ENTRY: Morris, William
William Morris (b. March 24, 1834 – d. October 3, 1896) was an English artist,
writer, political activist and pioneer of ecologically-aware politics. He was one of the
principal founders of the British Arts and Crafts movement, and a writer of poetry and fantasy fiction.
He schooled at Marlborough College, but left in 1851 after a student rebellion there.
He then went to Oxford University, Exeter College, after studying for his matriculation to the
university. He became influenced by John Ruskin there, and met his
life-long friends and collaborators, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones,
Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb there as well. He also met his wife, Jane Burden,
a working-class girl whose pale skin, languid figure, and wavy, abundant dark hair were
considered by Morris and his friends the epitome of beauty.
These friends formed a neo-romantic artistic movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
They eschewed the tawdry industrial manufacture of decorative arts and architecture
and favoured a return to hand-craftsmanship, raising artisans to the status of artists.
In 1861, he founded the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with Gabriel Rossetti,
Burne-Jones, Madox Brown and Philip Webb. Throughout his life, he continued to
work in his own firm, although the firm changed names. Its most famous
incarnation was as Morris and Company. The company encouraged the revival of
traditional crafts such as stained glass painting, and Morris himself
single-handedly recreated the art of tapestry weaving in England.
His designs are still sold today.
Morris had already begun publishing poetry and short stories through a magazine
founded with his friends while at university. His first independently published work,
the Arthurian The Defence of Guinevere was coolly received by the critics,
and he was discouraged from publishing more for a number of years.
When he returned to poetry it was with The Earthly Paradise, a huge collection of
poems loosely bound together with the theme of a group of mediaeval wanderers who set
out to search for a land of everlasting life and after much disillusion discover a
surviving colony of Greeks with whom they exchange stories. The collection brought
him almost immediate fame and popularity.
The last-written stories in the collection are retellings of ancient Icelandic sagas,
and from then until his later period Morris's fascination with the ancient
Germanic and Norse peoples dominated his writing. Together with his Icelandic
friend Eirikr Magnusson he was the first to translate many of the Icelandic
sagas into English, and his own epic retelling of the story of Sigurd
the Volsung was his favourite among his poems.
In 1877, he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. His
preservation work, along with that of Ruskin and the Hill sisters, resulted
ultimately in the founding of the National Trust.
Morris found himself rather awkwardly positioned as a mediator between the doctrinare marxist and romantic
anarchist sides of 19th century progressive politics. This side of Morris's work is well-discussed in
the biography (subtitled 'Romantic to Revolutionary') by E. P. Thompson.
It was during this period that Morris wrote his best-known prose works; in particular
"A Dream of John Ball" and the utopian novel News from Nowhere. It is perhaps on this latter
novel that his English neo-romanticism expresses its ideas most fully. The book would later strongly
influence the rise of the environmental movement and 'green' anarchism in the British Isles.
Morris and Rossetti rented a country house, Kelmscott Manor at Kelmscott,
Oxfordshire, as a summer retreat, but it soon became a retreat for Rossetti and
Jane Morris to have a long-lasting affair. After his departure from the Socialist League
Morris divided his time between the Company, now relocated to Merton Abbey, the
Kelmscott Press (a pioneer of finely printed and designed books, including works by Ruskin), and Kelmscott Manor,
where he wrote a series of fantasy novels later to be a strong influence on J.R.R. Tolkien
and C. S. Lewis.
In January 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith, London, in order to
produce examples of improved printing and book design. He designed clear
typefaces, such as his Roman 'golden' type, which was inspired by that of
the early Venetian printer Nicolaus Jenson, and medievalizing decorative
borders for books that drew their inspiration from the incunabula of the
15th century and their woodcut illustrations. Selection of paper and ink,
and concerns for the overall integration of type and decorations on the page
made the Kelmscott Press the most famous of the private presses of
the Arts and Crafts movement. It operated until 1898, producing 53
volumes, and inspired other private presses, notably the Doves Press.
At his death in 1896 he was buried in the Kelmscott village churchyard.
The Defence of Guinevere, and other Poems (1858)
The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870)
Love is Enough, or The Freeing of Pharamond (1872)
The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Nibelungs (1876)
Hopes and Fears For Art (1882)
A Dream of John Ball (1886)
The House of the Wolfings (1888)
The Roots of the Mountains (1889)
News from Nowhere (1890)
The Story of the Glittering Plain (1890)
The Well at the World's End (1892)
The Wood Beyond the World (1895)
The Water of the Wondrous Isles (1896)
The Sundering Flood (1898)
Morris's book, The Wood Beyond the World, is considered to have heavily influenced C. S. Lewis' Narnia series, while J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by Morris's reconstructions of early Saxon life in The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains. Editor and fantasy scholar Lin Carter credits William Morris with originating the imaginary-world fantasy with The Well at the World's End and his subsequent fantasy novels. These contain no reference to our own world; they are set neither in the past nor in an after-the-revolution future (as is News from Nowhere), and not on another planet.
Made in Staffordshire, England. © 2007.
Last updated: 18th Jan 2007. Site search by PicoSearch.|
Some of the initial E-BNR text was sourced or partly derived from Wikipedia, used here under the GNU licence.