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Fantasy World Wallpaper Biography
(born March 24, 1834, Walthamstow, near London, Eng. — died Oct. 3, 1896, Hammersmith) British painter, designer, craftsman, poet, and social reformer, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Born into a wealthy family, he studied medieval architecture at Oxford. He was apprenticed to an architect, but visits to Europe turned him toward painting. In 1861, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, and others, he founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., an association of "fine art workmen" based on the medieval guild. They produced furniture, tapestry, stained glass, fabrics, carpets, and most notably wallpaper designs. In 1891 Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, and over the next seven years it produced 53 titles in 66 volumes; its Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is one of the greatest examples of the art of the printed book. Though he sought to produce fine art objects for the masses, only the rich could afford his expensive handmade products. A utopian socialist, he did much to develop British socialism; in 1884 he formed the Socialist League. In 1877 he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, one of the world's first preservationist groups. He wrote several volumes of poetry and many prose romances, as well as the four-volume epic Sigurd the Volsung (1876). His works and writings revolutionized Victorian taste, and he ranks as one of the largest cultural figures of 19th-century Britain.
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Oxford Grove Art: William MorrisTop
Home > Library > Entertainment & Arts > Art Encyclopedia
(b Walthamstow [now in London], 24 March 1834; d London, 3 Oct 1896). English designer, writer and activist. His importance as both a designer and propagandist for the arts cannot easily be overestimated, and his influence has continued to be felt throughout the 20th century. He was a committed Socialist whose aim was that, as in the Middle Ages, art should be for the people and by the people, a view expressed in several of his writings. After abandoning his training as an architect, he studied painting among members of the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1861 he founded his own firm, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (from 1875 Morris & Co.), which produced stained glass, furniture, wallpaper and fabrics (see

See the Abbreviations for further details.

Gale Encyclopedia of Biography: William MorrisTop
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William Morris (1834-1896), one of the most versatile and influential men of his age, was the last of the major English romantics and a leading champion and promoter of revolutionary ideas as poet, critic, artist, designer, manufacturer, and socialist.
Born at Walthamstow, Essex, on March 24, 1834, William Morris was the eldest son of a bill and discount broker with wealth and status approaching those of a private banker. Nature and reading were the passions of William's childhood, and the novels of Walter Scott inspired him with an abiding love of the Middle Ages. Morris was educated at Marlborough and Exeter College, Oxford, where he formed a close friendship with Edward Burne-Jones.

Originally intended for holy orders, Morris decided to take up the "useful trade" of architect after reading Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, and he was apprenticed to G.E. Street, who had a considerable ecclesiastical practice, in 1856. But Burne-Jones introduced him to the group of artists known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and by the end of the year Dante Gabriel Rossetti had advised him to become a painter, which he did.

In 1859 Morris married Jane Burden, a Rossetti-type beauty; they had two daughters, Jane and Mary (May). In 1861 he founded the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company to carry out in furniture, decoration, and the applied arts the artistic concepts of his friends. In 1875 Morris reorganized the firm and became sole owner. He himself designed furniture (the Morris chair has become a classic), wallpaper, and textiles.

Literary Career

Morris's literary career had commenced at Oxford, where he wrote prose romances for the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine. His fame was confined to a small circle of admirers until The Earthy Paradise (3 vols., 1868-1870) established him as a major romantic poet. He chose the device of legendary poems from classical and medieval sources recited by Norwegian seamen who had sailed westward to find the earthly paradise.

In 1868 Morris took up the study of Icelandic, published a translation of the Grettis Saga with the assistance of Eiríkr Magnússon (1869), and visited Iceland in 1871 and 1873. Morris also translated The Aeneids (sic; 1875), the Odyssey (1887), Beowulf (1895), and Old French Romances (1896). He regarded as his finest literary achievement Sigurd the Volsung, and Fall of the Niblungs (1876), his own retelling in verse of the Icelandic prose Volsunga saga, a version J. W. Mackail (1899) described as "the most Homeric poem which has been written since Homer."

His Politics

Morris first entered the arena of politics in 1876 to attack Disraeli's Tory government and call for British intervention against the Turks for savagely suppressing a nationalist revolt of oppressed Bulgarians. In his appeal To the Working Men of England (1877) he denounced capitalist selfishness on grounds that appealed to both Liberals and Communists. The debate on Morris as a Socialist has given rise to a considerable literature, for the nobility of his utterances led almost every political camp to claim him, including orthodox Marxists. In 1886 Friedrich Engels described him scornfully as "a settled sentimental Socialist." A year later, in ignorance of this criticism, Morris wrote to a friend that he had an Englishman's horror of government interference and centralization, "which some of our friends who are built in the German pattern are not quite enough afraid of I think."

Arts and Crafts Movement

From a series of notable homes - the Red House, Upton, Kent; Kelmscott Manor on the upper Thames; and Kelmscott House, Morris's London house from 1878 - he carried on a prodigious activity as a public speaker, member of committees and radical organizations, and leader of the Arts and Craft movement. He founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877 and the Kelmscott press in 1890. He died at Kelmscott House on Oct. 3, 1896.

Morris's plea for an integrated society in which everything made by man should be beautiful radically distinguishes him from other social theorists. His insistence on beauty as a central goal makes most modern approaches to a welfare society seem lacking in an essential nobility. For him art was the very highest of realities, the spontaneous expression of the pleasure of life innate in the whole people. An esthetic doctrine underlies his most political writings, like The Dream of John Ball (1888). Paradoxically, the designer-manufacturer who failed to grasp the esthetic possibilities of the machine was the father of modern industrial design, which aims to create a beautiful environment for mankind freed from poverty. A notable advance on his theory was made by the Bauhaus, the famed school of architecture and applied art in Germany, where Walter Gropius and his colleagues applied Morris's principles to the machine and scientific technology.

Further Reading

The Collected Works of William Morris (24 vols., 1910-1915) was edited by his daughter May, and The Letters of William Morris to His Family and Friends (1950) was edited by Philip Henderson. The classic work on Morris is J. W. Mackail, The Life of William Morris (2 vols., 1899; repr. 1968, 1995). A readable narrative biography with excellent illustrations is Philip Henderson, William Morris: His Life, Work and Friends (1967). An outstanding, comprehensive study is Edward P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (1955). Paul Thompson, The Work of William Morris (1967), deals especially with Morris's art in relation to its Victorian background and discusses his writings and social theory in the light of recent research. R. Page Arnot, William Morris: The Man and His Myth (1964), is an ingenious attempt to claim Morris as an orthodox Marxist.

Additional Sources

Bloomfield, Paul, William Morris, Philadelphia: R. West, 1978.

Bradley, Ian C., William Morris and his world, London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.

Cary, Elisabeth Luther, William Morris, poet, craftsman, socialist, Philadelphia: R. West, 1978, 1902.

Faulkner, Peter, Against the age: an introduction to William Morris, London; Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1980.

Harvey, Charles, William Morris: design and enterprise in Victorian Britain, Manchester England; New York: Manchester University Press; New York, NY, USA: Distributed exclusively in the USA and Canada by St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Lindsay, Jack, William Morris: his life and work, New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1979, 1975.

MacCarthy, Fiona, William Morris: a life for our time, New York: Knopf, 1995.

Vallance, Aymer, William Morris, his art, his writings, and his public life: a record, Boston: Longwood Press, 1977.

Oxford Dictionary of British History: William MorrisTop
Home > Library > History, Politics & Society > British History
Morris, William (1834-96). Poet, artist, craftsman, and socialist, Morris was educated at Marlborough and Oxford. At first intended for the church, he became a painter under the influence of Rossetti. He quickly realized he had no great talent for painting but that he could design, and in 1861 founded Morris & Co. to produce wallpapers, furnishings, and stained-glass windows. He raised the standards of English design and craftsmanship and through his Kelmscott Press, founded 1890, had a similar effect on book design and printing.

Oxford Dictionary of Modern Design: William MorrisTop
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A leading figure in 19th-century British art and design practice and ideology, as well as a socialist, reformer, writer, and poet, Morris was also the founder of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1877. He is most commonly associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement which his theories and practice did much to sustain. Morris firmly believed in the idea of bringing together once more the designer and maker as a means of endowing the production of domestic and ecclesiastical goods with the ‘joy of making’, a process which had been eroded in the 19th century by the increasing use of the division of labour in industrial production. The latter was often seen as alienating, dehumanizing, and oppressive, a by-product of the relentless industrialization which dominated urban life in 19th-century Britain. Conversely, the Middle Ages, with its high levels of craftsmanship, respect for materials, and belief in spiritual fulfilment, was often held up by writers and theorists such as A. W. G. Pugin, John Ruskin, and Morris as a source of inspiration for the contemporary production of artefacts. However, Morris's commitment to craft-based, labour-intensive production generally rendered the resulting products affordable only for a wealthy clientele rather than the general public indicated by his socialist leanings.

Morris was educated at Marlborough School (1848-51) and Exeter College, Oxford University (1853-5), where he became friends with Edward Burne-Jones, who later went on to become a leading British artist and designer. Whilst up at Oxford Morris decided to become an architect, leading him to become a pupil of the leading Gothic Revival architect George Edmund Street in 1856. He soon made friends with Philip Webb, who was working in Street's Oxford practice at the time. However, Morris left Oxford for London at the end of the year, setting up a studio with Burne-Jones in Red Lion Square and becoming involved in many aspects of drawing, painting, and designing. In 1857, in the manner of artists of the early Renaissance he was involved with a group of artists (including the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Burne-Jones) in painting the walls and ceiling of the Debating Hall of the Oxford Union in a decorative medieval scheme in tempera. Following his marriage in 1859 he was heavily involved with setting up a new home, designed in close collaboration with Philip Webb. Situated in Kent, the Red House (so called on account of the red brick from which it was constructed) drew on Vernacular traditions. It provided Morris with an early opportunity to explore the idea of furnishing and decorating a home with artefacts that embraced high levels of craftsmanship and aesthetic sensibility. This process provided an important impetus for the establishment in 1861 of the manufacturing and decorating firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (which also included as partners Rossetti, Webb, Burne-Jones, and Ford Madox Brown) in Red Lion Square, London. Geared to both ecclesiastical and domestic furnishing and decoration, the firm's output included furniture, stained glass, wallpaper, textiles, tapestries, carpets, and jewellery. Having exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, attracting favourable critical notice, the firm soon built up its business with commissions including the decorative Green Dining Room at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1866). Morris himself produced a number of wallpaper patterns in the mid-1860s, drawing on natural motifs as a source of inspiration rather than the general Victorian predilection for historical motifs or heavy, imposing patterns. However, despite a number of significant commissions and sales the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was dissolved for a number of reasons in the mid-1870s, with Morris himself taking charge of Morris & Co. from 1875. At that, further reflecting his interest in earlier periods and practices as sources of inspiration for contemporary production, Morris became involved in experimenting with vegetable dyes for cottons, silks, and wools at the works of Thomas Wardle in Leek, Staffordshire. These natural dyes were a far remove from the strong aniline dyes that had tended to dominate the Victorian market place. Wardle produced a number of Morris's textile designs, including Honeysuckle (1875), before Morris established his own print factory at Merton Abbey in 1881. There a number of other Morris textile designs, including Anemone and Daffodil, were printed and a number of carpets woven. From the 1870s Morris had also been engaged in illumination and he took this interest a stage further in an effort to revive the art of printing, establishing the Kelmscott Press in Hammersmith, London, in 1891. He designed three typefaces, ornamental letters, and borders and also oversaw the printing and production of a wide range of books that included his own writings and reprints of an extensive range of English classics including the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896).

Morris was also an eloquent poet and writer and was prolific and varied in his output which developed from the 1850s onwards with volumes such as The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), Earthly Paradise (1868-90), The House of the Wolfings (1889), and News from Nowhere (1891). The socialist principles which underlay much of his thinking about design was very much reflected in his political activities, which were at their most acute in the 1880s. Morris joined the radical working-class Democratic Federation in 1883, supporting the organization with money as well as vigorous campaigning. Subsequently he played a leading role in the Socialist League, one of the Federation's offshoots, founded in 1884, producing many pamphlets, bankrolling its Commonweal magazine and addressing meetings in industrial cities throughout Britain. However, towards the end of the decade the League's membership began to fall away and the organization was taken over by anarchists, leading to Morris's withdrawal in 1890.

However, although Morris was in many ways resistant to mass manufacture and the detrimental effects of relentless industrialization, a significant number of his designs were put into mass production. For instance, he designed wallpapers that were produced by Jeffrey & Co. and carpet designs that were manufactured by Wilton, Kidderminster, and other major companies. Furthermore, the historian Nikolaus Pevsner in his 1936 text Pioneers of the Modern Movement saw Morris as a seminal figure (or ‘pioneer’) in the development of Modernism. Pevsner believed that Morris's commitment to honest craftsmanship and truth to materials blended with socialist principles signposted the way for designers associated with the Deutscher Werkbund and the Bauhaus to reconcile such principles with liberating possibilities of new materials and mass-production technology. Such an outlook was seen as realistic in the social utopian drive to bring about the possibility of better standards of design for the majority.

Oxford Dictionary of Architecture & Landscaping: William MorrisTop
Home > Library > Home & Garden > Architecture and Landscaping

English artist, poet, craftsman, medievalist, and printer, who had a profound effect on architecture. Early in his career he studied the medieval churches of England and France. Working briefly (1856) in Street's office, he met Philip Webb, with whom he became friendly, and was influenced by the ideas of Ruskin. Disappointed by contemporary architecture and design, he commissioned Webb to build his own dwelling, the Red House, Bexleyheath, Kent (1859–60): with its unpretentious brick walls, fenestration arranged where needed, and tiled roof, it drew on vernacular, Gothic, and other traditions, treated in a very free way, and was influential, especially in the search for a style-less architecture. The difficulties of finding furniture and furnishings for the house led Morris to found Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co., ‘Fine Art Workmen in Painting, Carving, Furniture, and the Metals’ in London (1861—after 1874 Morris & Co.).

Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB—1877) in response to the over-zealous and destructive ideas of church-‘restorers’. He was anxious to publicize not only the concept of conservation (as opposed to wholesale renovation) but the qualities of hitherto unappreciated vernacular buildings, all of which led him to be regarded as a founding-father of the Arts-and-Crafts movement, the Domestic Revival, conservation, and the search for a society in which work would be a joy. His was the inspiration behind the establishment of the Art-Workers' Guild (1884), the first Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society exhibition (1888), and many other late-C19 organizations intended to improve design, craftsmanship, and the appreciation of art. His published works include The Earthly Paradise (1868–70), various beautifully produced volumes from his Kelmscott Press (which had a great influence on typography), and the Utopian News from Nowhere (1891) in which by the end of C21 London was rebuilt in a way inspired by medieval architecture (this suggests that Gropius's claims to have been influenced by Morris were absurd).


A. Crawford & C.Cunningham (eds.) (1977)
C. Harvey & Press (1996)
Henderson (1967)
Leatham (1994)
MacCarthy (1979, 1994)
Morris (1966)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
Pevsner (1968, 1972, 1974a)
Stansky (1996)
P. Thompson (1993)
The full bibliography for this book is available to download as a pdf file.
Download the bibliography for A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (PDF: 1.2MB)

Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales: William MorrisTop
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Morris, William (1834–96), British author, designer, and socialist. Although Morris did not write original fairy tales, he used fairy‐tale and folk materials throughout his literary career, beginning with the pseudo‐medieval tales he wrote for the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine (1856) and the Arthurian and supernatural poems for the Defence of Guenevere volume (1858). The 24 tales that comprise The Earthly Paradise (1858–70) use plots, motifs, and characters from The Arabian Nights, Gesta Romanorum, the Grimms' (Kinder‐ und Hausmärchen/Children's and Household Tales), and Scandinavian saga and folklore. His late romances or ‘fairy novels’, especially The Wood beyond the World (1894) and The Well at the World's End (1896) influenced the work of William Butler Yeats, Lord Dunsany, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and others.

— Carole Silver

Columbia Encyclopedia: William MorrisTop
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Morris, William, 1834-96, English poet, artist, craftsman, designer, social reformer, and printer. He has long been considered one of the great Victorians and has been called the greatest English designer of the 19th cent.
While at Oxford, Morris, along with his lifelong friend Edward Burne-Jones, became deeply interested in the ritual and architecture of the Middle Ages. However, Morris's great awakening came through his readings of John Ruskin, whose ideas on aestheticism and social progress he gradually adopted. In 1856, after being apprenticed to an architect, Morris attached himself to the brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites and through the encouragement of Dante Gabriel Rossetti began to paint and write. In 1858 he published his first volume of poems, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems. This was followed by The Life and Death of Jason (1867) and The Earthly Paradise (3 vol., 1868-70), in which a group of medieval Norse wanderers seek a land where there is no death or misery. Although popular in its time, his poetry is not widely read today.

With friends, he started (1861) the firm of decorators later famous as Morris and Company, which, in reaction to growing industrialism, sought a return to the working operations of the Middle Ages and a revitalization of the splendor of medieval decorative arts (see arts and crafts). He made carvings, stained glass, tapestries, carpets, wallpaper, chintzes, and furniture. Today he is especially known for his fabric and wallpaper designs, gracefully elaborate all-over patterns usually based on floral or animal motifs. In the 1870s he founded the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings.

Morris also became interested in politics and reform, joining (1883) the socialist Democratic Federation and forming (1884) the Socialist League. Two notable prose works came out of this political phase, The Dream of John Ball (1888) and News from Nowhere (1891). In these works Morris contrasts the ugliness of the machine world with the poetry and beauty of the Middle Ages, setting forth the doctrine that art is the expression of joy in labor rather than an exclusive luxury. He made no distinction between art and craft and saw fine design and workmanship as the salvation of the industrial society. His last artistic venture, and one of his most important, was the Kelmscott Press in Hammersmith (est. 1890), where he designed the type, page borders, and bindings of fine books. Morris had a profound influence on the printing industry with his brilliant graphic contrast of ink with page and his elegantly designed type.


See his collected works (24 vol., 1910-15; repr. 1966); his lectures, ed. by E. D. Le Mire (1969); selections, ed. by his daughter, May Morris (1936, repr. 1962); biographies by J. W. Mackail (1912, repr. 1970), P. Henderson (1967), and F. MacCarthy (1995); studies by P. R. Thompson (1967) and R. Watkinson (1967).

Quotes By: William MorrisTop
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"I love art, and I love history, but it is living art and living history that I love. It is in the interest of living art and living history that I oppose so-called restoration. What history can there be in a building bedaubed with ornament, which cannot at the best be anything but a hopeless and lifeless imitation of the hope and vigor of the earlier world?"

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

"Art is man's expression of his joy in labor."

"I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name."

"Of rich men it telleth, and strange is the story how they have, and they hanker, and grip far and wide; And they live and they die, and the earth and its glory has been but a burden they scarce might abide."

See more famous quotes by William Morris

Wikipedia on William MorrisTop
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For other people named William Morris, see William Morris (disambiguation).
William Morris

William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1887
Born 24 March 1834
Walthamstow, England
Died 3 October 1896 (aged 62)
London, England
Nationality English
Occupation Artist
Writer, Socialist
Known for Wallpaper and textile design
Fantasy author / medievalist
Notable work(s) News from Nowhere, The Well at the World's End

William Morris self-portrait, 1856.
William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and utopian socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. He founded a design firm in partnership with the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti which profoundly influenced the decoration of churches and houses into the early 20th century. As an author, illustrator and medievalist, he helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, and was a direct influence on postwar authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien. He was also a major contributor to reviving traditional textile arts and methods of production, and one of the founders of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, now a statutory element in the preservation of historic buildings in the UK.

Morris wrote and published poetry, fiction, and translations of ancient and medieval texts throughout his life. His best-known works include The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870), A Dream of John Ball (1888), the utopian News from Nowhere (1890), and the fantasy romance The Well at the World's End (1896). He was an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884, but breaking with that organization over goals and methods by the end of the decade. He devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in 1891. Kelmscott was devoted to the publishing of limited-edition, illuminated-style print books. The 1896 Kelmscott edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered a masterpiece of book design.

1 Life
1.1 Early life and education
1.2 Oxford, apprenticeship, and artistic influences
1.3 Marriage and family
1.4 Red House
1.5 Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.
1.6 Kelmscott Manor
1.7 Socialism
1.8 Historic preservation
1.9 Later years
2 Writings
2.1 Poetry
2.2 Translations
2.3 Prose romances
3 Textiles
3.1 Embroidery
3.2 Printed and woven textiles
3.3 Tapestry
4 The Kelmscott Press
4.1 Publications
5 Legacy
5.1 Assessment
5.2 Notable collections and house museums
5.3 Monuments
6 Literary works
6.1 Collected poetry, fiction, and essays
6.2 Translations
7 Gallery
7.1 Morris & Co. stained glass
7.2 Morris & Co. textiles
7.3 Decorative objects
7.4 Kelmscott Press
8 See also
9 Notes
10 References
11 Further reading
12 External links

Early life and education

William Morris was born in Walthamstow on 24 March 1834, the third child and the eldest son of William Morris, a partner in the firm of Sanderson & Co., bill brokers in the City of London. His mother was Emma Morris née Shelton, daughter of Joseph Shelton, a teacher of music in Worcester.[1] As a child Morris was delicate but studious. He learned to read early, and by the time he was four years old he was familiar with most of the Waverley novels. When he was six the family moved to Woodford Hall, where new opportunities for an out-of-door life brought the boy health and vigour. He rode about Epping Forest, sometimes in a toy suit of armour, where he became a close observer of animal nature and was able to recognize any bird upon the wing.[2][3]

Morris's painting La belle Iseult, also inaccurately called Queen Guinevere, is his only surviving easel painting, now in the Tate Gallery.
At the same time he continued to read whatever came in his way and was particularly attracted by the stories in the Arabian Nights and by the designs in Gerard's Herbal. He studied with his sisters' governess until he was nine, when he was sent to a school at Walthamstow. In 1842, his sister Isabella was born. She grew to be the churchwoman who oversaw the revival of the Deaconess Order in the Anglican Communion.[4] In his thirteenth year their father died, leaving the family well-to-do. Much of the family's wealth came from a copper and later arsenic mine, Devon Great Consols, of which Morris divested himself in the 1870s. The home at Woodford was broken up, as being unnecessarily large, and in 1848 the family relocated to Water House and William Morris entered Marlborough College. Morris was at the school for three years, but gained little from attending it beyond a taste for architecture, fostered by the school library, and an attraction towards the Anglo-Catholic movement.[5] He made but slow progress in school work and at Christmas 1851 was removed and sent to live as a private pupil with the Rev. F. B. Guy, Assistant Master at Forest School and later Canon of St. Alban's, for a year to prepare him for University.[2][6] The Forest School archives still contain many items of correspondence from Morris, and the School boasts a Morris stained glass window in the Chapel.

Oxford, apprenticeship, and artistic influences

In June 1852 Morris entered Exeter College, Oxford, though since the college was full, he was unable to go into residence until January 1853. At Exeter, Morris met Edward Burne-Jones, also a first year undergraduate, who became his life-long friend and collaborator. Morris also joined a Birmingham group at Pembroke College, known among themselves as the "Brotherhood" and to historians as the "Pembroke set".[2][7] Together, they read theology, ecclesiastical history, and medieval poetry; studied art, and during the long vacations visited English churches and the Continental cathedrals. They became strongly influenced by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, John Ruskin's essay "The Nature of Gothic" from the second volume of The Stones of Venice, Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur and the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Morris began to adopt Ruskin's philosophy of rejecting the tawdry industrial manufacture of decorative arts and architecture in favour of a return to hand-craftsmanship, raising artisans to the status of artists, creating art that should be affordable and hand-made, with no hierarchy of artistic mediums.[2]

Moreover, Morris began at this time to write poetry and many of his first pieces, afterwards destroyed, were held by sound judges to be equal to anything else he ever worked on. Both Morris and Burne-Jones had come to Oxford with the intention of taking holy orders, but as they felt their way, both decided their energies were best spent on social reform. Morris decided to become an architect and for the better propagation of the views of the new brotherhood a magazine was at the same time projected, which was to make a specialty of social articles, besides poems and short stories. At the beginning of 1856 the two schemes came to a head together. Morris, having passed his finals in the previous term, was entered as a pupil at the office of George Edmund Street, one of the leading English Gothic revival architects who had his headquarters in Oxford as architect to the diocese;[1] and on New Year's Day the first issue of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine appeared. The expenses of publishing were borne entirely by Morris, but he resigned the formal editorship after the first issue. Many distinguished compositions appeared in its pages, but it gradually languished and was given up after a year's experiment. The chief immediate result was the friendship between Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a contributor.[2]

In Street’s office Morris formed an intimate and lifelong friendship with the senior clerk, Philip Webb, which had an important influence over the development taken by English domestic architecture during the next generation. He worked in Street’s office for nine months, first at Oxford and afterwards in London when Street removed there in the autumn.[1] Morris worked hard both in and out of office hours at architecture and painting, and he studied architectural drawing under Webb.[8] Rossetti persuaded him that he was better suited for a painter, and after a while he devoted himself exclusively to that branch of art. That summer the two friends visited Oxford and finding the new Oxford Union debating-hall under construction, pursued a commission to paint the upper walls with scenes from Le Morte d'Arthur and to decorate the roof between the open timbers. Seven artists were recruited, among them Valentine Prinsep and Arthur Hughes,[9] and the work was hastily begun. Morris worked with feverish energy and on finishing the portion assigned to him, proceeded to decorate the roof. The frescoes, done too soon and too fast, began to fade at once and now are barely decipherable.

Marriage and family

Rossetti had seen Jane Burden at a theatre performance and recruited her to model as Guinevere for the Oxford Union murals. Morris was smitten with Jane from the start.[10] They became engaged in 1858 and married at St Michael at the Northgate, Oxford, on 26 April 1859, settling temporarily at 41 Great Ormond Street, London. Morris's only surviving painting in oils is of Jane Burden as La Belle Iseult. William and Jane had two daughters, Jane Alice (Jenny), born January 1861, who developed epilepsy in her teens, and Mary (May) (March 1862 – 1938), who became the editor of her father's works, a prominent socialist, and an accomplished designer and craftswoman.[11]

Although of humble origins and unschooled in her youth,[10] Jane Morris underwent a remarkable self-education after her marriage. A striking beauty, she mixed freely with the Pre-Raphaelites and posed many times for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with whom Jane sustained a long affair. The Morrises' initial happiness together did not survive the first ten years of their marriage, but divorce was unthinkable, and they remained together until Morris's death.[11]

Red House

Red House, Bexleyheath
For several years after his marriage Morris was absorbed in two connected occupations: the building and decoration of a house for himself and Jane, and the foundation of a firm of decorators who were also artists, with the view of reinstating decoration, down to its smallest details, as one of the fine arts. Meanwhile he was slowly abandoning painting; none of his paintings are dated later than 1862.[1]

Red House at Bexleyheath in Kent, so named when the use of red brick without stucco was still unusual in domestic architecture, was built for Morris to designs by Webb; it was Webb's first building as an independent architect[12] Red House featured ceiling paintings by Morris, wall-hangings designed by Morris and worked by himself and Jane; furniture painted by Morris and Rossetti, and wall-paintings and stained- and painted glass designed by Burne-Jones.[12] However it contained no wallpaper, printed or woven fabrics, or carpets by the firm, these being manufactured from 1864, 1868 and 1874 respectively.

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.

Main article: Morris & Co.
In 1861, the decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.(later described by Nicholas Pevsner as the 'beginning of a new era in Western art ')[13] was founded with Morris, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb as partners, together with Charles Faulkner and Peter Paul Marshall, the former of whom was a member of the Oxford Brotherhood, and the latter a friend of Brown and Rossetti.[1] The prospectus set forth that the firm would undertake carving, stained glass, metal-work, paper-hangings, chintzes (printed fabrics), and carpets.[2] The decoration of churches was from the first an important part of the business. On its non-ecclesiastical side it gradually was extended to include, besides painted windows and mural decoration, furniture, metal and glass wares, cloth and paper wall-hangings, embroideries, jewellery, woven and knotted carpets, silk damasks, and tapestries. The first headquarters of the firm were at 8 Red Lion Square.

The work shown by the firm at the 1862 International Exhibition attracted much notice, and from 1866 began to make a profit. In the autumn of 1864, a severe illness obliged Morris to choose between giving up his home at Red House in Kent and giving up his work in London. With great reluctance he gave up Red House, and in 1865 established himself under the same roof with his workshops, now relocated to Queen Square, Bloomsbury.[1]

An important commission of 1867[14] was the "green dining room" at the South Kensington Museum (now the Morris Room of the Victoria and Albert), featuring stained glass windows and panel figures by Burne-Jones, panels with branches of fruit or flowers by Morris, and olive branches and a frieze by Philip Webb.

Although already the firms paid manager, in 1874 Morris wished to take sole control of the now profitable firm, but, unsurprisingly, had to buy out other shareholders. This venture into capitalism was a severe test of friendship with Rossetti and Ford Maddox Brown. Throughout his life, Morris continued as principal owner and design director, although the company changed names. Its most famous incarnation was as Morris & Co. The firm's designs are still sold today under licenses given to Sanderson and Sons (which markets the "Morris & Co." brand) and Liberty of London.

Main Entrance to Kelmscott Manor
Kelmscott Manor

In 1869, 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 and complicated liaison. The two spent summers there, with the Morris children, while Morris himself traveled to Iceland in 1871 and 1873. Kelmscott Manor remained an important retreat and symbol of simple country life for Morris in later years. It was the model for "the old house by the Thames" in Morris's News from Nowhere.[15] The house and gardens are now owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London, and is open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer. The garden and its flora were a particular inspiration to Morris in his textile designs.


In the 1870s, Morris had begun to take an active interest in politics. He became treasurer of the National Liberal League in 1879; but after the Irish coercive measures of 1881, he finally abandoned the Liberal Party and advanced into socialist politics.

In January 1883, Morris was enrolled among the members of the Democratic Federation, forerunner of the Social Democratic Federation. Over the next two years, Morris and party founder Henry Hyndman worked together as the best-known leaders of the fledgling organisation.[16] For the rest of the decade, his creative efforts sprang from his socialist politics.

In March 1883 he gave an address at Manchester on "Art, Wealth and Riches"; in May he was elected upon the executive of the federation. In September he wrote the first of his "Chants for Socialists." About the same time he shocked the authorities by pleading in University Hall for the wholesale support of socialism among the undergraduates at Oxford. To the surprise of many who saw him as a respectable poet and decorator from that point on he threw himself wholeheartedly into the nascent Socialist movement, becoming co-author of the Social Democratic Federation manifesto.

Disagreements with Hyndman over Irish Home Rule and a generalized mistrust of Hyndman's personal motives led to the foundation of the breakaway Socialist League in December 1884, encouraged by Friedrich Engels and Eleanor Marx. As the leading figure in the organization Morris embarked on a relentless series of speeches and talks on street corners, in working men's clubs and lecture theatres across England and Scotland. Eventual repression of street corner meetings by the police meant that free speech, rather than economic working-class causes, became the practical focus of the League. Morris also became both editor and principal contributor to the League's monthly - soon to become weekly - newspaper, Commonweal, which became the first place where his published essays, poems, and other works appeared. Two of his best known prose works, the utopian News from Nowhere and A Dream of John Ball were first printed here in serialized form.

From 1887, anarchists began to outnumber socialists in the Socialist League.[17] The 3rd Annual Conference of the League, held in London on 29 May 1887 marked the change, with a majority of the 24 branch delegates voting in favor of an anarchist-sponsored resolution declaring that "This conference endorses the policy of abstention from parliamentary action, hitherto pursued by the League, and sees no sufficient reason for altering it."[18] Morris played peacemaker but sided with the anti-Parliamentarians, who won control of the League, which consequently lost the support of Engels and saw the departure of Eleanor Marx and her partner Edward Aveling to form the separate Bloomsbury Socialist Society.

William Morris (right) with artist Edward Burne-Jones, 1890.
By 1889, the anarchist wing had completely captured the organisation. William Morris was stripped of the editorship of Commonweal in favor of Frank Kitz, an anarchist workman. Morris was left to foot the ongoing operating deficit of the publication, approximately £4 per week[17] — this at a time when £150 per year was the average annual family income in the kingdom.[19] By the autumn of 1890, Morris had had enough and he, too, withdrew from the Socialist League.

The following years have been described as a time of disillusionment for Morris, but he continued to write articles and give public lectures in active support of the Socialist cause. Morris himself was perhaps the greatest British representative of what has come to be called libertarian socialism. Liberated from internal factional struggles, he retracted his anti-Parliamentary position and worked for Socialist unity, giving his last public lecture in January 1896 on the subject of "One Socialist Party."[2]

Historic preservation

Although Morris never became a practising architect, his interest in architecture continued throughout his life. In 1877 he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (sometimes known as "Anti-Scrape"), which sprang into being as a practical protest against a scheme for restoring and reviving Tewkesbury Abbey.[2][20] His preservation work resulted indirectly in the founding of the National Trust. Combined with the inspiration of John Ruskin — in particular his essay "The Nature of Gothic" — architecture played an important symbolic part in Morris's approach to socialism.

Another aspect of Morris' preservationism was his desire to protect the natural world from the ravages of pollution and industrialism, causing some historians of the green movement to regard Morris as an important forerunner of modern environmentalism. [21] [22]

Later years

In his later years, Morris returned to the paramount interests of his life, art and literature. When his business was enlarged in 1881 by the establishment of a tapestry industry at Merton Abbey Mills, in South West London, Morris found yet another means for expressing the medievalism that inspired all his work, whether on paper or at the loom.[23] He then added another to his many activities; he assumed a direct interest in typography. In the early seventies he had devoted much attention to the arts of manuscript illumination and calligraphy. He himself wrote several manuscripts, with illuminations of his own devising. From this to attempts to beautify the art of modern printing was but a short step. The House of the Wolfings, printed in 1889 at the Chiswick Press, was the first essay in this direction; and in the same year, in The Roots of the Mountains, he carried his theory a step further. Some fifteen months later he added a private printing-press to his multifarious occupations and started upon the first volume issued from the Kelmscott Press. For the last few years of his life this new interest remained the absorbing one.[2]

After his departure from the Socialist League, Morris divided his time between the Firm, then relocated to Merton Abbey,[24] Kelmscott House in Hammersmith, the Kelmscott Press, and Kelmscott Manor. At his death at Kelmscott House in 1896 he was interred in the Kelmscott village churchyard.

"A brief sketch of the Morris movement" was a 1911 pamphlet at the 50th anniversary of the Morris & Co. (


William Morris was a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, essays, and translations of ancient and medieval texts. His first poems were published when he was 24 years old, and he was polishing his final novel, The Sundering Flood, at the time of his death. His daughter May's edition of Morris's Collected Works (1910–1915) runs to 24 volumes, and two more were published in 1936.[25]


Morris began publishing poetry and short stories in 1856 through the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which he founded with his friends and financed while at university. His first volume, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), was the first book of Pre-Raphaelite poetry to be published.[25] The dark poems, set in a sombre world of violence, were coolly received by the critics, and he was discouraged from publishing more for a number of years. "The Haystack in the Floods", one of the poems in that collection, is probably now one of his better-known poems. It is a grimly realistic piece set during the Hundred Years War in which the doomed lovers Jehane and Robert have a last parting in a convincingly portrayed rain-swept countryside.[25] One early minor poem was "Masters in this Hall" (1860), a Christmas carol written to an old French tune.[26] Another Christmas-themed poem is "The Snow in the Street", adapted from "The Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon" in The Earthly Paradise.[27]

When he returned to poetry in the late 1860s it was with The Life and Death of Jason,[28] which was published with great success in 1867.[25] Jason was followed by The Earthly Paradise, a huge collection of poems loosely bound together in what he called a leather strapbound book. The theme was of a group of medieval wanderers who set out to search for a land of everlasting life; after much disillusion, they discover a surviving colony of Greeks with whom they exchange stories. The collection brought him almost immediate fame and popularity (all of his books thereafter were published as "by the author of The Earthly Paradise").[25] The last-written stories in the collection are retellings of Icelandic sagas. From then until his Socialist period Morris's fascination with the ancient Germanic and Norse peoples dominated his writing. Together with his Icelandic friend Eiríkr Magnússon 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.[1] Due to his wide poetic acclaim, Morris was quietly approached with an offer of the Poet Laureateship after the death of Tennyson in 1892, but declined. He was finishing to write his last novel at the time of his death.


Morris had met Eiríkr Magnússon 1868, and together they began to learn the Icelandic language. Morris published translations of The Saga of Gunnlaug Worm-Tongue and Grettis Saga in 1869, and the Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs in 1870. An additional volume was published under the title of Three Northern Love Stories in 1873.[1][25]

In the mid-1870s, Morris's leisure was mainly occupied by scribe and illuminator; to this period belong, among other works, two manuscripts of Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam with illustrations by Burne-Jones. He was for some time engaged in the production of a magnificent folio manuscript of Virgil's Aeneid, and in the course of that work had begun to translate the poem into English verse. The manuscript was finally laid aside for the translation, and the Eneids of Virgil was published in November 1875. Morris also translated large numbers of medieval and classical works, including Homer's Odyssey in 1887.

Further information: English translations of Homer#Morris
Prose romances

In the last nine years of his life, Morris wrote a series of imaginative fictions usually referred to as the "prose romances".[29] These novels — including The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World's End — have been credited as important milestones in the history of fantasy fiction, because, while other writers wrote of foreign lands, or of dream worlds, or the future (as Morris did in News from Nowhere), Morris's works were the first to be set in an entirely invented fantasy world.[30] These were attempts to revive the genre of medieval romance, and written in imitation of medieval prose. Morris' prose style in these novels has been praised by Edward James, who described them as "among the most lyrical and enchanting fantasies in the English language."[31]

On the other hand, L. Sprague de Camp considered Morris' fantasies to be not wholly successful, partly because Morris eschewed many literary techniques from later eras.[32] In particular, De Camp argued the plots of the novels are heavily driven by coincidence; while many things just happened in the romances, the novels are still weakened by the dependence on it.[33] Nevertheless, large subgenres of the field of fantasy have sprung from the romance genre, but indirectly, through their writers' imitation of William Morris.[34]

Early fantasy writers like Lord Dunsany, E. R. Eddison [35] and James Branch Cabell [36] were familiar with Morris' romances. 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 Germanic life in The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains. The young Tolkien attempted a retelling of the story of Kullervo from the Kalevala in the style of The House of the Wolfings;[37] Tolkien considered much of his literary work to have been inspired by an early reading of Morris, even suggesting that he was unable to better Morris's work; the names of characters such as "Gandolf" and the horse Silverfax appear in The Well at the World's End.

Sir Henry Newbolt's medieval allegorical novel, Aladore, was influenced by Morris' fantasies. [38] James Joyce also drew inspiration from his work.[39]


Cabbage and vine tapestry, 1879
Furnishing textiles were an important offering of the firm in all its incarnations. By 1883, Morris wrote "Almost all the designs we use for surface decoration, wallpapers, textiles, and the like, I design myself. I have had to learn the theory and to some extent the practice of weaving, dyeing and textile printing: all of which I must admit has given me and still gives me a great deal of enjoyment."[40]

Morris's preference for flat use of line and colour and abhorrence of "realistic" three-dimensional shading was marked; in this he followed the propositions of Owen Jones as set out in his 'The Grammar of Ornament' of 1856, a copy of which Morris owned. Writing on tapestry weaving, Morris said:

As in all wall-decoration, the first thing to be considered in the designing of Tapestry is the force, purity, and elegance of the silhouette of the objects represented, and nothing vague or indeterminate is admissible. But special excellences can be expected from it. Depth of tone, richness of colour, and exquisite gradation of tints are easily to be obtained in Tapestry; and it also demands that crispness and abundance of beautiful detail which was the especial characteristic of fully developed Mediæval Art. - Of the Revival of Design and Handicraft

It is likely that much of Morris's preference for medieval textiles was formed — or crystallised — during his brief apprenticeship with G. E. Street. Street had co-written a book on Ecclesiastical Embroidery in 1848, and was a staunch advocate of abandoning faddish woolen work on canvas in favour of more expressive embroidery techniques based on Opus Anglicanum, a surface embroidery technique popular in medieval England.[41]

He was also very fond of hand knotted Persian carpets[42] and advised the South Kensington Museum in the acquisition of fine Kerman carpets.[43]


Main article: Art needlework
Morris taught himself embroidery, working with wool on a frame custom-built from an old example, and once he had mastered the technique he trained his wife Jane and her sister Bessie Burden and others to execute designs to his specifications. "Embroideries of all kinds" were offered through Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. catalogues, and church embroidery became and remained an important line of business for its successor companies into the twentieth century.[44] By the 1870s, the firm was offering both designs for embroideries and finished works. Following in Street's footsteps, Morris became active in the growing movement to return originality and mastery of technique to embroidery, and was one of the first designers associated with the Royal School of Art Needlework with its aim to "restore Ornamental Needlework for secular purposes to the high place it once held among decorative arts." [45]

Printed and woven textiles

Design for "Tulip and Willow" indigo-discharge wood-block printed fabric, 1873
Morris's first repeating pattern for wallpaper is dated 1862, but was not manufactured until 1864. All his wallpaper designs were manufactured for him by Jeffrey & Co, a commercial wallpaper maker. In 1868 he designed his first pattern specifically for fabric printing. As in so many other areas that interested him, Morris chose to work with the ancient technique of hand woodblock printing in preference to the roller printing which had almost completely replaced it for commercial uses.

Morris took up the practical art of dyeing as a necessary adjunct of his manufacturing business. He spent much of his time at Staffordshire dye works mastering the processes of that art and making experiments in the revival of old or discovery of new methods. One result of these experiments was to reinstate indigo dyeing as a practical industry and generally to renew the use of those vegetable dyes, like madder, which had been driven almost out of use by the anilines. Dyeing of wools, silks, and cottons was the necessary preliminary to what he had much at heart, the production of woven and printed fabrics of the highest excellence; and the period of incessant work at the dye-vat (1875–76) was followed by a period during which he was absorbed in the production of textiles (1877–78), and more especially in the revival of carpet-weaving as a fine art.[1][46] However, his first carpet designs of 1875, were made for him industrially by commercial firms using machinery.

Morris's patterns for woven textiles, some of which were also machine made under ordinary commercial conditions, included intricate double-woven furnishing fabrics in which two sets of warps and wefts are interlinked to create complex gradations of colour and texture.[47] His textile designs are still popular today, sometimes recoloured for modern sensibilities, but also in the original colourways.


Morris long dreamed of weaving tapestries in the medieval manner, which he called "the noblest of the weaving arts." In September 1879 he finished his first solo effort, a small piece called "Cabbage and Vine".[48][49] Shortly thereafter Morris trained his employee John Henry Dearle in the technique, setting up a tapestry loom at Queen Square and later a large tapestry works at Merton Abbey.

The Kelmscott Press

Trademark of the Kelmscott Press
In January 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith, London, in order to produce books by traditional methods, using, as far as possible, the printing technology and typographical style of the fifteenth century. In this he was reflecting the tenets of the Arts and Crafts movement, and responding to the mechanisation and mass-production of contemporary book-production methods and to the rise of lithography, particularly those lithographic prints designed to look like woodcuts.

He designed two typefaces based on fifteenth-century models, the Roman "Golden" type (inspired by the type of the early Venetian printer Nicolaus Jenson) and the black letter "Troy" type; a third type, the "Chaucer" was a smaller version of the Troy type. He also designed floriated borders and initials for the books, drawing inspiration from incunabula 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, and the main inspiration for what became known as the "Private Press Movement". It operated until 1898, producing more than 18,000 copies of 53 different works, comprising 69 volumes, and inspired numerous other private presses, notably the Vale Press, Caradoc Press, Ashendene Press and Doves Press.[50]


Kelmscott Manor depicted in the frontispiece to the 1893 Kelmscott Press edition of News from Nowhere.
Among the works issued by the Kelmscott Press were:[50][51][52]

William Morris, The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891)
William Morris, The Defence of Guenevere and other Poems (1892)
William Morris, A Dream of John Ball and A King's Lesson (1892)
Raoul Lafevre, The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (1892)
William Shakespeare, The Poems (1893)
William Morris, News from Nowhere (1893)
William Caxton (trans.), The History of Reynard the Foxe (1893)
William Caxton (trans.), The Order of Chivalry (1893)
Guilelmus, Archbishop of Tyre, The History of Godefrey of Boloyne (1893)
Sir Thomas More, Utopia (1893)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sonnets and Lyrical Poems (1893)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ballads and Narrative Poems (1893)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hand and Soul (1894)
Wilhelm Meinhold, Sidonia the Sorceress (1894)
William Morris, The Story of the Glittering Plain (1894)
Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon (1894)
An American Memorial to Keats (1895)
Sir Percyvelle of Gales (1895)
William Morris, The Life and Death of Jason (1895)
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Works (called the Kelmscott Chaucer) (1896)
William Morris, The Earthly Paradise (1896)
Sir Ysumbrace (1897)
William Morris, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs (1898)
The Kelmscott Press edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, with decorations by Morris and illustrations by Burne-Jones, is sometimes counted among the most beautiful books ever produced. Full-scale facsimiles of the Kelmscott Chaucer were published by the Basilisk Press in 1974 and by the Folio Society in 2002. More modest facsimiles were published by World Publishing in 1964 and Omega Books in 1985.


Morris family tombstone at Kelmscott, designed by Philip Webb

Three years after his death, Morris's biographer John William Mackail (the husband of Burne-Jones's daughter Margaret and so a member of his immediate circle) summed up his career for the Dictionary of National Biography in a quote that is markedly prescient in its assessment:

The fame of Morris during his life was probably somewhat obscured by the variety of his accomplishments. In all his work after he reached mature life there is a marked absence of extravagance, of display, of superficial cleverness or effectiveness, and an equally marked sense of composition and subordination. Thus his poetry is singularly devoid of striking lines or phrases, and his wall-papers and chintzes only reveal their full excellence by the lastingness of the satisfaction they give. His genius as a pattern-designer is allowed by all qualified judges to have been unequalled. This, if anything, he himself regarded as his specific profession; it was under the designation of "designer" that he enrolled himself in the socialist ranks and claimed a position as one of the working class. And it is the quality of design which, together with a certain fluent ease, distinguishes his work in literature as well as in industrial art. It is yet too early to forecast what permanent place he may hold among English poets. "The Defence of Guenevere" had a deep influence on a limited audience. With "Jason" and the "Earthly Paradise" he attained a wide popularity: and these poems, appearing as they did at a time when the poetic art in England seemed narrowing into mere labour on a thrice-ploughed field, not only gave a new scope, range, and flexibility to English rhymed verse, but recovered for narrative poetry a place among the foremost kinds of the art. A certain diffuseness of style may seem to be against their permanent life, so far as it is not compensated by a uniform wholesomeness and sweetness which indeed marks all Morris’s work. In "Sigurd the Volsung" Morris appears to have aimed higher than in his other poems, but not to have reached his aim with the same certainty; and his own return afterwards from epic to romance may indicate that the latter was the ground on which he was most at home. The prose romances of his later years have so far proved less popular in themselves than in the dilutions they have suggested to other writers. Here as elsewhere Morris’s great effect was to stimulate the artistic sense and initiate movements. So likewise it was with his political and social work. Much of it was not practical in the ordinary sense; but it was based on principles and directed towards ideals which have had a wide and profound influence over thought and practice.[1]

From a later perspective, Stansky concludes that:

Morris's views on the environment, on preserving what is of value in both the natural and "built" worlds, on decentralising bloated government, are as significant now as they were in Morris's own time, or even more so. Earlier in the twentieth century, much of his thinking, particularly its political side, was dismissed as sheer romanticism. After the Second World War, it appeared that modernisation, centralisation, industrialism, rationalism – all the faceless movements of the time – were in control and would take care of the world. Today, when we have a keen sense of the shambles of their efforts, the suggestions which Morris made in his designs, his writings, his actions and his politics have new power and relevance.[53]
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