H. Buxton (Harry Buxton) Forman.

The books of William Morris : described with some account of his doings in literature and in the allied crafts online

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Author of " Our Living Poets," " The Shelley

Library," etc., and Editor of the Works

of Shelley and Keats


Frank Hollings, 7 Great Turnstile, Holborn



Dear Son, — In this poor gift there's fitness ;

For when into the world you came,
You got — and let this leaf bear witness —

A twice associated name.

Our well-belov'd friend Bucke's prenonien
We gave you — and the letters show it :

Still, we'd an eye upon the omen
That that same name described a poet.

Tis naught but simple truth I'm telling —
Two sponsors' names in one we found,

With some slight difference in the spelling
And none whatever in the sound.

While yet a lad you loved to walk about
The book-room mingling lore with chaff;

And well you knew some tomes I talk about
In this my biobibliograph.

Later, the "midnight lamp" has seen us
In that same book-room all alone ;

But since the Atlantic heaved between us
Those Morris rows have grown and grown

And still with every teeming year

That made the listening world his debtor

I grew to hold the man more dear
And ever loved the poet better.

(Ah ! Morris, it was well to know you —
Whatever comes of it, it was well —

Though dry the sprigs of bay I throw you,
Right fain were I to be your Boswell !)

So long, dear Boy ! The ship's in port
That scores the Atlantic east and west ;

Those rollers huge she'll make her sport,
And bring you this at my behest.




Preface ....... xiii

Introduction : The Life Poetic as lived by Morris . 3

Beginnings : The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine,

Sir Galahad, The Defence of Guenevere &c. . 21

Queen Square : Jason, The Earthly Paradise, Sagas 45

Horrington House : Love is Enough, Sagas, Virgil,
The Two Sides of the Eiver &c, Sigurd the
Volsung . . . . . .79

Kelmscott House : Lectures, Letters &c. on Public Ques-
tions . . . . . . .93

Socialism : Lectures, Poems, Articles, Treatises, Prefaces

and Newspapers . . . . . 107

Signs of Change : John Ball, The House of the
Wolfings, The Boots of the Mountains, News
from Nowhere ..... 137

The Kelmscott Press and the Editiones Principes issued

from it ...... 155

Appendix : Additional Information, including Lists of
Contributions to Periodicals &c, of Lectures and
Addresses reported, and of the Kelmscott Publica-
tions ....... 195


Portrait of Morris from a Photograph by Hollyer Frontispiece

Design for letter " h" of the Golden type, opposite page 14

Specimens of the three Kelmscott Founts ,, ,, ,,
Book-mark used in the smaller Kelmscott

Volumes . . . . ,, ,, „
Book-mark used in the Beowulf and other

large Kelmscott Volumes . . . „ ,, 15


Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery, bound in Morocco

by Eiviere . . .... 20

Typographical border and Ornamental Letters from

Oxford and Cambridge Magazine . . .22

Heading and Ornamental Letters from Oxford and

Cambridge Magazine . . . .24

The Wood-cut or Book-mark made for The Earthly

Paradise . . . . . .44

The Debased Eeproduction of the same . . .49

Frontispiece to the Boston (Mass.) Lovers of Gudrun 61
Kelmscott House from a Drawing by H. J. Howard . 92
The Wrapper of Principles of Socialism as designed

by Morris for the First Edition . . . 104

The same as re-arranged for the later Issues . . 105

Heading for The Commonweal designed by Morris with

Willow Back-ground . . . . .112

Freedom, Equality, Fraternity : Heading for The

Commonweal designed by Walter Crane . .113

Educate, Agitate, Organize : Heading for Publications

of the Socialist League, designed by Walter Crane . 113

xii Illustrations.


Labour and Justice : Heading for Publications of the
Hammersmith Socialist Society, designed by Walter
Crane . . . . . . .113

Card of Membership designed by Walter Crane for the

Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League . 122

Alfred Linnell killed in Trafalgar Square : Memorial

Design by Walter Crane .... 129

Portrait Book-Plate designed by Walter Crane for the
Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League to
insert in a Set of Books presented to Morris's
Daughter May on her marriage to H. Halliday
Sparling . . . . . .136

Labour's May-Day : Cartoon by Walter Crane, as reduced

for Frontispiece of News from Nowhere . . 147

Verso Title-page or Frontispiece designed by Morris for
the Illustrated Quarto Edition of The Glittering
Plain ....... 154

No. 14 Upper Mall, Hammersmith (The Kelmscott Press),

from a Drawing by H. J. Howard . . . 155

Verso Title-page or Frontispiece designed by Morris for

The Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane 173

St. George and the Dragon : Monogram Book-mark of

Mr. George Allen, designed by Walter Crane . 176

Europa and the Bull : Monogram Book-mark of Messrs.

Lawrence and Bullen, designed by Walter Crane . 178

Eeduced Fac-simile from Holograph First Draft of The

Well at the World's End . . . 185

Ornamental Initial Word designed by Morris for The

Well at the World's End . . . 187

Ornamental Initial Word designed by Morris for the

Kelmscott Folio Chaucer . 189


HPHE objects of the present work may be stated in few words.
Convinced that " the world of books is still," of all worlds
in which an artist is privileged to live, the most " living world"
I have thought that a true presentment of the man would be the
natural result of setting forth in a connected narrative the
public appearances of Morris in literature, from the time when,
as an undergraduate, he founded and maintained The Oxfoed
and Cambridge Magazine, to the quite recent date on which
his trustees issued the last but one of the posthumous tvrittngs
destined to come from his Kelmscott Press. It is a great record
as well as a long one. It is one in connexion toith which the
student and collector of this latter end of the nineteenth century
is entitled to look for exact bibliographical knowledge ; and I
have tried to weave that knowledge into the thread of the
narrative in such a manner as to present, with the aid of typo-
graphical arrangements and some pictorial illustration, a true
portraiture of each book, and always xoith the hope that some-
ivhere in the vicinity of such portraiture there will be something
written or depicted to conjure up in the reader's eye at least the
shadoiuy image of the man who lives in each and all of Morris's
many books.

With that aim, it seemed best to begin by giving a sum-
mary appreciation of the facts of his public life. Apart from
his doings in literature, which it is the main purpose of the

xiv Preface.

following pages to record and illustrate, the epochs of his life are
so many important chapters in the history of arts and crafts in
England, and in the social and political movement tuhich is still
going on for the benefit of the handicraftsman. It ivill not be for
me to deal at large with the period ivhen he started his business
undertaking on cesthetic grounds to reform our views of colour,
curve, line, texture — in a word, our tastes — or to shoiu how this
threw him into those relations ivith handicraftsmen ivhich could
lead his generous heart but one way — to make the handicrafts-
man's life joyful, as his was joyful ; for what man ever so joyed,
so revelled, in twenty different methods of work as William
Morris did ? Others will doubtless tell hoiu, in developing his
views for the workmen, he enlarged his scope ; hoio from import-
ing rough but comely pottery out of France, he got to influencing
the manufacture and securing the distribution of de Morgan lustre
— a lost art revived ; how from bringing home Eastern carpets
he grew to see that, after all, these were not the fittest and best
for our Western civilization, and how he set up his dye-works
and looms and made fabrics and carpets which will influence the
taste of the Western world when he has been dead a century.
More important still will be the history of how he entered into
the practical side of the Socialist propaganda and went on
fearlessly till convinced, not that he would come to harm — for he
had always all to lose and nothing to gain — but that "ructions
with police," as he phrased it, would injure the cause. And
history will have to tell sooner or later the tale of his seeing
what a base, mechanical thing was become this great art of
printing of ours, and of his setting up the Kelmscott Press, to
issue books in which every letter should be beautiful. But I
cannot help recalling here that, just as his friends and dependents
were laying him to rest in the quiet little Oxfordshire village
which gives that press its name, the fortunate possessors of the
great folio Chaucer edited by his old friend Frederick Ellis and
beautified by the stately and profoundly sympathetic pictures of

Preface. xv

his older friend Sir Edward Burne- Jones, were turning in
wonder the 'pages of one of the noblest boohs ever printed. It is
some satisfaction to remember that the brave man and great artist
who crammed the joyous labour of three life-times into sixty -two
years and a half taking the rough with the smooth to benefit
his humbler fellow-craftsmen, saw with his eyes this crowning
work of many applied arts and crafts before he entered into
his rest.

For much information cheerfully supplied, for drawings or
blocks lent for purposes of illustration, for permission to use
copyright designs or tvorks, my thanks are due to many friends
and correspondents. Without attempting to allocate each par-
ticular obligation, I will record my gratitude to Mrs. Sparling,
Mr. Frederick S. Ellis, Mr. Sidney Cockerell, Mr. Walter
Crane, Mr. Emery Walker, Dr. Bichard Garnett, Canon B. W.
Dixon, Judge Lushington, Mr. Clement Shorter, Mr. Thomas J.
Wise, Mr. F. Hollyer, Mr. William Beeves, Mr. G. B. Shaw,
Mr. H. M. Hyndman, Mr. Edivard Bell, Mr. A. II. Bullen, Mr.
Gilbert Ellis, Mr. Walter A. Brook, Messrs. Boberts Brothers
of Boston, Mass., and the Proprietors of the Chiswick Press. I
feel that this imperfect list does not include all of those who
have kindly answered letters about details dealt with in the folloiu-
ing pages ; and I beg that all, whether named or unnamed, will
accept my cordial thanks.


46, Marlborough Sill, St. John's Wood,
31 October 1897.



univ :



The Life Poetic as lived by William Morris.

IT was at Walthamstow in Essex, on the 24th of March 1834,
that the Welsh child destined to become the great artist
and reformer whose doings are the subject of this book first
saw the light. His father was a London merchant, who by-
fortunate investments became wealthy ; and to him it may be
that William Morris was indebted for that capacity for affairs
which he somehow had, whether born in the blood or not.
How his early years were passed it is for other hands to record
in due time and with due authority. It is said that he enjoyed
great freedom as a boy, had the run of Epping Forest and
grew to love it, and rode about the country on his pony, follow-
ing up a constant quest for old churches — for already the love
of architecture was strong in him — and mixing freely with
stablemen and others of like rank, from whom he probably
learnt a great deal more good than harm. He did not attach
much importance to his schooling; but certain it is that
Marlborough and Oxford (Exeter College) have the honour of
his conventional training. It was at Oxford that he got to
know his future partner, Faulkner, and Burne-Jones, through
whom, later, he became acquainted with Dante Gabriel Eossetti.
But he must have been getting his special mental education in
his own way long before he left Oxford, for The Oxford and
Cambridge Magazine, published monthly during the year 1856,
teems with work from his " prentice hand," saturated with
medievalism. It was also in 1856 that he was articled to the
late George Edmund Street, the renowned architect : his early
sympathies with what is noblest in architecture may be traced
in his remarkable literary work of this period, preserved in the
periodical already named, in which he was associated with


4 The Life Poetic

several brilliant young contemporaries. The Oxford and Cam-
bridge Magazine is credibly stated to have been practically
founded, and supported so far as funds are concerned, by
Morris, although it was not he, but Mr. Fulford, who edited it.
It contains poems by Morris, critical papers, and a series of
notable prose stories. It is in some of these that he showed,
in a dreamy and sensitive way, that keen sympathy with the
craftsmen of the Middle Ages which in later years led him
into the eager polemics of that practical undertaking the
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings — dreaded,
though never sufficiently dreaded, by the destructive Philis-
tine. Those early stories, though crude in form, bear unmis-
takable marks of genius; and no man of judgment reading
them as the work of a youth of one or two and twenty could
hesitate to predict for that youth a literary career of no
ordinary kind. But if these romantic tales, one of which is
so recklessly fanciful as to make a dead man the chronicler of
his own experiences, were sound material for prophesying good
concerning Morris, still more so was his first volume of poetry,
The Defence of Gitenevere and other Poems, issued in 1858.
This, by the way, includes the little privately printed Sir
Galahad, figuring between the magazine and the book in the
chronological account further on. In the whole volume the life
of our medieval ancestors is depicted with a sympathetic insight
perhaps unparalleled. The reading of Malory and Froissart
has stirred to its depths a receptive artist -nature of the
rarest kind; and a strength of hand equal to that receptive -
ness has produced at the age of twenty-four work that must
stand or fall with English literature. Sir Peter Harpdon's
End, The Haystack in the Floods, Shameful Death, and other
pieces in the volume, would be known anywhere as the work
of a master. Some poems in the book are immature in crafts-
manship ; but not one shows defective intuition.

Morris did not remain with Street for the full term of his
articles, but made a practical start in a less restricted line than
that of architecture. Before he had established himself in
literature with the public as distinguished from the few " who
know," he had taken the leading part in founding an under-
taking then deemed to be somewhat quixotic, but none the
less destined to be an important factor in the developement of
English taste. It was the author of The Defence of Guenevere

as lived by Morris. 5

whose name figured in the style of the firm of fine - ait
decorators, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co., who began
more than a quarter of a century ago an attempt to reform
English taste, and make people furnish and decorate their
abodes with things beautiful instead of things hideous. This
enterprise, in which the late Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the late
Ford Madox Brown, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones were
associated, was ultimately and up to Morris's death, conducted
under his name only, with the simplified commercial style of
" Morris and Co." It may fairly claim the principal place
among the agencies which have brought about a great and
favourable change in the style of our domestic decoration and
in our taste for colour. The so-called aesthetic movement was
a mere bastard off-shoot of this genuine reform ; but the
reform itself is still going on steadily, notwithstanding the
transient reflected ridicule which it incurred through the
gauche eccentricities of its by-blow. Those who remember the
arrival from Paris of the fine colours (since nicknamed
" aesthetic "), which superseded in women's attire the crude
horrors affected by the last generation, may be pleased to
doubt the credit given above to Morris in this matter. Never-
theless, the truth is that the French milliners, who sent those
colours hither to our women, got them from Morris's uphol-
stery stuffs.

The year 1867 must be set down as that in which Morris
established himself with the public as a poet who had mastered
the tale-teller's craft. In that year appeared The Life and
Death of Jason, a narrative poem in seventeen books, written
in five-foot iambic couplets of the Chaucerian model, as dis-
tinguished from the Waller- Dryden-Pope distich. Indeed,
Chaucer was the acknowledged master of Morris at this time,
and is recalled to the reader's recollection in the next work,
The Earthly Paradise, of which the first instalment appeared
in 1868, and the last in 1870. In that treasure-house of lovely
tales and lyric interludes, distinguished by their manliness and
sincerity from the introspective mosaics of the day, the stock
metres, three in number, derive from Chaucer, while the tales
themselves are of various origin — mainly Greek or Northern,
but drawn occasionally, either directly or indirectly, from the
East. While The Earthly Paradise was in progress, Morris
was becoming deep in Icelandic literature. From this he not

6 The Life Poetic

only derived the magnificent tragic story of The Lovers of
Gudrun, in which The Earthly Paradise sounds its deepest
notes, and soars highest, but he also enriched our literature
with prose versions of several of the sagas, being assisted by
Mr. Eirikr Magnusson. The Story of Grettir the Strong, pub-
lished in 1869, represents the ruder domestic sagas of the tenth
century. The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs, issued in
the following year, represents the primeval mythic literature
of the race. The two shorter sagas of Frithiof the Bold and
Gunnlaug the Wormtongue are admirable samples of Icelandic
legend and domestic romance : the translations of them were
executed near about the same period as the two large works,
and appeared in periodicals. All these works are interspersed
with snatches of scaldic song in the alliterative measures of
the Icelanders ; and with the version of Volsunga Morris gave
a considerable number of "the songs of the Elder Edda.

In literature, as in life and. its*varied pursuits, his work
divides itself into definite periods, of -which the chronological
minutiae will be found in their place. ' Considered in the light
of a poet and story-teller, he may be said to Ijave started on
his career as an Anglo-Norman medievalist, drawing, however,
considerable inspiration from the Greek and Latin classics,
and gradually, with a widening area of knowledge and reading,
taking in at first hand influences from the sturdy literature of
the Northmen who peopled Iceland. From the pure medi-
evalism of The Defence of Guenevere, Sir Peter Harpdon's End,
The Haystack in the Floods, and the Chaucerian classicism of
The Life and Death of Jason, we pass through The Earthly
Paradise to find the flavour far more Northern at the end than
at the beginning ; the actual work of translating large Ice-
landic sagas had effected a great change, and had led to the
transformation of one Icelandic prose masterpiece, The Saga of
the Laxdale Men, into that poetic masterpiece The Lovers of
Gudrun, which must be regarded as the high-water mark of
his first period.

To the second period belong Love is Enough, a dramatic and
lyric morality, deriving the more marked features of its poetic
method from the Icelandic, and also several renderings of Ice-
landic sagas, though some of them remained in manuscript till
a recent date. The period is that in which Morris shows, not
a mere tincture, but a prevailing feeling of Northern hardiness,

as lived by Morris. 7

has abandoned the three Chaucerian stock metres, and de-
veloped a metric system with anapaestic movement surpassing
in every vital particular all that has been done in anapaestic
measures since Tennyson showed the way in Maud.

Love is Enough ; or, the Freeing of Pharamond : a Morality,
published in 1873, was the first independent original fruit
borne by his revelling in the forthright, simple, manly, and
most craftsmanlike narratives of the hardy Norsemen who
peopled Iceland. Here Morris employed alliterative metre in
a truly masterly manner for the shaping of one of the most
noteworthy poems of the third quarter of the century. Though
something above the heads of the large public to which The
Earthly Paradise appeals, it widened the poet's credit with the
critical few. Two years later the sagas of Frithiof and Gunn-
laug were reprinted, with that of Viglund the Fair, and some
shorter Icelandic tales, under the title of Three Northern Love
Stories, etc. In 1876 Morris issued The JEneids of Virgil done
into English Verse. The verse chosen was the ballad metre
employed by Chapman in translating the Iliad. If the service
of the modern poet to Virgil is not in all respects better than
that of the Elizabethan to Homer, this latter-day iEneid is at
least of a more equable quality, of a finer taste in language,
and much more literal than Chapman's Iliad. It is a transla-
tion, not a mere paraphrase ; and the metre is handled in the
noblest manner. A single sample, the opening of Book X,
must illustrate :

" Meanwhile is opened wide the door of dread Olympus' walls,
And there the sire of Gods and Men unto the council calls,
Amid the starry place, wherefrom, high-throned he looks adown
Upon the folk of Latin land and that beleaguered town."

There is a fidelity to the original here which we seek in vain
in such charming couplets of Chapman as these from the
opening of Book VIII :

" The cheerful lady of the light, deck'd in her saffron robe,
Dispersed her beams through every part of this enflowered globe,
When thundering Jove a court of Gods assembled by his will,
In top of all the topful heights, that crown th' Olympian hill," —

which can hardly be held to render closely what is literally
translated thus by Messrs. Lang, Leaf and Myers :

"Now Dawn the saffron-robed was spreading over all the
earth, and Zeus whose joy is in the thunder let call an

8 The Life Poetic

assembly of the gods upon the topmost peak of many-ridged

Up to this point Morris might almost be said to have been
frankly medieval in his way of looking at things. His spiritual
birth into his own century is to be found recorded in his next
substantive work, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung, and the
Fall of the Niblungs, published in 1877. Here not only does
he fill a large canvas with an art higher and subtler than that
shown in Jason, or even in The Earthly Paradise, but he be-
trays a profound concern in the destinies of the race, such as
we do not exact from the mere story-teller. Love and adven-
ture he had already treated in a manner approaching perfection;
and a sympathetic intelligence of all beautiful legends breathes
throughout his works ; but Sigurd is something more than a
lover and a warrior : he is at once heroic and tragic ; and he
is surrounded by characters heroic and tragic. In his mythic
person large spiritual questions are suggested ; he is the typical
saviour as conceived by the Northern race ; and this side of
the conception is more emphatic and unmistakable in the
modern work than in the Volsung a Saga, which is the basis of
this great poem. In structure, in metre, and in the adoption
of the Icelandic system of imagery into our tongue, Sigurd the
Volsung is superb. But the genius of the poet is still more
evident in the convincingly right conception of all the
characters and of the tragic import of their relations one to
another — perhaps more than all in the unflinching truth to the
savage primeval conception of the incestuous Signy. The real
Signy stands in splendid and immortal contrast with her de-
based counterpart Sieglinde in Wagner's great poem Der Ring
des Nibelungen. The crime of Sieglinde is self-seeking, and
that of her brother Siegmund conscious ; the crime of the real
Signy is swallowed up in the tremendous self-renunciation of
which it is a part, and the crime of the real Sigmund is un-
conscious. It is to the unerring rectitude and absolute sanity
of Morris's genius that we owe the good hap of this strict
adherence to the original mythos in these particulars.

In dealing as none but a modern could have dealt with the
greatest myth of our Northern race, Morris, perhaps uncon-

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Online LibraryH. Buxton (Harry Buxton) FormanThe books of William Morris : described with some account of his doings in literature and in the allied crafts → online text (page 1 of 15)