COMPANION

Maurice Burton

Maurice Burton (1898 –1992), a British zoologist and popular science author, and a pupil of F. M. Alexander.

Life

Maurice Burton read Zoology at London University. He worked at the British Museum of Natural History from 1927 to 1958. He was the Science Editor for the Illustrated London News and Nature Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. He wrote some twenty natural history books, and contributed to several natural history encyclopedias, especially for children.[1]

Connection with F. M. Alexander

The following is an extract from a letter from Maurice Burton to ‘Nikko’ Tinbergen, who was also a pupil of the Technique (though not of Alexander).

My third bond with you is that we are both FM pupils. You speak of ‘patients’ in your ethology and stress ‘diseases’, which is a word Alexander vigorously eschewed. I could bore you to tears with accounts of my experiences and those of my friends who have taken the course (or failed to do so and are now dead!) on my prompting. But I feel impelled to recount my first impressions of the training.

When I went to FM first in 1949, at Ashley Place, Victoria, a stone’s throw from Victoria Station, the maestro sat me in a chair, took me up out of the chair repeatedly and talked endlessly in what to me, was little short of gibberish. I remember vividly, after half-an-hour of this, being shown out and walking down the flight of steps from the front door, with the thought, ‘this is bloody nonsense’ (‘bloody’ meaning in this context not a swear word but the ultimate in superlatives).

Prior to the lesson I had a marked shoulder stoop and my left shoulder was noticeably higher than the right. Soon after leaving PM, and as I turned into Victoria Street, I felt like a hunchback. I glanced into a shop window and to my astonishment, far from being hunchbacked, my back was as straight as a ramrod and my shoulders level. I was walking better than any guardsman.

I caught an underground train at Victoria and it was rush-hour. I could not hold a strap, each was already occupied. This did not matter, for surprise number two, I was swaying with the movement of the train, with perfect balance, like an experienced mariner who sways with the ship as if he were part of the deck.

Arriving home, I dropped exhausted into an armchair. My wife came in a few minutes later, looked at me and said, ‘I don't know what they have done to you but you look awful.’ I went to a mirror, there were black half-circles under my eyes, and generally I looked terribly ill. I came to the conclusion that if a frail-looking, elderly gentleman could, by touching lightly with his hands, and talking apparent gibberish, produce these fundamental changes, the subject was worth pursuing.[2]

After Alexander’s death in 1955 Maurice Burton continued having lessons with other teachers.

In 1974 he contributed a letter to the New Scientist, in a long running correspondence between Edward Maisel, Wilfred Barlow and Nickolaas Tinbergen:

I had my first lesson in the conscious use of the self at the hands of F. M. Alexander himself in 1949. What Maisel says or Barlow says, even what Tinbergen says, has no more than passing interest to me. Tinbergen may or may not have overstated the case for the Technique in his Nobel speech; he may or may not have retracted since. To me his original remarks could have been an accurate assessment. After 25 years’ experience of it I know that the proper use of the Alexander Technique can have the most remarkably beneficial and immediate effects on both body and mind with minimal effort.[3]

Maurice Burton *28 March 1898 – †9 September 1992.

References

[1] 'Obituary: Maurice Burton by Denys W. Tucker in The Independent, 23 September 1992. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-maurice-burton-155312.... Retrieved 26 December 2018.
[2] Quoted in ‘Fifty-five years on’ by Elisabeth Walker in Direction vol. 2, no. 2 edited by Jeremy Chance (Fyncot Pty Ltd., 1994), pp. 29–32. Reproduced with permission from Lucia Walker.
[3] New Scientist vol. 64, no. 923, 14 November 1974, p. 525. Quoted in Nobel Episode Revisited by Dr. G. S. Hehr (Nyoom-Annesh Publications, 1998), p. 36.