Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A small set of Moorman's Yorkshire dialect books

Moorman's Dialect Poems, 1917
Part of what I love about working with books is the stories they tell. Some of the most remarkable books that I've had tell stories not intended by their authors. Instead, sometimes, it's their owners' stories that are most fascinating, or the details of their place in history as objects. This is one of those stories.

It is, as so often here on my blog, the story of a recent acquisition, a little set of three books by F. W. Moorman, all examples of his work promoting and writing in the Yorkshire dialect. 

Moorman was a Professor of English Language at the University of Leeds, and in Songs of the Ridings, he identifies himself, with some pride, as a minor poet, and Songs of the Ridings reprints poems he had published anonymously "in the Yorkshire press" (5). Plays of the Ridings includes three shortish dialect dramas, in hopes of inspiring the "peasant or artisan actor" and helping to establish "folk-festivals of song and dance and drama" in the Yorkshire Ridings (7). One of the plays, "The Ewe Lamb," is based closely on the Mak portion of the late-medieval Wakefield Second Shepherds' Play. The third book of this little collection is a second edition of his scholarly collection, Yorkshire Dialect Poems (1673-1915) and Traditional Poems, published in 1917.

This last book is distinguished by being signed by the author on the
Moorman's signature.
front free end-paper; the apparent owner of all three books has inscribed it also on the title: "Kurt Busse/ Wakefield/ 1917."

Songs of the Ridings has a somewhat longer inscription (dated Nov. 13, 1918) by the author on the end-paper: "With the author's compliments to a lover of dialect literature and in memory of many hours together at Lofthouse." The date here, two days after Armistice Day, may not seem especially important until one reads the letter in Moorman's hand that is laid into Songs:

Dear Dr Busse
  I have had some difficulty in procuring the books you asked for, and one is still out of print. But my bookseller asked to send you the others today and I hope they will arrive with this letter of mine. I sent on your message to Herr Paul Strasser, and hope that I reached him. 
  I was very glad to get news of you and to know that you were moderately comfortable on the Isle of Man. The voyage must have been terrible. I think much of you in these days of upheaval and my earnest hope is that Germany will pass safely through the storm and become an even greater nation than before. No doubt dark days are ahead, but I have faith in the clear vision of your countrymen, and I believe that when a firm democratic government is established, a glorious future awaits your people. May you play your part in bringing this about. It is to the young men of your generation that the nation looks most of all. 
  Please let me know of your movements. I hope that it will not be long before you are able to return home, and if you can break your journey in Leeds, my wife and I will be delighted to offer you hospitality. 
  I shall always bear a grateful memory of the hours which I was privileged to spend in your company at Lofthouse. 
  With kind regards,
  Yours very truly,
    F. W. Moorman

The censor's stamp.
The references to Lofthouse and the Isle of Man here are all contextualized by the stamp on the top of the letter: "Censored. Aliens' Detention Camp. Knockaloe, I. O. M."

Dr. Kurt Busse, the owner of these books, must have been a German detainee during the war, held first at Lofthouse in Yorkshire, and then at Knockaloe, Isle of Man. The dates and places mentioned in these inscriptions help us trace--in part--some of his movements while detained.

Perhaps it is the recent political actions of my own country, actions that seem to wish to take another class of people and make them detainees or deportees, that makes this story seem so touching to me now, but I hope always to be touched by such stories, and their reminders of both how war and politics can imprison us, and that, even so, friendships might be formed across lines that--to some--seem uncrossable lines of enmity. 

But having these books and writing this blog post was also my opportunity to learn about Knockaloe and Lofthouse: these stories remain important, and I encourage my own readers to learn something of such places, too. 

Moorman's letter and inscription in Songs of the Ridings.

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