Category Archives: Quotations

The secret portrait of Prince Charlie

IMG_3866 crop smallBen Nevis

In chapter eight of “In Search of Scotland” HV Morton takes his leave of Inverness to travel south-west, following the path of the Caledonian Canal, that majestic marriage of geology and human endeavour. He is en route to visit two towns whose names ring out like a clash of steel down the centuries from a most turbulent and bloody period of Scottish history – Fort Augustus and Fort William.

After spending a night of Jacobite revelry in Fort Augustus, his journey continues through what he describes as the “real” Highlands. “The heather” he writes, “was like spilt claret on the high, smooth slopes of the hills; the thick woods were stained with autumnal colour; there was a flash of lake water between the trees and the splash of mountain streams falling from the heights.

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The Commando Memorial, Spean Bridge

Finally, passing Spean Bridge (where now stands the Commando Memorial), Morton arrives at his destination, a settlement referred to, in their native tongue by the Highland Clans it was built to impress, simply as An Gearasdan – The Garrison.

Fort William crouches, with an air of pretending to be the end of the world at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest and most famous mountain in the British Isles…

Sadly, the original garrison has been completely obliterated by a now disused aluminium smelting plant.

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Glen Nevis

Morton makes the traditional pilgramage from the town, up Glen Nevis and finally up all 4,406 feet of the Ben itself, wearing town shoes which gradually disintegrate as his climb continues. Finally he returns to share the tale of his trek with fellow veterans of the hike, ensuring instant popularity by comparing Ben Nevis favourably to the Swiss Alps, the Libyan Hills of Egypt and the Aures Mountains in Africa.

The following day Morton sensibly decides to spend a quiet day in town – presumably after having bought some more shoes! His account of his visit to the West Highland Museum fascinated me so, when I was in Fort William with the family a few years ago, I made a point of visiting it.

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“The little West Highland Museum” as HVM describes it

Morton describes in some detail one of the highlights of the visit for me, the secret portrait of Prince Charlie. The “portrait”, from a period when allegiance to the Stuart cause was punishable by a quick death (if you were lucky), is painted on a wooden board which, according to the notes by the display cabinet, was further disguised by being used as a casual tray for drinks. Morton describes it as being “… daubed with paint in a half circle. It looks like the palette of a rather careless painter”.

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The painting is housed in a glass cabinet up some very creaky stairs on the first floor of the museum, and is unrecognisable as a picture, just as Morton reports, until it is viewed with a special cylindrical mirror made especially for the purpose and placed at the correct point on the board. It is not at all easy to get the correct angle and focus, but with patience finally the tiny picture can be seen by viewing the ‘blob’ as it is reflected in the mirror. With even more patience the Young Chevalier, in all his glory, can be photographed.

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Bonnie Charlie revealed!

One can just imagine the tray being brough forth during clandestine gatherings and, as HVM writes, “… you call to mind oak-panelled dining rooms and candles lit, a warm glow over family portraits, a guard over the door, and the company rising to lift their glasses to the cause that was fated to be lost”.

With warm wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This post was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.183 on 9 May 2015

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“I Saw Two Englands” – then and now

One of my favourite of Morton’s works is his “I Saw Two Englands”. Originally published in 1943 this was a record of the Two Englands witnessed by Morton on his travels around the country before and after the start of World War II.

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Setting out on 15th May 1939, at a time when, according to Morton, “… the laurel wreath [Prime Minister] Chamberlain had worn since Munich was becoming rather shabby” and it was widely recognised armed conflict with Germany was inevitable, Morton devotes the first half of his book to an account of a nation on the eve of war. The second half is set after the start of hostilities, beginning on October 17th of the same year and continues the tour, with the country still presided over by its ineffectual leader as the war machine gathered pace and an incredulous England was beginning to unite in the face of adversity.

Morton describes the grim, calm determination of a nation which has been brought to the brink but isn’t yet sure of what to expect. His closing paragraph summarises the prevailing mood during the so-called ‘phoney war’, as he finally sets out for home at the end of November:

So upon a winter’s day I returned from my journey through war-time England, vaguely disturbed by the apathy of a nation that lacked a leader, a nation that was not even half at war, a nation sound as a bell, loyal and determined, war-like but not military, a nation waiting, almost pathetically, for something — anything — to happen“.

This appraisal is followed by a postscript written twelve months after the start of his journey which describes how things have indeed begun to happen, with a vengance. Dunkirk, the blitz, the Battle of Britain have all galvanised the nation to action and life on the home front has changed almost, but not quite, beyond recognition. Morton describes English villages reverting to their war-like pasts, as in mediaeval or even Anglo-Saxon times, “… ordinary men have run to arms in order to defend their homes“. This included Morton himself who in the final pages stands watch from the church tower in Binstead village where he commands a Home Guard unit.

War, says Morton, “… has brought us face to face with the fact that we love our country well enough to die for her“.

I saw Two Englands illus Tommy ChandlerThe cover of the 1989 edition

Some time ago a fellow member of the HV Morton Society drew my attention to a special edition of “I Saw Two Englands”. This was published, twenty-seven years ago now, to mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and is presented in a lavish, full colour, large format volume. The work has been revisited and photographed by Tommy Candler, and it was suggested that as the original book purports to show how England was just before the War in case it changed utterly and also to portray it in a state of readiness for war, the photographs add a valuable extra dimension by showing how it is has managed to stay the same.

Bunyan barnJohn Bunyan’s Barn, near Bedford, photographed by Morton (left) and Candler (right)
I saw the Moot Hall on the village green where Bunyan danced so sinfully

Candler is a superb photographer and her compositions illustrate Morton’s prose perfectly. Through her eyes we are treated to a contemporary view of much of what, half a century before, HVM had described and had been illustrated by the photographs in the original, allowing the reader to compare then with now.

CrookmakerThe crookmaker of Pyecombe photographed by HV Morton.
His art now employed for decorative purposes in the later photograph by Candler.

Candler also selects archive pictures for the later sections and we become privy to scenes which would not have been permitted in the original but were detailed in the text as Morton portrayed a nation gearing up for defence. A tank factory, groups of German POW’s (according to Morton they were, despite having launched torpedoes against our ships, “average looking fellows”) and a flight of Wellington bombers (likened by HVM during their construction to living creatures with veins and arteries of red, white, yellow and green cables) making a banking turn over rural England are all brought to life, adding extra an extra depth.

img216A tank factory somewhere in England.
Bending over their machines the men might have been pupils in some gigantic technical school

The 1989 edition of “I Saw Two Englands” is readily available second-hand at heart-breakingly modest cost and is well worth keeping an eye out for. It would make a handsome edition to any collection of Mortoniana and is of course, well on the way to becoming an historical arefact itself!

For further reading there is a contemporary review entitled In Search of the Real England by R. Ellis Roberts in The Saturday Review of May 1st, 1943. Another review can be found on the worthwhile books blog whose motto is “Keep calm and read classics“.

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

This article was originally distributed on 9 January 2016 as: HVM Society Snippets – No.196.

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Merry Christmas!

IMG_3487 Tor in WinterGlastonbury Tor in December snow

I would like to wish all members of the HV Morton Society and all readers of the HV Morton blog all the best for the festive season – have a Happy Christmas and a very Good New-Year.

This year I have chosen a section, kindly suggested by a fellow Mortonite, from HVM’s 1933 “A London year” (which was a revision of his original 1926 “The London Year” – note the subtly different title). It is among the best of Morton’s prose, a touching depiction of Christmas day, with suggestions of the hard times which had befallen London and the rest of the world between the writing of the two editions. There is also a clue to what made Morton different from others of his calling and how he achieved his intimate style and popularity – namely his knack of always looking for the humanity in any story.

Christmas Day in London

by HV Morton

A hush more peculiar, more significant and deeper than any hush of the year, falls over London. But it is merely a superficial hush. Actually it is one of the noisiest days in the whole year. Early in the morning the rigid and apparently silent streets are loud with the blowing of tin trumpets, the hooting of toy horns, the beating of kettle-drums, the winding of springs and the explosion of crackers. To the homeless wanderer, however, to whom all hearts turn on this day, London must appear to be wrapped in a self-contained silence. Self-contained it certainly is, for this is the only day in the year on which London has no public life.

The big hotels, in order to keep their doors open, must transform themselves into children’s parties and reproduce on an embarrassing and expensive scale the atmosphere that exists so simply and so beautifully in millions of little homes. Sometimes young reporters, torn from the bosoms of their families, are sent out on a cold unhappy tour of London on Christmas Day. And they all tell the same story. Bald old men, who ought to know better, are wearing paper caps in the Ritz. The Chelsea Pensioners are eating plum pudding. Patients in hospitals lie in garlanded wards. The homeless are herded in an atmosphere which is described as ‘jolly’. That is all that we have ever been able to extract from the most earnest and willing of explorers.

But I can never understand why the earnest young reporter takes the trouble to explore London in search of Christmas. He would do far better if he just stood outside the nearest house and described the lit interior seen through a gap in the curtains: the holly, the mistletoe, the bright children’s faces, the older faces on which Christmas has painted a brief, exceptional carelessness.

It is a day that never changes. It is the one day in the whole year in which London, splitting up into millions of self-contained family groups, is at peace with itself.

[A LONDON YEAR (1933) §4 pp 207-209]

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With best wishes once again for a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year – Slainte Mhor!

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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Trooping the Colour, by Kenneth Fields

London Year, A (from Kenneth 6-6-15)

… the big piebald drum horse…

Today, the 13th June, London celebrates The Queen’s official birthday with that much-loved military parade and march past of Trooping the Colour.  It is an annual event that has taken place in the city since 1820 and whose history stretches back to about 1700.

H.V. Morton wrote about the ceremony in 1926 in “The London Year” and in June 1929 he wrote the following feature for the Daily Express. At this time the nation was anxious about the declining health of King George V who was too ill to attend the ceremony:

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THE UNSEEN PRESENCE OF THE KING

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MOVING SCENE AT THE TROOPING OF THE COLOUR

———–

AND A COMEDY

By H, V. MORTON.

When I was walking up the Mall yesterday to see the ceremony of Trooping the Colour, I heard a woman scream. This is, of course, the most arresting sound in Nature.

Down the Mall, hell for leather came a Guard’s officer mounted on what appeared to be a likely Derby winner. His bearskin was over one eye, and his chin strap over the other. He had long ceased to say with Jorrocks, “Come up you ugly brute!” and was doing the only possible thing a man can do on a runaway horse – holding on and retaining his stirrups.

How cruel is human nature! A smile passed over the faces of his Majesty’s Guards. They blew bearskin out of their eyes and winked gravely. The public were more sympathetic: they seemed to know that this sort of thing happens now and then even to mounted officers. All save the inevitable London wit who clapped his hands and shouted: “Now then ‘Unter’s Moon, where are you a-goin’ to?

LORD LONSDALE

A little higher up the Mall I saw Lord Lonsdale, buttoned into a tight frocked coat and looking like one of the last great Victorians, as he smoked one of his inimitable cigars on the roof of his house in Carlton-House terrace. Two Cockneys below gazed up at him curiously:

E’s got a jolly face, aint e?” said one of them.

And now for the parade…

Against the perfect background of the Horse Guards the Household Troops stand ready to give their ancient birthday gift to the King. The Foot Guards stand in double lines in two blocks, one facing the Horse Guards and the other at right angles facing south. The massed bands face the Admiralty. In a corner, with their tails to the discreet little back-garden of No 10, Downing Street, are the band and two troops of Household Cavalry: the sun on their breastplates.

The Duke of Connaught, upright in the saddle, as a man of fifty, rides on the parade ground with the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, and Lord Lascelles. Behind come generals, state officials and the military attaches of foreign powers. The women admire the supposed Italian with blue feathers in his helmet and a sash to match. The ceremony begins.

You will read that the King was absent. This is not so. The King was present in the thoughts of every man and woman.

MASSED BANDS

Now the massed bands march and counter march. The four drum majors swagger in front in their gold-laced coats and black velvet caps. There is the “ruff of a drum.” The escort for the Colour moves out. The ensign receives the Colour. The troops salute it and come to attention. Then the Colour is trooped, that is to say it is borne at the slow march all along the lines, while the band plays “The British Grenadiers.

Then the march past. It is a magnificent sight. The Foot Guards pass in slow, then in quick time. There is the rum-tumming of cavalry drums, and the big piebald drum horse, whose reins are attached to his rider’s boots, moves out massively and leads the jingling march past of the cavalry.

The Duke of Connaught, with the princes a pace behind him, takes the salute beneath the arch of the Horse Guards. The troops reform. They present arms in three crisp movements and the bands play “God Save the King.

It is the most emotional “trooping” the Colour has ever known. Everyone is thinking not of the gorgeous military show, but of the sick-bed in Windsor Castle. And as the troops march down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace a royal salute cracks out from Hyde Park and the church bells ring.

I heard a woman say: “When I saw that picture of him in the ambulance – you know when they took him down to Bognor – well. I couldn’t help crying. The King. Somehow you don’t think of the King being ill – do you?

Beneath all the pomp and splendour of an official birthday London remembered not the Field-Marshall’s uniforms but the sick bed, not the monarch but the man.

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U.S. WARSHIP’S TRIBUTE

Warships were dressed in all naval stations at home and overseas in honour of the King’s birthday. Salutes were fired in garrison towns and in most places the troops were given leave for the rest of the day. Among the ships dressed at Plymouth was the U.S. flagship Raleigh.

Church bells were rung and flags flown in practically every town of the Empire and a torrent of messages of congratulations was sent to Windsor Castle. The King sent a message of thanks for the greetings of the citizen’s of London, which he received through the Lord Mayor, Sir Kynaston Studd.

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.185

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ANZAC Day

Flags

“The Gallipoli peninsula curves like an elegant forefinger over the Dardanelles, the thirty three mile waterway which through the centuries has linked the rulers of Constantinople with the Mediterranean world… The forts commanding the Dardanelles were… the key defenses for the Ottoman Empire, protecting the capital, 120 miles to the east.”

From chapter two of “Kemal Attatürk”, by Alan Palmer, 1991, Sphere Books ltd, London

A century ago today, an expeditionary force of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and other Allied units set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to secure the passage to the Black Sea. Their ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Terrible losses were suffered by the allied forces as they fought together against the Turkish Army, commanded by the Grey Wolf – thirty four year old Mustafa Kemal Attatürk of Anafarta, appointed a full Colonel only two months previously.

Such was the loyalty, bravery and fortitude of the forces who fought in the nine-month long campaign; a year later, on 25 April 1916 – while the First World War still raged – the Gallipoli campaign was commemorated for the first time as ANZAC day. Marches were organised in London, Australia and New Zealand. A London newspaper headline dubbed the combatants “The Knights of Gallipoli“. Later, in 1934, Attatürk himself described the allied fallen as heroes.

And in 1933 journalist and travel writer HV Morton wrote, in his book “In Scotland Again”:

“There is one grand virtue in a stormy night. If you are late enough you are at once admitted to that snug little room which exists at the back of every Scottish hotel, where a vast fire is always burning and where a glass of special whisky waits for favoured guests.

“The landlord was a young Scotsman who had fought in Gallipoli. We talked of Chocolate Hill and Suvla Bay and then, of course, we became local, and I was told the legend that Burns wrote ‘Scots wae hae’ in this hotel…”

This was the first book of Morton’s I had ever read and all those years ago, sitting infront of a peat fire in a cottage in Ellary on the west coast of Scotland, as I looked at his words they transfixed me with their immediacy and gentle understatement. I was so moved I determined to find out more about this author who had so eloquently brought the world around him to life by the deceptively simple trick of portraying it through the eyes of ordinary people, unaware they were living in extraordinary times.

Today we commemorate, with thanks, those who fought at Gallipoli, the heroes of Chocolate Hill and Suvla Bay and the rest.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England, 25 April 2015

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.182

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Christmas greetings!

In Search of London 1952 enhancedThe cover of the 1952 edition of “In Search of London

It’s strangely difficult to find a suitable quote from HVM about Christmas, but I thought this one, from one of his most popular works, and one of my personal favourites, might set the mood. To me it captures a wonderful, entirely familiar, scene perfectly and is clearly written from the heart. I am struggling though, to remember the last time I heard a “warning ping” as I opened a shop door!

Morton prepares the scene by describing the “bookmen” as ” the book readers, the book hunters, the book tasters, the book maniacs…” who haunt the bookshops of the bustling Charing Cross Road, London:

Lost to the world that touches their elbows as they stand there, the bookmen pry and pore into the books, looking and seeking and sometimes even finding. I love to remember the hours I have spent there, perhaps on spring mornings, sometimes in winter, oblivious of cold feet, when the shop doors open to the warning ping of a little bell, and often in the evening when the lamps have been lighted and the titles shine out splendidly in gold, behind the plate-glass windows.

from “In Search of London“, 1951, chpt 10

Wishing all members of the HV Morton Society and readers of the blog a very Merry Christmas and a good New Year,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Membership Notice 2014-12-24

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A Right Royal Confusion

George V coronationGeorge V’s impressive coronation portrait
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Some time ago I received the following email from journalist and editor, Peter Dron, a regular reader of the HV Morton blog, who has a real eye for literary detail:

Hello Mr Taylor,

I am reading a 2006 edition of “In Search of England” and I am puzzled by a passage in Chapter Ten, in which Morton stops at Oakham Castle in Rutland. He is referring to the tradition which obliges members of the nobility passing through the town to pay a “tax” of a horseshoe. Various kings and queens were among those who had paid this tribute:

The tragedy of Oakham Castle is that King George V never paid the tax.

“’If only we could have got him!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s!”’”

This book was supposedly published in 1927, when of course George V was King and the Prince of Wales was that buffoon who later became the Duke of Windsor. Can you cast any light on this mystery?

With best wishes,

Peter Dron

As always with matters-royal, I feel confusion about dates, especially at that difficult time for the nation. So I reminded myself, courtesy of Wikipedia, that George V ruled from 1910 to 1936 (having succeeded Edward VII). He himself, was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII (formerly Prince of Wales – the buffon!), who ruled from 20 January 1936 to 11 December 1936. Following his abdication he was succeeded by his brother, George VI, (formerly Duke of York) who ruled from 11 December 1936 to 6 February 1952.

Given that many of the sections in “In Search of England” were originally written as newspaper columns prior to 1927 (when the book was published) but none would have been published any later; the passage quoted seems to make for strange reading.

Edward VIII 1932The future Edward VIII in 1932
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Prince of Wales, who became the king mentioned in the excerpt can’t have been either Edward VIII or George VI as these both came to the throne after 1927 (and anyway, George VI was never Prince of Wales)

So that leaves us with George V himself, who would have been king during the writing of all the sections of the book and had been Prince of Wales from 1901 to 1910. I wondered whether HVM could have been referring to George V in both sentences, thus:

‘If only we could have got him [i.e. George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [i.e. George V again] came here, as Prince of Wales [between 1901 and 1910], he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s! [i.e. Edward VII]”’”

That explanation would certainly be factually possible but it is clumsy, and spoils the sense and flow of the paragraph and would suggest that both George V and his father Edward VII both managed to avoid the “tax”.

Alternatively, could this have been a tall tale from a wily caretaker spinning a plausible-sounding story to the tourists over the years in return for acclaim (and the occasional tip!). Another, more mundane, possibility was this might simply have been an error, in a rather complicated passage, which was never corrected.

I love a mystery, so I dug out some of my various editions of “In Search of England” and had a look. And pretty soon my search bore fruit!

In Search of England 1965 smallThe cover of the 1965 edition of “In Search of England

I compared the relevant passage in both a 1927 edition and a 1965 edition (ironically using a horseshoe as a paperweight) and they read as follows (with my annotations):

The 1965 edition reads as Peter’s original quote:

“’If only we could have got him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [Edward VIII] came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked around and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’”

Whereas the original, 1927, edition reads:

“’If only we could get him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! As soon as the Prince of Wales [the future Edward VIII] came in here he looked round and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’ We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!

At last I could relax! It seems that HVM (or, more likely, an editor) went back, some time during the brief reign of Edward VIII, and changed the passage in question to fit the prevailing position. The removal of the last sentence “We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!” is interesting in its own right – was this done at the same time, or after the abdication when its meaning and interpretation would have become so complicated (was it Edward VIII or the (by then) late George V to which it referred?) as to make it hardly worth the bother?

The editor in question obviously didn’t consider how confusing this would make the reading of the passage to future generations who otherwise might have been perfectly happy with it, knowing when the book was published!

Members may be interested to read another HVM blog article, “Call me a cab”, inspired by Peter Dron, about a little known piece of London architectural heritage.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This article was originally circulated as HVM Literary Notes – No.126 on 20 July 2014

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