Unlike many charity shops these days, my local Oxfam has a few shelves of older books as well as the usual massed ranks of recent paperbacks. Browsing there yesterday, a book on Trollope caught my eye. I'm not a huge Trollope fan, but I took it down to have a look, opened it - and there on the flyleaf was the unmistakable signature of my old friend, mentor and English teacher who died a few years ago (he was first memorialised here)! As was his habit, he'd also put the place and date of purchase - Manchester, October 1944. It was a heart-jolting moment - I think the first time I've come across a friend's name in such circumstances - but a happy one. Clearly I was meant to buy the book, which I duly did. It was Trollope: A Commentary by Michael Sadleir - which reminded me that my old friend had once given me another by Sadleir, Blessington-D'Orsay: A Masquerade, a very readable account of the strange relationship of the reprobate dandy Count d'Orsay (a friend of Dickens) with the Blessington family. Sadleir was a 'man of letters' - a breed that has long since died out. Best known for his (at the time) scandalous novel Fanny By Gaslight, he was a prolific author and a serious literary scholar, among whose bookish achievements was proving the authenticity of the Northanger Horrids. Anyway, be that as it may, the Trollope book was not the only one that caught my eye ysterday. Sitting on the bottom shelf was one with a title I could not possibly resist: The Making Of A Moron. This, surely, was the book for me. I snapped it up, and on examination it proved to be a treatise on the nature of work in modern (1953) society by one Niall Brennan, a man who had clearly tried his hand at many occupations and seen a thing or two. His jumping-off point is the fact that various recent experiments had found that 'morons' ( a term then still acceptable) had been successfully employed doing manual work in factories. From this he goes on to argue that modern work in virtually all its forms makes morons of us all. The first two chapters are summarised thus:
I. The Use of Morons.
Certified morons can be fitted into a working community without seeming different from their normal companions; this could be good from them, but if it is only because they are merged into something itself moronic, then it is no good for anyone. Uncertified morons are at large and recognisable only when they cause trouble. It would seem then that the environment has moronic elements. If it has, then instead of improving the certified morons, it will only be pulling everyone else down to their level.
II. Muscle and Mind.
The place where one expects to find morons, both made and in the making, is unskilled physical labour. But this is not so. Not only is unskilled physical labour an intellectual stimulant, but the ultimate object of any business as a whole influences the attitude of men to their work.
And so it goes on - but, as I say, this was a man who had seen thing or two, and his account of the workers in a paper mill is quite hair-raising:
'The workers themselves... were a rabble... loud-mouthed, dogmatic and evil-minded men who had apparently committed every sin in the calendar, and were proud to admit it over lunch without the omission of a detail.
I would never have believed it possible that the sexual life of a man could be revealed with such vigour in such dispassionate activities as rabbiting, the races, football or the comic papers... Not one thing was allowed to pass without its sexual significance being demonstrated to the innocent... There was a certain amount of flippant homosexuality. The organs were occasionally produced or displayed. It may comfort the fashionable ladies who insist upon having their parcels wrapped to know that the paper was freely impregnated with urine. Had Freud lived to see it, he would have been a happy man. Not even Havelock Ellis could have demanded fewer inhibitions.'
Crikey. I shall keep this book for the title - and the other for the name on the flyleaf.