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Tales of the Ridings

Tales of the Ridings
Title: Tales of the Ridings
Release Date: 2006-04-14
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 25 March 2019
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F. W. MOORMAN 1872 - 1919
Editor of "Yorkshire Dialect Poems"

By Professor C. VAUGHAN





Frederic Moorman came of a stock which, on both sides, hadstruck deeproots in the soil of Devon. His father's family, which is believed tohave sprung ultimately from "either Cornwall or Scotland"—asufficiently wide choice, it may be thought—had for manygenerationsbeen settled in the county.(1) His mother's—her maiden namewas MaryHonywill—had for centuries held land at Widdicombe and theneighbourhood, in the heart of Dartmoor. He was born on 8th September1872, at Ashburton, where his father, the Rev. A. C. Moorman, wasCongregational minister; and for the first ten years of his life he wasbrought up on the skirts of the moor to which his mother's familybelonged: drinking in from the very first that love of country sightsand sounds which clove to him through life, and laying the foundationofthat close knowledge of birds and flowers which was an endless sourceofdelight to him in after years, and which made him so welcome acompanionin a country walk with any friend who shared his love of such thingsbutwho, ten to one, could make no pretence whatever to his knowledge.

In 1882, his father was appointed to the ministry of theCongregationalChurch at Stonehouse, in Gloucestershire; and Frederic began his formalschooling at the Wyclif Preparatory School in that place. The countryround Stonehouse—a country of barish slopes and richly woodedvalleys—is perhaps hardly so beautiful as that which he hadleft andwhose memory he never ceased to cherish. But it has a charm all itsown,and the child of Dartmoor had no great reason to lament his removal tothe grey uplands and "golden valleys" of the Cotswolds.

His next change must have seemed one greatly for the worse. In1884 hewas sent to the school for the sons of Congregational ministers atCaterham; and the Cotswolds, with their wide outlook over the Severnestuary to May Hill and the wooded heights beyond, were exchanged forthe bald sweep and the white chalk-pits of the North Downs. These toohave their unique beauty; but I never remember to have heard Moormansayanything which showed that he felt it as those who have known suchscenery from boyhood might have expected him to do.

After some five years at Caterham, he began his academicalstudies atUniversity College, London; but, on the strength of a scholarship, soonremoved to University College, Aberystwyth (1890), where thescenery—sea, heron-haunted estuaries, wooded down to the veryshore,and hills here and there rising almost into mountains—offeredsurroundings far more congenial to him than the streets and squares ofBloomsbury.

In these new surroundings, he seems to have been exceptionallyhappy,throwing himself into all the interests of the place, athletic as wellas intellectual, and endearing himself both to his teachers and hisfellow-students. His friendship with Professor Herford, then Professorof English at Aberystwyth, was one of the chief pleasures of hisstudentdays as well as of his after life. Following his natural bent, hedecided to study for Honours in English Language and Literature, and atthe end of his course (1893) was placed in the Second Class by theexaminers for the University of London, to which the AberystwythCollegewas at that time affiliated. Those who believe in the virtue of infantprodigies—and, in the country which invented Triposes andClass Lists,it is hard to fix any limit to their number—will bedistressed to learnthat, in the opinion of those best qualified to judge of such matters,he was not at that time reckoned to be of "exceptionally scholarlycalibre." Perhaps this was an omen all the better for his futureprospects as a scholar.

It is a wholesome practice that, when the cares ofexaminations are oncesafely behind him, a student should widen his experience by a taste offoreign travel. Accordingly, in September, 1893, Moorman betook himselfto Strasbourg, primarily for the sake of continuing his studies underthe skilful guidance of Ten Brinck. The latter, however, was almost atonce called to Berlin and succeeded by Brandl, now himself of theUniversity of Berlin, who actually presided over Moorman's studies forthe next two years, and who thought, and never ceased to think, veryhighly both of his abilities and his acquirements. It was only naturalthat Moorman should make a pretty complete surrender to German idealsand German methods of study. It was equally natural that, in the lightof subsequent experience, his enthusiasms in that line should suffer aconsiderable diminution. He was not of the stuff to accept for ever thesomewhat bloodless and barren spirit which has commonly dominated thepursuit of literature in German universities.

Into the social life of his new surroundings he threw himselfwith allthe zest that might have been expected from his essentially sociablenature: making many friendships—that of Brandl was the one hemostvalued—and joining—in some respects,leading—his fellow-students intheir sports and other amusements. His first published work, in fact,was a translation of the Rules of Association Football into German; andhe may fairly be regarded as the godfather of that game on German soil.Nor was this the end of his activities. During the two years he spentatStrasbourg he acted as Lektor in English to the University, sogaining—and gaining, it is said, with muchsuccess—his firstexperience in what was to be his life's work as a teacher.

On the completion of his course at Strasbourg, where heobtained thedegree of Ph.D. in June 1895,(2) he returned to Aberystwyth, now nolonger as student but as Lecturer in the English Language andLiteratureunder his friend and former teacher, Professor Herford. There heremained for a little over two years (September, 1895, to January,1898), gradually increasing his stores of knowledge and strengtheningthe foundations of the skill which was afterwards to serve him in goodstead as a teacher. During that time he also became engaged to thesister of one of his colleagues, Miss Frances Humpidge, whom he hadknown for some years and whose love was to be the chief joy and supportof his after life.

As a matter of prudence, the marriage was postponed until hisprospectsshould be better assured. The opportunity came sooner than could havebeen expected. In January, 1898, he was appointed to the lectureship inhis subject—a subject, such is our respect for literature,then firsthanded over to an independent department—in the YorkshireCollege atLeeds; and in August of the same year he was married. Four children,three of whom survived and the youngest of whom was twelve at the timeof his death, were born during the earlier years of the marriage.

The life of a teacher offers little excitement to theonlooker; and allthat can be done here is to give a slight sketch of the variousdirections in which Moorman's energies went out. The first task thatlaybefore him was to organise the new department which had been put intohis hands, to make English studies a reality in the college to which hehad been called, to give them the place which they deserve to hold inthe life of any institution devoted to higher education. Into this taskhe threw himself with a zeal which can seldom, if ever, have beensurpassed. Within six years he had not only put the teaching of hissubject to Pass Students upon a satisfactory basis; he had also laidthefoundations of an Honours School able to compete on equal terms withthose of the other colleges which were federated in the then VictoriaUniversity of the north. It was a really surprising feat for so young aman—he was little over twenty-five whenappointed—to have accomplishedin so short a time; the more so as he was working single-handed: inother words, was doing unaided the work, both literary and linguistic,which in other colleges was commonly distributed between two or three.And I speak with intimate knowledge when I say that the Leeds studentswho presented themselves for their Honours Degree at the end of thattime bore every mark of having been most thoroughly and efficientlyprepared.

In 1904, six years after Moorman's appointment to thelectureship, theYorkshire College was reconstituted as a separate and independentuniversity, the University of Leeds; and in the rearrangement whichfollowed, an older man was invited to come in as official chief of thedepartment for which Moorman had hitherto been solely responsible. Thisinvitation was not accepted until Moorman had generously made it clearthat the proposed appointment would not be personally unwelcome to him.Nevertheless, it was clearly an invidious position for the new-comer:and a position which, but for the exceptional generosity and loyalty ofthe former chief of the department, would manifestly have beenuntenable. In fact, no proof of Moorman's unselfishness could be moreconclusive than that, for the nine years during which the two menworkedtogether, the harmony between them remained unbroken, untroubled byeventhe most passing cloud. Near the close of this time, in recognition ofhis distinction as a scholar and of his great services to theUniversity, a separate post, as Professor of the English Language, wascreated for him.

During the whole of his time at Leeds, his knowledge of hissubject,both on its literary and linguistic side, was constantly deepening andhis efficiency, as teacher of it, constantly increasing. With so keen amind as his, this was only to be expected. It was equally natural that,as his knowledge expanded and his advice came to be more and moresoughtby those engaged in the study of such matters, he should make theresults of his researches known to a wider public. After severalsmallerenterprises of this kind,(3) he broke entirely fresh ground with twobooks, which at once established his right to be heard in both thefields for which he was professionally responsible: YorkshirePlaceNames, published for and by the Thoresby Society in 1911; anda studyof the life and poetry of Robert Herrick, two years later. The former,if here and there perhaps not quite rigorous enough in the testsappliedto the slippery evidence available, is in all essentials a most solidpiece of work: based on a wide and sound knowledge of the linguisticprinciples which, though often grossly neglected, form thecorner-stone,and something more, of all such inquiries; and lit up with a keen eyefor the historical issues—issues reaching far back intonationalorigins which, often in the most unexpected places, they may be made toopen out. The latter, to which he turned with the more zest because itled him back to the familiar setting of his native county—toits moorsand rills and flowers, and the fairy figures that hauntedthem—is adelightful study of one of the most unique of English poets(4); astudy,however, which could only have been written by one who, among manyotherthings, was a thorough-paced scholar. Manyqualities—knowledge,scholarship, love of nature, a discerning eye for poeticbeauty—go tothe making of such a book. Their union in this Studyserves to showthat, great as was Moorman's authority in the field of language, it wasalways to literature, above all to poetry, that his heart wentnaturallyout. The closing years of his life were to set this beyond doubt.

It would be absurd to close this sketch of Moorman'sprofessionalactivities without a reference, however slight, to what was, after all,one of the most significant things about them. No man can, in the fullsense, be a teacher unless, in some way or other, he throws himselfintothe life and interests of his students. And it was among thesecrets—perhaps the chief secret—of Moorman'sinfluence as a teacherthat, so far from being mere names in a register, his students were tohim always young people of flesh and blood, in whose interests he couldshare, whose companion he delighted to be, and who felt that they couldturn to him for advice and sympathy as often as they were in need. Nodoubt his own youthfulness of temper, the almost boyish spirits whichseldom or never flagged in him, helped greatly to this result; but thetrue fountain of it all lay in his ingrained unselfishness. The samepower was to make itself felt among the classes for older studentswhichhe held in the last years of his life.

To fulfil all these academical duties in the liberal spirit,which wasthe only spirit possible to Moorman, might well have been expected toexhaust the energies of any man. Yet, amidst them all, he found time totake part, both as lecturer and as trusted adviser, in the activitiesofthe Workers' Educational Association, attending summer meetings

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