In October 1975, Anthony Burgess’s bibliographer Paul Boytinck presented him with a limited edition copy of Basil Seal Rides Again, or The Rake’s Regress (Little, Brown and Company: Boston, Toronto, 1963) by Evelyn Waugh in appreciation of his ‘kindness in writing the preface to [my] bibliography’. Although not in itself a rare book, it is the only known item in the Burgess Foundation’s collection that is signed by Waugh.
Basil Seal Rides Again was Waugh’s last published work of fiction. In the short story Waugh resurrects a number of characters from some of his earliest novels, such as Peter, Lord Pastmaster, who first appeared as Peter Beste-Chetwynde in Decline and Fall (1928) with Margot, his mother; Ambrose Silk; and, of course, Basil Seal himself, who appeared as the hero of Black Mischief (1932) and Put Out More Flags (1942).
The story begins with the ageing Basil and Peter discussing the theft of a set of Peter’s shirts by a young man, Charles Albright, who it later transpires is involved with Basil’s daughter, Barbara – much to Basil’s distaste. Waugh describes the book in his dedication as a ‘senile attempt to recapture the manner of my youth’, but the work itself was generally well received by critics with Jocelyn Brooke, writing for The Listener in November 1963, describing Waugh’s prose as ‘impeccable as ever’. Although first published in Esquire magazine in 1962, limited editions were published in the UK and US in 1963, coinciding with Waugh’s own sixtieth birthday. The story was also later included in the collection of Waugh’s short stories, Work Suspended and Other Short Stories (Penguin, 1967), but without the elegant typography and illustration by renowned writer and illustrator Kathleen Hale (1898-2000), which were features of the limited editions.
Basil Seal Rides Again is one of thirty-one editions of works by Waugh in the collections of the Burgess Foundation. These books were part of Burgess’s personal library, and include Black Mischief, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Put Out More Flags and Scoop. To these may be added Waugh’s autobiography, a number of biographies of him, and editions of his letters and diaries. Burgess also included both Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honour trilogy in his 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 (1984). Although he disliked Waugh’s later re-working of Brideshead, Burgess ‘read [it] at least a dozen times and have never failed to be charmed and moved, even to tears… It is a novel altogether readable and damnably magical.’