Category Archives: HV Morton

The ‘Monna Lisa’ of Ancient Egypt

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Recently, HV Morton Society member Tony Brett mentioned he had been researching into a small statue at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The full account of his search makes a gripping tale and Tony’s detective work would rival Hercules Poirot himself!

The story begins almost exactly a century ago…

On page sixteen of his excellent biography “In Search of HV Morton”, author Michael Bartholmew tells us about HVM’s eagerness to go on an assignment for the Daily Express, to report on the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun, in 1923. The origins of this eagerness are, says Bartholomew, “… traceable to the Birmingham art gallery, where he was intrigued by a little statue”.

He quotes from Morton’s memoirs where Morton reports “My interest settled, for a reason I can offer no explanation, upon an ancient Egyptian bust about half the size of life which I took to be – indeed it may have been so labelled – a priestess of Isis… The work obsessed me and I began writing about it, trying to describe it, and in a moment of recklessness I posted one of these to… The Connoisseur… they printed the article and sent me a cheque for thirty shillings or two guineas. And then, of course, my fate had been cast. To realise while still at school that you can make money while writing is a most dangerous thing.

Incredibly, it is this very statue that Tony has tracked down and, what is more, he has also managed to locate the article which Morton wrote for The Connoisseur magazine.

When Tony began his enquiries by contacting Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, he was informed by Adam Jaffer (Curator of World Cultures) that the statue itself was most likely a piece known as the Limestone New Kingdom Bust donated to the museum in 1896. Adam told Tony two articles had been written about the bust, both in 1914.

The dates of the articles came as somewhat of a surprise to Tony, given Morton, born in 1892, had suggested in his memoirs he was at school when his was published. If one of these articles was actually Morton’s, this would make him a very late developer – still at school at the age of twenty two!

Undaunted, Tony set to work tracking down the relevant editions of The Connoisseur magazine. The Birmingham Library had, unfortunately, mislaid their copies in a recent move but they put him onto Birmingham University who in turn referred him to the Barber Institute who, at last, came up with the goods.

Connoisseur cover 2

Tony got browsing and, sure enough, to his great relief, in the May 1914 edition he came across an article entitled “The ‘Monna Lisa’ of Ancient Egypt”, featuring a picture of the Limestone New Kingdom Bust – without question this was the article referred to in Morton’s memoirs!

Incedentally, by virtue of a little detective work of my own, I have discovered that the May 1914 edition of The Connoisseur is available online courtesy of the Internet Archive, here (Morton’s article is on page 27 of the pdf).

But what about the apparent discrepancy regarding Morton’s age when he wrote the article – just how long was HVM at school? Well, Morton’s memoirs were written towards the end of his life, while living in South Africa, and it is likely advancing years and possibly a little harmless artistic license accounted for this minor inaccuracy. It bears mentioning that the statue which, in his memoirs, is referred to as “a priestess of Isis”; was assumed by the younger Morton, in the original article, to be a representation of the goddess Isis herself.

The article is fascinating for a number of reasons in addition to being the original work which helped determine Morton’s future career. For one thing, it is certainly the earliest published work of HV Morton I have ever come across, but the Morton we know and love is there to be seen in his writing style, particularly his evocative and lavish descriptions.

The title of the article too, is interesting – the “Monna Lisa” of ancient Egypt. This isn’t a mistake; Morton is using the authentic Italian spelling of the title of Da Vinci’s work, to which he is comparing his ancient carving.

The thing that threw me completely for a while though was at the end of the article – the initials HCM. Had Tony fallen at the final hurdle I wondered; is this article even by Morton at all?

It is possibly because I am a veterinary surgeon that my confusion lasted as long as it did – the acronym HCM describes a particularly nasty heart condition suffered by cats! So I hope I can be excused for not realising at once that, although this wasn’t our familiar “HVM” (Henry Vollam Morton), it was the much less frequently (if ever) seen “HCM”, or Henry Canova Morton.

In an article by HV Morton’s niece, Jo Walters, she informs us Morton family legend holds that while Maggie, HVM’s mother, was expecting her first child in 1892, she bought some heather from a gypsy-woman. As she was leaving, the woman turned and said; “The child you carry is a boy, and if you call him ‘Canova’ he will be famous in one of the arts”.

Apparently HVM didn’t share his mother’s enthusiasm for the name Canova, (it came from a Venetian sculptor) and always said he did his best to keep it secret. But on this one occasion he has used it, albeit just the initial, and I don’t think anyone could deny that it did indeed help him on his way to becoming “famous in one of the arts”. Perhaps the prophecy of the gypsy lady was correct! Young Harry clearly wasn’t convinced however as, having this once appeased the fates, he thereafter dropped the “Canova” moniker in all future writings.

There is one, last point of interest about the article, not at all obvious from reading it, but which Tony has also uncovered in his researches. It turns out, the “Monna Lisa” of Ancient Egypt isn’t all she appears to be – that “weird smile”, which so entranced our young author, keeps a secret; one which, even to the end of his days, Morton remained blissfully unaware of. Read on to Part Two (below), where the secret is revealed!

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“The ‘Monna Lisa’ of Ancient Egypt” part two… a Twist in the Tale
In which we discover that HV Morton has been labouring under a slight misapprehension!

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Tony Brett first came across a possible reference to the statue, referred to by HVM as “The ‘Monna Lisa’ of Ancient Egypt“, when he wrote to Adam Jaffer for advice. Adam is Curator of World Cultures at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) and clearly knows his onions because he recognised the statue from the brief description in Morton’s memoirs as being a piece known as the Limestone New Kingdom bust and so put Tony on the trail.

As a bit of background Adam kindly provided an article (sections of which can be seen below) written by Philip Watson – then principal curator in the Department of Human History – for “World Art”, a Birmingham Museum book published in 1999 and edited by Martin Ellis; a show-case for what BMAG considered their best pieces. This article proved most revealing:

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World Art cover

EGYPT, NEW KINGDOM, LATE 18TH DYNASTY, 1400-1300 BC

Limestone Height 30cm (11 3/4 in.) Presented by Miss Hanson, 1896 (1896 A 69)

Despite being broken and unkindly treated by the ravages of time, this head is the finest piece of sculpture in Birmingham’s Egyptian collection. It is carved out of a hard limestone that unfortunately contained patches of softer rock, which have weathered away to produce the current pitted appearance. The piece was highly, polished and originally would doubtless have been painted, as was customary for Egyptian sculpture.

It was presented to the museum in 1896 and two accounts of the bust (both published in 1914) extol its charm and beauty. One of them calls it the “Mona Lisa of ancient Egypt” and interprets it as a bust of the goddess Isis. The unknown author is “astonished by her beauty“, comments on her “weird smile” and finally asserts that “all the beauty, all the mystery and all the culture of dynastic Thebes blossom on the lips of this strange, stone woman“…

Despite such eulogies, the head is, in fact, that of a man. The rather feminized breast is typical of Egyptian sculpture from the reign of Amenophis III, and the gracious, rather soft physiognomy recalls later eighteenth-dynasty statuary. The figure also wears a distinctly, male duplex wig; the top and back of the wig have wavy strands of hair tied into ringlets at the ends, and these seem to be superimposed over a second wig composed entirely of ringlets, which drop forward over the shoulders. This style is common in the late eighteenth dynasty… [PW]

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So, wonderful detail about the statue and clear links to Morton’s Connoisseur magazine article, but unfortunately for HVM, and in spite of his reputaion as someone with an eye for the ladies, it turns out his “Monna Lisa” is a bloke!

In fairness, even looking again in the light of this information, the statue’s masculinity is far from obvious and, according to Watson, our man (the “unknown author” of the first 1914 article mentioned above) wasn’t the only one to have made the mistake.

In his memoirs, Morton was still referring to the statue as “she”, suggesting he probably went to his grave without realising his faux pas; but for us this footnote is an another entertaining facet of the life and works of Henry Canova Vollam Morton.

World Art” is for sale in the Birmingham Museum shop and, although the Limestone New Kingdom Bust is currently “off display” (as the Egypt Gallery is closed due to building work for the new Staffordshire Hoard Gallery)*, it will be back on view once again in May, for all to enjoy.

I would like to express my thanks to Tony, on behalf of the HV Morton Society, for the tremendous job he has done in unearthing this early treasure to add to our archives.

Niall Taylor

*This item was originally circulated as HV Morton Literary Notes – No.123 parts 1 and 2, in March 2014

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Judging a book by its cover

Middle EastMiddle East” – a challenging example of photogravure
(or so I am reliably informed!), before and after restoration.

Over a year ago, during one of my HV Morton internet trawls I stumbled across a website called “Reprojackets” which immediately grabbed my attention, as I was whisked, courtesy of google, to their HV Morton section.

I discovered the website offered high quality reproductions of classic book jackets. At the time, in the gallery, there were two HV Morton jackets – C W Bacon’s 1964 “A Traveller in Italy” and Fred E Taylor’s jacket for the eariest editions of “In Search of England” – both of which amazed me. I have always loved much of the artwork associated with HVM’s publications, and the idea of having them restored and refreshed to their original vibrancy quite took my breath away (you can tell I don’t get out much!).

1949 Morton CallEngland smallGregory Brown’s “railway-poster”-style cover to “The Call of England
– now restored to its original vibrancy.

I decided I would like to have one for myself and, after prizing up the loose floorboard under my bed, I was in the process of dusting off my wallet and wondering whether groats were still legal tender when, to my surprise, I received an email from John Whythe, the proprietor of the Reprojackets website himself!

John, it turns out, is a very pleasant and learnéd man who hails from Abergavenny, in Wales. The reason he had got in touch was regarding his recent purchase of a very early copy of “In Search of England” which he suspected was something special. I was able to help by putting him in touch with Peter Devenish and Kenneth Fields and it was quickly confirmed that John had in fact bagged that holy of holies, a first edition “In Search of England”. After that, our correspondence continued and, on realising my interest in his project, John enlisted me as a willing recruit, to help by scanning some HVM jackets for him. This was a bit of an experiment as up to that point he had done all the scanning himself, from his own copies.

iSoEBefore and after – Brian Cook’s 1939 cover to “In Search of England
– radiant colours once again

Since then I have sent John a steady trickle of scanned jackets – enormous, highly detailed 600dpi TIFF pictures – and have watched in amazement as he has restored them to the condition they were in when new, whole layers of colour and detail, previously obscured, are revealed – and his gallery has expanded.

John has an real eye for detail as he painstakingly strips the digital image of each jacket down to its component shapes and colours and then carefully builds them back up again anew after patching and repairing any defects caused by the passing of years. The final touch is to add a Reprojackets identifier logo – unobtrusive but unmissable – to ensure there is no confusion between copy and original. John has been kind enough to send me a couple of examples of his finished work; they are quite exquisite and I intend to frame them.

1941-4 Morton London smallAF Kersting’s atmospheric waterscape from the cover of the 1946 edition of “HV Morton’s London

You can see the process in action as John has presented a restoration sequence on his website here, and an animation here.

John is also very knowledgeable in all things bibliographic and has educated me on such things as the difference between a “printing” and an “edition” and also on various types of fonts – it was he who supplied the information about the unusual ligatures in the Caslon font employed in some of HVM’s early works (see HVM Literary Notes – No.124).

1928 Morton Land Vikings 1560 smallOne of my favourites – the highly collectible cover to “Land of the Vikings

So, if you have a spare moment, I would urge you to hop along and have a look at John Whythe’s meticulous and sympathetic restorations of, not just Morton’s works, but those of other authors too, from Hugh Lofting to PG Wodehouse and Arthur Ransome to JRR Tolkien.

The artwork for me is a significant part of the “Morton experience”, if you will, and it is a delight to be able to view it in something like the condition it must have been when it first appeared on book sellers’ shelves in the 1920’s and 30’s. I have several covers ready “in the pipeline” ready to send to John, including the “Scotland…” covers; AE Cox’s series for Morton’s middle east travelogues and “Our Fellow Men“; and the minimalist “Land of the Vikings” – and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing resored them to their original glory in future projects.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 June 2014
This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.168

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HV Morton’s International Appeal

No, no, put those wallets away – despite what you might think from the title, this is not a request for charitable donations!

I recently came across this flyer, tucked inside a 1935 edition of HV Morton’s “In Search of Ireland“, which gives marvellous insight into just how widespread this author’s popularity was.

In Search of Ireland flyer p 1

The front of this single sheet of paper is an advertisment for HVM’s best selling, “In the Steps of the Master“, published in October 1934, which it describes as “The World’s Best Seller” and suggests, at 7/6 (seven shillings and sixpence – that’s 37.5 pence in today’s currency), it would make the ideal Christmas present. It also features a retouched, monochrome reproduction of EA Cox’s original cover and informs us that already, only a few months after publication, it has sold a fifth of a million copies.

Interesting enough you would think, but it was the reverse of the flyer which really grabbed my attention.

In Search of Ireland flyer p 2

On the face of it, just a mundane order form, telling readers where to send their postal orders to secure that festive gift; but on closer inspection there is a review of the book which is of particular interest:

In Search of Ireland flyer p 2 crop

This review of “In the Steps of the Master” is written in Maori!

Being nothing if not obsessive, I transcribed the text:

February 1935                                                      Te Marama Rua o

KO TE ENUA APU E TUATUA NEI

Kua tae mai i te tima meile i topa akenei tetai buka ou “Ko In the Steps of the Master” te ingoa Papaa, ko te ingoa Maori “Ko te rua tapuae o e Pu”. Kua tataia tei buka e tetai tangta Beritane “Ko H.V. Morton” tona ingoa, na teia buka i akakite mai i te tu o te ingoa na eia buka i akakite mai i te tu o te enua ko Kanaana ou i teia tuatua.

Kua roa tona aerenga na roto i te enua e i roto i tona buka kua tata aia i te au mea e manganui tana i kite ana e i akarongo katoa. Kua aere atu aia ki Ierusalem ki te ngai anau anga o Iesu, ki Nazareta e ki te au ngai e manganui tei kite tatou i te au ingoa i roto i te Tuatua Tapu. Kua aere atu aia i te tautai ki runga i te roto i Galilea e kua kite katoa aia i te tangaa ravarai tei tautai i te pae tai mei te au tangata Cook Islands te tu, koia oki, te rave nei ratou i te rama e te auri katoa.

… But, unsurprisingly, it meant little to me. So I turned, in hope, to an online translation service, and discovered Google have recently included Maori in the list of languages it features. With a smug smile of satisfaction I entered the text and pressed “translate” and, hey presto!:

Have come from a team meile past a recent book your “In the steps of Master of the “name conflict, the English name” The two steps you Pu “. Has written a book tangta Beritane” The HV Morton “his name, in this book reveal the name of the stand and he books reveal the standing of the country and Canaan your Tairiiri.

Has his ways in the country and in his book he wrote the many things he saw his faith as a whole. Approached He Ierusalem to where Jesus’ birth, and Nazareth to the where we see many of the names in the Scriptures. He approached the fishing on Lake Galilee and found All he has to use all the fishing sites from coast humans Cook Islands stand, that is, they do the candle bar.

So, there we have it, as clear as mud. To be honest I think I had a better chance of understanding the original!

But even without being able to understand the full meaning of the text, it still gives a perspective on HVM’s immense appeal at the time and remains for me a fascinating piece of Mortoniana. It also provides a small snapshot of Morton’s life at a time of considerable change for him as, although the book containing the flyer is published by Methuen, the advertisment is for a book published by Rich and Cowan, to whom Morton had transferred his allegiance in 1933. They continued to publish his works until 1937 when they suffered bankruptcy, at which time Morton was persuaded to return to Methuen once more.

In the unlikely event that any readers are familiar with the Maori language I would be very grateful if anyone was able to cast any further light on this unique review. Not least because I would dearly love to know what it means to “do the candle bar” – it sounds like fun!

Niall Taylor

This article was originally distribued as HVM Literary Notes – No.127

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“What I Saw in the Slums” … a little known aspect of HV Morton

In 1933 HV Morton’s writing appeared to undergo a sea-change with the publication of a little known volume called “What I Saw in the Slums“. While reviewing this work for the online magazine Albion, I became fascinated by what might have prompted this change of heart. Why would a writer who, up to that time, had made his fame and fortune chiefly by writing uplifting travelogues suddenly take it into his head to turn instead to some of the worst, most deprived areas of urban England and lay bare what he found there at the height of the Great Depression.

The article below is not the review but is a second piece which resulted from my musings about the change of direction HV Morton appeared to have taken. I am most grateful to Peter Devenish and Kenneth Fields for answering my enquiries on the matter as well as to the authors of Morton’s biographies – “The Life of an Enchanted Traveller” by Kenneth Fields and “In Search of HV Morton” by Michael Bartholomew – for helping me weave a few loose threads into a vaguely coherent whole and construct, to my satisfaction, the story of an important period in the life of HV Morton.

Additional information was obtained from “Writing Englishness: 1900-1950” edited by Judy Giles and Tim Middleton.

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The cover of "What I Saw in the Slums"

The cover of “What I Saw in the Slums”

Anyone who has encountered the works of HV Morton, even briefly, will probably think of him as a chronicler of the brighter, more positive aspects of British life between the wars, with his various travelogues of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. If any criticism is to be made of his works it is his tendency to skirt around the harsher realities of life – he liked to keep things light-hearted. Anyone delving further into his background will come to realise that, although his views were kept largely private, Morton’s politics were distinctly conservative and right-wing.

Nothing in life is simple of course and sometimes, just when you think you know all there is to know about someone, they can still surprise you. Morton produced his early travelogues during ten fruitful and, initially, happy years spent working at the Daily Express newspaper, owned by Lord Beaverbrook. When Morton first joined the Daily Express in 1921 Beverly Baxter, who had been responsible for head-hunting Morton, reported he had been warned, with ominous foresight, by Morton’s previous editor at the Evening Standard, that his new recruit “… was gifted, but would give me trouble” [See HVM Society Snippet – No.146].

Slums 1Slum Playground for the “Coming Generation” – one of the photographs by James Jarché

Nearly a decade later, at the start of the 1930’s this prediction began to come true. Considerable personal success for Morton and an increasingly turbulent home-life started to drive a wedge between journalist and paper. Relations began to cool between him and Baxter, by then Editor in Chief, even though ironically it had been Baxter himself who had first encouraged Morton to begin his journeys around Britain, even going so far as to suggest the title In Search of England, thereby playing a large part in establishing the very fame which was now forcing them apart.

At the same time a rival paper, the Daily Herald – left-wing organ of the British Labour Party and Trades Union Movement and almost the polar opposite of Beaverbrook’s highly conservative Daily Express – was trying to improve its image. Owner, Ernest Bevin, and new publishing partners, Odhams Press, were striving to move the publication “up-market”, make it more competitive and put it on a firmer financial footing. One of the means they employed was to recruit star reporters (for lucrative salaries) to the staff, and so it was that HV Morton’s itchy feet led him in this unexpected direction in March 1931.

On a more personal level, according to biographer Kenneth Fields, Morton seemed to feel a need to step out of his comfort-zone and “… could no longer ignore the terrible poverty and unemployment that was evident throughout Britain. Unlike the Express, which he believed had become obsessed with rich celebrities, working at the Herald now gave him the opportunity to write about the life of the working-man“.

The first product of this unlikely pairing was conventional enough; another in Morton’s series of travelogues, eventually published in book form as “In Search of Wales“. What followed next though was a completely radical departure for Morton. “Labour Party Pamphlet VII” grew out of a series of columns he had been commissioned to write for the Herald in 1933 and was published under the title “What I Saw in the Slums“.

To hold a copy of “What I Saw in the Slums” in one’s hand is, quite literally, to hold a piece of history. This pamphlet was never modernised or re-published in the way that better known, later texts such as Priestley’s “English Journey” or Orwell’s “Road to Wigan Pier” were, so its very pages are part of the period about which they were written.

Understandably therefore, particularly since it was published in soft-back, very few copies have survived to the present day, despite the weighty feel of the publication suggesting it was printed on good quality paper. This makes it one of the rarest, and most collectible of all Morton’s works, and it was my “Mortonian Holy Grail” for a number of years before I finally bagged a copy on E-bay, thanks to a heads-up from avid Mortonite, John Baker.

Slum room“This Single Room is the Home of Husband, Wife and Three Children” –
reads the caption to this photograph of some of the
appalling conditions witnessed by Morton and Jarché

When it finally arrived, my copy was so fragile that I had to repair it with archive-quality adhesive tape and then labouriously scan the entire volume onto my computer in order to produce a facsimile reading copy. After all this, at long last I finally managed to read it and it didn’t disappoint – the wait was well worth it!

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My review of “What I Saw in the Slums” for Isabel Taylor’s online magazine Albion was published a few months ago in the ten year anniversary edition, and can be found about half-way down this page. I hope to be able to publish it in full on this blog in a few month’s time.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor 20 August 2014

(This article was originally circulated on 15 February 2014, as HVM Literary Notes – No.121)

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Call me a cab

In Search of London 2008

While reading HV Morton’s 1951 “In Search of London”, reader Peter Dron came across this quote in section 6 of chapter 10:

The men who drive the taxi-cabs of London are naturally a race apart. I have known them, and have admired many of them, for years. Some of the old stagers used to drive horse cabs, but that generation is now vanishing…

The other day I struck an old driver who might have been a thin relative of Bairnsfather’s “Old Bill”. I sat looking at the nape of his aged neck, his greying hair, the way he dodged in and out of the traffic and wondering what age he was. When we parted I gave him an unusually large tip because I liked him and because he was old. He looked at the money in the palm of his hand, smiled and winked at me and said:

“Thank yer Guv’nor. Don’t often meet a toff these days, and that’s a fact!”

What a strange conversational throw back to a dead age! He remembered the age of “toffs”, “swells” and “nobs”.

“You see this ‘ere,” he said, still gazing at the money. Do you know what I’d rather ‘ave than this ‘ere? I’ll tell yer… a blinkin’ fat rump steak and a pint o’ porter.”

He then leaned towards me and deplored the age in wich we live. He was an old snob. He loved toffs. He liked “a gentleman”. You could always tell a “real gentleman” from the other kind. Not ‘arf you couldn’t! But nowadays, driving a “keb” in London, blimey what a queer collection of odds and ends you meet. Not ‘arf you didn’t! But in the old days… Ah, the old days, when you could get a rump steak and a pint o’ porter… them was the days, guv’nor, them was the days, and we shan’t see them again. Not ‘arf we shan’t…

And away he went.

Peter was reminded of an article he had written for the Telegraph in 2001 about the London taxi (the TX1 apparently) and, in particuar, those mysterious little green huts which act like docking stations – little taxi Shangri-Las – across London where black cabs and their drivers congregate to be among their own kind for a while, out of the public eye. Had his wish been granted, it is likely that Morton’s driver would have enjoyed his “blinkin’ fat rump steak and a pint o’ porter” in one of these.

IMG_4330 small

Peter informs us they are something of an endangered species, with considerable provenance and great historical and cultural significance; while at the same time possessing a rather amusing air of having been dropped down, more or less at random, from somewhere above, just like Dr Who’s police box.

They are certainly captivating and when I came across one during a recent family visit to the capital something told me I had to photograph it, and I’m glad I did. Having read Peter’s article I heartily agree with him – it’s rather splendid and surprising that so many of those cabmen’s huts have somehow survived wars and ‘planners’ – not ‘arf it ain’t!

Niall Taylor 20 May 2014

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An unusual HVM connection

HVM Society Snippets – No.163
(originally circulated to the HV Morton Society 25 January 2014)

“Jo went leaping down the stairs…”

An unusual HVM connection

Dear Fellow Mortonites,

Some time ago I received an email from someone who described themselves as “a middle-aged Welshwoman living in the English Midlands” who went by the name of Molly. She had spotted the HV Morton website and made contact.

Molly wrote, “I came to Morton initially because I was on a quest to read all the books referenced in  the Chalet School series, where a character is reading ‘In the Steps of St Paul‘. So I read this, loved it, told my 86 year old father, and it turned out that Morton had been a great favourite of his family in the thirties. Further, I found a cache of books on his shelves… I continued with ‘In the Steps of the Master‘, ‘In Search of England‘ (which I found just a little self-conscious at times) and am now thoroughly enjoying ‘In Search of Wales‘.

Chalet School is a series of 60 books set in a girls’ school, written by Elinor Brent-Dyer between 1925 and 1970. According to wikipedia the original school was located in Austria then, following the rise of Naziism, relocated (rather rashly, with hindsight, even for a fictional establishment) to the Channel Islands before moving to the British mainland and then finally back to the continent, this time to Switzerland. Although modern-day reprints are available they are often heavily revised and altered (presumably in the name of “political correctness“) and, as a result, many of the original editions are highly sought after and change hands for considerable sums of money.

Cover

As one would expect these days, these books have an internet presence including the polished and informative “Friends of the Chalet School” and “insanity sandwich” (now no longer updated) which has a web page listing every one of the books & plays mentioned in the Chalet School series – there is an enormous number of them, Molly certainly has her work cut out.

Molly informed me the passage in question was from “The Highland Twins at the Chalet School“. To give a little context, Jo (the ongoing heroine of the CS) has gone off to collect the eponymous highland twins from the station. She is going to look after them because the Admiralty have commandeered their Scottish Island for the duration. (it’s set in 1940).  Robin, who is roughly 17 years of age and ridiculously angelic – she is later to enter a convent – is reading Morton. The excerpt is as follows:

Jo went leaping down the stairs, and Robin, left to herself, glanced at her wristwatch which was lying on the bedside table. ‘Twenty to six. Jo will have to buck up if she means to be at Armiford station by half-past six. Not that I think it will do any good. Well, I’ll just have another chapter or so of “In the Steps of St Paul“, and then I’d better get out. But it’s not worth while going to sleep again.’ She pushed up her pillows, pulled a woolly round her shoulders, for her nightgown was sleeveless, and the morning air coming through the wide-open window was sharp, with just a touch of frost, and settled down to a half-hour of enjoyment.

As to why Brent-Dyer chose to have one of her characters reading “In the Steps of St Paul“, Molly has a theory: “My guess is that she hadn’t actually read it herself, and thought it was more  – shall I say – religious and less political/travel-ly/generally contemporary than it is…“. Seen that way, Morton’s work would be ideal reading material for the “ridiculously angelic” Robin, seeking a literal path to enlightenment by following in the steps of one of Jesus’s disciples.

I hope this has been of some interest to Morton completists such as myself. If anyone enjoys this sort of thing you might be interested in a previous article listing a few more quirky links, including the wonderful “Hackney Podcast“.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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Thoughts of Glasgow

Bargain finds at Paddy's Market 1970 - (Photo copyright Jim Leggett - International Press Service)

Bargain finds at Paddy’s Market 1970 – (Photo copyright Jim Leggett – International Press Service)

“Glasgow on a November evening…

“The fog which has tickled the throat all evening relents a little and hangs thinly over the city, so that each lamp casts an inverted V of light downward on the pavement. The streets are full of light and life. Pavements are packed to the edge with men and women released from a day’s work, anxious to squeeze a little laughter from the dark as they move against a hazy blur of lit windows…

“There is nothing half-hearted about Glasgow… She is the greatest, closely-knit community in Great Britain… a mighty and inspiring human story. She is Scotland’s anchor to reality.”

From “In Search of Scotland“, chpt 11, section 2, 1929

Thinking of the people of Glasgow and those affected by the tragic events of Friday night.

Niall Taylor 1 December 2013

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December 1, 2013 · 11:18 am

HV Morton on London

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“So when I ask myself why I love London I realise I appreciate that which is London – a thing very like family tradition for which we in our turn are responsible to posterity – and I realise that I am every day of my life thrilled, puzzled, charmed and amused by that flood tide of common humanity flowing through London as it has surged through every great city in the history of civillisation. Here is every human emotion. Here in this splendid theatre the comedy and the tragedy of the human heart are acted day and night.”

HV Morton, 1926

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November 28, 2013 · 10:49 am

The Ultimate Peace Symbol

Originally distributed as HVM Society Snippet – No.159

PoppyDear Fellow Mortonites,

The first flower to regrow in soil disturbed by battle is the red corn poppy. This was initially remarked upon during the Napoleonic wars. Later, following the First World War, these bright little flowers were again the first to be seen as the torn, bare earth of no man’s land slowly began to transform back into pasture which, to this day, still carries the deep scars of combat. In 1921 the poppy was adopted as a symbol to commemorate soldiers who have died in war.

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The Cenotaph, by AE Horne from Morton’s 1926 “The London Year”

In his 1926 “The London Year”, a mere eight years after the end of the Great War, HV Morton described, in moving tones, the Armistice Day ceremony taking place around the newly erected Cenotaph, and the two minute silence that followed the laying of the wreaths:

Now London is hushed. The roar from Charing Cross dies away. Only the jingle of a horse’s bit breaks the silence of a people frozen in memory. Three white gulls fly over from the Thames, circle above the Cenotaph, and go. In Whitehall you feel the silence and the prayer ; for men and women are praying. It is not right to look. It is too sacred. The old memories well up in the heart, the old aches, the great joys, the misery, the gallantry, the laughter, and the tears.

How long two minutes can be! How much can be remembered! How little can a few years touch those things that go right down into the heart. I would not dare to look into a woman’s mind at this time—those women with medals! I would not care to imagine their thoughts ; but the young men— ah! in two minutes how many voices call to us, how many faces we remember, how many friendships, how many are the splendid loyalties of those “unhappy far-off times….”

Today, Monday 11th November is Remembrance Day, marking the 95th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The wearing of the poppy, or the laying of a wreath, on this day has nothing to do with politics, or with glorification and everything to do with gratitude, honour and respect and the determined hope that by remembering the past with all its horrors, we can perhaps be spared a repetition of it. The poppy is the ultimate peace symbol, pure and simple.

Tyne Cot war cemetery, Belgium

Tyne Cot cemetery, Belgium

Langemark war cemetery, Belgium

Langemark cemetery, Belgium

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
11 November 2013

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HV Morton on the Kindle: Something which won’t be on my Christmas List!

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.128 on 3rd Ocstober 2011

It is 85 years since H.V. Morton made his journeys around England which became immortalised as “In Search of England”.  One of the most evocative passages for me is the point where he visits St Anthony in Roseland in Cornwall.  While staying with some hospitable locals Morton is invited to trudge up a muddy lane in order to experience the contemporary pinnacle of what we would refer to today as “information technology”: a valve radio.  He meditates on the marvels of this modern miracle and shares the amazement of the locals as he listens to the tinkle of coffee cups and the rhythmic thrumming of a dance band in the Savoy Hotel, hundreds of miles away in London.  Morton was clearly at ease with modern technology.

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So, it was probably not in the spirit of the great man when I felt a small shudder travel up my spine as I read on the Amazon web-site recently that this first of his series of travelogues is now available in a “Kindle” edition.  The Kindle is an electronic reader, a device claiming to be everything a book is and more.  The adverts show us pictures of actors laughing while whipping Kindles out of over-sized bags (“see how small and convenient it is”) and desperately trying to appear as if they are enjoying themselves while their Kindle is exposed to sand on the beach or being enthusiastically licked by the pet dog (“see how rugged and portable it is”).  With thousands of different volumes stored on a single device you need never worry about having to find a real book on a real shelf ever again – everything is downloadable on a whim.

Well, I’m afraid I am unable to share the enthusiasm of its promoters, hard as this will be for Amazon to bear, I’m sure.  It’s just that I love actual books too much; even the most battered volume in my collection means more to me than the blank, empty eye of an electronic reader ever could. The feel, look, sound and even smell of pages as they are turned beneath one’s fingers is a million miles away from the cold caress of a plastic screen while little computer sounds attempt to mimic the noise of real pages. My books are friends to me, good and convivial companions through life’s journey.  I know each one of them intimately, they represent a living connection with things past and present – people and places I have known and visited down the years (I just have to look at my copy of “In Scotland Again” to be taken back in my mind’s eye to a cottage on the Mull of Kintyre on the shores of Loch Caolisport).

To me reading a book isn’t just about reading words, it is a personal and sensual experience.  Each book, with its individual creases and imperfections, its fonts and layout has a patina, a character of its own that no electronic device could ever capture, no matter how ‘convenient’ it claims to be (although who ever complained that a book’s batteries have run down!).  Some may see me being a “stick in the mud” (as my mother would say) by not moving with the times and keeping up with the latest technology, but that’s not entirely true.  I love the computer age, I am fascinated with word processors, the internet, email and MP3 players.  But books are different, they are my technological line in the sand, “thus far and no further!” I say, and the electronic reader is, for me, a step too far!

Anyone wishing to know more about the Kindle edition of In Search of England should follow this link.

With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

p.s. Peter Devenish of the HV Morton Society comments: “Morton certainly was interested in new technology, even in his later years. In his letters he described how delighted he was when TV came to South Africa; and he was as excited as a 15-year-old with the first landing on the Moon. Whether the Kindle would have been the “technological line in the sand” for HVM I don’t know but, with his great love for his library and books generally, I suspect he would have shared Niall’s view.”

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