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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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Filed under Quotations, Travel

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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Filed under Christmas, Quotations, Religion

The ‘Monna Lisa’ of Ancient Egypt

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

The story begins almost exactly a century ago…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connoisseur cover 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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World Art cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niall Taylor

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

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Filed under Connections, HV Morton, Magazine Articles

A Canterbury Tale, by Elisabeth Bibbings

This piece was originally distributed as HVM Society Travellers’ Tales – No.26

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Looking down from an upstairs café window at the entrance to the Cathedral precinct, I amused myself imagining the crowds of a past time – the raucousness and smells of mediaeval Canterbury, the poke bonnets and stagecoaches of the rather more genteel Victorian era (I had just finished re-reading George Eliot’s “Middlemarch“).

Seated at the café table with my long-suffering husband and me, was a man with dapper moustache and a notebook, his quick eyes observing everything he saw. The waiter didn’t seem to notice the pipe smoke, and the other café users seemed to be unaware of his presence.

We left the café and went through the archway to the Cathedral. Our companion’s eyes lit up at the soaring towers and he reminded me of how he had visited the heights of Bell Harry tower in 1939. He seemed scandalised when we were asked to pay admission, but when I explained that it costs £18,500 a day to run the Cathedral, he admitted maybe there was a need for it.

Once inside, the soaring heights of the nave drew our thoughts heavenwards. As the hour struck, a clergyman ascended the pulpit and led a short prayer for the troubles of the world.

stained glass

My friend, nursing his trilby (and glaring with outrage at a young man who had kept his cap on in ignorance), pointed out window after window of mediaeval stained glass, the deep blue colouring the pavement below. It was impossible to take in all the details, as Bible story and saints’ tale were depicted in miniature panels on windows stretching higher than we could see.  Only the mason and conservator would ever know the details of these wonderful windows.

We entered the shrine of the Martyrdom, and a guide launched into an enthusiastic description of how well Becket’s death was chronicled as he fell in the presence of the most literate men of the day – the monks. A recent sculpture emphasises the violence and brutality of the murder. Mr. Morton capped the guide’s tales with accounts of his own.

Well covered with Becket’s gore and smarting from King Henry’s penance, we moved on into the Crypt. Here was peace and the silence of centuries long gone by. At the back was a treasure house of secure glass cases, and I was hurried along to see the chalice and patten used by Hubert Walter on crusade in the Holy Land. It was an amazing artefact. “There is not a place to which this chalice travelled in Palestine that I do not know,” Mr. Morton commented. I also saw the mazer mounted with a yellow gemstone reputedly from Becket’s shoe, which came originally from the almshouses of St. Nicholas, Harbledown.*

We ascended (never did a Cathedral have so many different levels!) to the Quire.  Here delicate pointed arches give way to the architecture of Byzantium. Flame-coloured flower arrangements reminded us that the Sunday before was Pentecost. We sat and savoured the scene.

Interior

On further exploration, we found the tombs of Bolingbroke (Henry IV) and the Black Prince. We learned that Henry, because he was not a prince in his own right, (being the son of John of Gaunt) was anointed with holy oil (reputed to have been given by the Virgin Mary to Becket) to justify his being crowned King, after deposing Richard II.

By then, our feet were aching but our companion seemed indefatigable. He kept peering into corners, walking into chapels, saying “You must see this” and showing us ancient wall paintings or quaint memorials from the Kentish Regiment. Eventually I managed to coax him outside and we ended up, as every good visitor must, in the Gift Shop. Here, I left him explaining to my husband how in bygone ages, the shops of Canterbury sold little lead medals as souvenirs whereas now one could buy books, CDs, teatowels, rubber ducks complete with bishops’ mitre . . .

When I returned from making my purchases, my husband was alone.

Where’s Mr. Morton gone?” I asked.

I don’t know,” he replied.  “He said something about going back into the Cathedral.

Maybe if you go there, you will find him too, and he will enlighten your visit as he did mine.

Elisabeth Bibbings, Northamptonshire, England 12 July 2014

*  “I Saw Two Englands“, ch. 3, section 5.

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D-day recollections

Originally distributed as HVM Society Verses – No.27
on 6 June 2014

Supermarine Spitfire

… like an angel’s shining sword, the sylphine Spitfires wait…

During some of the darkest days of world war two, HV Morton was on look-out duty from the church tower of his local village of Binsted, Hampshire, where he commanded the Local Defence Volunteers, when he wrote:

“… it is a still night. And now the clouds part and the moon shines through, casting green shadows so that I can see the little hamlets lying below among haystacks and fields. The lime-washed cottages shine like snow in the moonlight, little cottages with front gardens bright with Canterbury bells, geraniums, and poppies; and I think that a more peaceful bit of old England could not be found than this village of ours. Yet every cottage holds an armed man. If I rang the bell now they would come running out with their rifles, ready to defend their homes. Such a thing has not happened in Britain since the Middle ages… My own point of view, and, indeed, it is that of all the farmers, the farm labourers, and the cowmen who compose our local L.D.V., is that, should the rest of Britain fall, our own parish would still hold out to the last man.”

(with grateful thanks to the Trove archive)

Later, in 1944, the tide was beginning to turn, and seventy years ago today the largest invasion fleet in history sailed from Southern England, during a fortuitous break in the weather, to establish a series of beach-heads in Northern France – the Battle for Europe had begun.

HV Morton Society member Mike Bassett, of South Africa, has written a series of poems about the war years he spent on the Isle of Wight, when young, as he witnessed events which included the Battle of Britain and VE Day, as well as the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Mike recalls, “… what a sight it was to see the Solent absolutely jam-packed with warships etc., and then – come June 6th – not a single ship in sight. It was eerie and utterly memorable and I am proud that I was a witness to it all.“.

I thought I would share one of them with you on this, the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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VIGNETTES OF BOYHOOD
1 – 1940 and on

by Mike Bassett

Portsmouth: Sunday, Sept., 15th 1805. At day weighed with light airs Northerly”. Extract from Nelson’s Diary written aboard the Victory before Trafalgar.

Units of the Home Fleet put into Spithead – August, 1940.

A clear, full moon and cloudless sky,
And in the gathering gloom,
Across the still and limpid sea
The silent warships loom.
The signals flash from bridge to bridge,
Like tiny, glowing sparks:
The mighty turbines slowly die –
The giants rest in the dark.

Then the wailing of the sirens,
And the deep, low drone of ‘planes,
The searchlights and exploding bombs,
And Portsmouth crowned in flames:
And etched against the ghostly light
Of a gently falling flare,
The Victory’s masts rise gaunt and black
In the brilliant, silver glare
Of another Trafalgar – here.

The stench of a burning city;
And the rolling banks of smoke,
As a tanker slowly settles,
And her clawing seamen choke,
And on the beach next morning,
‘Mid the charr’d and oily dross,
The body of a merchantman
Tattooed with a rose and cross.

The joy of search – and finding,
A burnt-out One-O-Nine,
The stab of fear as the Stukas struck (more)
Like screaming hawks in line.
Long vapour trails that smudge and fade
In the blue and lovely skies
Where, like an angel’s shining sword,
The sylphine Spitfires wait:
The swarming blocks of bombers,
That scab the sky with mange,
And stepped-up high in the warming sun
The glinting fighters range:
Or standing high on the roof-top,
By the “Grecian” statues tall,
To watch the raucous Flying-Bombs
In sudden silence fall.
Or diving, in a cricket match,
On coils of rolled-up wire,
As a Junkers roared at tree-top height,
Machine-guns blazing fire.

And later still, the exuberant Yanks,
Who came from “Over there” – “swell!”
The Memphis Belles who gave us gum –
And gave their lives as well.
The massed armada of shipping
On D-Day minus One;
And the heavy, foreboding silence
That descended when all had gone
To meet their fates on the beaches
And the white-hot cauldron of Caen.

And now and then, through tears and cheers,
“A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square”,
But where, O where have the people gone.
And where, O where the years? (end)

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Birds of the Gauntlet

This article originally distributed as HVM Society Collectors’ Notes – No.24

The Cover of "Birds of the Gauntlet"

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.

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Bakeia

“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.

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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.

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Florian

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.

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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

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Filed under Book reviews, HV Morton, Introductions

H.V.Morton – Our Fellow Men: A Review By Jim Leggett

(This post originally distributed as – HVM Literary Notes – No.117)

H.V.Morton – Our Fellow Men

A Review

By Jim Leggett

During a flight from Miami to Curacao in 1992, colleague Mike McDonough, a former Reuters reporter, mentioned his enjoyment of HV Morton’s volumes as, from his pocket, he produced a small book.

“‘Our Fellow Men’ – it’s a potpourri, on the daily lives of tradesmen, dustmen, ploughmen, chimney sweeps, even the milkman… have you read it?” he asked.

Our Fellow Men

OUR FELLOW MEN
By H. V. Morton

Methuen & CO. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W.C.
London

First published May 7th 1936, cover art by EA Cox

I’d never heard of this title let alone read it.

Back in Florida a week or so later I stopped by Mike’s apartment in Lantana, a sleepy seaside town some sixty miles north of Miami. Over a zesty Cuban coffee and sandwiches, he thumbed the pages of his hardcover copy with its slightly faded frontispiece, otherwise in pristine condition. He told me he’d picked it up in Manchester, his UK hometown. “Time to pass it on…” he added, giving the book to me.

“Our Fellow Men” is a Pepys-style contemporary (mid 1930’s) history, insights on ordinary folk, men and women, revealing day-in-the-life-of insights from a wide variety of intriguing characters, the like of which HVM had an uncanny knack of turning up. Add Morton’s wry historical observations, Presto! – Another enchanting read. I particularly enjoy being able to delve in anywhere, picking whatever occupation takes your fancy.

* * *

London taxi drivers, circa 1936, were issued from sixty to seventy police summonses a week, for going too slowly. Not keeping up with the normal flow of traffic was an offense, arbitrary fines ranging from 2s 6d in one court to 5s at another – for the identical “crime”. Taxi drivers were paid thirty percent of the gross meter taking, or 6s from every £1 pound collected. Morton interviewed a dozen drivers, discovering their take came to “rarely more than a £2 10s or £3 pounds a week job”. They received no wage; theirs was in an uninsurable occupation, in that if he is out of work, he cannot receive unemployment benefits. In short, taxi driving at that time was not profitable.

We meet, too, George, the cinema projectionist, the man picture theatre patrons never see – the man behind the film. Working in a fireproof room known as a “box”, two projectors, a side lantern and a spotlight are under his command. Morton notes: “It is thanks to George’s skill and vigilance that Greta Garbo comes over at the right speed, and it is due entirely to George’s alacrity that the heart-throbs change swiftly and smoothly to the welcome tempo of Walt Disney’s fertile brain”.

We learn that the moving picture era began in 1824, when Peter Mark Roget lectured before the Royal Society in London on the subject of moving objects and the law of vision. Morton notes the first form of moving picture was a card with a bird painted on one side, and a cage on the other, which – when suspended from a string and rapidly revolved – gave the illusion that the bird was in the cage.

Under George’s skillful hands something like seven miles of highly flammable film flickered through the projectors in his long days work. His first duty was to see the celluloid film did not catch fire…and indeed they did. As a boy I recall fire brigade bells clanging as they raced to the Star Picture Palace in Glasgow to suppress a smoky projection “box” fire.  The projectionist rarely sees the movie, “I don’t pay much attention to them! Sometimes I look at the news, especially Monday’s Cup-ties matches.” George says, closing the interview with “Well, I’ll be getting along home. I believe I am married….”.

Then there’s Bill, an insurance salesman, who knocked on some fifty doors during his morning’s round, collecting money on what his company called life insurance policies. Morton noted they are really “death policies”. The shame of a parish (pauper) funeral was so ingrained in the populace, they would forgo the smallest personal luxury to meet their meager weekly premium, their insurance man oozing charm while persuading them “You want to the right thing for dad, now don’t you? Have you got the money for his funeral? You’ve got to think about these things”.

Bill confesses that 90% of the money he so painfully screws from starvation incomes goes right into the pocket of the undertaker.  In that respect not much has changed – except you have to take a second mortgage to afford a funeral today. (In irreverent determination to cheat the mortician, I’ve donated my well-travelled corpse to some medical procurement enterprise, for free):

Whisky toast crop small

On the lighter side Morton spoke with Jack, a newsboy. Evening newspapers, which supply London street sellers with a living, during the 1930’s sold by the “quire”, twenty-six copies, for which he paid 1s 6d. A quire, strictly speaking, is twenty-four, but the two extra copies – it used to be three – were thrown in as the seller’s profit. An 8d profit on the sale of every twenty-six copies sold. We learn of an assortment of street vendors; Sunshine Runners, who hawk papers only when there was something to sell – football results and the like; Tappers, crooks who got in touch to “tap” you, often pretending to sell papers to inebriates; Movie Men appeared to sell only one quire, earning them admission price to the pictures. Jack tells Morton he can earn £2 10s to £3 a week by selling newspapers, as long as his pitch is not invaded by pirates who swoop down from nowhere with a football edition.

* * *

In the space of 171 lively pages, thirty extraordinary ordinary Londoners are resurrected, alive once more as HVM so deliciously captured them. He divulges what they did to feed themselves and their families, reveals how many hours a day they toiled and, of paramount importance, the wages they earned.

Says Morton, “I have also the feeling that should some curious person pick this book from a penny box in the year 2036 A.D., he would be interested to know the wages of a dustman in 1936, or the money earned by a taxi-cab driver in the London of Edward V111”.

… I’ve sent my copy on to Sean Connery [see footnote], who was an Edinburgh milkman long before “shaken, not stirred” took the place of “One pint or two?”.

With best wishes,

Jim Legget, The Bahamas
March 2013

§

FOOTNOTE:

In keeping with HVM’s observation on income, when last I visited with Sean Connery at his home in Lyford Cay, Bahamas, we spoke of his early job as milkman – when he had his own (employer’s) horse and cart.

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St. Cuthbert’s Dairy, in Edinburgh, delivered milk by horse and cart well into the 1980’s

On opening a weighty Volume One of “Old and New Edinburgh” by James Grant, published in 1883, Sean took amused note of a small rubber-stamp flyleaf imprint:

J.M. Cameron
26, Melville Terrace
Edinburgh.

“Christ! I used to deliver milk to that address…I knew that terrace well” he declared.

In his book “Being a Scot”*, a copy of his first milkman pay slip reads;

Date 20-7-1944;
CONNERY  Thomas. S. #26246.
St, Cuthbert’s Co-Operative  Dairy
Fountainbridge, Edinburgh

His starting salary was one guinea, or twenty-one shillings (£1.05p), a week. He writes; “the horse I groomed was a Highland garron pony called Tich and I loved her dearly.”

From his modest pay packet, Sean relates how he bought Tich rosettes and chains – which looped down from each ear, “along with a martingale, or bracelet, which hung down her front.” He was so proud of Tich he entered her in the annual horse-and-cart competition for the best-dressed horse and she won a Highly Commended!

* “Being A Scot” by Sean Connery with Murray Grigor, Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2008, pp18-19

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