Thursday, January 19, 2006

In Search of the Lost World of H.V. Morton

In between thinking Large Thoughts and following the election, I have been enjoying a set of books written by a charming English gentleman, and, in his time, famous travel writer, H.V. Morton.

Warren started me on him by giving me his book In the Steps of St. Paul last year. Just recently, I have been finding him everywhere. I got In the Steps of Our Lord somewhere recently; at least, there it was on my shelf one day so I assume I bought it.

Then when it came time to go prospecting in the Muggeridge library, I found an entire collection. My Morton library now boasts, In Search of England, Ireland (green leather binding and gold edges!), Scotland and Wales, In the Footsteps both of St. Paul and Our Lord. All filled with the lovliest descriptions of the people and places he met on his long rambles and interspersed with beautiful sepia-toned pictures of a world that was, in mere moments, about to disappear forever.

Much of his descriptions are slightly melancholy as, even in the 1920's, '30's and '40's the world he was describing was fading away like elves left behind. It is to this England that I have always wanted to run away, having been raised on books published before 1950. I have to keep reminding myself that were I to go and look for it, I would only end up disillusioned. Best to just keep reading the books I suppose.

I have In Search of England on my lap. Here is Morton's description of his visit to Cornwall:

"There is a strangeness about Cornwall. You feel it as soon as you cross the Tor Ferry. The first sight that pleased me was a girl with a shingled head driving a cow with a crumpled horn. I knew, of course, that I was in fairyland! And the next thing was a village that was trying to climb a hill. One whitewashed cottage had reached the top, but all the others had stuck half-way, with their gardens gazing in a rather surprised manner over their chimney pots. In these lovely, disorderly gardens some of the oldest men I have ever seen had apparently taken root in the act of watching the beans.

When I stopped to give the car a drink of water, a woman came to a cottage door with a jug. And she sang her words prettily, as the Welsh do! Like the Welsh, these people possess a fine Celtic fluency, so that their lies are more convincing than a Saxon truth."

Now I discover that there are quite a few H.V. fans out there. Enough to have a website or two.


Jeff said...

Oh, GLORIOUS! I've found another H. V. Morton fan! I just KNEW there had to be another one out there somewhere...

I got 'A Stranger in Spain' for some teenage birthday and have been hooked ever since. I think my favorite has to be 'In the Steps of the Master', with it's marvellous evocation of the sense of liberation the Christians of Palestine felt at the conquest of the British. So evanescent it now seems, but it wasn't felt to be so at the time.

NOT H. V. Morton, but very good in another way is 'From the Holy Mountain' by William Dalrymple. It's a journey through the scraps and pieces of the surviving Christian Middle East from Mount Athos and Constantinople to the Egyptian desert haunts of St. Anthony and his Hermits (sounds like a fifties rock band, doesn't it?)

I'm tempted to type in an excerpt to hook you, but then you probably wouldn't read this already over-lengthy comment.

H. V. Morton! Thanks for brightening my morning.

Anonymous said...

Dear Hilary and Jeff,

I highly recommend that you check out the web site of The H.V. Morton Society. It is at:

If you are interested, I would be delighted to register you as a member.

Best wishes from Western Australia,

Peter Devenish