On Long Island, the famed early to mid-20th century literary figure
Christopher Morley's presence is keenly felt and celebrated in a
small wooded glade in the Roslyn area, where his romantic writing
cabin "The Knothole" is maintained by Nassau County. Less well known,
and virtually unheralded, is Morley's time "On The Rocks" - the
shores of Huntington Harbor,
at the tip of Lloyd Neck, to be precise.
piece of "Morley-ana" may be picked up, however, in an article written
by the literary Mr. Morley's own daughter Helen Morley Woodruff,
recollections which appeared in the Long Island Forum in 1988.
the article, Woodruff recollects how Morley discovered his literary
retreat on Lloyd Neck, and provides a number of revealing anecdotes
not only about the famous man's personal side, but also glimpses
into the North Shore environment Morley relaxed in, with its dirt
roads and quiet vistas, prior to World War II and the subsequent
population build-up in the region.
hot afternoon Mother and Daddy trundled me into the car and we drove
eastward from Roslyn, along Route 25A, through East Norwich and
on past the fish hatcheries, through Cold Spring Harbor, past Norman
Thomas' house, then along West Neck Road to the causeway which linked
Lloyd Harbor with Lloyds Neck," wrote Woodruff in her account, which
appeared in the Nov 1, 1988 Long Island Forum.
tale has us follow the family up a dirt road past "a marvelous 400
year old oak tree" - presumably the Big Oak under which such other
prominent figures as Teddy Roosevelt and Walt Whitman are thought
to have decamped; up a steep hill to the edge of the Marshall Field
estate and then to the east on a small lane to a rocky promontory.
There, the Morley family established a home known as Nostromo, where
they lived among rich woods replete with wildlife, spending idle
days on the pebbly beach with its huge boulders.
sojourn there was clearly a beloved one, to hear his daughter Helen
Morley was born in Haverford, Pennsylvania in 1890. Valedictorian
of his class and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, home of his English-born
parents, Chris was soon writing an enormously popular and influential
column in the New York Evening Post, entitled "The Bowling Green,"
and putting together an insert in the Post that would evolve into
the Saturday Review of Books. It was out of this that the Book of
the Month Club was born, and through his editorial control Morley
helped shape the literary tastes of a generation of America - from
the general public to the most discerning readers.
the early decades of the 20th century the literary critic, author
and popular journalist established a career in publishing through
Doubleday, based up the road in Garden City. His first novel, Parnassus
on Wheels, was written on a kitchen table at his Oak Street, Hempstead
home in 1917 - a book which was an immediate success, glorifying
the notion of hitching up a wagonload of fine books and going wandering
through the world, and after a time Morley parked his personal literary
wagon in the woods of Roslyn, from which he managed a career straight
to the top of the urban American cultural world.
the 1920s and 1930s, in fact, Morley's name was synonymous with
the nation's popular literary world. He helped to make Walt Whitman
America's poet; edited and revised Bartlett's; founded literary
clubs, like the Baker Street Irregulars and the Three Hour Lunch
Club; and consorted with the nation's great writers and thinkers.
remained a hugely prolific writer himself. While not widely read
today, Morley's creative efforts in poetry, prose and playwriting
reveal a man very much of his time and society, who was fluent and
playful with the conventional forms of his day. His novels offer
an easy familiar prose style, and while his poetry is frequently
mannered, at times almost Edwardian, at his best Morley's work -
like that of Nash or Lear, is playful enough to transcend the parlor
values of his era.
Morley and his family enjoyed a less mannered existence at their
North Shore retreat.
were plentiful mushrooms growing on the trees, plus wild blueberries
and strawberries all around," notes Helen. There were excursions
at low tide for clams, swimming competitions at high tide when one
had to swim so far as "Bill's Rock" to prove proficiency - a feat
rewarded with a copy of Shakespeare's complete works. "The fishing
off our point was the best on the North Shore, and every evening
we watched schools of porpoise swim by." the Morley's befriended
local police officers Fred Rausch and Joe Tillotson, whom they allowed
to launch their fishing boats from their quiet retreat.
Morley's hosted such visitors as Buckminster Fuller and Cleon Throckmorton,
and scouted out the beach for personal promontories. "The beach
had several large rocks each of which were assigned to members of
the family and close friends," she recalls. "Daddy's rock was long
and perfectly flat, ideal for sunbathing...mother's rock had many
small indentures where she placed her rings while swimming."
clearly too, there were times when Christopher Morley's sojourn
on Long Island - and in particular at Nostromo - provided the stuff
of memorable verse.
took the baby
(Three years old)
To the beach at Lloyd's Neck.
A cold northern day and the wind was crisping surf on the beach.
She looked at the white foam
And heard its rhyming prosody.
"Snow," she announced.
"Snow saying, Sorrow to come in,
Sorrow to come in."
is evident from poems like these, and from the account of his daughter
Helen, that in the midst of all that fame and influence had to offer,
Morley continued to enjoy the exceptionally bucolic and yet culturally
enriched lifestyle that Nostromo, on Lloyd Neck, had to offer.