Peter Morrell, BSc PGCE MPhil, is a medical historian, who has taught Life and Environmental Sciences since 1975. A Zoology graduate from University of Leeds, in 1999 he received an MPhil in History and Sociology from Staffordshire University for a thesis on the history of British homeopathy.
In 1998 he was elected Hon. Research Associate, History of Medicine by the university. He sees many influences in his work - a science background urges detached neutrality and an aspiration towards objectivity; a love of mythology and anthropology makes for a collector of ideas and observations for no particular purpose; an ecologist's love of holism combines with a teacher's love of clarity and simplicity of expression with a strong desire to share knowledge and be understood; a poet's passion for words; the craft of the journalist and a child-like enthusiasm for the subject. He learned homeopathy in 1978 from a student of the late veterinarian, George McLeod, and practised throughout the 1980s.
Of humble origins and simple tastes, Peter is rather sceptical about qualifications as they say so little about the holder, are adored by the arrogant, and can intimidate those who have none. He published a textbook, 'Environmental Science', with Roger Johnson in 1982; has published numerous journal articles on the history of homeopathy since 1982, and is currently compiling a collection of essays on Hahnemann to be published later this year. He enjoys writing letters to the BMJ. He is married with four children, and enjoys walking, swimming, painting and family holidays.
Fragment Of Autobiography
I was born in June 1950 and lived all my childhood in Farndon (which means Fern Hill), a small and pretty village southwest of Newark on the River Trent in Nottinghamshire. The landscape is worth talking about briefly. Lying in the wide Trent valley and thus the ancient floodplain of that river, the whole area is very flat, like the Fens of East Anglia, and the vast sky dominates the scenery. In summer the climate was very hot and dry, but was cold in winter. The pattern of weather was very regular in my childhood and followed essentially the same pattern year on year. We mostly got the exact type of weather that it said on the wall-charts in school, for each month --like 'february fill dyke' or 'march winds', changeable april, sunny june, etc. The river, of course, was an endless source of enjoyment.
The dominance by the sky also brought about a love of clouds and light to which I tend to ascribe my love of art and painting and which I share with 'greats' like Constable and Turner who also came from the east of England. I was fascinated by clouds and skies as a child and recall just gazing up at them slowly moving across the sky with such imperial majesty. They seem like fluffy, white and golden kingdoms and palaces and always reflect for me great emotion and romantic power. And they are always changing. Constable too was obsessed with clouds and never tired of painting ans sketching them. I still find clouds endlessly fascinating and love studying and painting them.
My family are a fairly big subject in their own right. My mother, Olive Gwendoline Grand-Scrutton (1917-84), was the youngest of 15 children and thus we had many relatives around. There were also 30 odd cousins: sons and daughters of the first 15, which included myself. However, in my time there were only a few who we saw on anything like a regular basis, because most of them lived away. I had most contact with my two maiden aunts and my uncle Tom (1906-75). My two aunts (Marjorie (1904-81) and Dorothy, 1914-95) were very kind and heaped affection upon me. We had some great times together. Dorothy in particular was devoted to me. I suppose I do regard them both as my compassionate spiritual guardians and fierce protectors. My first gurus who tried to tame me. I can recall with perfect clarity countless happy hours I spent with them as a 2-7 yr old. My uncle Tom was a very amusing man and had a great influence on me, mainly as an eccentric carpenter with a cruel sense of humour.
My mother's family originated from the east, in Norfolk. Her father, George Grand- Scrutton (1865-1945) hailed from Norwich and my grandmother, Susannah Elizabeth Baines (1871-1957) came from Blakeney, then a thriving little port on the north Norfolk coast. Her family were fishermen and her mother's family, the Brightmer's, were sailmakers in the next village, Cley-next-the-Sea. Having only two daughters, that family name is now extinct. George Grand-Scrutton's father, Henry Scrutton (1820-1908) came from Great Blakenham in Suffolk, while his wife, Louisa Grand (c1830-1894), came from a large family in Matlaske in Norfolk. I have tried to revisit some of these family facts in the naming of my own children: eg. Holly Louisa Grand Morrell (b.1985) and Rosie Caitlin Brightmer Morrell (b.1990).
Before I arrived on the scene, the Scruttons practically ran the whole village. Right through the 20's, 30's and 40's they baked bread, ran a garage and general store, repaired bicycles and delivered newspapers and bread -- in all weathers. The father, was by all accounts a pretty vicious and dictatorial tyrant and enterprising gent. A strong churchgoer and staunch Tory, he beat his children and ruthlessly exploited them for his own profit. When I arrived, 'the shop' as we called it was mainly run by my two aunts and Reg, one of the uncles who lived in Newark. My father took it all over in the late 50's just after my grandmother died. He mainly 'pumped gas' and fixed bicycles. Until I was 3 or 4 I travelled with him everyday on his bicycle to the shop, to spend the day with my aunts. I sat on a special little seat near the front of his cycle and can vividly recall our daily journeys.
After about the age of 8 or 9 I did not enjoy a very close relationship with my father, mainly I suppose because he was a quiet man who socialised little outside the family. Unfortunately, he was a rather closed and insular man, who no-one really got very close to. However, he was chiefly remarkable for being born on the day the Titanic sank in 1912, for being an estranged Catholic who married a Protestant (which severed him from his own family, especially his mother, who never forgave him), of having an abiding love of opera, especially Verdi, of being one of the first people to enter Belsen Camp on his birthday, 15 April 1945, and of dying very suddenly and unexpectedly on a warm monday afternoon in september 1965 of a coronary attack while peddling home from work on his bicycle. Looking back, I can now see how that pivotal event, which hit us like a bomb, was a big lesson in impermanence for me and probably my first realisation of the urgent need to formulate some form of satisfactory spiritual paradigm to make sense of such tragic events, and life generally.
The Morrells today tend to be found mainly in north Nottinghamshire, the most numerous now being in the Mansfield area. A good example is the Paul Morrel in D H Lawrence's 'Sons and Lovers': Lawrence hailed from Eastwood. Though I was born in Newark, only 15 miles to the east of Mansfield, my father, Reginald (1912- 65), was born 60 miles south, in Northampton. His father, Raymond Morrell (c1884-1970), was born in Derby and his father Samuel Morrell (c1850-c1920) in Scalford, north Leicestershire, near the pork-pie town of Melton Mowbray, which is where the family originated.
The Morrells generally are found scattered about in little pockets in Bedfordshire / Oxford and in Yorkshire, but the most numerous being in north Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Morrell means 'little darkie' and is a diminutive of Moore and the Scottish Muir, meaning moorish or dark. Many variations in spelling occur such as Morrall, Murrell, Morall, Morell, Morrel etc. None of the Morrells I have nown were especially dark, and my elder brother Nigel, though he is dark, he is a typical Grand-Scrutton: thick-set, dark, balding early, very hairy and with bushy black eyebrows. All my many Scrutton uncles were of that same appearance. And as George Grand, a distant relative in Norfolk, said to me in 1985: 'when you see one Grand, you see them all'. And he was short, thick-set and dark with a round full face, the very image of my Uncle Tom. But I take after my father, being leaner, not very hairy, fair and getting gradually darker as a teenager.
Another aspect of my life is that everyone at that time lived out of doors the whole time. I only went home for meals and to sleep. Sounds weird now but that is how it was. Everyone in the village lived like that then. It was the norm. We spent the whole day outside roaming around the village and in fields and by the river just wandering around and playing and talking and having fun the whole day long. That is how I learned most things from just wandering around and lighting fires and looking in hedge-bottoms. Great fun, very happy and healthy life. And a love of sunshine and flowers, trees and birdsong dominated my childhood as I clearly recall. Beautiful mornings, powered by birdsong, with the bright sun pouring into the house like gold, and into the village and streets and misty autumns and foggy frosty winters, just like in myths and legends. That is really just what it was like.
Right throughout my childhood I had a strong love of trees. I used to climb them a lot and regarded that there was no tree I could not climb. This was not entirely true. I specialised in tree climbing to an unusual degree and was never happier than at the top of some huge horsechestnut or ash tree swaying in the breeze. This dominated my life between the ages of 8 and 17 I suppose. There were certain trees I climbed on a very regular basis and which I came to regard as great friends. There is something very warm and friendly about trees, which I cannot quite define.
The most difficult trees to climb, usually Ash trees, I came to regard as unfriendly and hostile, even bad in some profound sense and I used to avoid them. Their branches are brittle and snap just when you need to place your weight on them or they have bark which is too smooth to be of much use and far too few branches to help the climber. Horsechestnuts are the best as they have such rough bark and numerous strong branches to help the climber gain swift ascent. I had two very large favourite specimens by the river I used to climb often. Each time, I climbed them using a different route to the top and perversely delighted in that secret game, just as mountain climbers do. Treeclimbing is best on wild and windy days when the trees sway sideways and the branches rattle in a frenzy of thrashing about. The intimate closeness of the air element then becomes correspondingly intensified and one feels almost one with the very wind itself. So very exhilerating. Much I imagine like being in the 'crow's nest' on board the old sailing ships in a storm at sea under full sail. Just like the picture my grandmother had on her wall.
I was also very given to birdnesting and just prowling around the fields and ditches looking for things of interest. I was a curiously observant child. With friends I used to prowl around the village looking for fun and adventure, making fires, fishing, skating on frozen ponds or swimming in the river. It was a very outdoors kind of life and a lot of weird things happened which were interesting at the time and which are great to look back on.
The first 20 years of my life were hugely dominated by science, especially chemistry and biology. I suppose this derives from my having chemistry sets and microscopes as a child. I also liked telescopes and cameras and delighted in all these optical devices from an early age. What I liked about science was the experimental side, that you can discover anything for yourself. You do not need anyone or any book to tell you the way things are. It is there for the taking, all you have to do is look and play around. You can discover anything in that way. This appealed to me very deeply. I never read books as a child very much at all. Apart from school work I just went outdoors all the time and never sat around reading books or anything like that. Yet in a curious sort of way I was intellectual, in the sense that I thought deeply about things and was a very good observer. So I developed a natural yen for experimentation and observation of all types. I thus became ideal science material. I delighted in making gunpowder and carbide bombs from ingredients bought at chemists shops.
I also liked about science the fact that it was certain and repeatable. That seemed to make it 'real knowledge' which could be put on the shelf for 30 years and then taken down by someone else and would be just the same as the day it was put up there. This made it enormously powerful and fascinating. That was what the Encyclopedists liked about it and I can still see its big attraction. Yet I was never gifted mathematically and had no interest in the subject. I regret this now as I would love to have been trained in data analysis and statistics. That would have greatly benefitted my later interests.
In biology itself I excelled in microscopy and dissection work, which I loved enormously and still do on the few occasions when I teach those aspects. At advanced level in college we had an amazing and unconventional teacher, the Director's wife, Mrs Bishop, who was so brilliant in so many ways. A loveable eccentric, she encouraged my enthusiasm for biology enormously and also followed the same basic approach as me, of learning through direct experience and self-motivated discovery -- mainly dissection and microscopy.
She rarely gave lectures, notes or handouts, but taught entirely through practical work and personal guidance. She was enormously interesting and enthusiastic about all living things. She constantly brought specimens into class and exuded great inspiration on all of us. Like a dead fox she waltzed in with one day, which she had found by the roadside hit by a car. We dissected it avidly and pickled fleas from its hair. It was a vixen which had died from burst kidneys from the impact, though it was not pregnant. Every part of it was dissected and made into microscopic slides. It was in the formalin for weeks. She encouraged me to have greater confidence in the self-discovery approach and her approach has remained a very big influence upon me. We were so lucky to have her. We dissected everything. She formed a magical presence for me.
Thus I came to utterly despise book knowledge and people who know much but understand little. 'Find out for yourself' was her motto, and pretty soon it became mine too. She was a wonderful exemplar of the superiority of a person with profound and extensive practical knowledge and natural wisdom, who could work anything out from first principles and just straight thinking.
I read Zoology at Leeds University and since 1975 have been involved in teaching, mostly as a College lecturer in sciences. My main other interests have been in art, poetry, astrology, Buddhism and homeopathy.
I suppose my life as an 'intellectual' or artist, really began when I was a teenager, at which time I started, quite spontaneously, to write poetry. But to call it poetry is in fact misleading, as it was rhyming verse about all sorts of weird subjects. Most of it was junk that I threw away happily, but then began to write more interesting and profound stuff once I had dispensed completely with the cramping strictures of rhyme. So my writing and my painting both stem from 1967-8 and the peace and love hippy thing, which was happening at the same time. Few days passed without my writing and drawing something, even if it was rubbish. Both tended to fade a little in the early 70's, but then resurfaced with renewed vigour from 1975 onwards. I have painted and written almost continuously ever since. Almost all of it I have kept and the best of it will emerge.
Since that same late sixties period I also became firmly engaged with all things oriental, including Haiku, Buddhism, Sitar music, meditation, I Ching, philosophy, etc. Those interests have also remained strong until modern times.
Arrogance is the very worst quality you can possess, as it places a barrier between yourself and everyone else, the rest of humanity, and the whole world. Thus to be an arrogant scientist or an arrogant historian is a joke: you cannot be both. To be a good scientist or a good historian you must get close to your subject -- intimate and close provides the neutral dialogue which is a precondition of good clear observation.
I have always disliked arrogance and the elite and the rich without really knowing why. It is useful to state clearly the background reasons. My ideas are quite simple really. I believe in and like being close to people, I do not wish to be cut off from the human family by being wealthy or being terribly snotty and arrogant. Such people are very lonely and sad because they have tried to place themselves above everyone else and in doing so have become cut off and lonely in a strange prison of their own making. It is far better to stress what we have in common as human beings, rather than stress our differences.
These days I take a more tolerant and compassionate view of the rich. They are sad and lonely figures, and deserve our pity. I pity them for their miserliness, their materialism and greed, for their petty squabbling about something of little real consequence -- money -- and for their self-imposed exile from the rest of the human family.
Some time back my wife and I often used to discuss winning a lot of money and what we would do with it. After much discussion and careful thinking I have decided that I do not want money and would happily give away my last penny to help the poor. If I won millions I would provide for family and friends and spend all the rest on charitable works, mainly on Tibetan monasteries in India, and the Tibet cause generally, and also historical or Buddhist research scholarships.
I am basically a 'working-class bloke' and always have been. It dominates my aproach to everything. Wealth beyond a certain point of comfort becomes, for me, a very ugly and repugnant thing. I much prefer a modest and frugal life, even of hardship than to the indulgence of wealth. I am comfortable with ordinary people doing ordinary things. I am uncomfortable with arrogance, wealth, pomp and formality. I would like to travel more and have more time to paint and think, but apart from that money is a burden I am happy not to have.
Nor do I buy the argument, which is sometimes presented, that the rich are very special and 'marked out' in some way. That seems a form of pure elitism and vanity. Over 80% of the good people on this earth are poor, mostly very poor. I do not believe that they are any less special than those who strut around in big ships, big cars and big aeroplanes. In fact, quite the reverse. I would much rather spend a day, a month or a lifetime with the poor than with any single rich person on earth. To me, they seem to have a dignity, an openness and a wisdom which the rich can never attain or even come to know. That is the price they pay for their arrogance. They choose to lock themselves away from the rest of us.
I do not regard myself as an authority on anything, perhaps I should say. And very much prefer people to make their own minds up about things. In the sense that I am just an ordinary bloke telling things the way I see them. While I do not have a high opinion of myself nor do I have a low opinion of myself or my work.
Peter Morrell articles on Buddhism
- A Buddhist View of Addiction by Peter Morrell
- A Buddhist View of Suffering by Peter Morrell
- A Rainbow Hiding in the Clouds: Cultivating the Mind of Enlightenment by Peter Morrell
- Bliss and Emptiness by Peter Morrell
- Bliss Emptiness and Bodhichitta by Peter Morrell
- Buddhism in a Nutshell by Peter Morrell
- Compassion and the Three Trainings by Peter Morrell
- Impermanence, Desire and Non-Attachment by Peter Morrell
- Is Anatta the Central Doctrine of Budhism? by Peter Morrell
- Is Buddhism a Religion or a Philosophy of Life? by Peter Morrell
- Je Tsong Khapa by Peter Morrell
- Karma, Compassion and Humanity by Peter Morrell
- Learning Compassion From Childhood by Peter Morrell
- Meditation as the Source of Compassion by Peter Morrell
- Memories and Subtle Impermanence by Peter Morrell
- Notes on the Mandala Offering by Peter Morrell
- On Visualisation in Tantric Practice by Peter Morrell
- Ordinary Life as a Spiritual Path by Peter Morrell
- Reflections on Western Interest in Buddhism by Peter Morrell
- The Ethical Basis of Buddhism by Peter Morrell
- The Joy Of Impermanence by Peter Morrell
- The Luminous Nature of the Mind by Peter Morrell
- The Mysterious Mantra Tree at Kum-bum, East Tibet by Peter Morrell
- The Path of Non-Attachment by Peter Morrell
- The Three Poisons and The Three Jewels: An Outline Of The Buddhist Schools by Peter Morrell
- The Ts'an T'ung Ch'i' A Buddhist Poem by Shih T'ou (700-790) by Peter Morrell
- The World As An Illusion: Berkeley's Philosophy and Mahayana Buddhism by Peter Morrell