This article originally distributed as HVM Society Collectors’ Notes – No.24
The Cover of “Birds of the Gauntlet”
Dear Fellow Mortonites,
Just occasionally I like to allow myself the luxury of believing that I might have discovered a previously unknown piece of Mortoniana which will surprise and delight our resident Morton scholars and the rest of the HVM Society. Of course I appreciate that many in the society have been researching Morton for decades and have gone to the considerable trouble of tracking down personal papers, making contact with Morton’s family and acquaintances; acquiring rare publications; travelling to places he visited or lived; and spending hours in libraries, poring over microfiche machines and peering at ageing news-print.
This all strikes me as terribly inconvenient, not to say tedious. After all, this is the X-factor age and the current ethos is quite clearly that fame and success is everyone’s “right” and that if one can only “put one’s heart and soul” into something or “really believe in oneself”, then success will follow automatically and instantly, without the need for all that tiresome self-discipline, hard work and research.
Accordingly, it was after “putting my heart and soul” into many exhausting minutes of googling that I came across the item which is the subject of this bulletin and which I have not managed to find any existing reference to, in connection with HV Morton. Surely this has to be my X-factor fifteen minutes of fame.
In the past, when I have excitedly announced such “discoveries”, those more learned folk who really know their onions, after letting me down gently, announce that they have known all about my latest revelation forever and in fact the item in question is so numerous they have drawers full of them and put them to use propping up wobbly coffee tables and the like, while they study more deserving tomes!
But hope springs eternal, so here goes with my latest attempt at achieving immortality in the Mortonian Hall of Fame.
“Birds of the Gauntlet”, written by Heinrich HJ von Michaëlis (another HVM!), was published in 1952 by Hutchinson & Co. ltd. Measuring approximately 11 by 8 inches, it is a hardback, bound in red board with gold embossed lettering to the spine and with a dustcover (above). It runs to 223 pages and is divided into part one; with twelve chapters, and part two; with four. There are eight colour plates and numerous monochrome sketches and studies, all done by the author. The foreword was written by the Marquess of Willingdon, and the introduction by Michaëlis’s fellow Somerset West resident and friend, Henry Vollam Morton. Morton’s introduction can be read in full here: Birds of the Gauntlet introduction.
For the uninitiated, “birds of the gauntlet” are birds used for hunting, in falconry. The author describes with great affection the habits and lives of these birds, many of which he has rescued and reared and all of which he admires greatly: “their beauty and spirit appeal to me: many of them have been my friends and good companions”.
A large part of the book is given over to the stories of individual birds he has adopted, while the later sections are devoted to scientific considerations of flight – relating birds to his other passion, gliders – and of the forms and function of his “good companions”. The whole thing is written with a tone of wonderment and awe that brilliantly conveys his deep feelings for his subjects. The plates and drawings (some of which are included here) are superb and they alone would have made the purchase of this volume worthwhile, even without the Morton connection.
Von Michaëlis was an artist, sculptor, ornithologist, pilot and expert in gliding. Born in 1912 in Germany to a German father and South African mother, he returned to his mother’s native country in 1937. He died in 1990. His life story – as described in brief by Morton in his introduction – is a fascinating one, encompassing Europe and Germany in particular as the old Imperium gave way to the Reich during the period between the wars. These 1,700 or so words are probably the nearest Morton ever got to writing “In Search of Germany”!
Morton compares Von Michaëlis favourably to some of his charges, describing him as “thin, spare and quick, with a restless darting manner, a rapid and fluent talker and a man who carries forty years with the air of youth”. The introduction has the mature, confident air of Morton’s later works while still retaining that characteristic whimsy and humour. From its tone HVM clearly has a great deal of respect for HvM.
Von Michaëlis’s twin boys with Tonka
It remains to be seen if my discovery will rock the world of Morton scholarship (I ain’t holding my breath!) but whether or not it does, I am delighted to have come across this lovely volume and be able to add it to my little collection.
With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
23 September 2013