HV Morton and the American Tourist

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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!’

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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)

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HV Morton’s Minerva Editions

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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.

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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:

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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.

The Illustrations

‘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:

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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.

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.

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A Morton Minerva next to two Minerva Editions of Modern Authors, roughly to scale, showing the size difference.

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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.

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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,

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The Father of the Dog

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:

In the Steps of the Master

… 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.

JOHN.”

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,

Niall Taylor,
Glastonbury, Somerset, England (Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.217).

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Tut-ankh-amen’s Gold: Into the Land of Egypt

I hope you will forgive me when I say I am feeling a little pleased with myself at the moment. I have just managed to acquire one of the rarest examples of Mortoniana there is!

A large booklet in heavy-weight paper, its silvery front page bears the title ‘EGYPT‘, written in blue letters which are shaped from stylised papyrus bundles. The cover is enclosed between protective transparent sheets of blue plastic and the whole thing bound with spiral wire. It measures approximately 315 mm (12.5 inches) in height by 235 mm (9.5 inches) in width and comprises 31 unnumbered pages. From the style and content, it appears to be aimed at attracting tourists to that ancient land, particularly American, English and French tourists.

The first section is an introductory article by HV Morton entitled Tut-ankh-amen’s Gold: Into the Land of Egypt. This is laid out on four pages, each decorated on one margin with depictions of the art and heiroglyphs of Ancient Egypt in blue. The text is very similar to sections on pages 55 to 57 of Morton’s book “Middle East” (published by Methuen, London, on 5 June 1941).

Unfortunately, just to temper my joy, my newly acquired copy has obviously got a little damp at some point in the past – the metal binding has rusted and, most frustratingly, the pages of Morton’s article have stuck together in places and when pulled apart again some of the text has been lost.

However, nothing is too much trouble for the HVM Society so, looking for all the world like extreme archaeologist, Indiana Jones, (only without his rugged good looks and Hollywood lifestyle), I held the pages up to a strong light source and managed to peer through them, despite their thickness, in order to get an idea what the missing sections originally said. Eventually I was able to make a transcript of the piece for the archives.

The second section comprises ten poems by Ali Asir-El-Din interpersed with several stock photographs depicting Egyptian scenes (the photographs are by: M.C. Salisbury, G.W. Allan, Alban, Photo Kodak Egypt, H.J. Fresco, Royal Egyptian Air Force, and the Egyptian Museum Cairo).

I haven’t been able to find much about the poet, google is unusually tight-lipped about him. And, although I am no judge of poetry, the reason for this may be, at least from the examples published here, that he is no Shakespeare, in truth he may barely even be a McGonagall I’m afraid. Here’s an example:

BY THE NILE

The swiftly running river,
Moonbeams a-quiver
Within the trees

A white form, gowned and slender,
Eyes dark and tender,
And lips that please…

… and so on.

Drawing a (mystic) veil over this dodgy doggerel, the next section is a page of prose by a Claire Cowell (again, nothing seems to be available on the internet to suggest who Ms Cowell may have been), eulogizing the wonders of Ancient Egypt.

After this we have three illustrated maps depicting the course of the river Nile and the principal transport routes from Wady (now spelled Wadi) Halfa north, through Abu Simbel, Assuan, Thebes and Luxor to Cairo and the Nile Delta.

After a single page left blank for notes by the traveller the whole work is rounded off with a page of information for the benefit of the visitor: a list of routes by which to journey to Egypt, as well as exchange rates, hotels, taxis, hints concerning clothing considered suitable for the climate and a list of spots likely to be enjoyed by the tourist.

The booklet was designed and printed by Editions Mayeux, Paris and bound by Reliure Integrale Bree France et Etranger. In the opening article Morton mentions his witnessing of the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb fourteen years previously so, since he was sending despatches from the tomb-site to the Daily Express in February 1923, presumably the booklet was published around 1937, although no specific date is given on the booklet itself. Morton presented a number of on-board lectures for the Hellenic Travel Club from 1935 to 1939 on cruises to the Middle East and it is possible the booklet is associated with one of the tours.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England, 5 July 2017 (with gratetful thanks to Peter Devenish and O.H.)

(This article was originaly distibuted as HVM Society Snippets – No.215)

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Travel in War Time

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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.

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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.

Pic 03Two happy cyclists take tea in what looks
like the village of Dunster, in Somerset

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

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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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Dewar McCormack interviews HV Morton

Antique silver microphone in orange light uid 1172391

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!

In Search of HVMIn Search of HV Morton” by Michael Bartholomew

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!

HV Morton's England smallKeen 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)

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