Village Essayist

This article is about the journalist. For the actor, see Christopher Morley (actor). For the rugby player, see Chris Morley.

Christopher Morley (5 May 1890 – 28 March 1957) was an Americanjournalist, novelist, essayist and poet. He also produced stage productions for a few years and gave college lectures.[1]


Morley was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His father, Frank Morley, was a mathematics professor at Haverford College; his mother, Lilian Janet Bird, was a violinist who provided Christopher with much of his later love for literature and poetry.[2]

In 1900 the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. In 1906 Christopher entered Haverford College, graduating in 1910 as [valedictorian]. He then went to New College, Oxford, for three years on a Rhodes scholarship, studying modern history.

In 1913 Morley completed his Oxford studies and moved to New York City, New York. On 14 June 1914, he married Helen Booth Fairchild, with whom he would have four children, including Louise Morley Cochrane. They first lived in Hempstead, and then in Queens Village. They then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in 1920 they made their final move, to a house they called "Green Escape" in Roslyn Estates, New York. They remained there for the rest of his life. In 1936 he built a cabin at the rear of the property (The Knothole), which he maintained as his writing study from then on.[1]

In 1951 Morley suffered a series of strokes, which greatly reduced his voluminous literary output. He died on 28 March 1957, and was buried in the Roslyn Cemetery in Nassau County, New York.[3] After his death, two New York newspapers published his last message to his friends:

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.[1]


Morley began writing while still in college. He edited The Haverfordian and contributed articles to that college publication. He provided scripts for and acted in the college's drama program. He played on the cricket and soccer teams.

In Oxford a volume of his poems, The Eighth Sin (1912), was published. After graduating from Oxford, Morley began his literary career at Doubleday, working as publicist and publisher's reader. In 1917 he got his start as an editor for Ladies' Home Journal (1917–1918), then as a newspaper reporter and newspaper columnist in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger.

Morley's first novel, Parnassus on Wheels, appeared in 1917. The protagonist, traveling bookseller Roger Mifflin, appeared again in his second novel, The Haunted Bookshop in 1919.

In 1920 Morley returned to New York City to write a column (The Bowling Green) for the New York Evening Post.[4]

He was one of the founders and a longtime contributing editor of the Saturday Review of Literature. A highly gregarious man, he was the mainstay of what he dubbed the "Three Hours for Lunch Club". Out of enthusiasm for the Sherlock Holmes stories, he helped found The Baker Street Irregulars[1] and wrote the introduction to the standard omnibus edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. He also wrote an introduction to the standard omnibus edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare in 1936, although Morley called it an "Introduction to Yourself as a Reader of Shakespeare".[5] That year, he was appointed to revise and enlarge Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (11th edition in 1937 and 12th edition in 1948). He was one of the first judges for the Book of the Month Club, serving in that position until the early 1950s.

Author of more than 100 novels, books of essays, and volumes of poetry, Morley is probably best known for his 1939 novel Kitty Foyle, which was made into an Academy Award-winning movie. Another well-known work is Thunder on the Left (1925).

From 1928 to 1930, Morley co-produced theater productions (dramas) at his theaters in Hoboken, New Jersey,[1][6] which he had "deemed the last seacoast in Bohemia".[7][8][9]

For most of his life, he lived in Roslyn Estates, Nassau County, Long Island, commuting to the city on the Long Island Rail Road, about which he wrote affectionately. In 1961, the 98-acre (40-hectare) Christopher Morley Park [10] on Searingtown Road in Nassau County was named in his honor. This park preserves as a publicly available point of interest his studio, the "Knothole" (which was moved to the site after his death), along with his furniture and bookcases.

Notable works[edit]

  • Parnassus on Wheels (novel, 1917)
  • Shandygaff (book of essays, 1918)
  • The Haunted Bookshop (novel, 1919)
  • The Rocking Horse (poetry, 1919)
  • Pipefuls (collection of humorous essays, 1920)
  • Where the Blue Begins (satirical novel, 1922)
  • The Powder of Sympathy (collection of humorous essays, 1923, illustrated by Walter Jack Duncan)
  • Thunder on the Left (novel, 1925)
  • Essays by Christopher Morley (collection of essays, 1928)
  • Off the Deep End (collection of essays, 1928, illustrated by John Alan Maxwell)
  • Born in a Beer Garden, or She Troupes to Conquer (co-author with Ogden Nash, 1930)
  • Seacoast of Bohemia ("history of four infatuated adventurers, Morley, Cleon Throckmorton, Conrad Milliken and Harry Wagstaff Gribble, who rediscovered the Old Rialto Theatre in Hoboken, and refurnished it", 1929, illustrated by John Alan Maxwell)
  • John Mistletoe (autobiographical novel, 1931)
  • Swiss Family Manhattan (novel, 1932)
  • Ex Libris Carissimis (non-fiction writing based on lectures he presented at University of Pennsylvania, 1932)
  • Shakespeare and Hawaii (non-fiction writing based on lectures he presented at University of Hawaii, 1933)
  • Human Being (novel, Doubleday, Doran & Co., Garden City NY, 1934)[11]
  • Ex Libris (1936)
  • The Trojan Horse (novel, 1937)
  • Kitty Foyle (novel, 1939)
  • Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship (analysis of Arthur Conan Doyle's writings, 1944)
  • The Old Mandarin (book of poetry, 1947)
  • The Man Who Made Friends with Himself (his last novel, 1949)[1]
  • On Vimy Ridge (poetry, 1947)

Literary connections[edit]

  • Morley was a close friend of Don Marquis, author of the Archy and Mehitabel stories featuring the antics and commentary of a New York cockroach and a cat. In 1924 Morley and Marquis co-authored Pandora Lifts The Lid, a light novel about the well-to-do in contemporary Hamptons. They are said to have written alternate chapters, each taking the plot forward from where the other had left off.
  • Morley's widow sold a collection of his personal papers and books to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin after his death.
  • Morley helped to found the Baker Street Irregulars, dedicated to the study of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
  • Morley edited two editions of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: 1937 (11th) and 1948 (12th.)
  • Morley's 1939 novel Kitty Foyle was unusual for its time, as it openly discussed abortion. It became an instant best-seller, selling over one million copies.
  • Morley's brothers Felix and Frank were also Rhodes Scholars. Felix became President of Haverford College.[1]
  • In 1942 Morley wrote his own obituary for the biographical dictionary Twentieth Century Authors.
  • Morley was at the center of a social group in Greenwich Village that hung out at his friend Frank Shay's bookshop at 4 Christopher Street in the early 1920s.
  • Morley's selected poems are available as Bright Cages: Selected Poems And Translations From The Chinese by Christopher Morley, ed. Jon Bracker (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1965). The translations from the Chinese are actually a joke, explained to the public when the volumes by Morley containing them appeared: they are "Chinese" in nature, good-humored accounts: short, wise, often humorous. But they are not in any strict sense of the word, translations.


External links[edit]

  1. ^ abcdefgOnline Literature
  2. ^ Online Literature page for Christopher Morley, accessed 22 November 2009
  3. ^Christopher Morley at Find a Grave
  4. ^Living the Literary Life - Mass Media, New York, New York Times -
  5. ^Wallach, Mark I., Bracker, Jon. "Christopher Morley". Twayne Publishers, 1976. 112.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^,9171,846342-1,00.html
  9. ^,9171,752102,00.html
  10. ^
  11. ^cover page of the novel

A few of Baldwin’s most place-based essays are available online, and well worth a read today:

There is a housing project standing now where the house in which we grew up once stood, and one of those stunted city trees is snarling where our doorway used to be. This is on the rehabilitated side of the avenue. The other side of the avenue — for progress takes time — has not been rehabilitated yet and it looks exactly as it looked in the days when we sat with our noses pressed against the windowpane, longing to be allowed to go "across the street." The grocery store which gave us credit is still there, and there can be no doubt that it is still giving credit. The people in the project certainly need it — far more, indeed, than they ever needed the project. The last time I passed by, the Jewish proprietor was still standing among his shelves, looking sadder and heavier but scarcely any older. Further down the block stands the shoe-repair store in which our shoes were repaired until reparation became impossible and in which, then, we bought all our "new" ones. The Negro proprietor is still in the window, head down, working at the leather.

“Equal in Paris,” Notes of a Native Son, 1955

The moment I began living in French hotels I understood the necessity of French cafes.

The very word “institutions,” from my side of the ocean, where, it seemed to me, we suffered so cruelly from the lack of them, had a pleasant ring, as of safety and order and common sense; one had to come in contact with these institutions in order to understand that they were also outmoded, exasperating, completely impersonal, and very often cruel.

“Stranger in the Village,” Notes of a Native Son, 1955

From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came. I was told before arriving that I would probably be a "sight" for the village; I took this to mean that people of my complexion were rarely seen in Switzerland, and also that city people are always something of a "sight" outside of the city. It did not occur to me—possibly because I am an American—that there could be people anywhere who had never seen a Negro.

It is a fact that cannot be explained on the basis of the inaccessibility of the village. The village is very high, but it is only four hours from Milan and three hours from Lausanne. It is true that it is virtually unknown. Few people making plans for a holiday would elect to come here. On the other hand, the villagers are able, presumably, to come and go as they please - which they do: to another town at the foot of the mountain, with a population of approximately five thousand, the nearest place to see a movie or go to the bank. In the village there is no movie house, no bank, no library, no theater; very few radios, one jeep, one station wagon; and at the moment, one typewriter, mine, an invention which the woman next door to me here had never seen.

“The Harlem Ghetto,” Commentary, 1948

Harlem, physically at least, has changed very little in my parents’ lifetime or in mine. Now as then the buildings are old and in desperate need of repair, the streets are crowded and dirty, there are too many human beings per square block. Rents are 10 to 58 per cent higher than anywhere else in the city; food, expensive everywhere, is more expensive here and of an inferior quality; and now that the war is over and money is dwindling, clothes are carefully shopped for and seldom bought. Negroes, traditionally the last to be hired and the first to be fired, are finding jobs harder to get, and, while prices are rising implacably, wages are going down. All over Harlem now there is felt the same bitter expectancy with which, in my childhood, we awaited winter: it is coming and it will be hard, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Now Baldwin’s Paris has changed; his Harlem, some say, has ended. The worlds he described no longer exist as they did, but the social and economic relations that created them do, and his observations are as true and revelatory as they always have been.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *