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Excerpts from a Life Well-Traveled: The Jan Morris Collection of the University Libraries

Exhibit Items and Excerpts I

Pax Britannica
is part of a trio of books by Morris about the rise and fall of the British Empire. Although Pax Britannica was the first in the series to be written, chronologically, it falls between Heaven’s Command and Farewell the Trumpets.

 Morris describes the theme of Pax Britannica as one of  “muddled grandeur.” The first book in the series takes place in the period of relative peace for the British Empire.

 Heaven’s Command addresses the rise of the British Empire and Farwell the Trumpets its fall.

Morris described writing Oxford (1965) as “an agreeable chore.”

On Fauna and Flora:

“Enthusiasts of every degree pore over the botany of Oxford,” page 93

From the chapter titled “Ornery”:

“The whole life of the city, impoverished by the decline of the wool industry, came to depend upon the grace of the University. Shopkeepers were cautiously subservient, and when the students dispersed for the long summer vacation half Oxford was out of work,” page 71.



The Matter of Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country (1984)

“There is no pretending that the Welsh are a well-regulated people, at least in public…. Yet there is a Welsh order of things, of an abstract and private kind, which embraces most Welsh people, not least those of alien origins,” page 215.



Conundrum (1974)

“Alter the body! Of course this is what I had hoped, prayed, and thrown three-penny bits into wishing well for all my life; yet to hear it actually suggested, by a man in a white coat in a medical office, seemed to me like a miracle, for the idea of it helped for me then, as it holds for me now, a suggestion of sorcery. To alter the body!,” page 49.

Destinations: Essays from Rolling Stone (1980)

“It occurred to me one day that Washington seemed to go to bed rather early. When I asked why. I was told it was partly because the streets were unsafe at night, but partly because so many Washingtonians were émigrésfrom the country, used to getting up at six to milk the cows, spread the muck, cut the cane or open up the corner store.  I liked this romantic explanation, without much believing in it, and certainly the pretensions of Washington are often redeemed by a small-town, even a country feeling,” page 23.

Travels (1976)

“When things get too awful, when the rain never seems likely to stop, and the toolmakers are striking, and Sam the dog has been rolling in manure—when life seems irredeemable, then I retreat to the lost world of my guide-books,” page 36.

Pleasures of a Tangled Life (1989)

“Pleasures are not to be scoffed at. They may be no more than intermissions from pain, as some depressing theorists maintain, but they must be taken seriously. Even the severest Puritan ate turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, even the dourest Stalinist knew that an occasional visit to the cinema improved tractor production, and now and then it still crosses political minds that really the only purpose of statesmanship is to ensure the people’s pleasures,” page 7.

Spain (1964)

“Spain is one of the absolutes. Most States nowadays are willy-nilly passive, subject always to successive alien forces. Spain still declines in the active mood. She is not a Great Power, but in her minor way she is one of the prime movers still—still a nation that sets its own standards,” page 22.

“To use poor ciphers of the computer culture, us cosmopolitan, humanist, cynical serfs of the machine, nothing is more compelling than the drama, at once dark an d dazzling, of that theatre over the hills—the vast splendor of the Spanish landscape, the intensity of Spain’s pride and misery, the adventurous glory of a history that set its seal upon half the world, the sadness of a decline that edged so inexorably from triumph to tragedy, through so many centuries of rot. All this, distilled in blazing heat and venomous cold, dusted by the sand of Africa, guarded by that mountain barricade above you—all this seems to await your arrival, beyond the pass of Roncesvalles,” page 22.