Category Archives: Book reviews

Pope Pius XII

Pope Pius XII (image courtesy of wikipedia)

Pope Pius XII
(image courtesy of wikipedia)

I am just reading HVM’s book “A Traveller in Rome” – AGAIN, and with much pleasure – and am interested in his views on Pope Pius XII which are very positive. This pope was very much defamed after the war – quite wrongly, but Morton published this in 1957! Possibly “they” decided to have a go at the Pope after this date – for what  he was supposed to have not done during the war. As it happens he did a great deal but had to be quiet about it. I can’t imagine Hitler taking much notice of anything he had to say about the situation, he would simply have shut him up one way or another.

Bearing that in mind I have put together the short piece that follows. Really, surely this should go on TV  like Bradshaw’s journeys by Michael Portillo on the train round the country, which are very interesting – but HVM knocks spots off old Bradshaw!

I once started to write a travel book of my journey round the Middle East and some time later read HVM – frankly I threw my stuff in the bin. The amount of sheer hard work and research – before Ye Internet – combined with his wonderful writing skills and connections to people wherever he went is, to me, genius.

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HV Morton, the celebrated travel writer, states in his book “A Traveller in Rome”, published in 1957:

There probably has never been a Pope who is more certain to be canonised that Pope Pius XII and the stories I heard about him made me anxious to see a man who will one day be numbered among the saints”.

The cover of "A Traveller in Rome"

The cover of “A Traveller in Rome”

Morton obtained a ticket for an audience at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer home, among thousands of others. His holiness appeared on the balcony, seated on a red and gold chair, an elderly, frail white haired man, wearing gold rimmed spectacles and  “radiating holiness”.

Even if I been unaware of his ascetic lifestyle and his saintliness,” HVM wrote, “I should have felt this. He is a thin aristocrat whose hands are of the thin and attenuated kind that El Greco loved to give to his saints. His face is slim and sallow, his eyes dark and deep set. He is so upright and precise in his movements that it is difficult to believe he is eighty years old.”.

HVM goes on to describe the Pope in more detail: He speaks eight languages, he says, and was the first Pope to have flown, to descend into a mine and to visit a submarine. In 1917 he carried to the Kaiser the offer of Benedict XV to mediate in the first World War. He knew Hitler before the last war and he was elected in 1939, on his birthday, when he was sixty three years old. An unfortunate time to become Pope indeed!

Morton does not comment on the Hitler connection which, of recent years, has been the cause of so much defamation of this Pope since, in 1957 – when “A Traveller in Rome” was published, the campaign to condemn Pius for not sorting Hitler out had not yet begun. At this audience the Pope gave a short speech and a blessing in several languages and clearly was hugely popular and much loved.

HVM later had a private audience with his holiness. It was a simple ceremony in which Morton received a blessing and, while down on one knee, found himself fascinated by the beautiful scarlet velvet papal shoes peeking out from beneath the hem of the Pope’s spotless white soutane. Again HVM states his belief that he was in the presence of a truly holy man, who led a frugal and ascetic life and who loved birds, keeping two pet canaries which he allowed to fly around his apartments in the Vatican.

With hindsight, looking back from the year 2014 at Morton’s pleasant and  fascinating account of his meeting with Pope Pius XII sixty years ago, it is relevant to mention the unjustified attacks this Pope has been subjected to since that time.

From around 1963 Pius XII has been accused of being a friend of Hitler and not speaking out against the Holocaust – this is not the place to discuss these accusations which, in any case, have already been strongly refuted. It is difficult to know what Hitler would have said or done had the Pope made a public denunciation of him anyway, but it is hardly likely that he would have taken any notice.

In the event Pius XII did much to help the Jews, as well as many other victims of the war, in a quiet and – of necessity – secret way for which he should be thanked instead of defamed. When HV Morton met his holiness in the 1950s, he perceived Pius XII as a man of goodness, holiness, courage, intelligence and concern for all. If negative and defamatory things were being said about the Pope in Rome at that time surely, as a writer who missed little in his travel books and researched his material thoroughly, HVM would have been aware of it.

Barbara Green, West Yorkshire

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A few Morton Connections

I had just sat down to enjoy a delicious “Pizzetta” from the Glastonbury market, accompanied by a pickled gherkin and a handful of Greek olives, all washed down with a glass of Coolwater Bay Sauvignon Blanc when an excited squeak from the other-half announced that she had stumbled across another HV Morton-related link while surfing the information superhighway.

I say “excited squeak” – it was more of an “oh no, not again“-type expostulation to be quite frank. I’m afraid the dearly-belovéd doesn’t entirely share her patriarch’s passion for all things Morton – a failing of which I am happily tolerant; it takes all sorts to make a world after all and it behooves a good Mortonite to be forgiving of another’s shortcomings.

In Search of England 1952 edn

As it happens I already had in mind a post to air a few of the various connections I have come across recently concerning Morton, the vast number of which are a testament to his phenomenal popularity during the early and mid-20th century. An author, born some 120 years, ago who still regularly crops up on random internet searches has clearly had a tremendous impact on popular culture at some point.

What Alison had discovered was a brief but very significant reference to Morton’s “In Search of England”, the 1927 publication that arguably ushered in the period of his greatest popularity. The link is on a blog, entitled “Socks for the Boys!” by historian and author Alison Twells, featuring a series of excerpts from the diaries of the writer’s Aunt Norah who lived from 1925 to 2009.

The material on the blog gives a fascinating insight into the concerns, fears and everyday events of Norah’s life. Particularly interesting for me was the entry on the page with the heading “Hitler Trouble“, written when Norah was just 14 years old (by my calculation), which begins “31st August 1939: Ma & I went down for tea to Helen’s. Came back early. Went down to Hills & post. Started to read ‘In Search of England’ by HV Morton. Cold. Hitler trouble.

If you have an eye for detail you will not be surprised to realise that what comes next is not this young girl’s impressions of Morton’s travelogue; her reading is interrupted in no uncertain manner by the outbreak of the Second World War, as Hitler invades Poland, and Britain declares war on Germany over the course of the next three days. The day after war is declared Norah’s diary records the sinking of the passenger ship Athenia and ends simply with the comment “sunny“.

Alison Twells’s intention is to eventually publish a book based on her aunt’s diaries and I wish her the best of luck. If her blog is anything to go by this will be a worthy and enlightening project.

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HV Morton's London

I have no idea what the connection Morton has with hosiery but, after “Socks for the Boys!“, the second website on my list is called “Sockless musings from London“. The blog entry announces a “One a day audio challenge” and goes on to review “HV Morton’s London“, a compilation of his three earlier books “The Heart of London“, “The Spell of London“, and “The Nights of London“.

The reviewer, a Canadian writer who goes by the name of “Sockless“, obviously likes the book quite a bit judging by her comments, and reports it is her intention to share this out-of-print work by posting a section from it online every day for a year.

Sadly however, this is the only post on the blog, her project remains unrealised, and my comment about it remains unanswered. This is a great pity – if you are still out there Sockless I hope everything is OK and that you might return to your challenge at some point in the future.

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The final entry today (I think I’ve gone on quite long enough, don’t you!) is a bit of an oddity that I have sat on for some years. It is part of the Hackney Podcast, a series of recordings about the East End London Borough of Hackney. Hackney Podcast volume 18 is a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape, based around readings from “HV Morton’s London” interspersed with selections of street sounds and general goings-on over a 24 hour period, including disoriented clubbers, partying squatters, late night booksellers and market traders opening up for the day. There are also other historical and contextual readings about the area.

Whoever thought of doing this must have quite a vision – the works of HV Morton and the hustle of the modern-day east end wouldn’t necessarily be the most obvious things to put alongside one another but the melange really works and provides a real insight into what it must have been like for Morton as a young  journalist wandering the streets looking for people to talk to and places to see, to use as material for his newspaper column.

After listening to the full 30 minutes of this haunting work,  you are left with the impression that actually, despite superficial differences, Morton himself might well have recognised many of the kinds of people featured in the production and would have discovered much useful material for “HV Morton’s 21st Century London“!

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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Birds of the Gauntlet

This article originally distributed as HVM Society Collectors’ Notes – No.24

The Cover of "Birds of the Gauntlet"

The Cover of “Birds of the Gauntlet”

Dear Fellow Mortonites,

Just occasionally I like to allow myself the luxury of believing that I might have discovered a previously unknown piece of Mortoniana which will surprise and delight our resident Morton scholars and the rest of the HVM Society. Of course I appreciate that many in the society have been researching Morton for decades and have gone to the considerable trouble of tracking down personal papers, making contact with Morton’s family and acquaintances; acquiring rare publications; travelling to places he visited or lived; and spending hours in libraries, poring over microfiche machines and peering at ageing news-print.

This all strikes me as terribly inconvenient, not to say tedious. After all, this is the X-factor age and the current ethos is quite clearly that fame and success is everyone’s “right” and that if one can only “put one’s heart and soul” into something or “really believe in oneself”, then success will follow automatically and instantly, without the need for all that tiresome self-discipline, hard work and research.

Accordingly, it was after “putting my heart and soul” into many exhausting minutes of googling that I came across the item which is the subject of this bulletin and which I have not managed to find any existing reference to, in connection with HV Morton. Surely this has to be my X-factor fifteen minutes of fame.

In the past, when I have excitedly announced such “discoveries”, those more learned folk who really know their onions, after letting me down gently, announce that they have known all about my latest revelation forever and in fact the item in question is so numerous they have drawers full of them and put them to use propping up wobbly coffee tables and the like, while they study more deserving tomes!

But hope springs eternal, so here goes with my latest attempt at achieving immortality in the Mortonian Hall of Fame.

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Bakeia

“Birds of the Gauntlet”, written by Heinrich HJ von Michaëlis (another HVM!), was published in 1952 by Hutchinson & Co. ltd. Measuring approximately 11 by 8 inches, it is a hardback, bound in red board with gold embossed lettering to the spine and with a dustcover (above). It runs to 223 pages and is divided into part one; with twelve chapters, and part two; with four. There are eight colour plates and numerous monochrome sketches and studies, all done by the author. The foreword was written by the Marquess of Willingdon, and the introduction by Michaëlis’s fellow Somerset West resident and friend, Henry Vollam Morton. Morton’s introduction can be read in full here: Birds of the Gauntlet introduction.

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For the uninitiated, “birds of the gauntlet” are birds used for hunting, in falconry. The author describes with great affection the habits and lives of these birds, many of which he has rescued and reared and all of which he admires greatly: “their beauty and spirit appeal to me: many of them have been my friends and good companions”.

A large part of the book is given over to the stories of individual birds he has adopted, while the later sections are devoted to scientific considerations of flight – relating birds to his other passion, gliders – and of the forms and function of his “good companions”. The whole thing is written with a tone of wonderment and awe that brilliantly conveys his deep feelings for his subjects. The plates and drawings (some of which are included here) are superb and they alone would have made the purchase of this volume worthwhile, even without the Morton connection.

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Florian

Von Michaëlis was an artist, sculptor, ornithologist, pilot and expert in gliding. Born in 1912 in Germany to a German father and South African mother, he returned to his mother’s native country in 1937. He died in 1990. His life story – as described in brief by Morton in his introduction – is a fascinating one, encompassing Europe and Germany in particular as the old Imperium gave way to the Reich during the period between the wars. These 1,700 or so words are probably the nearest Morton ever got to writing “In Search of Germany”!

Morton compares Von Michaëlis favourably to some of his charges, describing him as “thin, spare and quick, with a restless darting manner, a rapid and fluent talker and a man who carries forty years with the air of youth”. The introduction has the mature, confident air of Morton’s later works while still retaining that characteristic whimsy and humour. From its tone HVM clearly has a great deal of respect for HvM.

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Von Michaëlis’s twin boys with Tonka

It remains to be seen if my discovery will rock the world of Morton scholarship (I ain’t holding my breath!) but whether or not it does, I am delighted to have come across this lovely volume and be able to add it to my little collection.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 September 2013

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Blue Days at Sea – a review

I have just finished reading “Blue Days at Sea and other essays” by HV Morton. While attending an enormous conference set in a magnificent edifice of concrete and glass, this slightly battered little book made perfect reading. It was a good companion to me in largely anonymous crowds as I carried it around to read between lectures and in coffee bars and restaurants, Morton’s highly readable style provided much welcome light relief from the subject matter at hand just as its slightly shabby cover contrasted pleasingly with the slick, plush interiors of the venue.

Blue Days at Sea, medium

The first thing I was looking forward to knowing more about was the unusual title. I had a vague idea the book was about the sea but was puzzled about the origins of the title. On opening the book I discovered that it is taken from a poem entitled “Romance”, by a young Robert Louis Stevenson. The first verse is given before the book begins:

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight
Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.
I will make a palace fit for you and me
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

“Blue Days at Sea and other essays” was first published in1932 and is dedicated “To All Who Serve on the High Seas”.

The book is a collection of short essays and vignettes, many of which are original, others having previously appeared in the Daily Express, the Sunday Express and the Daily Herald. It has nicely managed structure and form and is laid out in three broad sections – starting in serious and sombre mood in the section “About Men”, shifting into lighter gear for “About Women”, and offering a touch of introspection and a hint of the exotic as Morton travels far and wide across Europe and North Africa in “About Places”, until the final joy of coming home – “to a country which has no need to chain nailbrushes to a lavatory basin” – rounds off the collection.

The section titles are applied fairly loosley. In fact “About Men” concerns life in the Royal Navy, being an account of a period Morton spent as a journalist with the fleet, assigned to a ship referred to as HMS Impenetrable (although there is no reference an actual ship of this name anywhere to be found on the internet), initially anchored at its the base in the Cromarty Firth and later, during deep sea exercises and weapons training. These chapters clearly portray the great respect the author has for the personnel he encounters. We read his affectionate descriptions of the various manly goings-on and eccentricities he comes across, from the young “snotties” in the gun room to the god-like Captain on the bridge; all the time managing to convey a state of constant readiness, a willingness to face adversity and of extreme, calm and considered professionalism. These chaps, Morton seems to suggest, will get the job done, come what may, and still be back in the ward-room in time for a tot of rum and a round of “Priest of the Parish” before bed-time.

After the thrills of high speed manouvers in the Atlantic we are taken to the other extreme where, in the languid setting of a mediterranean naval base, the reader is given a touching account of the death and burial at sea of humble, loyal, Stoker Davis. Again Morton paints a picture of reserve and British stiff upper lip –

“‘Hullo! Where’s the wedding?’, asked a friend, nodding at the flowers.
“‘It’s Stoker Davis,’ replied the engineer commander, finishing his drink. ‘Dead.’
“‘Bad luck… What are you drinking?'”

HMS Dreadnought on manouvers

HMS Dreadnought on manouvers

The next section, “About Women”, while tending to the patronising as might be expected in a book of its time also reveals refreshingly modern attitudes in places. “The Wife” for instance, while describing the subject’s love affair “with a dress in a shop window”, also has a swipe at the husband as he is taken to task for not appreciating the work performed by his better half. The author also expresses disapproval of the husbandly hold on the purse strings which would have been the norm at the time. In another chapter Morton describes a business woman as she delivers financial advice to a male client to the accompaniment of simpering comments from a couple of “chaps” at the next table, “By Jove, pretty hot stuff that!”. To be fair, this isn’t Germaine Greer but in its day it must have been a bit of a revalation, particularly coming from a male author.

The reader is treated to a touch of pathos with the mysterious “Woman Nobody Knows” and a little light humour with “The Bad Girl” (a disconcertingly modern-sounding account of 1930’s “yoof”) and “The Head Huntress” ruthlessly stalking the jungles of London Society in dogged pursuit of a suitable marriage for her daughter.

The final section, “About Places”, starts in the tourist office with an account of the “Man of the World” who works there (and isn’t all he seems!), before Morton is off, across the globe with tales of his travels as he visits Paris, sees snow in Rome, rides across the Sahara on Ferdinand the Fiery Steed and encounters a link with the past – a proud man fallen on hard times – as he relates the touching story of Mr Snap in Cairo. There are several chapters concerning Rome, including an account – of interest to any Scot worth his salt – of a visit to the final resting place of Charles Edward Stewart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, at his tomb in the Church of St Peter. Morton gives a moving account of the life of the Young Pretender, contrasting the romance and chivalry of his youth with his sad fall from grace in later life. The romance of House of Stewart, he observes with disconcerting insight, is “the appealing romance of misfortune wedded to good looks”.

Then, after stopping off for a spot of night fishing in the seas around Capri where he is horrified by the throes of an expiring calamaro (or squid), it is back home once again with a loving homage to homecoming in the form of an account of the Dover to Victoria train as it takes Morton back to “reliable” London, a city populated entirely by “splendid men and beautiful women”. He is realistic about the fleeting nature of such feelings of elation after long weeks spent travelling abroad but nevertheless he notes the railway platform at Dover harbour as a symbol of something he would be willing to fight to defend in the event of war. I wonder if he could have guessed that only a few short years later he, and millions of others, would be called upon to do just that.

“Blue Days at Sea and other essays” is an engaging assortment, demonstrating Morton at his strongest as he explores a wide range of moods and emotions, all the while rooted in the everyday happenings of the world of the 1930’s. Once again Morton’s exquisite use of pace, structure and language reveals intimate details of life overlooked by grander, more self-important accounts elsewhere, and even today, after the best part of a century, we can still delight in it.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, England
5 March 2013

ship 02 silhouette copy small

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H.V.Morton – Our Fellow Men: A Review By Jim Leggett

(This post originally distributed as – HVM Literary Notes – No.117)

H.V.Morton – Our Fellow Men

A Review

By Jim Leggett

During a flight from Miami to Curacao in 1992, colleague Mike McDonough, a former Reuters reporter, mentioned his enjoyment of HV Morton’s volumes as, from his pocket, he produced a small book.

“‘Our Fellow Men’ – it’s a potpourri, on the daily lives of tradesmen, dustmen, ploughmen, chimney sweeps, even the milkman… have you read it?” he asked.

Our Fellow Men

OUR FELLOW MEN
By H. V. Morton

Methuen & CO. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W.C.
London

First published May 7th 1936, cover art by EA Cox

I’d never heard of this title let alone read it.

Back in Florida a week or so later I stopped by Mike’s apartment in Lantana, a sleepy seaside town some sixty miles north of Miami. Over a zesty Cuban coffee and sandwiches, he thumbed the pages of his hardcover copy with its slightly faded frontispiece, otherwise in pristine condition. He told me he’d picked it up in Manchester, his UK hometown. “Time to pass it on…” he added, giving the book to me.

“Our Fellow Men” is a Pepys-style contemporary (mid 1930’s) history, insights on ordinary folk, men and women, revealing day-in-the-life-of insights from a wide variety of intriguing characters, the like of which HVM had an uncanny knack of turning up. Add Morton’s wry historical observations, Presto! – Another enchanting read. I particularly enjoy being able to delve in anywhere, picking whatever occupation takes your fancy.

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London taxi drivers, circa 1936, were issued from sixty to seventy police summonses a week, for going too slowly. Not keeping up with the normal flow of traffic was an offense, arbitrary fines ranging from 2s 6d in one court to 5s at another – for the identical “crime”. Taxi drivers were paid thirty percent of the gross meter taking, or 6s from every £1 pound collected. Morton interviewed a dozen drivers, discovering their take came to “rarely more than a £2 10s or £3 pounds a week job”. They received no wage; theirs was in an uninsurable occupation, in that if he is out of work, he cannot receive unemployment benefits. In short, taxi driving at that time was not profitable.

We meet, too, George, the cinema projectionist, the man picture theatre patrons never see – the man behind the film. Working in a fireproof room known as a “box”, two projectors, a side lantern and a spotlight are under his command. Morton notes: “It is thanks to George’s skill and vigilance that Greta Garbo comes over at the right speed, and it is due entirely to George’s alacrity that the heart-throbs change swiftly and smoothly to the welcome tempo of Walt Disney’s fertile brain”.

We learn that the moving picture era began in 1824, when Peter Mark Roget lectured before the Royal Society in London on the subject of moving objects and the law of vision. Morton notes the first form of moving picture was a card with a bird painted on one side, and a cage on the other, which – when suspended from a string and rapidly revolved – gave the illusion that the bird was in the cage.

Under George’s skillful hands something like seven miles of highly flammable film flickered through the projectors in his long days work. His first duty was to see the celluloid film did not catch fire…and indeed they did. As a boy I recall fire brigade bells clanging as they raced to the Star Picture Palace in Glasgow to suppress a smoky projection “box” fire.  The projectionist rarely sees the movie, “I don’t pay much attention to them! Sometimes I look at the news, especially Monday’s Cup-ties matches.” George says, closing the interview with “Well, I’ll be getting along home. I believe I am married….”.

Then there’s Bill, an insurance salesman, who knocked on some fifty doors during his morning’s round, collecting money on what his company called life insurance policies. Morton noted they are really “death policies”. The shame of a parish (pauper) funeral was so ingrained in the populace, they would forgo the smallest personal luxury to meet their meager weekly premium, their insurance man oozing charm while persuading them “You want to the right thing for dad, now don’t you? Have you got the money for his funeral? You’ve got to think about these things”.

Bill confesses that 90% of the money he so painfully screws from starvation incomes goes right into the pocket of the undertaker.  In that respect not much has changed – except you have to take a second mortgage to afford a funeral today. (In irreverent determination to cheat the mortician, I’ve donated my well-travelled corpse to some medical procurement enterprise, for free):

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On the lighter side Morton spoke with Jack, a newsboy. Evening newspapers, which supply London street sellers with a living, during the 1930’s sold by the “quire”, twenty-six copies, for which he paid 1s 6d. A quire, strictly speaking, is twenty-four, but the two extra copies – it used to be three – were thrown in as the seller’s profit. An 8d profit on the sale of every twenty-six copies sold. We learn of an assortment of street vendors; Sunshine Runners, who hawk papers only when there was something to sell – football results and the like; Tappers, crooks who got in touch to “tap” you, often pretending to sell papers to inebriates; Movie Men appeared to sell only one quire, earning them admission price to the pictures. Jack tells Morton he can earn £2 10s to £3 a week by selling newspapers, as long as his pitch is not invaded by pirates who swoop down from nowhere with a football edition.

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In the space of 171 lively pages, thirty extraordinary ordinary Londoners are resurrected, alive once more as HVM so deliciously captured them. He divulges what they did to feed themselves and their families, reveals how many hours a day they toiled and, of paramount importance, the wages they earned.

Says Morton, “I have also the feeling that should some curious person pick this book from a penny box in the year 2036 A.D., he would be interested to know the wages of a dustman in 1936, or the money earned by a taxi-cab driver in the London of Edward V111”.

… I’ve sent my copy on to Sean Connery [see footnote], who was an Edinburgh milkman long before “shaken, not stirred” took the place of “One pint or two?”.

With best wishes,

Jim Legget, The Bahamas
March 2013

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FOOTNOTE:

In keeping with HVM’s observation on income, when last I visited with Sean Connery at his home in Lyford Cay, Bahamas, we spoke of his early job as milkman – when he had his own (employer’s) horse and cart.

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St. Cuthbert’s Dairy, in Edinburgh, delivered milk by horse and cart well into the 1980’s

On opening a weighty Volume One of “Old and New Edinburgh” by James Grant, published in 1883, Sean took amused note of a small rubber-stamp flyleaf imprint:

J.M. Cameron
26, Melville Terrace
Edinburgh.

“Christ! I used to deliver milk to that address…I knew that terrace well” he declared.

In his book “Being a Scot”*, a copy of his first milkman pay slip reads;

Date 20-7-1944;
CONNERY  Thomas. S. #26246.
St, Cuthbert’s Co-Operative  Dairy
Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

His starting salary was one guinea, or twenty-one shillings (£1.05p), a week. He writes; “the horse I groomed was a Highland garron pony called Tich and I loved her dearly.”

From his modest pay packet, Sean relates how he bought Tich rosettes and chains – which looped down from each ear, “along with a martingale, or bracelet, which hung down her front.” He was so proud of Tich he entered her in the annual horse-and-cart competition for the best-dressed horse and she won a Highly Commended!

* “Being A Scot” by Sean Connery with Murray Grigor, Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2008, pp18-19

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The Catholic Herald’s 1936 review of “In the Steps of St Paul”

The Catholic Church has always had a commitment to the preservation of literature. This continues to this day, to our great benefit, in the transcripts of the London-based Catholic Herald – its entire content, from 1935 to the present day, having been scanned, digitised, tagged and extracted to give a fully searchable archive. What an invaluable resource this is for anyone interested in modern history, particularly since currently the archive remains free to view.

The cover of the 1936 edition of “In the Steps of St Paul”

You can imagine my pleasure when I stumbled across a review, from 1936, of HV Morton’s “In the Steps of St Paul” entitled “Follow H. V. Morton — But Read St. Paul” by one of The Herald’s regular contributors, Father CC Martindale SJ (1879-1963) (SJ stands for the Society of Jesus, which is to say the Jesuits). Fr Martindale was a Catholic convert, Oxford scholar and renowned Jesuit author.

The transcription suffers only slightly as a result of minor inaccuracies in the Optical Character Recognition process and the digitised text is easy to read. To eliminate any doubt about the actual content, however, the original, scanned versions of the pages are provided for reference alongside the transcript.

The tone and language used in the review is delightfully “of its time”. Martindale opens politely enough with the hope that Morton’s book will sell well, but then launches into some fairly outspoken criticism. There is none of the non-judgemental, cautious, oblique (some would say sly) language we are so used to seeing in literary criticism these days. The Reverend Father says what he feels, and no mistake: Morton made his journey in the wrong order, he stuck too closely to his chosen title, he excluded the epistles and, what’s more, Martindale suggests Morton may not even be in possession of the sort of mind required to assimilate all the literature essential (in Martindale’s view) to the author of such an undertaking.

Having said all this and hinted at, “many other details we might have challenged” Martindale, rather euphemistically, “proceed[s] to recommend whole-heartedly every part of this book which is strictly true to the title”. And in truth the author does appear pleased with many aspects of Morton’s book as an exposition of St Paul, surely the greatest of all Christian missionaries. Martindale approves of Morton’s “light hearted” tone and his description of “Arab proverbs; quaint anecdotes; adventures anxious and comical” as they are “lavished upon us with profusion”.

HV Morton’s “In the Steps of St Paul” is still in print. For further details click the thumbnail to visit Methuen’s website.

In his closing paragraph, Fr Martindale, ironically sticking extremely closely to the title of his article, impresses upon readers they should certainly follow Morton “In the Steps of St Paul”, suggesting enthusiastically that they will be “astonished, amused, touched, awestruck, frightened, inspired”, but they should read St Paul.

I, in turn, would recommend that you read Martindale’s article! It is an enlightening piece of contemporary writing and gives a view of how Morton and his works were perceived by some at the time. Interestingly, it also tells us that the Church was not unequivocally happy with Morton’s writings on the Holy Land; something which these days, is difficult to comprehend when religious bodies seem to be falling over themselves for the type of popular appeal that Morton was able to lend.

Niall Taylor 5th November 2012

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