Tag Archives: books
From time to time the HV Morton blog has featured articles of general literary interest, not necessarily directly connected with Morton himself. There follows one such piece from high-flying, motorbike riding, whiskey drinking, international photo journalist Jim Leggett, a long-standing member of the HV Morton Society formerly of Glasgow (a Scottish city to the west of Edinburgh), now resident in the US of A!
In all seriousness, we are privileged to have this contribution from such an experienced and accomplished journalist on a fascinating, little known subject.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England.
I was in the remarkable old Tennessee town of Franklin covering the Southern Whiskey Society annual event. During my explorations I discovered this historic building, a survivor of the historic Battle of Franklin, one of the most decisive in Civil War history, more details of which are covered on an adjacent plaque:
Old Factory Store
In 1799 Franklin founder Abram Maury sold lot 20 to Joseph McBride. By 1825 Dyer Pearl, Thomas Parkes and Joseph L Campbell operated a steam powered cotton and grist mill on East Margin and owned lot 20 upon which was built a brick store in the Greek revival style, complete with 4 distinctive Doric columns supporting a Grecian pediment. Other antebellum owners included Anderson and Baldwin (1833), Plunkett & Parkes (1843). On December 12 1862 U.S. Brig. Gen. David Stanley ordered the machinery at the factory and the stones of the grist mill destroyed but he spared the factory store after taking four wagon loads of flour and a wagon full of whiskey.
Williamson County Historical Society 2005
I was delighted when bookseller Joel Tomlin introduced me to the magic of gold leaf hidden images, not the least of which are said to have been of erotic subject matter in some ancient volumes! You can find detailed history on the art, legend, and prolific usage of fore-edge painting on the internet, so I will not try to explain better than you will find there.
One can imagine relaxing, secluded in this comfortable chair, a glass of Tennessee whiskey in hand, with unlimited time to pursue literary inspiration among the vast collection of mostly Southern history books Joel Tomlin has accumulated in this modern-day Old Curiosity Shop. I even pulled out three volumes entitled “Old and New Edinburgh”, 1863, by James Grant of which I possess numbers two and three, volume one having been presented to acquaintance Sean Connery, who has it at his Bahamian home!
As in the steps of Morton, I always seek the untold story, this being the kind of discovery Morton himself would have elaborated on in great detail. Indeed, I plan to get it into my next yarn for American Whiskey Magazine.
I am sending other photographs of similar gold leaf images trusting Mortonites may be as enchanted by the discovery as I was!
Indeed something new every day!
Over Christmas, I was given the latest book by the wonderful Bill Bryson. “The Road to Little Dribbling – More Notes from a Small Island” celebrates both the 20-year anniversary of his first British book (“Notes from a Small Island”) and the fact that he has just been made a British Citizen (about time too, he’s been an honorary Englishman for years in my book).
However, this time, though I kept annoying my husband by giggling helplessly while reading in bed, and though I gave Mr. Bryson a full 5-stars on my Goodreads review (www.goodreads.com for every bibliophile), I didn’t quite agree with him all the time.
Witness the following quote, from his Dartmoor visit:
‘I had just finished reading “In Search of England” by H.V. Morton, which is always described as a classic, presumably by people who have never read it because it is actually quite dreadful. It was written in 1927 and consists largely of Morton motoring around England and slowing down every twenty miles to ask directions of a besmocked bumpkin standing at the roadside. In every village he went to, Morton found a man with a funny accent and f***-all to do, and had a conversation with him. . .
‘The impression you get from ISO England is that England is a cheerful, friendly place, peopled with lovable halfwits with comic accents, so it is a little ironic that the book is so often cited as capturing the essence of the nation. An even greater irony is that Morton eventually soured on England because it wasn’t fascist enough for him [ouch, and not true – Ed]. He moved to South Africa in 1947 and lived the last thirty-two years of his life there, forgotten by the world but happy to have servants he could shout at.’
Well, you can’t win ‘em all! Perhaps someone could write officially on behalf of the society to Mr. Bryson and put him right about HVM’s reasons for leaving England? Actually, the thought that there really was an H.V. Morton Society would probably call forth another rant, like the one about the ‘Water Tower Appreciation Society, a Society for Clay Pipe Research, a Pillbox Study Group, a Ghost Sign Society and a Roundabout Appreciation Society’, which features earlier in the book.
Anyway, why was Morton so inclined to write about ‘England as a cheerful, friendly place, peopled with lovable halfwits’? For an answer to that, I turned to a rather more gritty book, which I also enjoyed just after Christmas. “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald, a falconer, describes her relationship with her goshawk Mabel, and how Mabel helped her overcome her grief after losing her father. To really appreciate this book, one needs to have read “The Sword in the Stone” by T.H. White, another amateur falconer, who Macdonald consistently refers to, comparing his clumsy attempts at training a goshawk with her own.
T.H. White was a contemporary of Morton, and Macdonald explains that during the ‘20s and ‘30s (when Morton was writing his travelogues), there was a great movement of people wanting to go back to the land, back to their roots. There were lots of events like midnight rambles and excursions deep into the countryside, and a great revival of country arts and crafts as people sought to forget the Great War and rediscover their national identity after the bloodbath which had decimated the nation. It struck me, reading this, that that is the background from which all Morton’s travel books that we love so much (even if Mr. Bryson doesn’t) have sprung. Nearly a century ago, Morton was capturing the feelings of the age – that Great Britain was still great, and its countryside and its characters were why people had fought and died. Nowhere is that more evident for me, than in the poignant first half of his 1939 “I Saw Two Englands”, when he realises that the England he loves so much is under threat in an even worse way than from the First World War.
So there you go, Mr. Bryson – Morton was a man of his time and upbringing, just as you are a product of yours. He may wax more lyrical than your bluff style, but one thing is true – he loved England in his own way just as much as you do.
‘I have said it many times before, but it really cannot be stated too often: there isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of Great Britain. It is the world’s largest park, its most perfect accidental garden. I think it may be the British nation’s most glorious achievement.’ (“The Road to Little Dribbling”, p. 381).
I’m sure Morton couldn’t have agreed more.
Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.198, 20 February 2016
Methuen, London, 2004. 248 pages with illustrations, notes and index. Also now available in paperback. From major booksellers and on-line through Amazon UK, etc.
The first and most important thing to say about Michael Bartholomew’s “In Search of HV Morton” is that this is an excellent read. The text flows, it is accessible and, unlike some biographies, it has a good structure and narrative. The reader is taken from Morton’s childhood, cycling around the lanes of Warwickshire and discovering a passion for place and history through his journalistic career, finding his niche as the foremost travel writer of his time and then, finally his gradual disillusionment as England began to take a different direction from the country he had known and loved.
Early in the work Bartholemew takes time to explain the distinction between the droll, urbane narrator of his tales (‘HV’ Morton) and the real man (‘Harry’ Morton) behind the books. Morton’s contemporaneous diary writings are contrasted with his works of literature throughout as a device to move through Morton’s life and explore the motivation behind both narrator and author. Any reader coming to this work hoping to read about the simple, solitary, companionable traveller of Morton’s books is in for a disappointment. Like the top rate journalist he was, Morton knew how to deliver precisely what his audience wanted and went to great lengths to maintain the illusion and charm of his books by keeping a low public profile. Fortunately for us (and perhaps less so for the reputation of ‘HV’) Morton left a large number of notes in the form of diaries and half written memoirs which formed the basis for much of Batholomew’s book, enabling his story to be told.
This account of the life of Morton is even handed and largely non-judgemental (despite the occasional spin placed on some of Bartholemew’s words by other reviewers).
Bartholemew obviously admires Morton’s talents as a master of descriptive prose and he presents Morton’s questionable political views as more naive and simplistic rather than anything more sinister; ‘more prejudice than politics’. Morton’s womanising and racism are presented, mostly in the form of extracts from his diary, and the reader is left to judge for him or her self. We are told of a man who, while privately contemptuous of the direction Britain was taking at times, was prepared to put his talents to work, on occasion for no financial return, to support the governmnent in its efforts during the war. Morton wasn’t without a social conscience and his 1933 social commentary “What I saw in the slums” is compared favourably with the better known “Road to Wigan Pier” by George Orwell; Bartholomew suggests that Morton’s depiction of women in the slums is ‘just as powerful and… less patronising’ than Orwell’s. We are told of Morton’s quiet bravery – castigating himself in his diary on the one hand for his cowardly feelings during the London blitz yet, despite his fear, going into the city to cover stories for his paper. At a time in Britain’s history when invasion appears imminent Morton writes about the distinct possiblility of being killed defending his village against the Nazi foe while at the same time is enraged as his gardener is enlisted into the armed forces.
This book is a sympathetic, ‘warts and all’ portrayal of the real man behind the public persona; above all it is a balanced account. It is direct and unstinting, delivering praise and criticism alike where they are due. By the conclusion any Morton admirer will be the better for having read it and will have an understanding of the real depth behind both ‘HV’ and ‘Harry’.
HV Morton was in the habit of using caricatures of certain groups of individuals as foils for his carefree narrator, enabling him to make a point in a lighthearted way, in keeping with the nature of his travelogues. The travelling salesman came in for a bit of stick on occasions, as did the ‘yokel’. But one of his favourites was the hapless American Tourist. Morton would paint him as naive and well-meaning, camera in hand, shutter clicking and uttering phrases such as ‘gee’ and ‘say, mister’. He would generally have daughters with names like Maisie, who would refer to him as ‘Dad!’ Well, that’s the male version certainly; of the female version, HVM was generally more complimentary. These unsuspecting individuals would provide ample opportunity for Morton’s traveller to expound fulsomely on a variety of topics as the reader pictures with amusement his assumed look of Old World superiority, the Tourist looking on, basking in his erudition.
However, in the years between the wars when Morton was writing about the British Isles, the world was growing steadily smaller. His books were such great successes in his mother-country, inevitably the lure of the even more lucrative American market began to exert its pull in a way that must have been difficult to resist. Morton was approached by North American publishers, with a view to expanding his readership (and his bank-balance) on the other side of the pond and the first US edition of “In Search of England” appeared as early as 1928 from publishers including the National Travel Club, and McBride, both of New York, and later Dodd, Mead and Co., also of New York.
But what to do about all those references to the American Tourist? All very amusing to a homespun readership certainly, but how would his irreverence be taken in the United States, already well on its way to supplanting the British Empire as the global superpower to be reckoned with? One can only imagine the mental gymnastics which must have gone on and the negotiations which must have been had prior to the publication of the first US edition.
We can get an insight into the thought process from the introduction Morton wrote to a 1935 revised US edition of “In Search of England”, published by Dodd, Mead and Co. and featured below for your interest. It seems at one point he considered expunging the offending references altogether but in the end decided that a bit of ‘context’ in the introduction might do the job instead. This introduction makes fascinating reading – never has back-pedalling been undertaken so elegantly. As you read it you will see that Morton has apparently always thought of the American Tourist as ‘loveable’ and ‘part of the English scene’ and he explains how he really misses them, now that the post-First World War travel boom was over.
And well might Maisie’s ‘Dad’ have responded, ‘Pull the other one, Limey!’
The cover of my Dodd, Mead and Co. edition of “In Search of England”
‘Introduction to the Revised Edition
‘WHEN Messrs. Dodd, Mead and Company asked me to revise for the United States this new edition of “In Search of England”, I was faced with the task of reading the book. I had no idea, when I wrote it some years ago, that the book would become a best-seller.
In fact, I never thought of such things. I just wanted to put down on paper the day-to-day impressions of a high-spirited journey over the roads and through the lanes of England. But, in the inexplicable way these things happen, “In Search of England”, with no assistance from the critics, began to sell all over the English-speaking world.
‘Reading it again at the request of Mr. Dodd, I am delighted to discover that it possesses two of the qualities by which I judge a book of travel: it deals sincerely with the unchanging and abiding things, and it is flavoured, but not too highly, by the time in which it was written.
‘This brings me to the only serious criticism I have received from readers in the United States. These criticisms are always the same. “Why,” I am asked, “do you draw such revolting Americans? All Americans are not vulgar. All Americans are not Babbitts. No Americans talk the kind of slang you put into their mouths.” And so forth.
‘I have received so many letters in this strain that my first reaction to Mr. Dodd’s revised edition was the desire to cut out every American in the book. But, as my pen hovered over these “guys,” I could not bring myself to do it. They are part of the English scene as it was when the book was written.
‘I went in search of England during that brief, golden age after the War when the Rue de Rivoli was an American possession, and when every English cathedral city received its daily quota of visiting Americans. These travellers were drawn very largely from a type that had never before strayed so far from home. Money had suddenly come their way and they were out to see the world. They did talk slang, and they did observe a lovable naivete which is faithfully reproduced here and there in these pages. For instance, the man encountered in Peterborough, who was making a cultural tour of Europe, could not be met with anywhere to-day, but he was an interesting phenomenon during the post-war travel boom. Therefore I ask my readers to understand that I am not setting up characters in any way typical of a nation, and if I were writing this book to-day not one of these people would appear in it, because they have ceased to brighten the rural life of England; much, I confess, to England’s regret.
‘But the England of these pages is still the England of to-day. The changes that have taken place are purely superficial. No Cornish farmer now listens to radio from London with a primitive valve set, and the old Mauretania has ceased to slip into Plymouth Sound.
‘Nevertheless the ancient background of the picture is unaltered. Jack Blandiver still kicks up his heels against the bell in Wells Cathedral, and Hadrian’s Wall still runs its solitary course into the mists of the northern fells.’
H. V. M., London, 1935.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
(this article was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.195 on 3rd December 2015)
Anyone with an interest in HV Morton who has spent even a short time in second-hand-book shops or browsing their web-sites will have come across the so-called Minerva Editions of his works, with their distinctive faux-leather bindings and gold-leaf trim. The origins of these special editions are somewhat of a mystery although thanks to the interest of one or two Mortonites who specialise in collecting them and several HVM Society bulletins over the years we now know a bit more than we did. With apologies in advance for length, I thought it would be helpful to set out what is known about them.
Sulis Minerva, the Romano-Celtic fusion of Minerva with her British counterpart, Sulis, currently residing in the English city of Bath.
Minerva, described by Ovid as ‘goddess of a thousand works’, was the Roman goddess of wisdom and science aswell as war, art and poetry. Her Greek counterpart was Athena and she is generally depicted carrying a spear and shield and wearing a golden breastplate. Her symbols were the owl, the snake and the olive tree.
So, as names go, Minerva is a pretty good choice if you are in the book publishing business, evoking an image of strength, wisdom and learned studiousness and generally lending an air of gravitas to your product.
This means unfortunately there is a confusing plethora of Minerva publishing houses to be found. From producing copious amounts of gothic horror by women authors in 1790, to odious racist propaganda in 1888, up to present day textbooks relating to Middle Eastern language and culture, and magazines which cover diverse subjects from ancient art and archaeology to Ipswich Lifestyle and Solihull Living, dozens of different Minervas have and still do exist which have nothing to do with our Morton collecion yet persist in popping up during searches of the internet to confuse the armchair researcher.
The Morton Minervas:
An unusual promotional copy (courtesy of JB)
Until recently there was little explanation as to who had actually produced the Morton Minervas. Examination of the individual volumes themselves gives no clue since, apart from their distinctive livery, between the covers they are simply rebound copies of standard editions.
Now, however, thanks to the vigilance of Mortonite JB, we have discovered two unusual sales and promotional copies with fold-out sections, depicting the spines of many of the books in the collection. These have really cast a light on things and we now know the Morton volumes were issued by the Library Press of 36 Russell Square, London, WC 1.
In addition we have the Library Press’s own description of them as being bound in ‘special leather-cloth’, each volume measuring 7 ¾ inches by 5, with an initial price of £2.2s.0d, later amended (by hand on the promotional copies) to £3.10s.6d.
These copies are fascinating in themselves and give a real flavour of the times. They extol the merits of Morton’s words and reveal the personal touch of their original owner who has carefully updated details of prices and the number of titles in the series as they changed.
As an exercise for myself I transcribed some of the ‘sales patter’, and it’s pretty florid stuff, to say the least!
‘The smell of English Meadows
‘As a final effort to convey to the reader the exceptional quality and enduring charm of these remarkable books, permit us to quote from the Author’s own note to the Ninth Edition of “In Search of England”:
‘“If you find in these pages the smell of English meadows, if they bring back to you the smooth movement of English rivers, the stately somnolence of cathedral cities and the sound of bells among elm trees on cool summer mornings I am happy because–well; the pain will not really hurt you. You may even enjoy it.”
‘For ourselves we are sure you will revel in each one of these entrancing volumes. There is nothing to choose between them. Each is as humorous, as full of information, as crammed with little-known legends and facts, anecdotes and wayfaring “characters” as its companion volumes. No book-lover will be content with less than the set of four [amended by hand to five, Ed.] delightful volumes.
‘Each book (except “In Search of England” which has 18) has 16 plates delightfully depicting the country through which the author passes, or the people he meets. “The Call of England” has 8 plates in colour. Each book has an interesting end-paper map, specially drawn by A. E. Taylor, showing the route covered in the book.’
They are all hardback, with embossed brown boards, gilt lettering and upper edge paper and featuring a single, central motif on the front cover, also in gilt, depicting a tree, possibly the deity’s olive tree. Initially issued as a series of four, the number of titles grew and there are now at least nine that we know of:
The full set (with a duplicate): “In Search of England”; “The Call of England”; “In Search of Scotland”; “In Scotland Again”; “In Search of Ireland”; “In Search of Wales”; “A London Year”; “In The Steps of St Paul” and “In the Steps of the Master” (courtesy of OH)
The earliest edition we know of is dated 1931, the latest is 1936. [Editor’s note – with grateful thanks to VW, reader of this blog and inhabitant of Dolgellau (Dolgelley), Wales, we now know of a Minerva edition of “In Search of Wales” which dates to 1938)]
Slightly earlier, during the 1920s and 1930s, the Library Press also published another series, known as the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors. These are similar, but by no means identical to the Morton editions.
Like the Morton editions, many (but not all) Minerva Editions of Modern Authors also have leather-like covers with gilt lettering and a central solitary motif on the front cover. The details however are quite distinct. The front cover motif varies from author to author but none of the Editions of Modern Authors to be found on the websites of second-hand book dealers depict the olive tree of Minerva found on the Morton volumes. Furthermore they are markedly smaller than the Morton editions, measuring approximately 6 ¾ inches by 4 ¾ and, most importantly, the opening pages (at least of the copies I posess – AA Milne’s “Once a Week” and “Possible Worlds” by JBS Haldane) declare them quite clearly to be Minerva Editions of Modern Authors, which the Morton Minervas do not.
A Morton Minerva next to two Minerva Editions of Modern Authors, roughly to scale, showing the size difference.
The initial pages from the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors clearly announcing their origins.
Authors in the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors include:
Hilaire Belloc, AA Milne, JB Priestley, EV Knox, John Masefield, EV Lucas, RH Mottram, Arnold Bennett, J. B. S. Haldane and Aldous Huxley all of whose works were presented in brown leatherette boards with a central Minerva bust in gilt and green.
In a variation on this theme AA Milne, EV Lucas and Arnold Bennet also had editions with brown leatherette boards but with a central hexagonal motif in gilt and blue containing their initials. GK Chesterton was published with marbled blue boards and a central hexagonal motif containing his initials, GKC. Hilaire Belloc also had his works produced in blue and in black boards, both with a simple central rectangular motif containing the initials HB.
Details of the central motifs on the front covers – the Morton olive tree is on the left, followed by AA Milne’s initials and the bust of Minerva from my copy of “Possible Worlds” by JBS Haldane. Note the use of colour in the motifs from the Modern Authors editions which is absent from the Morton editions.
In conclusion, what we know so far is the intriguing HV Morton Minerva Editions were (at least) nine in number and possibly a later addition to or sub-set of a similar, yet quite distinct and wider ranging series known as the Minerva Editions of Modern Authors. They were presumably co-editions of Morton’s works, marketed in conjunction with their original publishers as striking and collectible matching sets in the 1930s and issued by the (now non-existent) Library Press of Russell Square, London in the same way, for example, the Folio Society does today. They seem not to have been new editions or reprints but were simply specially re-bound versions of existing editions.
If anyone reading this has any information which might cast further light on the matter I would be most grateful if they would like to get in touch either by leaving a comment at the bottom of the article or via the email link here.
My grateful thanks go to JB, SB, JB, OH, JH and RM.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, England,
A vocation as a veterinary surgeon has its fair share of highs and lows. It is a privilege to be able to assist animals and those who care for them but there are also those occasions when sadly the time comes when it is no longer possible to do more. At this point it is both a blessing and a painful duty sometimes to be able to offer help by means of a final act of kindness.
Here is an account by HV Morton of just such a heart rending situation as he illustrates both the pleasure and the pain which we willingly enjoy and endure when we take an animal into our hearts.
It is from Chapter 8 of “In The Steps of the Master”, first published in 1934. Early in the chapter Morton describes how he came across a dog, a Saluki, lying in the dust in the village of Banias, dying of hunger. Unable to walk, she was covered in flies. Morton writes “… her eyes were lost in a world of unutterable pain… I had never in my life seen an animal in such a ghastly condition”.
Angered and profoundly moved but unable to help her himself Morton instead prevails upon “a nice, gentle Arab in an old suit of khaki” whose job it was to sweep out the shrine at El Kedir, and gives him ten shillings to look after the dog and try to restore her to health. He promises to return then departs to continue his travels with mixed feelings as to whether he has acted for the best.
Sometime later, having thought of the starving Saluki of Banias every day since, to the bewilderment of his driver, he disrupts his intended route and makes a return visit, desperate for news of her:
… as soon as I appeared the whole village gathered round, but not with the grim, hard expression which terrifies nervous tourists: they were all laughing and smiling, and a cry went up “Abu kelb, Abu kelb!” which means “Father of the dog.”
The Arab is a great hand-shaker. I went round the group shaking hands, telling the driver to ask them how the dog was.
“Come and see, O Abu Kelb!” was the reply.
And a crowd of bare-legged little children went running up between the mud walls announcing the great and spectacular news that “Abu kelb, the father of the dog,” had returned.
I was led to the squalid little hovel behind the mud walls. The crowd was so great that we had to shut the gate, but the children climbed up on the wall to watch. A white mare was tethered in the yard. A douanier, whom I had not seen before, came out of the house, dressed in a pair of khaki breeches and a grey army shirt. He shook me warmly by the hand, explaining in French that he was a lodger in the house, but had unfortunately been out on duty when I had been there before. Now, however, how happy he was to make my acquaintance! How glad he was that I had come back…
All the time the douanier bubbled with affability and I gazed round for the dog, but could not see her. My heart sank. So she was dead! Perhaps it was just as well. But I was too familiar with the habits of the Arabs to ask any questions. All would be known in time.
The douanier, it appeared, was an Armenian from Aleppo. He had a great affection for England. He had learnt English from a priest at a mission school in Aleppo. Ah, if some day he could go to London! He would like that very much… So he rattled on. Then the crowd parted and the man who sweeps out the shrine of El Kedir came up with the Saluki.
I could hardly believe my eyes. She could stand! Her hind legs trembled woefully and her tail, bare and mangy, was still well down. But her eyes had lost the fear of death, although they were still full of pain.
The Arab had made her a little coat from a pair of khaki trousers and he had bound up the wounds on her forelegs with pieces of rag. The Armenian explained that he had bathed her wounds with wine and oil the remedy which the Good Samaritan used on the wounded traveller.
The dog seemed to know in some way that I was the cause of her present well-being and she did something which completely finished me. She walked up to me and just rested her bruised muzzle on my knee. I decided at that moment that, grotesque and blown out with starvation as she was, wounded, mangy and sore, I would somehow take her home with me to England.
I thought how extraordinary it is that a show of interest and a little money can make so much difference to any living thing. The poor creature that a week ago had been stoned and kicked about was now a feature of the village. She was the protege of the rich, mad, Englishman.
I asked the Armenian what would happen if I did not take her away.
“This man,” he replied, pointing to the Arab; “will look after her as long as you pay, but when you stop paying he will turn her loose, because he is too poor to buy food for her.”
I told him of my intention of taking the dog to Jerusalem. He shook his head. The Palestine Customs would not allow her to enter in her present condition. But if I got an order from the Government? I suggested. Yes, it might be done.
So we agreed that they should continue the feeding and the bathing of the dog, and I handed out some more baksheesh.
“That is the name of the dog,” I explained. “I shall call her ‘Baksheesh’ ”
This was a joke that everybody understood!
I went off, promising that I would either call again at Banias or send someone in my name to take “Baksheesh” into Palestine. And as I went off I heard the children shout ing “Abu kelb!”
Weeks later I got a letter which read:
“My dear friend, Mr. Morton, I am verry glade I get a great satisfaction by this relation which commenced with a dog. You can be able for its hospitality. I brought a big jar of sea water from Sidon by which I wash it evry day, morning and evening. Now it is better than bifore. I hope that we will not forget ourselves, and I am allways redy to execute your commissions. Excuse me for my mistakes, be cause the last war of Turkey in 1930 wich resulted after two years with all Christchen immegration has destroyed our futur and high life. God be with you till we meet.
It was from the excellent Customs Officer at Banias. So he was bathing the dog with water from Sidon.
That sounded excellent.
In a few days I was able, through the kindness of the Palestine Government, to get poor “Baksheesh” through the Customs and into the kennels of the S.P.C.A. in Jerusalem, an organization that, although dying for lack of money, is striving hard to make the Arab understand that animals can feel and suffer.
The report was encouraging. I saw myself taking “Baksheesh” for walks in Hyde Park and for long tramps over the Sussex Downs. Then one day I received a letter saying that she was dead. She was too weak to stand treatment.
“Knowing how much you cared,” wrote Mrs. Reynolds, a member of the Society, “I have buried her in my own garden, where you can think of her sleeping among the rock flowers.”
When I was near Banias again I made a detour to thank John for all his kindness. The Arabs and the children crowded round my car with cries of “Abu kelb!” looking and peering into the car for “Baksheesh.” I told them she was dead.
“It is the will of Allah!” they said.
And they looked at me with the respectful sympathy due to any man who tries to defy the inscrutable will of God. Even John, the Good Samaritan, said it was a good thing, and that when I went to Aleppo he would give me two much finer dogs. Even he did not understand that the crucified eyes of poor “Baksheesh” had marked her out from all the other dogs upon this earth.
With best wishes,
Glastonbury, Somerset, England (Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.217).
Apparently there is a sporting event being held somewhere, in which British cyclists have been doing quite well. Gripping as the saturation coverage is, during discussions about the finer points of the Omnium and particularly when anyone attempts to explain the rules of the Points Race to me, I find my thoughts drifting, inexplicably, to things Mortonian.
HVM was a keen cyclist in his youth, frequently taking to the lanes and exploring the countryside near his boyhood home, in the halcyon days before the Great War. He is of course more famously known for his motoring trips between the wars around Great Britain in the seat of his little blue Bullnose Morris car which, in a whimsical moment, he named Maud. But his travels, and those of others motoring for pleasure were severely curtailed with the advent of the Second World War and the introduction of petrol rationing. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good as the saying goes though, and the restrictions on motor travel were a boon to riders and manufacturers of the humble bicycle, who were able to take advantage of the now virtually clear roads.
In 1940 or thereabouts the Birmingham Small Arms company, which manufactured bicycles as well as sporting guns, began to publish an advertorial-type brochure called “Travel in War Time” and to give it away free when people wrote to them for their latest catalogue featuring the “Streamlight” range of bicycles.
As you can see from the image above, the author was HV Morton; as they say in the introduction, BSA hoped it “might be regarded as an entirely new chapter in his brilliant series ‘In Search of England‘ etc.“. The fact it might also help boost sales would be an added bonus of course.
The pamphlets, each comprising twenty pages and some 2,200 words, must have been produced in their thousands but they had soft-covers, held together with a single, large stitch at the binding fold and sadly, very few have survived. Thus they are one of the more collectible pieces of Mortoniana which can be found.
There is inevitably an element of Morton having to make a virtue out of necessity in his writing as he puts on a brave face and makes a show of bemoaning people who, in the days before petrol rationing would travel carelessly – “They would think nothing of ‘getting out the car’ and speeding for fifty miles in order to eat a bad dinner in some remote place, when they could have had a good one by remaining where they were.” You can almost hear the gritted teeth as he writes, “It was all part of the tendency, which seems bent on leading the world back to barbarism, of allowing the machine to control us, instead of controlling the machine ourselves.“
As he endeavours to present petrol rationing and wartime restrictions as, not a hardship, but a welcome relief from the dangerous and reckless days of the motor-car – “the emptiness of the roads, and the fact that life goes on very much the same as usual, is a measure of the unnecessary movement which was so characteristic of the nineteen-twenties and ’thirties” – there are hints he may actually have derived a degree of genuine, nostalgic pleasure from his first time in the saddle for twenty years. “I never imagined that once again a bicycle would be my treasured and constant companion, as in those days of youth, when it was always summer” we are told. At times he seems to have been positively reinvigorated, “Of the thrill of free-wheeling down a hill, I could write much, but perhaps the most I can say is that at such a moment twenty years slide from a man’s shoulders as if they had never been. In that splendid flight a man feels absurdly young again…“. Clearly with a bicycle in the garden shed there was no need for a fountain of youth!
And, being the writer he was, Morton leaves us with an uplifting closing paragraph, patriotically weaving the humble bicycle into the deep fabric and culture of Britain itself, and hinting at what might be lost if things don’t go well in the years to come, as he describes how those machines which are to be seen “… leaning against a churchyard wall or propped outside a village inn, tell of a love for good and honest things. They suggest freedom and simplicity, two precious things, and they suggest also that those who travel on wheels desire to understand the story of our own beloved and ancient land.“
How long HVM continued to travel by bicycle once hostilities had ceased (or, indeed, once he had written the pamphlet) I cannot say, but this small booklet is a delight which captures the feeling of the age of “make do and mend“. And, as a bonus, there isn’t a single mention of lycra or the latest athlete to have “podiumed” (eugh!) to be found between its covers – enjoy the rest of the Olympics!
With warm wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
This post was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.207
In HVM Society Snippets – No.192, distributed in September last year (and now available on the blog) the featured article, from the 1974 Cape Town Weekend Magazine, made mention of HV Morton being the subject of a series of half-hour television interviews by one of the South African Broadcasting Company’s star broadcasters, Dewar McCormack.
And that is the subject of today’s post – an interview by Dewar McCormack of HV Morton. At least that’s my best guess – there is a slight element of mystery surrounding the interview.
The original cassette tape was sent to me by the author of Morton’s official biography, “In Search of HV Morton“, Michael Bartholomew, after an appeal I made a while back for audio-files featuring HVM. I am more grateful to Michael than I can say for his generosity in sending me the tape, I know he went to some considerable trouble to find it after it had temporarily disappeared, as these things do!
The original recording from which the tape was made was in the BBC archives and the tape was labelled: Interview with D McCormack, BBC, June 75. After a deal of googling I failed to find a likely candidate of that name working for the BBC in 1975 who might have interviewed Morton. It must be – particularly given we know HVM was the subject of media interest in South Africa at the time – the interviewer is Dewar McCormack and the original interview was done by the SABC, possibly sold for distribution to the home market by the BBC, and then happened to end up (happily for us) in the archives. If anyone knows anything to the contrary I would be delighted to hear from them.
Being a computer whizz-kid (not!) it took me a mere twelve months or so to finally work out how to convert the audio recording to digital form and edit out some of the lengthy gaps in it. Once I’d done that it was a simple matter to transcribe it and make it available to all. It is a short piece and begins, quite unusually, with Morton himself speaking and with no introduction or context. It is clearly a fragment from a longer piece so inevitably leaves one wondering where the rest is and how it could be got hold of. One of these days when I have a bit more time I will trot along to the BBC archives myself and try to find it:
Interview with D McCormack, BBC, June 75. Length – 2 min 49 seconds, file size 2,642 KB
Morton: I was a rather lonely little boy (I was an only son) and (laughs) I was always wandering off alone and exploring things and discovering things. My sister reminded me once that I was in the habit of stopping when we were out on walks and saying “Stop! On this very same place, if you dug down, down, down, down, down, down; you might come to a Roman.” I’ve always been interested and always been curious and I’ve always been fascinated by history.
Before I write a book, I make a long list of all the people who are likely to appear in it – men and women – and I then make a chart of their lives and these charts are quite big, sometimes five foot square and I like to be able to say “oh, yes, Julius Caesar was born at that particular moment”. Then I look along the chart and see who else was alive at that moment, who else was just about to die, who else was just about to be born, and it gives one a great sense of history.
McCormac: I suppose every writer encounters his share of difficulties, his own particular ‘ration’ of problems. What’s the most difficult aspect of your writing?
Morton: Well, the wind and the weather, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by weather conditions. From going to see remote places on the southern coast of Turkey, for example, and an island which I’ve never yet seen, called Crete, where wind and gale conspired to keep the place a secret from me.
McCormac: What is the genesis, so to speak, of this present book?
Morton: My book “In Search of England” was published… well, jolly nearly fifty years ago (laughs) and it’s gone on in various languages all over the world and it occurred to Methuen that they would like to make a selection from it and produce it in the most modern way which they have done, I think very attractively.
McCormac: This embraces just the England book, nothing more?
Morton: Yes, but it’s going on to the others – to Scotland and Ireland. And I think I ought to say that since these books were written nearly fifty years ago they have never been out of print!
Keen Mortonites may have guessed the subject of the interview is the publication, by Eyre Methuen, of “HV Morton’s England” on 5 June 1975. This is a delightful, large-format volume edited by Patricia Haward with many photographic illustrations in colour and black and white, which comprises extracts from “In Search of England”, “The Call of England” and “I Saw Two Englands”.
It is readily available second hand and makes an excellent introduction to Morton’s works as well as bringing some of the places he described in the 1920’s to life and showing how they have changed (or in some cases stayed the same) over the years.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
(This post was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.199)
(This post was originally distributed as HV Morton Society Snippets – No.202)
Grizedale Hall in the Lake District (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
A couple of months ago I received a most surprising communication:
Greetings from America!
I am a U-Boat researcher (www.U-35.com) and years ago came into possession of a Daily Herald article by Morton: H. V. Morton Visits The “U-Boat Hotel” Guests.
I gather that Morton collected these articles into book/pamphlet form for publication, as this topic is included in one of his books. I have attached an article which I gather was written in November 1939, as it refers to “ten weeks of war” – so the officers of “my” U-Boat (U-35) were not incarcerated yet; they arrived at Grizedale in December.
I would like to make one request – please place this article on the website for all to enjoy. There is a strong worldwide interest in U-Boats, and a recognition of “U-Boat Hotel” as Grizedale Hall. My own great-uncle and fellow officers of U-35 were housed at Grizedale before being transported to Canada in 1940. When U-Boat researchers look for “U-Boat Hotel” it would be wonderful to find and reference the text and photos of Morton’s wonderful article on your website.
Thanks in advance for considering, Hans Mair
What an unexpected treasure – Hans had attached photographs of the article in question. They were yellowed with age and a little faded but still legible enough to get a transcript done, which I have included, with copies of the original pictures, below.
The original newspaper article was expanded by Morton and included in his 1942 work “I Saw Two Englands” as section 2 of Chapter 9 (p 256 in my 1943 fourth edition). Having sight of the original article is exciting enough, but to have a connection through it with a relative of one of the submarine crew who were detained there (albeit not until after Morton’s visit) is doubly so. I would urge you to visit Hans’s U-35 website for even more detail. His writing gives a true insight into the lives of submariners in the German Navy during the Second World-War, in particular the crew of the U-35, their capture and imprisonment – and their chivalry.
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
[Hand written note reads: Grizedale Hall, Lake District]
H.V. Morton Visits the “U-boat Hotel” Guests
H. V. MORTON AT “U-BOAT HOTEL”
HERE is an absorbing news story. It takes you inside a prison camp “Somewhere in Britain” where German U-boat officers are detained.
H. V. Morton has written it as one of his great series which the “Daily Herald” is publishing daily.
By H.V. Morton
The “DOOR KEEPER” on duty at the entrance to the “U-boat Hotel”
I wanted to see the captured German submarine officers.
I wanted to find out how we are treating them, what kind of men they are, what they do with themselves, and if they are grateful to us, or at least to fate, for having literally fished them out of the jaws of death.
The officer commanding the district gave me an introduction to the commandant of the prison camp and I set off to motor 50 miles into a wilderness—a beautiful wilderness whose solitude deepened as I went on.
The German prisoners captured during 10 weeks of war do not include one army officer, N.C.O. or private. They are all either U-boat officers and men rescued at sea or crews of raiding aircraft shot down over our coasts or in our territorial waters. Their numbers continue to increase. Men are sent to one camp, officers to another.
As in the last war large country houses have been taken over to accommodate the officers, and the first one to be occupied — the Donington Hall of this war—was the place to which I was journeying. I cannnot tell you its name. but it is known in all the villages round about as “The U-boat Hotel.” It is in the heart of a district familiar to the more adventurous kind of hiker, cyclist and lover of untamed nature, and I went on for many a mile without meeting a soul.
I felt I must at last be getting near, and this became a certainty as turning the corner of a lane I was obliged to pull up to allow a remarkable procession to pass. It was led by a mounted policeman. He rode in this remote solitude as if he were patrolling Whitehall. Behind marched several old soldiers wearing the ribbons of the last war and armed with rifles and fixed bayonets. Marching four abreast came about 20 young men laughing and joking in German as they strode between a line of guards.
Most of them were bare-headed, all of them wore strangely assorted clothing. I was to learn that some of it belonged to British naval officers who had rescued them from the sea. Many wore the leather trousers that German submarine officers wear on duty, and these garments had been supplemented by civilian coats and waistcoats.
The procession ended with more armed guards and a British Officer [here a hand-written note reads “Captain J.C. Derlien MC”].
In the orderly room to whch I was conducted by a sentry the colonel in command of “The U-boat Hotel” was telephoning to a dentist in a distant town arranging for the teeth of six Germans to be stopped.
“If I am allowed to have heard that conversation” I said, “might I say that six seems a high proportion to require dental treatment?”
“Many of the U-boats were in position two months before the war broke out,” replied the Colonel, “and I suppose even a U-boat officer puts off going to the dentist as long as possible!
(continued on Page Four, Column Three)
[here a line is missing from the scan, but the same section in “I Saw Two Engands” reads: “Anyhow, the fact remains that their… ]
… teeth are in a bad way, I shall send them to the dentist with an armed guard in a motor-lorry”
The colonel had been through the last war and was on the Reserve List when called up to organise “The U-boat Hotel” He the ideal man for the job, a bachelor who likes living in the depths of the country, a humorous, humane disciplinarian who is resolved to make his captives as comfortable as regulations will allow.
He has under him five officers and about 150 men of the National Defence Corps, all old soldiers, and several of them, by some ironic twist of destiny, once British prisoners of war in Germany! The officers and guards live in the estate cottages and in the barns and the stables, while the Germans live in the more spectacular surroundings of the hall itself.
Before we went to the hall we had a look at the quarters in which the guards are living. A canteen is being fitted up in an old coach house. Coke stoves are being installed in barns and stables where the men sleep. These old soldiers appeared delighted to be back in khaki. I thought that perhaps their wives would not be too pleased to see how gaily they have taken to the old life! As we walked past their beds and looked at the kits neatly set out on the blankets I noticed that above every bed had been placed a picture of the King or Queen.
A German prisoner of war reading beside a log fire at the “U-boat Hotel”
* * *
We now approached the hall itself. A huge country house in the Edwardian-Tudor style that was empty when war broke out and has been empty, I think, for two or three years. It is the kind of house in which few people except orphans or committees can afford to live nowadays. It once belonged to a wealthy shipowner. It has been surrounded by a double system of barbed wire entanglements. Armed guards patrol the place day and night and high look-out platforms have been erected all round it on which sentries are posted. A circle of powerful electric lights illuminates the hall and its grounds after nightfall. The Germans sleep in dormitories, formerly the best bedrooms, and as more prisoners arrive more rooms are opened up. They sleep on comfortable iron bedsteads and box mattresses and have an adequate supply of warm blankets.
Men who are rescued from the sea rarely have any possessions, so the officers have had to be provided with razors, soap, shaving brushes and other articles, which are to be seen; neatly arranged above each bed. Their possessions will grow, no doubt, as their captivity lengthens and as parcels are received from Germany.
At the moment they have no money, but arrangements for an Anglo-German prisoners-of-war finance scheme are going through with, I believe, the help of the Dutch Government, which is acting as go-between. When this scheme is complete English money will go to Germany for our prisoners and German money will come over here for Germans. Lack of money, of course, means no cigarettes, but the British officers have supplied cigarettes at their own expense.
Picture of Hitler
The huge panelled dining-room on the ground floor, in which the shipowner once entertained his guests, is the German common-room. It is simply furnished with a few chairs and a ping-pong table. The only decoration is a photograph of Hitler shooting out his arm in salute.
“Every prisoner is a hundred per cent. Nazi.” said the Colonel.
“At first, when addressed by an officer, they would come to attention and give the Nazi salute with a ‘Heil Hitler.’ But we have stopped that, and they don’t attempt to do it now.”
“What do they do all day?”
“They play cards and ping-pong. The Bishop of —– has sent us a lot of German books, I hope, as time goes on to be able to organise other amusements for them, so that they won’t get too bored.”
A serving hatch from the dining-hall communicates with a large up-to-date kitchen. Four German naval ratings who had been submarine cooks, have been detailed to look, after the officers. They receive ordinary military rations—exactly the same food as that in the British Officers’ mess—and this the German cooks are allowed to prepare as they like, or rather as their officers like!
While we were looking at the bathrooms upstairs we heard the tramp of approaching feet and saw the Germans returning from their morning exercise. The sentries sloped arms. The gates in the barbed wire were hastily unlocked and the young men passed inside.
“See that young fellow, the third in the last file,” said the commandant, “He’s a submarine lieutenant—a mere boy—and he sobbed his heart out the first night because he is now of no further use to the Fatherland.”
We went downstairs into the dining-room, where the Germans were now gathered. They sprang stiffly to attention until the commandant told them to relax. A sentry stood at the door with a rifle and fixed bayonet. The young men gathered round the commandant and talked freely to him in excellent English, and I could see that they liked him. I think these young fellows also respected the long row of ribbons on his chest.
* * *
After lunching with the British officers in their mess I noticed with interest that they were all reading “The Escaping Club,” by AJ Evans, an admirable account of British prisoners in Germany during the last war. I was told that the commandant had suggested it was their, duty to study the psychology of war captivity.
“It is impossible for men captured in war not to dream of escape,” I was told.
“No matter how awful the horrors from which they’ve escaped and how sure the knowledge that they are safe, the boredom, the lack of news, the very fact of being held against their wills in enemy country makes any risk and even a return to danger seem worth while.”
A veteran was sitting near the stove solemnly adding to the art gallery. He had a pile of old “Sketches” and “Tatlers” and a pair of scissors. I watched him at work, gloomily passing over film stars and dancers; but whenever he came across a picture of the King or Queen he made a pause of sombre satisfaction and dug the scissors into the page. It will be a loyal and regal barn when he has finished with it!
It was surprising to realise that such average-looking young fellows—just the kind of young men one might have met at any Anglo-German party in London before the war—were the men who have launched torpedoes against our ships and have attempted to make a mess of the Forth Bridge.
But “the enemy,” when he is not actually trying to kill you, is always a surprising sight!
I have known a number of Nazis and have been impressed and irritated by them on many occasions. I have always found that on the essential doctrines of their faith it is impossible to argue; for a non-Nazi to talk politics to a Nazi provokes precisely the same kind of mental deadlock as that between an atheist and a devout Catholic.
I had no need to look twice at the German officers to see that they carry their faith into captivity. They have been fished out of the sea or picked up from the land positively bursting with love and homage for their almost divine leader; and nothing can convince them at this moment that Germany can fail to win the war.