached his station, Paoning in Szechwan, in 1898, but the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900, and missionaries had to be recalled to Shanghai.

In Shanghai, Aldis was ordained a deacon in 1900, and he met Lottie H. Carver of Norwich. They married in Paoning in 1902, three days after Aldis's ordination as priest. The Aldises lost an infant daughter to smallpox in 1904, but the first of three sons, Gordon, was born in 1905. At the end of 1906, the family departed China for furlough in England; they returned for a second tour from 1908 to 1916.

Back in England, Rev Aldis intended to return to China, but his wife's health would not allow it. Dr Holden was Home Director of the CIM, and Rev Aldis became Secretary of the Youth Department in 1919. Dr Holden was also vicar of St Paul's, Portman Square, and Rev Aldis became the curate. The position helped Rev Aldis to provide a "satisfactory education for his sons" (MacBeath 82).

Rev Aldis also became active in the Keswick Convention. He first appeared on the platform in 1924, and three of his meditations are included in The Keswick Week, 1925: "When the Comforter is Come" on the evening of 21 July (104-08), "The Wretched Man and His Deliverances" on the morning of 23 July (141 -44), and "Anointed for Kingship" on the morning of 24 July (162-66). Rev Aldis became the leader of the missionaries' morning-prayer meetings, then Chairman of the Missionary Meeting, and finally Chairman of the Keswick Council, which organized the conventions. Rev Aldis chaired the conventions from 1936 to 1939 and again from 1946 to 1947.

Rev Aldis was a late bloomer: his biographer notes that Aldis was "well into his fifties before the full stature showed" (MacBeath 79). At this time he came into contact with the Evelyns, who found him ridiculous. Others liked him. According to his biographer, "Young people found [Rev Aldis] warm and understanding ... admiring too" (MacBeath 49). An Australian missionary described Aldis as "a middle-aged clergyman of medium height and robust build with a quick, brisk step, a warm handshake, and a smiling face which fairly radiated health and goodwill" (MacBeath 54).

Shortly after the Evelyns married in 1928, Dr Holden resigned as Home Director of the CIM and Rev Aldis replaced him. In 1929, Rev Aldis called for 200 missionaries in two years, and they came forward by 1931. His son Gordon left for China in September 1931, just days before the Japanese moved into Manchuria. [2] Rev Aldis wrote Hints for Furlough, vol. 1 (1938), advising missionaries "how to spend time whilst in 'homeland'."

Indeed, Rev Aldis was a writer as well. He contributed forewords to The Message of Keswick and Its Meaning (1939), Phyllis Thompson's They Seek a City (1940), and Mrs. Howard Taylor's Sirs, Be of Good Cheer (1941). He wrote articles entitled "These Amazing Days" for China's Millions (1940) and "Christian Certitudes" for the Inter-Varsity Magazine (1941). His second son, Dr Arnold S. Aldis, had become a surgeon and President of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship. In 1947, Rev Aldis spoke on "The Neglected Vineyard," and his text appears in Keswick's Authentic Voice: Sixty-five Dynamic Addresses Delivered at the Keswick Convention 1875-1957 (91-96). According to his biographer, Rev Aldis often addressed "the natural sluggishness of mankind and the human proneness to inertia" (MacBeath 68). Evelyn Waugh might have sympathized.

In 1943, in his early seventies, Rev Aldis resigned as Home Director of the CIM. He was busy on another project, and through his "indomitable faith and unwearied persistence ... the London Bible College came into being" (MacBeath 74). [3] Rev Aldis served as President, and as President of the Missionary School of Medicine for thirteen years. Founded in 1903, the School tried "to provide a background of medical knowledge to missionaries who might be working considerable distances from professional medical care" ("Medical Services"). [4] During the Second World War, Rev Aldis advised his third son, Brian (who also went into ministry), "to be ready for death in these days" (MacBeath 90). Waugh explored a similar idea, "The Death Wish," in Unconditional Surrender (1961). In the judgment of his biographer, however, Rev Aldis was "too sane and wholesome to be 'half in love with easeful death'" (MacBeath 64).

Rev Aldis passed away on 16 June 1948; the Evangelicals described it as his "Homecall." There was a memorial service at St Paul's, Portman Square, on 29 June, twenty years and two days after Rev Aldis married the Evelyns. He was eulogized in The Keswick Week, 1948: Rev Aldis "gave himself without stint, and always with joy and enrichment to those who worked with him" (16). A photograph is available online (scroll down to page 16). A biography appeared in 1949: Rev Aldis was said to have been "the best known and most loved man in Evangelical Christendom" (MacBeath 12).

The Evelyns' marriage lasted only a year. Without the break-up, Vile Bodies (1930), A Handful of Dust (1934), and probably other novels would have been different. Waugh was not quick to forgive: he wrote to the Daily Express to criticize Dr Holden and St Paul's, Portman Square. [5] Many years later, he thought he had been "as near an atheist as one could be ... at that time" (Face to Face), but he converted to Roman Catholicism in the following year, 1930. Waugh belittled the Church of England, but like Rev Aldis he came to believe in prayer, missionary work, and theological study. One wonders if Waugh followed Rev Aldis's career after 1928. In 1956, seven years after publication of W. H. Aldis, Waugh wrote that "the Sunday Times critics are occupied with less interesting books," including "biographies of Anglican clergymen" (Essays 507).

Works Cited

Face to Face, with John Freeman. BBC TV. 26 June 1960. Web. Hastings, Selina. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994. Print.

The Keswick Week, 1925. London: Marshall Brothers. Web.

The Keswick Week, 1948. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott. Web.

MacBeath, Andrew. W. H. Aldis. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1949. Print.

"Medical Services Ministries." Mundus: Gateway to missionary collections in the United Kingdom. 15 May 2000. Web.

The Message of Keswick and Its Meaning. 1939. Web.

Stevenson, Herbert F., ed. Keswick's Authentic Voice: Sixty-five Dynamic Addresses Delivered at the Keswick Convention 1875-1957. Web.

Waugh, Evelyn. The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh. Ed. Donat Gallagher. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983. Print.

Waugh v. Waugh. Ref. J77/2692 C497026. National Archives at Kew. Print.


[1] For more information on the wedding, see John Howard Wilson, "A Neglected Address: 25 Adam Street," EWNS 41.2 (Autumn 2010).

[2] Waugh's best man, Harold Acton, went to China in 1932 and spent several years there, interested in aesthetic experience rather than religious conversion.

[3] Now the London School of Theology in suburban Northwood.

[4] The School became Medical Services Ministries in 1992.

[5] For the letter, see Wilson, "A Neglected Address," EWNS 41.2.

John Howard Wilson

Lock Haven University
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Title Annotation:William Henry Aldis
Author:Wilson, John Howard
Publication:Evelyn Waugh Studies
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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