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The following lines from “Love is Enough" emphasize at least a part of what Mr. Morley has so finely said :
And what do ye say then ? that spring long departed
Found winter upon us and waste of dull hours. In the year 1871 William Morris and D. G. Rossetti entered into the joint occupation of Kelmscott Manor, a name which for five and twenty years thereafter was associated with some of Morris's most remarkable work. Prior to this time Morris had become an enthusiastic student of Icelandic literature, his studies in this field resulting in the translation of The Saga of Gunnlaug the Worm-tongue and Rafn the Skald, a volume entitled The Story of Grettir the Strong, and the Völsung Saga. Of this latter work Buxton Forman says: “Here the reader will find sentiment enough and ro mance enough-flashes of a weird magnificence that all the hills of the Land of Ice have not been able to overreach with their long dusk shadows, and that all the 'cold gray sea' that rings the Island of Thule has not washed free of its color and heat." “ The Story of Trithiof the Bold,” “The Story of Viglund the Fair,” “The Tale of Hogni and Hedinn,” “The Tale of Roi the Fool,” “The Tale of Thorstein Staffsmitten,” “ The Story of Howard the Halt,” “The Story of the Banded Men," “The Story of Hen Thorir," "The Story of the Ere Dwellers," and " The Story of the Heath Slayings” followed. That many of these works were in collaboration with Mr. Eirikr Magnússon does not detract from the immense industry and fertility of Morris. His translations, The Aeneid of Virgil and of The Odyssey of Homer, must also be regarded as triumphs of literary workmanship.
In 1877 Morris published his colossal work, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung, and the Fall of the Niblungs. This extended poem is written in anapestic rhyming couplets. The following quotation will convey but a slight impression of this noble and splendid poem : All hail, 0 Day and thy Sons, and thy kin of the colored things ! Hall, following Night and thy Daughter that leadeth thy wavering wings!
Look down with unangry eyes on us to-day alive,
In 1891 appeared Poems by the Way, a collection of the poet's fugitive verse. During the last eight years of his life, that is, from 1888 to 1896, Morris produced little poetry. But during this interval he was intensely alive to the world of humankind and to the great questions which are everywhere clamoring for solution. He seemed to feel that there could be nothing in common between modern social conditions and the spirit of poesy.
Morris's revolt against so much that is unlovely and grossly utilitarian in our present "unexampled progress ” is revealed in the following lines from The Earthly Paradise :
Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
The root of Morris's socialism is to be found in the “terrible contrast presented by the life of the workmen of the past and the life of the workmen of to-day;" hence “the more profound grew his sense of dissatisfaction with the present conditions of society.” His yearning for the better time was thus expressed:
Ah! good and ill,
To show us all that unimagined day? The poet was constantly moved by his overmastering devotion to art and his clear perception that, if labor and art are again to go hand in hand, man must love his labor; he saw, further, that in the midst of modern social conditions man will not and cannot love his work. The distinct proposition which Morris formulated was this: “It is right and necessary that all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing, and be of itself pleasant to do, and which should be done under such conditions as would make it neither overwearisome nor overanxious." He says again :
What I mean by socialism is a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master's man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain-sick brain workers nor heart-sick hand workers—in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with the full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all-the realization at last of the meaning of the word “Commonwealth.” In further explanation of his position he said that he was compelled
Once to hope that the ugly disgraces of civilization might be got rid of by the conscious will of intelligent persons; yet, as I strove to stir up people to this reform, I found that the vulgarities of civilization lay deeper
than I had thought, and little by little I was driven to the conclusion that all these uglinesses are but the outward expression of the innate moral baseness into which we are forced by our present form of society, and that it is futile to attempt to deal with them from the outside.
The unhappy condition of the modern workingman, as compared with the workingman of the past, was a theme to which Morris returned again and again. He says:
Now, they work consciously for a livelihood and blindly for a mere abstraction of a world-market which they do not know of, but with no thought of the work passing through their hands. Then, they worked to produce wares and to earn their livelihood by means of them; and their only market they had close at hand, and they knew it well. Now, the result of their work passes through the hands of half a dozen middlemen. Then, they worked directly for their neighbors, understanding their wants, and with no one coming between them. Huckstering which was then illegal, has now become the main business of life, and of course those who practice it most successfully are better rewarded than anyone else in the community. Now, people work under the direction of an absolute master whose power is restrained by a trade's union, in absolute hostility to that master. Then, they worked under the direction of their own collective wills by means of trade guilds. Now, the factory hand, the townsman is a different animal from the countryman. Then, every man was interested in agriculture, and lived with the green fields coming close to his own doors. In short, the difference between the two may be told very much in these words: “In those days daily life as a whole was pleasant, although its accidents might be rough and tragic. Now, daily life is dreary, stupid, wooden,
and the only pleasure is in excitement, even if that pleasure should be more or less painful or terrible.”
In his Utopian romance, News from Nowhere, Morris presents us with a condition of human society in which there are no laws nor lawyers, no judges, no government. He aims at escaping wholly from the complex relations of modern life, and seeks to enter into a state of primal, untrammeled simplicity. According to Mr. Lionel Johnson, he shows a "loving and personal regard for the very earth itself, . . . that sense of the motherhood of the earth which makes a man love the smell of the fields after rain, or the look of running water.” The leading thoughts which the author seeks to impress upon the reader are that "pleasure in work is the secret of art and content,” and that “delight in physical life upon the earth is the natural state of man.”
The year 1888 saw the beginning of that cycle of prose romances upon which Morris continued to work until the end of his life. A Tale of the House of the Wolfings appeared in December, 1888. In 1890 was published The Roots of the Mountains. In this year, also, The Story of the Glittering Plain was printed as a serial in Macmillan's English Illustrated Magazine. Then followed News from Nowhere, which in turn was followed by The Wood Beyond the World. In 1895 appeared the volume entitled Of Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, which was succeeded, in 1896, by The Well at the World's End, the last work which Mr. Morris published before his death. The Water of the Wondrous Isles and The Sundering Flood are posthumous works in character not unlike their predecessors.
Morris took up the work of printing and book decoration in the same spirit in which he engaged in other arts. All the volumes which have come from the Kelmscott press are models of beauty and design, and show a return to the earlier styles of printing and binding when thought and individuality went into the making of each book. Superadded to this is an originality of detail and execution which set the Kelmscott publications quite apart from the usual modern products of the press.
In the month of February, 1896, Morris's health gave way,
and his friends began to entertain for him serious alarm. Afterward he seemed to rally a little. But on the third of October, 1896, the end came, and he tranquilly passed away at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith. The funeral was unostentatious, as he would have desired. At Lechlade station the remains were placed on a harvest cart, instead of a hearse. The body of this cart was painted yellow, the wheels red, and the framework had been festooned with vines, willow branches, flowers, and berries. “The roan mare in the shafts had vine leaves in its blinkers, and strings of vines were festooned across the top of the wain. The bottom of the cart was lined with
Thus the body of William Morris was conveyed to the churchyard of his beloved Kelmscott. The grave lies shadowed by tall trees and buried in long grass, close to the wall of the little churchyard where it is skirted by the country road—a remote and quiet resting place for one who, throughout his busy and strenuous days, dreamed of that happy bourne “where beyond these voices there is peace.”
Says a certain writer of the benefits which resulted for the age from his artistic service:
His whole life was a vivid and in many respects a successful protest against the squalor of modern industrialism. To him, more than to any other man, we owe our emancipation from the hideous vulgarity of middle-Victorian house decoration and upholstery. Others preached, but William Morris, in whom a keen artistic sense was happily allied to skilled workmanship, was able to supplement precept by practice and visibly demonstrate the superiority of his methods. . . . He warred with brilliant success against the tyranny of ugliness . . . surely no mean achievement in a mechanical and utilitarian age.
fames B. Kenyon.