- *Christopher Morley. Where the Blue Begins
Although he is known to many readers as the author of a successful novel (Kitty Foyle, 1939) and two minor fictional classics (Parnassus on Wheels, 1917; The Haunted Bookshop, 1919), and published 16 volumes of poetry between 1912, and 1955, Christopher Morley was perhaps best known in his own time to the American public as an essayist who produced 18 volumes of essays, many of them previously appearing in periodicals as varied in approach as the Atlantic Monthly, Coronet, the American Mercury, the Bookman, Commonweal, the Manchester Guardian, and the Saturday Review of Literature.
Because much of his career was spent as a journalist, almost all of his essays were written as columns for the magazines and newspapers by whom he was employed. In an effort to appeal to the wide audience of these periodicals, he wrote on a broad variety of topics. Some of his essays were written in part to advance the literary careers and publicize the works of close literary associates and friends such as Heywood Broun, Don Marquis, Robert Cortes Holiday, and H.M.Tomlinson. Others deal with modern writers whom Morley deeply respected: Hilaire Belloc, Joseph Conrad, Rupert Brooke, and George Santayana, among others. One of his best collections in which he deals with literature and its relationship to life is Inward Ho! (1923). In these pieces, which had originally appeared as columns in the New York Evening Post, he provides enlightened, sensitive, and sensible literary criticism on authors as diverse as Bacon, Keats, Tolstoi, Yeats, and Carl Sandburg. In one set of essays in Plum Pudding (1921), he writes about the ideal reader, Walt Whitman, the making of a poet, and a renowned professor of literature, Francis Barton Gummere.
All of his essays may well have been written for Morley’s “Perfect Reader,” whom he describes in an essay by the same title: “Oh, the Perfect Reader! There is not an illusion that he misses; in all those lovely printed words he sees the subtle secrets that a lesser soul would miss. He (bless his heart!) is not thinking how he himself would have written it; his clear, keen, outreaching mind is intent only to be one in spirit with the invisible and long-dead author…And as long as there are Perfect Readers, who read with passion, with glory, and then speed to tell their friends, there will always be, ever and anon, a Perfect Writer.”
Morley’s essays consequently tend to be quite personal, as he writes about people, places, and things he has known intimately, a quality which makes his writing still attractive. He writes easily about small events which might otherwise escape the attention of most observers but which take on added significance when treated by a perceptive writer with an engaging style.
In other essays Morley is fascinated with local Americana. In many pieces he describes locations with a great deal of fondness. In the Philadelphia area, for example, he lovingly treats many obscure and well-known places such as Dooner’s Tavern, Independence Hall, Little Italy, and Walt Whitman’s home in nearby Camden. He can write with equal poignance about New York City as he describes various places with which he has pleasant associations; Madison Square Garden, Vesey Street, St. Paul’s Churchyard, McSorley’s Saloon, and the New York subway take on a piquancy which makes even the commonplace seem special.
Morley also wrote travel essays in which he tells of his excursions in England, France, Canada, and the Caribbean, as well as his fascination with great ocean liners upon which he had voyaged. Often he makes associations between the places themselves and their literary and historical significance. As he wrote in “The Sense of Place” (The Ironing Board, 1949), “Only from that humble footing, companionship with things of sight and touch, can the mind rise to larger vantage. The Place may be anywhere and happens by chance…Any place is dear where a human mind rose above the joy and torture of the flesh and said its triumphant word.”
Morley’s essays are polished, sophisticated, and highly personal, much in the tradition of the personal essay of Addison and Steele and Lamb. While Morley and his work have been neglected by the reading public in the very late 20th century, they still admirably fulfill the classical requirement of pleasing both the mind and the heart.
Christopher Darlington Morley. Born 5 May 1890 in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Family moved to Baltimore, 1900. Studied at Haverford College, B.A., 1910; Rhodes scholar in modern history at New College, Oxford, 1910–13. Staff member, Doubleday Page and Co., from 1913. Married Helen Booth Fairchild, 1914: four children. Editor, Ladies’
Home Journal, 1917; columnist, Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, 1917; cofounder and columnist, the Saturday Review of Literature, 1924–41, and New York Evening Post, 1920–23; editorial board member, Book-of-the-Month Club, 1926–54. Suffered a stroke, 1951, which incapacitated him for the rest of his life. Died in Roslyn Heights, New York, 28 March 1957.
Essays and Related Prose
Mince Pie: Adventures on the Sunny Side of Grub Street, 1919
Travels in Philadelphia, 1920
Plum Pudding, 1921
The Powder of Sympathy, 1923
Inward Ho! 1923
Religio Journalistici, 1924
Forty-Four Essays, 1925
Safety Pins and Other Essays, 1925
The Romany Stain, 1926
Essays (selection), 1928
Off the Deep End, 1928
The Child and the Book, 1929
Internal Revenue, 1933
Shakespeare and Hawaii (lectures), 1933
Christopher Morley’s Briefcase, 1936
History of an Autumn, 1938
Letters of Askance, 1939
Morley’s Variety: A Selection from the Writings, edited by Louis Greenfield, 1944
The Ironing Board, 1949
Prefaces Without Books: Prefaces and Introductions to Thirty Books, edited by Herman Abromson, 1970
Other writings: eight novels (Parnassus on Wheels, 1917; The Haunted Bookshop, 1919; Where the Blue Begins, 1922; Thunder on the Left, 1925; Human Being, 1932;
Kitty Foyle, 1939; Thorofare, 1942; The Man Who Made Friends with Himself, 1949), short stories, poetry, plays, and the autobiography John Mistletoe (1931). Also edited two editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
Lee, Alfred P., A Bibliography of Christopher Morley, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Doran, 1935
Lyle, Guy R., and Henry Tatnall Brown, Jr., A Bibliography of Christopher Morley, Washington, D.C.: Scarecrow Press, 1952
Hughes, Babette, Christopher Morley, Seattle: University of Washington Chapbooks, 1927
Wallach, Mark I., and Jon Bracker, Christopher Morley, Boston: Twayne, 1976
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