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Title: William Morris - A Critical Study
Author: Drinkwater, John
Language: English
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WILLIAM MORRIS



  _UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME:_

  J. M. SYNGE
      By P. P. Howe

  HENRIK IBSEN
      By R. Ellis Roberts

  THOMAS HARDY
      By Lascelles Abercrombie

  GEORGE GISSING
      By Frank Swinnerton

  THOMAS LOVE PEACOCK
      By A. Martin Freeman

  ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE
      By Edward Thomas



[Frontispiece: William Morris.  from a photograph by Frederick
Hollyer.]



  WILLIAM MORRIS

  A CRITICAL STUDY

  BY

  JOHN DRINKWATER



  LONDON
  MARTIN SECKER
  NUMBER FIVE JOHN STREET
  ADELPHI
  MCMXII



  _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

  POEMS OF MEN AND HOURS, 1911
  COPHETUA. A Play in One Act, 1911
  POEMS OF LOVE AND EARTH, 1912
  ETC.



  TO
  ERNEST NEWMAN
  _Who Loves the Arts
  With a Just and Fine Impatience_



NOTE

A few paragraphs in this book are reprinted, by permission of Messrs.
George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., from introductions written for The
Muses' Library; others, by permission of the Editor, from articles
contributed to _The Nation_.

My thanks are due to William Morris's Trustees for permission to use
such quotations from his works as I wished, and to Miss May Morris
for her generous assistance in this and other matters.  My
indebtedness to Mr. Mackail I have acknowledged in more than one
place in the body of this volume, but I should like here to emphasize
my appreciation of the service that he has done to all who reverence
Morris and his work.

I would also thank my friend, Mr. Oliver W. F. Lodge, for the many
delightful hours that I have spent with him in talking of a poet whom
we both love.  What understanding I may have of Morris has been
deepened and quickened by his enthusiasm and fine judgment.  No
thanks that I might offer to another friend could be in any way
adequate; in inscribing this book to him I can but make slight
acknowledgment of one of those whole-hearted services that stand for
so much in the craft of letters.

J. D.

_Birmingham_, 1912.



  CONTENTS

  INTRODUCTORY
  EARLY POEMS AND PROSE
  INTERLUDE
  NARRATIVE POEMS
  LOVE IS ENOUGH AND SIGURD THE VOLSUNG
  TRANSLATIONS AND SOCIALISM
  PROSE ROMANCES AND POEMS BY THE WAY
  CONCLUSION



I

INTRODUCTORY

To the isolation, the loneliness, of the poet, criticism is apt to
give far less than due heed.  At a time when literature is daily
becoming more responsive to the new spirit which we call Democracy,
such a complaint may seem to be reactionary in temper, and some
explanation may be made by way of defence against any such possible
charge.  Nothing is more disastrous to a poet than that he should
dissociate his art from the life of the world; until the conflict and
destiny of humanity have become the subjects of his contemplation he
cannot hope to bring to his creation that vitality which alone makes
for permanence.  Ultimately it is the great normal life of mankind
which is immortal, and the perishable things are the grotesque, the
odd, the experiences which are incomplete because they are unrelated
to the general experience.  But whilst the insistence that the poet
should be swiftly responsive to the life about him is perfectly just,
indeed inevitable in any right understanding of art, it is equally
necessary to remember always that the poet's vision itself is turned
upon life from places remote and untrodden, that the seasons of his
contemplation are seasons of seclusion.  To say that the poet is the
product of his age is to be deceived by one of the most dangerous of
critical half-truths.  The poet is the product of his own temperament
and personality, or he is nothing.  Clearly, if the age in which the
poet lived were in any wide sense his creator, the poets of an age
would bear unmistakable tokens of their relationship.  The perfectly
obvious fact that they do not do so is, however, no obstacle to the
criticism that wishes to satisfy its own primary assumption that with
the age does remain this supreme function of making its own poets.
Recognizing that its theory demands the presence of such affinity in
its support, this criticism proceeds, in violation of the most direct
evidence, to discover the necessary likeness.  Perhaps the crowning
achievement of this ineptitude is the constant coupling of the names
of Tennyson and Browning.  If ever two poets were wholly unrelated to
each other in their reading of life and spiritual temper, they were
the poets of "In Memoriam" and "Pippa Passes," of "Crossing the Bar"
and "Prospice."  But the accident of their being contemporaries is
taken as sufficient reason for endless comparisons and complacent
decisions as to their relative greatness, leading nowhere and
establishing nothing.  And parallel cases are common enough: Gray and
Collins, Shelley and Keats, and, in daily practice, any one poet and
any other whose books happen to be on the table at the same moment.

The relation of the age to its poets is that of sunlight to a
landscape.  The trees and the rivers, the hills and the plains, all
turn to the same source for the power whereby to express themselves,
the same light is upon them all.  But no one thinks in consequence of
comparing Snowdon with the Thames.  Without his age a poet cannot
speak, but the thing that his age empowers him to utter is that which
is within him.  His song, if it be a song of worth, is a
manifestation apart from the age, from everything whatever save his
own spiritual distinction.  In this sense the poet must always be
isolated and lonely, and it is solely by divining the secrets of this
isolation and loneliness, not concerning itself unduly with
circumstantial kinship in expression that may exist between one poet
and another, that criticism may justify itself.  Occasionally a poet
may arise whose faculty has a vital sympathy with another's, whose
vision may accord in some measure with that of one perhaps centuries
dead.  Then enquiry as to the affinity is likely to be fruitful.  The
poet is not so much a reflection of his age as a commentary upon it
and its attitude towards life.  Twenty poets may be writing together,
the age reacting upon their creative energy in every instance, but it
is more than probable that the essential significance of their work
will be alike in no two cases.  So that in writing about Morris my
purpose is chiefly to discover what are the aim and ultimate
achievement of his artistic activity; in a smaller degree to
ascertain what was his relation to his age; to compare him with his
contemporary creators scarcely at all, believing such comparisons to
be misguided in intention and negative in result.

To attempt a new definition of poetry is a task sufficiently
uninviting.  And yet it is well to be clear in one's own mind, or as
clear as possible, as to what one is writing about.  If I try to set
down, with as little vagueness as may be, the nature of my conception
of the meaning of poetry, I do so in all humility, not in any way
suggesting that here at last the eternal riddle has been solved, but
merely to define the point from which I start, the standard which I
have in mind.  It is certain that each man of intelligence and fine
feeling will make his own demand as to the values of poetry.  A man's
worship is directed at last by his needs, and it is as vain in art as
in life to seek to impose a love where there is no corresponding
receptivity, assuming, of course a quick intelligence and not one
stupefied.  A man spiritually asleep may be awakened, but once awake
his adventures must be chiefly controlled by himself.  Fitzgerald was
a man of taste and understanding, but he did not care for Homer and
found _The Life and Death of Jason_ 'no go.'  Arnold was as
passionate a man as might be in his allegiance to art,
notwithstanding the somewhat false report bestowed upon him by his
so-called classicism, and we know his estimate of Shelley and of
Byron, whilst Swinburne would have denounced him with equal vigour
for his indifference on the one hand and his commendation on the
other.  These differences do not, of course, diminish the value of
critical opinion, they merely point to the futility of attempting to
find any common touchstone, and counsel a wise humility and
tolerance.  That Arnold and Swinburne demanded different things in
poetry reflects to the discredit of neither.  All men who care for
the arts are pledged to refuse the false, the mean, and the vulgar at
all seasons; but they do well to remain silent in the presence of
things which they know to be none of these yet find themselves unable
to love.  Without this love criticism is ineffectual.  Macaulay in
writing of Montgomery merely antedated the ruin of a reputation by a
decade or two; in writing of Milton he helped in the discipline of
our understanding.  Morris is for me among the supremely important
poets, but I know that to some men to whose powers of perception I
bow he is not of such vital significance.  I do not dispute their
conclusions; I can only endeavour to explain and justify my own.

Poetry seems to me to be the announcement of spiritual discovery.
Experience might be substituted for discovery, for every experience
which is vital and personal is, in effect, a discovery.  The
discovery need not be at all new to mankind; it is, indeed,
inevitable that it will not be so.  Nor need it be new to the poet
himself.  To every man spiritually alive the coming of spring is an
experience recurrent yet always vital, always a discovery.  Nearly
every new poet writes well about the spring, just as every new poet
writes well about love.  So powerful is the creative impulse begotten
by these experiences that it impels many men to attempt utterance
without any adequate powers, and so the common gibes find their
justification.  But it is absurd to pronounce against the creative
impulse itself whilst condemning the inefficient expression.  The bad
love poetry of the world is excluded from my definition not because
it is unconcerned with discovery, but because it is not, in any full
sense, an announcement.  The articulation is not clear.  And by
reason of this defect a great deal of other writing which has behind
it a perfectly genuine impulse is excluded also.  On the other hand,
much verse which has a good deal of perfection in form perishes, is,
indeed, never alive, because its reason has been something other than
spiritual discovery.  But whenever these things are found together,
the discovery and the announcement, then is poetry born, and at no
other time.  The magnitude of the poet's achievement depends on the
range of his discovery and the completeness of his announcement.  If
I add that verse seems to me to be the only fitting form for poetry,
I do so with full knowledge that weighty evidence and valuable
opinion are against me.  Nevertheless the term prose-poem seems to be
an abomination.  The poet in creation, that is to say the poet in the
act of announcing spiritual discovery, will find his utterance
assuming a rhythmical pattern.  The pattern may be quite irregular
and flowing, but unless it is discernible the impulse is incomplete
in its effect.  To think of the music of verse as merely an arbitrary
adornment of expression is wholly to misunderstand its value.  It is
an integral part of expression in its highest manifestation.  It is
in itself expression.  There is an exaltation at the moment of
discovery which is apart from the discovery itself, a buoyancy as of
flight.  The significance of this exaltation is indefinable, having
in it something of divinity.  To the words of poetry it is given to
announce the discovery; to the music to embody and in some inadequate
measure translate the ecstasy which pervades the discovery.  The
poet's madness is happily not a myth; for to be mad is to be ecstatic.

A poet who in rather more than a generation had produced a small
volume of exquisite work complained that a poet's greatness was too
often measured by the bulk of his activity.  Examination of the
nature of the poet's function shows the complaint to be groundless.
A man may indeed be immortal by virtue of a stanza if not of a single
line.  Edward Dyer's report could ill bear the loss of 'My mind to me
a kingdom is.'  And Martin Tupper passes with his interminable
jingles safely into oblivion.  But if a man is truly possessed of the
poetic fire, we must accept as no negligible measure of his greatness
not only the force with which it burns, but also the frequency.  Dr.
Johnson came nearer to the truth than is generally admitted when he
said that the poet who had to wait for 'inspiration' was in a bad
way.  He was not altogether right, for in practice it is possible for
the poet to lose his technical cunning for long periods, which really
amounts to saying that there are times when the spiritual discovery
is unaccompanied by the ecstatic exaltation.  But he based his
pronouncement on sound sense, as was his habit.  What he meant was
that a poet, before he could lay just claim to high rank, must so
discipline himself to disentangle the significant from the
insignificant in life as it presented itself to him day by day, that
he should never be at a loss for something to say, that he should not
have to wait for the event.  Milton was not careless in his use of
words, and when he said, 'I was confirmed in this opinion, that he
who would not be frustrated of his hope to write well hereafter in
laudable things ought himself to be a true poem ... not presuming to
sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities, unless he have in
himself the experience and practice of all that which is
praiseworthy,' he revealed the secret of the poet's necessity with
perfect precision.  The greater and more vital the poet, the less
will he look upon his poetry as a casual incident of his life, the
more will it become for him the impassioned and refined expression of
his life in its entirety.  Many men turn from the claims of their
daily life to art as a recreation.  This is far better than having no
concern with art at all, but it is at best but a compromise.  In
reading a great poet we feel that here is a man to whom art and life
are coincident, inseparable.  In other words, that he is a man
vitally curious about life in all its essential aspects, just as
another man will be curious about market prices or electrical
development; and just as they must by nature give daily expression to
their curiosity about those relatively trivial things, so must he by
nature strive to give daily expression to his curiosity about that
supremely important thing.  And as their constant preoccupation with
those ephemeral matters will from time to time bear fruit in the
shape of some weighty decision as to a course of action or the
evolution of some new design and its application, so will his
constant preoccupation with the permanent manifestations of life from
time to time bear fruit as a creation of art--as a poem.

Throughout a life of phenomenal artistic energy, Morris never for a
moment failed to realize this supreme requirement of the poet's
being.  He was pre-eminent in many activities, but it is upon his
poetry that his reputation will ultimately depend, for in his poetry,
inevitably, is found his clearest challenge to oblivion.  Had he not
written at all he would still have been a remarkable and memorable
man, but having written much, and as poet, his claim as such must be
considered before all others.  And Morris's poetry is a permanent
record of the man's temper, of his spiritual adventures and
discoveries, not a desultory series of impressions imposed by
external events, but the continuous manifestation of his reading of
life.  His conception of art, formed in his youth, as the expression
of joy in living, as the immediate and necessary outcome of life
itself wherever life was full, knew no change to the end.  Art was
this always to him, and it had no other value.  Nothing made by man's
hand or brain had any beauty in his eyes unless it expressed this
intensity of life which went to its creation.  The talk about art for
art's sake would have been merely unintelligible to him, because the
existence of art apart from life was inconceivable.

William Morris was born at Walthamstow on the 24th of March, 1834.
The external record of his life has been given finally by Mr. J. W.
Mackail in his _Life_, a book which, besides being a storehouse upon
which all writers on Morris must draw and remain thankful debtors, is
certainly one of the most beautiful biographies in the language.  The
wisdom of childhood is sometimes supposed to lie in the child's
attitude of unquestioning acceptance, but the truth is that it lies
in a constant sense of adventure.  The wisdom of the poet is as the
child's in this; for both wake daily in the hope and expectancy of
new revelations.  Unquestioning acceptance and the stifling of
curiosity are the last infirmities of foolish minds.  Life ceases to
be lovely when it ceases to be adventurous.  Morris in his boyhood
was rich in a full measure of this wisdom of childhood, and by a
fortunate circumstance his earliest days were spent in surroundings
that gave ample opportunity for the development of his nature.  If he
owed his creativeness to nothing but his own endowment, the colour
and atmosphere with which his work came to be suffused were largely
influenced by the memory of days spent among the hornbeam thickets of
the Essex woodlands and the meadows of Woodford, on the fringe of
Epping Forest, the Morris family moving to Woodford Hall when the
poet was six years old.  By this time he was, we hear, already 'deep
in the Waverley novels,' and in this connection we have the authority
of one of his sisters for a circumstance that is curiously prophetic
of a quality that was to mark his life-work.  'We never remember his
learning regularly to read.'  This instinctive acquisition of
knowledge was not the least remarkable of Morris's faculties.  He
seemed always to understand the things he loved without taking
thought.  In the practical application of his knowledge no labour was
too great; when he wanted to re-establish the art of dyeing, he spent
weeks working at the vats in Leek; when he was directing the
Kelmscott Press, whole pages would be rejected for a scarcely visible
flaw; when he wished to furnish his house he found little enough in
the market to satisfy his conscience, and so became a manufacturer;
when he was drawn to the stories of the North he worked unweariedly
with an Icelandic scholar and made two pilgrimages--no light
undertakings in those days--to the home of his heroes.  Miss May
Morris in one of her admirable introductions to the complete edition
of her father's works, tells us that he once said, 'No man can draw
armour properly unless he can draw a knight with his feet on the hob,
toasting a herring on the point of his sword.'  It is easy to
understand that he never learnt to read, for learning by any
laborious process was foreign to his nature; knowledge of the things
that were of importance to him was in some obscure way born in him.
He would spare no pains to shape his knowledge into a serviceable
instrument, but the knowledge itself was inherent in him.  He moved
among the men of the Sagas, of Greek mythology and the old romances,
as intimately as we ordinarily move among the people of the house.
Many of his friends give independent testimony to the fact that he
never seems to have learnt deliberately of these men; his knowledge
of them grew as his knowledge of speech and the ways about him.  In
considering his work in detail, the value of this instinctive
familiarity will be apparent; it brings a sense of reality into his
stories as could nothing else.  We are hardly ever given laboured
details of environment or appearance--merely a few casual strokes of
suggestion that, by their very assurance and implication of
knowledge, both on the part of the poet and of his reader, carry
conviction.  For this reason we never feel ourselves to be in strange
surroundings or listening to strange men, and it is this privilege of
close association with the world of the poet's fashioning that
enables us to realize how accessible is that larger and clearer life
of which he sings.

Throughout his life not only the beauty but the homeliness, the
fellowship, of earth was a passion with him, and to the Woodford Hall
days and the rambles over the downs and through Savernake, when a
little later he was one of the earliest Marlborough boys, may be
traced the beginnings of this strain in his temper.  In a famous
passage in his biography Mr. Mackail tells us how the boy, dressed in
a suit of toy armour, used to ride through the park; how he and his
brothers used to shoot red-wings and fieldfares in the winter
holidays and roast them before a log fire we may be sure--for their
supper; how he longed to shoot pigeons with a bow and arrow; how to
the end of his life he carried with him recollections of stray sounds
and sights and scents of those childhood days; how he would pore over
the brasses and monuments that he discovered in the churches near to
his home.  It is doubtful whether anyone who has not spent some part
of his early life in a countryside which has none of the striking
beauties that make a landscape famous, that is, in the common phrase,
uneventful, can quite realize the meaning of all this.  In such
surroundings a peculiar intimacy with the earth is born, a nearness
to the change of season and the nature and moods of the country,
which form a background of singular values in the whole of a man's
later development.  A man nurtured among the more majestic
manifestations of natural beauty will, if he be a poet, in all
probability translate his early impressions into single memorable
passages, but the effect of environment such as that in which
Morris's childhood was passed is of another kind.  The whole of
Morris's work is coloured and sweetened by a tenderness for earth
which, while it does not fail to find at times direct expression of
exquisite loveliness, is nevertheless a pervasive mood rather than a
series of isolated impressions.  It is this circumstance that came to
give quite common words an unusual significance in his poetry.  When
he speaks of 'the half-ploughed field' or 'the blossomed fruit trees'
or 'the quivering noontide haze' or 'the brown bird's tune' or 'the
heavy-uddered cows,' or simply 'the meadows green,' the whole of his
passionate earth-worship is thrown up with clear-cut intensity and
his utterance takes on a value which is wholly unexplained by the
mere words of his choice.

At Marlborough the poet's independence of character was already
shown.  The school-games had no attraction for him.  Birds'-nesting,
excursions to outlying churches and ruins, explorations of any early
remains of which he could discover the whereabouts, long walks
accompanied by the improvisation of endless stories of knightly
adventure, the reading of any books of romance, archæology and
architecture that came to his hand--these were his chief occupations.
Before he left the school, his father died, and the family again
moved, this time to Water House at Walthamstow.  Here again the boy
found full store upon which to indulge his imaginative bent.  A broad
moat, a great paved hall, a wooded island, wide marshlands, all
fitted well with the tendencies that had already asserted themselves.
When he left Marlborough at the age of seventeen, there was nothing
to show that he was to become a great creative artist, but there was
everything to show the atmosphere in which his work would be
conceived in such an event.  After reading with a private tutor for a
year, Morris went up to Oxford at the beginning of the Lent term in
1853.

Tennyson had established his reputation with the issue of the two
volumes of "Poems" in 1842.  Since then he had published "The
Princess" in 1847, and "In Memoriam" in 1850, and was already
generally acknowledged as a great new voice in poetry.  Browning with
"Pauline" in 1833, "Paracelsus" in 1835, "Strafford" in 1837, and the
series of plays that followed, had proved his authenticity, but had
not yet gained the general recognition that was to be brought a
little nearer by the "Dramatic Lyrics" and "Dramatic Romances" of
1842 and 1845, and "Christmas Eve and Easter Day" in 1850.  "Men and
Women" was not yet published.  Clough and Arnold had lately printed
their first books, and seven years were to pass before Swinburne's
name was to appear on a title-page.  Rossetti's "Blessed Damozel" had
been printed in the Pre-Raphaelite magazine, "The Germ," but save for
a few contributions to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine his poetry
was to wait until 1870 before being given to the public.  In prose
the influence of the teachings of Carlyle and Ruskin was dominating
criticism and æsthetic thought throughout the country, whilst the
religious unrest and scientific revaluation, that were to leave their
witness to posterity in the work of men so far removed from each
other in temper as Newman and Darwin, and Arnold and Clough, were
forcing a full share of men's attention to the consideration of
abstract ideas.

To determine the exact measure of the influence that the varied
expressions of an age's intellectual process exercises upon any
single mind belonging to that age is difficult to the point of
impossibility.  Maeterlinck, in saying that the soul of the peasant
would not be what it is to-day had Plato or Plotinus, of whom he has
never heard, not lived, endorses the precise truth that Shelley
uttered when he said that poets were the unacknowledged legislators
of the world.  The influence of one mind on another is one of the
subtlest questions of psychology, and the attempt to trace with any
precision the responsiveness of creative genius at all points to the
mental movement about it is vain.  It would be rash to say that the
author of "The Origin of Species" had no influence on the author of
_The Earthly Paradise_, as it certainly would be impossible to define
what that influence was.  Darwin and the Tractarians, the puzzled
questionings of the sceptics and the conflicting voices of assertion
and confutation, no doubt meant little enough as such to Morris when
he went up to Oxford.  But they were none the less manifestations of
the age that shaped his power of expression, and in a negative and
indirect way at least they had a share in his development.  The
limits of the influence of any commanding creative or speculative
mind cannot be laid down.  The most romantic poet writing to-day
would be witless to assert that he was wholly uninfluenced by, say,
Mr. Bernard Shaw or Mr. Balfour, for, whether he realizes the fact or
not, these men form part of the intellectual atmosphere in which he
is writing.  It is a common charge against Morris that he alienated
himself, as a poet, from the questions that were troubling his time,
as though the poet's theme should undergo continual change with the
generations.  All experience is emphatic in its assertion of the
folly of this attitude.  Nothing is more dangerous to the poet than
to be in too close contact with the immediate questions of the
moment, for, broadly considered, the things of immediate importance
are the unimportant things.  Much of our finest creative energy
to-day is being exhausted in the consideration of problems that are
local and temporary, not fulfilling its creative function with proper
completeness, being, rather, bravely destructive, an office
honourable enough but not that of the poet's supreme distinction.
Morris, from the moment of his earliest artistic consciousness, was
perfectly clear as to this matter.  He was not at any time deaf to
the clamour that came from all sides, nor was he indifferent to it.
But he found it partly incomprehensible, partly unlovely, and partly
negative, and he turned away from it, not as in retreat from a thing
that he feared, but in the search for the life which it was unable to
offer.  The challenge and counter-challenge of the prophets of the
millennium and confusion worse confounded, the disputations of the
two-and-seventy jarring sects were not outside the range of Morris's
consciousness, but he was content at first to leave them to their own
issues.  The socialism that was to enter so largely into his later
life was not the result of a sudden access of new feeling, but a
further expression, in perfectly logical development, of the mental
and spiritual outlook that was substantially unchanged from the
first.  The new expression, when it forced itself upon him, was,
indeed, not unconnected with a negative and destructive programme,
but it was in reality no more than an attempt to realize the world
that he had created in his art, the world that contained for him the
only possible life consistent with free beauty and joy.  But, with
whatever energy he threw himself into the new work when it came, he
never for a moment allowed it to shake his artistic creed.

Nothing is further from the truth than the common assertion that
Morris in his art turned from a life of realities to a dream-world,
if by a dream-world is meant, and I can apply no other meaning, a
world intangible, unrealizable, and remote from practical
considerations.  We have seen that the earth was to Morris from
boyhood in some sort a sacred thing.  And the people of the earth
were no less.  His one overmastering passion was for a world wherein
men and women lived in full responsiveness to the beauty of the
earth, labouring with their hands and adventurous and capricious in
spirit, finding joy in their work and in contact with each other, and
rejecting all the things of civilization that were dulling and
mechanical.  To object that in a commercial civilization so
superficially complex--the complexity is really a thing without the
subtlety of humanity in it, relatively fixed and reducible to exact
formulæ--this passion was in effect no more than a rather futile
dream, might be reasonable if Morris himself had not wholly answered
the objection in his work.  He found people not only indifferent to
the loveliness of earth, but destroying it on every hand; not only
forgetting the joy of labour, but debasing it into a daily burden;
measuring the value of all work not by the meaning of the work and
the spiritual satisfaction that it brought but by the wage that it
earned, and fettered in all their relations to each other by
countless considerations imposed by external conditions that were not
essential factors in humanity, but the whims of a social scheme that
mastered men instead of being their servant.  From the first he
realized that out of such a life no supreme art could spring; the
material that they offered was ugly and devitalized, and art can only
accept for its service material beautiful and strong.  The world as
he found it was fettered and numbed, and he sought in his art to
create a world free and exultant, one peopled by perfectly normal
people whose sorrows were the sorrows of common experience and whose
sins were the expression merely of the darker, but not diseased,
passions of humanity.  When active socialism became part of his work,
his sole purpose was, in his own words, to make socialists, which
meant, for Morris, to bring men to a sense of the possibility of the
life of large simplicity that he had created as poet.  His practice
and experiments in handicraft and manufacturing process were all
experiments of the same spirit; throughout his many-sided activities
an extraordinary unity of intention can be clearly traced.  Morris at
the loom, or decorating a page, or riding his pony through the
Icelandic fords, or proving colours in the vats, or moving among the
haymakers in the Kelmscott meadows, was but one of the men with whom
he peopled his stories.  He wanted all men to attain to this same
joyous energy, and the fierce denunciations and charges of his
socialistic days were no more than another expression of this desire.

At Oxford the good beginnings of Woodford Hall and Savernake were
given every opportunity to develop.  He found himself associated with
men whose ideals and enthusiasms were as his own.  He went into
residence in the same term as Edward Burne-Jones, and quickly laid
the foundations of a lifelong friendship of more than common loyalty.
It is usual to speak regretfully of the growth of modern Oxford.  The
mediæval town has, indeed, surrounded itself with reaches of quite
unlovely slums and suburbs giving just reason for the regret.  But,
as was said in reply to one who was deploring the vulgarities which
have been carried into modern Venice, 'Exactly, but what else in the
world is there like it?'  Oxford has suffered a change, but in Oxford
there are yet survivals scarcely to be found elsewhere in England.
The quadrangles, the bye-streets that curl between the colleges and
churches, the succession of spires and grey walls, still preserve
unbroken a tradition that goes back to the days when men lived, or so
Morris believed, as the men of whom he sang.  And in 1853 the
tradition, if not clearer, was less threatened by opposing interests
than it is to-day.  With the scholastic discipline, or lack of it, at
Oxford in his time Morris had little or no concern, but he could have
found no place more fitting in which to shape his imaginative powers.
With Burne-Jones and others of his friends he spent many priceless
hours determining all things in heaven and earth with the fine
certainty of youth, reading mediæval chronicles and Thorpe's
"Northern Mythology," exploring the enchanted worlds of the poets and
stirred to new enthusiasms by the latest word of Ruskin or the
newly-discovered revelation of some prophet of an older day.
Architecture had already taken its place in his mind as one of the
noblest of the expressions of man's exultation in his work, and the
intention which he had at this time of entering the church was
manifestly inspired rather by ecclesiastical art than by any doctrine
or dogma.  The long vacations of 1853 and 1854 he spent in visiting
the churches of England and Northern France, and in making his first
acquaintance with the work of Van Eyck and Memling and Dürer.  In
painting, as in the other arts, he looked already for the grave yet
vigorous simplicity, and that sense of the profound seriousness of
joy that were to be the essential characteristics of his own work.
His love for mediævalism was neither accident nor the fruit of any
refusal to face his own age.  It was the logical outcome of this
intense conviction that most of the men about him were exhausting
their energies and deadening their faculties in the conduct of
trivial and inessential things.  In the records of the mediæval
spirit, in its art, he found the temper which more clearly than any
other was at once a warning and a corrective to this wastage.  A year
spent at Oxford in the company of men who shared his enthusiasms had
sharpened his imagination and quickened his creative instinct.  He
was now ready for Malory and Chaucer and the revelation of Rossetti
and the Pre-Raphaelites.  With a perfectly defined ideal already
developed in his consciousness, he was beginning to write.  It only
needed contact with these new influences to make his utterance
certain and invest the ideal with artistic expression.

When in 1855 he came of age, Morris found himself the possessor of an
annual income of £900, the result of a fortunate business transaction
made by his father a short time before he died.  Burne-Jones had
already announced, in a letter to a friend, his intention of forming
a 'Brotherhood,' the purpose of which, shared by Morris among others,
was, of course, nothing less than the regeneration of mankind.  Sir
Galahad was to be the patron of the order, the nature of which was to
be a strange blending of social activity and monastic seclusion.  The
scheme in detail--if it ever reached so advanced a stage--passed into
the splendid story of youthful enthusiasms, but its principal
projectors never wavered in their loyalty to its spirit.  To a man so
fired, the possession of £900 a year was a responsibility not to be
lightly considered.  It left him free to choose his course, and it
was an integral part of his faith that that course should be laid
wholly in the service of his ideal.  For a time his choice was
uncertain; his original intention of entering the church led to a
momentary idea of founding a monastery with his money.  But the
gradually widening influence of the adventurousness of art that was
working in him made him less and less willing to commit himself to
any irrevocable step.  He was beginning to realize his powers; his
friends, who were no dishonest critics, confirmed his own feeling
that his earliest poems were signs of a remarkable creative faculty.
But he was not yet certain as to the ways into which his art would
lead him.  Painting and architecture divided his allegiance with
literature, and behind his consideration of all was the vague but
unalterable determination to use his art in the service of mankind.
His decision was wisely deferred until it should force itself upon
him.

The first practical step taken by the Brotherhood--the friends
retained the original name whilst renouncing all their monastic
intentions--was the foundation of "The Oxford and Cambridge
Magazine."  Chaucer had been discovered, and the group's somewhat
austere asceticism had been sweetened by the charity of the poet to
whom Morris was henceforth never to fail in discipleship.  A copy of
the Pre-Raphaelite "Germ" had also established Rossetti in the
friends' worship, and they had seen some of his paintings, together
with those of Millais and Holman Hunt and Madox Brown.  In all these
things Morris found the conception of life that he had already made
his own, in beautiful and more or less complete expression.  Twelve
numbers of the magazine appeared, financed by Morris.  Its aim was
the expression of the Brotherhood's artistic creed and its loyalty to
the essential idea of the identity of art with life.  Rossetti was
among its contributors.  Of Morris's own work in the venture, his
earliest poems and prose romances, something will be said in the next
chapter.

Before leaving Oxford Morris and Burne-Jones together definitely
abandoned their idea of entering the church.  The latter decided on
the work to which his life was to be devoted, whilst Morris formally
adopted architecture as a profession.  Arrangements were made for him
to enter G. E. Street's Oxford office, and after a second visit to
France and its churches and passing his Final schools, he took up his
new work at the beginning of 1856.  In his spare time he continued
his writing and tried his hand at craftsmanship.  Burne-Jones went up
to London a few months later.  Morris followed shortly when Street
moved his headquarters.  Together they formed a close acquaintance
with Rossetti.  That dominating personality was not slow to recognize
the powers of his new friends, and insisted that Morris should turn
painter, asserting, with an inconsequence worthy of one of Oscar
Wilde's creations, that everybody should be a painter.  His proposal,
although it had no permanent effect on Morris, showed that the
election of architecture was not unalterable.  For a time Morris
painted, throwing into the work the energy that was inseparable from
all his undertakings, but he was quick to realize that with all his
understanding of the painter's art he could not achieve its mastery.
The fact that he had been tempted to alter his choice even
tentatively, however, was enough to make him suspicious of the choice
itself.  Without any conviction as to the possibility of a career as
a painter, he abandoned his profession as architect at the end of a
year.  His state was one of considerable danger.  Rich enough to make
work unnecessary as a means of living, exposed to an influence so
impetuous as Rossetti's, already showing considerable power in
several forms of expression as an artist, wholly unable to dissociate
one from the other, seeing but one purpose behind them all, there was
a probability, in the light of experience almost a certainty, that he
would become an excellent amateur of the arts, practising many things
with credit and triumphant in none, a generous patron, a kind of
titanic dilettante.  The manner in which he overcame this danger is
one of the most remarkable things in the history of art.  Had some
circumstance, external or internal, forced him to concentrate himself
on one or another of the forms with which he was experimenting, the
escape would have been normal and relatively free of difficulty.  But
there was no such circumstance.  His activities daily became more
diffused rather than more concentrated.  Carving, modelling,
illuminating, designing, painting, poetry and prose-writing, all
became part of his daily scheme.  Painting, indeed, he left, save for
incidental purposes, but the scope of his practice widened with every
year.  And instead of becoming, as would seem to have been
inevitable, an accomplished amateur, he became a master in everything
he touched.  He revolutionized many manufacturing processes and
invested craftsmanship with a vitality that it had not known for
centuries; he rediscovered secrets of mediæval artistry that were
supposed to be finally lost, and re-established the union between
beauty and things of common use; he became printer, and the books
from his press are scarcely excelled in the history of printing; he
wrote prose romances which in themselves would have secured him an
honourable place in literature, and yet all these achievements might
be cancelled and he would still stand as one of the greatest poets of
his age; or, indeed, of any age.  It is all an astonishing testimony
to the vitality of his artistic conscience.  However uncertain might
be the expression of his art in these early days, the fundamental
significance of art was rooted in his being with an unassailable
strength.  In the light of his life-work these first more or less
indefinite gropings appear no longer as the whims of a nature
uncertain of itself.  The impulse within him was not to be satisfied
by any partial expression.  If it was to create a new world in
poetry, it must also strive to bring that world in some measure into
the affairs of daily life.  It was not sufficient for Morris that the
dishes and goblets on the king's table in his song should be
beautiful or that he should commemorate Jason in halls hung 'with
richest webs.'  The furnishings of his own table must be comely too,
and the 'richest webs' should not be a memory alone.  No more perfect
example of critical stupidity could well be found than the notion
that Morris, as a creative artist, separated himself from the affairs
of the life about him, as if in retreat.  Every line of poetry that
he wrote was the direct expression of the spirit in which he ordered
his daily practice.

Morris's feeling for mediævalism must not be misunderstood.  He was
fully conscious of the fact that a few centuries are as but a moment
in the development of man, and he did not turn to early art as to the
expression of a humanity differing in any fundamental way from the
humanity of his own day.  Nor did he turn to that aspect of
mediævalism which has given it the name of the Dark Ages, but to the
life that produced Giotto and Angelico, Van Eyck and Dürer, and
Holbein and Memling, the monks whose illuminated books he prized so
dearly, and Chaucer.[1]  He was not indifferent to the masterpieces
of the modern world.  The range of Shakespeare's humanity, Shelley's
spiritual ardour, the passionate identification of truth with beauty
which was as a gospel to Keats, the earlier poems of Tennyson and
Browning, he accepted as revelations.  Wordsworth and Milton he
professed to dislike, but he more probably disliked the people who
liked them wrongly.  Nothing is more provocative than the praise of
fools.  But it was in the work of those early artists, the men from
whom the Pre-Raphaelites took their name, that he found the most
perfect and satisfying expression of the spiritual life which was for
him the only true salvation on earth.  It has been said by Paul
Lacroix that in the painting of Jan Van Eyck 'the Gothic school
decked itself with a splendour which left but little for the future
Venetian school to achieve beyond; with one flight of genius, stiff
and methodical conceptions became imbued with suppleness and vital
action.'  The same is substantially true of Chaucer in poetry.  Some
lessons in rudimentary technique might have been learned by these men
from their predecessors, but their powers of expression were vibrant
as some newly-discovered energy, and they used them in all their
freshness to embody a sane, simple view of life such as Morris
himself held.  The subtlety which might follow in the evolution from
these beginnings, the greater intricacy of achievement, would take
their place in his consciousness, but nothing could ever displace his
worship of these frank and exultant records of man's joy in his work,
a joy that he hoped would yet be regained.  They and their kind
remained for him, throughout his life, the supreme examples of the
meaning of art.

When he gave up his work in Street's office, Morris moved with
Burne-Jones to rooms in Red Lion Square.  They were unfurnished, and
out of this circumstance really sprang the beginnings of 'Morris and
Company,' although the firm was not actually founded until 1861.  The
two artists found nothing in the shops that was tolerable, so Morris
made rough designs of furniture and commissioned a carpenter to
execute them in plain deal.  Chairs, a massive table, a settle and a
wardrobe were among the first acquisitions.  Rossetti painted two
panels of the settle, and Burne-Jones decorated the wardrobe with
paintings from Chaucer.  When Morris built his own house this process
was carried out on a larger scale, but the beginnings of the
revolution of house-furnishing in England are clearly traceable to
the rooms in Red Lion Square.

In the Long Vacation of 1875 Rossetti conceived the ill-fated scheme
of mural paintings for the new hall of the Oxford Union.  The story
need not be told here in any detail.  Morris and Burne-Jones were
pressed unto the service with some six or seven others, and each
painted one picture, Morris in addition designing and carrying out
the decoration of the ceiling.  No proper preparations were made for
the work, and the paintings have perished.  The undertaking is
interesting to us here as throwing sidelights on certain aspects of
Morris's temperament.  He had begun and finished his picture long
before any of the others, and while they were still engaged on their
appointed shares he had voluntarily set himself to the ceiling
design.  His capacity for work, of which this is the first striking
example, was always enormous, and it is not surprising to hear that a
distinguished doctor, speaking of his comparatively early death at
the age of sixty-three, said, 'I consider the case is this: the
disease is simply being William Morris and having done more work than
most ten men.'  It was on this occasion, too, that his strange store
of assimilated knowledge was put to practical use.  The paintings
were all taken from the "Mort d'Arthur," and models were required for
arms and armour.  They were not to be found, and Morris, unaided by
books of reference, designed them, and they were made by a jobbing
smith under his supervision.  When the Union work was finished he
took rooms in Oxford instead of returning to London, and among the
new friends that he made was Swinburne, then an undergraduate at
Balliol.  He continued his apprenticeship as a painter with
enthusiasm but lessening conviction, but poetry was already becoming
a first consideration with him.  He had already published a few
poems, as we have seen, in the "Oxford and Cambridge Magazine," and
several others were written during his temporary residence in Oxford.

He was a man of fine physique and a remarkable vehemence of temper.
Burne-Jones tells us that when they were painting the Union walls and
needed models they sat for each other, and that Morris 'had a head
always fit for Lancelot or Tristram.'  To think a thing was generally
to say it.  His intolerance of everything vulgar and mean and
disloyal in art and life found immediate and forceful expression.  A
friend who knew him well tells me of an occasion when he went with
Burne-Jones to the theatre.  They were sitting in the pit, and one of
the actresses was incurring Morris's particular displeasure by reason
of her misuse of her mother-tongue.  At a moment of tension she had
to enter and announce that her father was dead.  She did so, but to
the effect that her 'father was dad.'  Morris could bear it no
longer, and standing up with his hands clenched he roared across the
theatre, 'What the devil do you mean by dad?' to the utter
discomfiture of his companion.  Insincerity--and incompetence he took
to be a form of insincerity--at all times exhausted his patience, and
he was never careful to conceal his feelings.

The time of preparation was now passing into the time of achievement.
Morris's nature had been spared much of the shock and stress to which
it might have been subjected in its growth by the vulgarity and
violent uncertainty of his age, by the fortunate contact with men who
were in revolt.  The movement that they represented and of which he
was a part was large and strong enough to make a positive and
progressive life of its own instead of being merely an isolated
expression of turbulent disagreement.  It was one of those rare
manifestations, a revolt the first purpose of which was not to
destroy but to create.  To this influence had been added that of a
countryside gravely beautiful, one full of the shadows and colour of
romance, or, more precisely, of the northern romance to which he was
always to lend his most faithful service.  It must not be supposed
that this implies any coldness in his nature, which was at all times
finely passionate.  But it was, always, also simple, and simplicity
of passion is the ultimate distinction of the North.  The luxuriance
of the South, with all its beauty, tends to obscurity.  Nothing is
further from wisdom than to suppose that the passion of the North is
cold; it is merely naked.  His characteristic simplicity of outlook
was not yet impressing itself with its final certainty on his work,
but it was already in being, as is clear from the records of his
personality as it appeared to his friends at the beginning of his
career.

Such was the nature of the man, who, fostered to articulate
expression in a spiritual atmosphere which it has been my purpose to
describe, was about to make his first appeal as poet to the public.
Early in 1858, Messrs. Bell and Daldy published _The Defence of
Guenevere and Other Poems_.



[1] The chronological irregularity in this passage is deliberate, and
I am aware, of course, that certain of the names mentioned cannot
strictly be credited to mediævalism.  But a nice distinction of
epochs is not necessary for the present purpose.  There was, in
Morris's view of art, a kinship between Giotto and Holbein which was
unaffected by the fact that the former died in 1336, whilst Holbein
saw the full day of the northern renaissance two hundred years later.



II

EARLY POEMS AND PROSE

In insisting upon the simplicity of Morris's artistic ideal it is
well to examine a little closely the precise meaning of simplicity.
Spiritual adventure is the supremely momentous thing in a man's life,
but it is also the most intangible.  Art being the most perfect
expression of spiritual adventure, its function is to impart to the
recipient some measure of that exaltation experienced by its creator
at the moment of conception.  But to attain this end the art must
have that instinctive rightness which cannot be achieved by taking
thought but only by a rarity of perception which lends essential
truth to the common phrase that the artist is born, not made.  If you
give a potter a lump of clay he may shape it into a vessel ugly or
beautiful.  If our artistic intelligence or our spiritual
intelligence is awake, we shall instantly determine the result; if
ugly it will revolt us, or at best leave us indifferent; if beautiful
it will give us joy.  But the difference, which is evident enough to
our consciousness, does not enable us to define the distinction
between the ugly and the beautiful, the dead and the quick.  We only
know that in the one there is an obscure and wonderful vitality and
satisfying completeness that is lacking in the other.  The beautiful
thing may be perfectly simple, but it nevertheless has in it
something strange and indefinable, something as elusive as life
itself.  The simple must not be confused with the easy.  When Morris
read his first poem to the acclamation of his friends, and announced
that if this was poetry it was very easy to write, it must be
remembered that he meant that it was easy for the rare creative
organisation that was William Morris.  No doubt it was just as easy
for Shelley in the moment of creation to set down an image of
desolation as perfect as

  Blue thistles bloomed in cities,

as it is for the veriest poetaster to produce his commonplaces, and
the result is certainly as simple, but the one is touched into life
by the god-like thing which we call imagination, whilst the other is
nerveless.  The bow that was as iron to the suitors bent as a willow
wand to the hand of Ulysses.  The simplicity of Morris's art is yet
compact of the profound and inscrutable mystery.  It is not wholly
true to say that all great or good art is simple.  From Donne to
Browning and Meredith there have been poets whose art is complex and
yet memorable.  It is not my present purpose to discuss the precise
value of simplicity in art, but to point out that simplicity does not
imply either superficiality or the worthless kind of ease.

Richard Watson Dixon said that in his opinion Morris never excelled
his early poems in achievement, and his judgment in the matter has
been echoed a good many times with far less excuse than Dixon himself
could plead.  To him they represented the first impassioned
expression of a life which he had shared, and enthusiasms which he
had helped to kindle, and by which in turn he had been fostered.  He
was the man to whom Morris first read his first poem, and there was
naturally a fragrance in the memory which nothing could ever quite
replace.  But the echoes have no such justification, and are
generally the result of incomplete knowledge.  _The Defence of
Guenevere and Other Poems_ is quite good enough to make it safe to
avow a preference for it, without reading the later work.  A
reputation for taste may be preserved here, with the least possible
labour.  But there is nothing in the volume which helps to make the
position really tenable.  There is, indeed, scarcely any poet who can
point to a first volume of such high excellence, so completely
individual, so certain in intention, as could Morris.  But to set it
above the freedom and poignancy of _The Life and Death of Jason_, the
tenderness and architectural strength of _The Earthly Paradise_ and
the fiery triumph of _Sigurd the Volsung_ is a critical absurdity.
It is a remarkable book, one which in itself would have assured
Morris of his place in the history of poetry, but it remains no more
than the exquisite prelude of a man whose complete achievement in
poetry was to stand with the noblest of the modern world.

The chief evidence of immaturity which is found in Morris's first
book is a certain vagueness of outline in some of the poems.  The
wealth of decorative colour of which he was never to be dispossessed
is already here, and on the whole it is used fitly and with
restraint.  Effects such as

  A great God's angel standing, _with such dyes
  Not known on earth, on his great wings_

and

                        he sat alone
  _With raiment half blood-red, half white as snow._

and

  Also her hands have lost that way
    Of clinging that they used to have;
  They look'd quite easy, _as they lay
    Upon the silken cushions brave
  With broidery of apples green._

And again,

  _The blue owls on my father's hood_
    Were a little dimm'd as I turn'd away,

and whole passages in such poems as _The Wind_, and even poems in
their entirety such as _The Gilliflower of Gold_ depend as much upon
their colour as if actually done with a brush; and they depend
safely, whilst the use of one art by another can scarcely be more
triumphantly vindicated than by the lines in _A Good Knight in
Prison_, where Sir Guy says:--

  For these vile beasts that hem me in
  These Pagan beasts who live in sin
  * * * * *
  Why, all these things I hold them just
  _Like dragons in a missal-book,
  Wherein, whenever we may look,
  We see no horror, yea delight,
  We have, the colours are so bright._


There are moments, however, in this volume when the poet's power of
visualizing, as with the eyes of the painter, lead him into a
weakness from which his later work is entirely free.  When Guenevere
says:--

                This is true, the kiss
  Wherewith we kissed in meeting that spring day
  I scarce dare talk of the remember'd bliss,

  When both our mouths went wandering in one way,
  And aching sorely, met among the leaves;
  Our hands being left behind strained far away.

we feel that a certain sacrifice of emotional directness of speech is
being made to a sense that intrudes on the poetry without
intensifying it.  And we have the same feeling when Galahad says:--

                      No maid will talk
  Of sitting on my tomb until the leaves
    Grow big upon the bushes of the walk,
  East of the Palace-pleasaunce, _make it hard
    To see the minster therefrom._


The elaboration in these places blurs rather than quickens our
vision, as it does again in Rapunzel's song:--

                Send me a true knight,
  Lord Christ, with a steel sword, bright,
  Broad and trenchant; yea, _and seven
  Spans from hilt to point, O Lord!
  And let the handle of his sword
  Be gold on silver._


We may almost forgive a young poet flaws which are in themselves
lovely and are but excesses of a method which he commonly uses to
wholly admirable ends; but they are flaws none the less.  The sense
of values is not yet consistently true.  But the indistinctness of
outline of which I have spoken is a more serious weakness than this
occasional indiscretion in the use of colour.

The poems in the volume may, somewhat arbitrarily, but fitly for the
present purpose, be considered as four or five groups.  The poems in
the first, headed by _The Defence of Guenevere_, _King Arthur's Tomb_
and _Sir Galahad_, have love for their central theme and aim at
conducting a more or less simple love story to its successful or
disastrous issue with directness and clarity.  The obscurity that
alone threatens their complete success is not due to subtlety on the
one hand nor to vagueness of conception on the other, but merely to a
power of expression that was not yet sure of itself.  Psychological
subtlety was not, as is sometimes supposed, outside Morris's range;
on the contrary, he gives constant and varied evidence of a depth of
perception in human affairs quite remarkable, as will be shown.  But
the subtlety was never confused and blurred by the sophistry that
tempts so many poets on making a really pregnant psychological
discovery into all kinds of unintelligible elaboration.  When he saw
clearly into the workings of the mind he recorded his vision in a few
sharp and clearly defined strokes, and left it.  Subtlety and
obscurity are never synonymous in his work.  And although, at
twenty-four, his understanding of man's love for woman was naturally
not very profound or wide in its range, it was passionate and quite
sure of itself within its own imaginative experience.  His failure in
places to give his understanding clear utterance is the failure of a
man not yet wholly used to his medium.  When Guenevere says:--

  While I was dizzied thus, old thoughts would crowd,

  Belonging to the time ere I was bought
  By Arthur's great name and his little love;
  Must I give up for ever then, I thought,

  That which I deemed would ever round me move
  Glorifying all things; for a little word,
  Scarce ever meant at all, must I now prove

  Stone-cold for ever?

the thought is neither close nor difficult, nor, on the other hand,
is it loose, but the statement is not lucid.  It is, however,
intelligible after we have sifted it a little carefully, but in such
a passage as--

  A little thing just then had made me mad;
  I dared not think, as I was wont to do,
  Sometimes, upon my beauty; if I had

  Held out my long hand up against the blue,
  And, looking on the tenderly darken'd fingers,
  Thought that by rights one ought to see quite through,

  There, see you, where the soft still light yet lingers,
  Round by the edges; what should I have done,
  If this had joined with yellow spotted singers,

  And startling green drawn upward by the sun?

the thought is hidden in an utterance so tangled and involved as to
make it almost impossible to straighten it out, and in any case
poetry so enigmatic ceases to be poetry at all.  Such extreme
instances are, however, very rare even in this first volume, and
scarcely ever to be found in his later work.  The title-poem
throughout is uncertain in its expression.  There are passages of
fine directness and precision as--

  And fast leapt Caitiff's sword, until my knight
  Sudden threw up his sword to his left hand,
  Caught it, and swung it; that was all the fight,

and the picture of Guenevere at the close, listening for Launcelot,
'turn'd sideways,'

                          Like a man who hears

  His brother's trumpet sounding through the wood
  Of his foe's lances.'

but in spite of these and the unquestionable beauty of the poem's
cumulative effect, there is a troubling lack of firmness in many
places that makes the achievement incomplete.  I think that the use
of _terza rima_ in itself has something to do with this.  In a poem
like Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" we are prepared to follow the
poet in any imaginative flight that he may attempt from moment to
moment, and his adventurousness finds all the time some turn of
thought that will perfectly fit the exacting demands of the form that
he is using.  But in Morris's poem the process of the narrative to be
convincing can only be conducted in one way, and that way the poet
frequently finds obstructed by the necessity of a verse-form
particularly difficult in English.  However this may be, _King
Arthur's Tomb_ is certainly less open to this charge of obscurity in
utterance, and the thought has more imaginative force in it.  There
are passages here that suggest the presence of a poet to whom the
highest things in poetry may yet be possible.  Guenevere's cry--

  Unless you pardon, what shall I do, Lord,
    But go to hell? and there see day by day
  Foul deed on deed, hear foulest word on word,
    For ever and for ever, such as on the way

  To Camelot I heard once from a churl,
    That curled me up upon my jennet's neck
  With bitter shame; how then, Lord, should I curl
    For ages and for ages? _dost thou reck_

  _That I am beautiful, Lord, even as you_
    And your dear mother? why did I forget
  You were so beautiful, and good, and true,
    That you loved me so, Guenevere?  O yet

  If even I go to hell, _I cannot choose
    But love you, Christ, yea, though I cannot keep
  From loving Launcelot._

has a poignancy and a curious understanding of the action of a mind
in spiritual anguish that were to be so nobly employed in things like
the close of _Jason_.  The dramatic opposition of Guenevere's love,
which is all the while troubled by the half-consciousness of sin, to
Launcelot's, which is its own sole cause and justification, is,
further, a first indication of the poet's power to set the elemental
passions in action at once simple and convincing.  When the Queen
finds her lover lying on the dead king's tomb, she schools her tongue
to a cold absurdity, not daring to trust herself,--'Well done! to
pray for Arthur,' and Launcelot cries out:--

                    Guenevere!  Guenevere!
  Do you not know me, are you gone mad? fling
    Your arms and hair about me, lest I fear
  You are not Guenevere, but some other thing.

and the queen's answer falls with the tragic intensity of spiritual
self-betrayal--

    Pray you forgive me, fair lord Launcelot!
  I am not mad, but I am sick; they cling,
    God's curses, unto such as I am; not

  Ever again shall we twine arms and lips.

There is in this, and in the whole of the poem from this point a true
and incisive sense of conflict, continually heightened by such
perfectly balanced turns of the imagination as when Launcelot says:--

                  lo you her thin hand,
  That on the carven stone can not keep still
    Because she loves me against God's command.

culminating in the confused feelings of terror and appeased destiny
at the end of Guenevere's speaking.

_Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery_ is, it may be said, entirely free
of the obscurity, and shows, if not a profounder, yet a more acute
power of perception.  The beauty and tenderness of love-sorrow are
themes common enough in poetry, but Morris by making Galahad's
experience of them spring from his thought of other men's love
presents them with a peculiarly fresh poignancy.  Galahad on his
quest, 'dismal, unfriended,' thinks of the other knights.

  And what if Palomydes also ride,
    And over many a mountain and bare heath
  Follow the questing beast with none beside?
    Is he not able still to hold his breath

  With thoughts of Iseult? doth he not grow pale
    With weary striving, to seem best of all
  To her, 'as she is best,' he saith? to fail
    Is nothing to him, he can never fall.

  For unto such a man love-sorrow is
    So dear a thing unto his constant heart,
  That even if he never win one kiss,
    Or touch from Iseult, it will never part.

And Launcelot can think of Guenevere, 'next month I kiss you, or next
week, And still you think of me,' but Galahad himself

                Some carle shall find
  Dead in my arms in the half-melted snow,

and people will but say that he 'If he had lived, had been a right
good knight' and that very evening will be glad when 'in their
scarlet sleeves the gay-dress'd minstrels sing.'  The force of the
poet's thought about a particular phase of love is intensified in an
unmistakable way by placing the utterance on the lips of a man who is
not speaking of his own experience, which would have been beautiful
but a little sentimental, but of his hunger for the experience,
sorrowful though it may be, which is emotionally tragic.  And we find
another stroke of memorable subtlety when the voice of the vision
says to the knight, speaking of Launcelot's love for Guenevere:--

  He is just what you know, O Galahad,
    This love is happy even as you say,
  But would you for a little time be glad,
    To make ME sorry long day after day?

  Her warm arms round his neck half throttle me
    The hot love-tears burn deep like spots of lead.

The thought here, with wonderful instinct on the part of the poet, is
precisely Galahad's own.  It shapes the compensation to his spirit
for its hunger and loneliness.  We feel, in passages such as these,
that here is a poet exultant in the exercise of a rare faculty of
statement.  The spiritual discovery and the announcement are in
perfect correspondence.  _A Good Knight in Prison_, _Old Love_, _The
Sailing of the Sword_ and _Welland River_ are the other poems that
may be included in this first group.  They attempt a smaller
psychological range than the poems already considered, but they have
the same emotional intention and achieve it with clarity and
precision.  These poems already show the pervasive passion for the
earth that has been discussed; the landscape is everywhere informed
by intimacy and tenderness.  Another aspect of the poet's temper too
finds expression--an extraordinarily vivid sense of natural change
and death.  With speculation as to the unknown Morris was never
concerned in his poetry.  Death was to him neither a fearful thing
nor yet a deliverance or a promise.  It was simply the severing of a
beautiful thing that he loved--life; the end of a journey that no
labours could make wearisome.  He did not question it, nor did he
seek to evade its reality, but the thought of it was always coloured
with a profound if perfectly brave melancholy.  Without ever
disputing with his reason the possibility of death's beneficence, it
was not the beneficence of death that he perceived emotionally, but
the pity of it.  It was a fading away, and as such it filled him with
a regretful tenderness, just as did the fading of the full year.  The
close of _The Ode to the West Wind_ crystallizes a mental attitude of
which Morris was temperamentally incapable.  But it is, of course, a
mistake to suppose that the beauty of his poetry suffers in
consequence.  It is not the nature of the mood that matters, but its
personal intensity.

The poems of the second group, of which _The Chapel in Lyoness_ is
the most notable example, have a central point in common with those
of the first, but there is a mysticism in them which is quite
unrelated to the obscurity which has been examined.  It is not a
mysticism that has any definite scheme or purpose underlying it;
indeed I am not sure that mysteriousness would not be a fitter word
to use.  It is just the mysteriousness of artistic youth, proud of
the faculty of which it finds itself possessed and a little prodigal
in its use.  There is still the effort to keep the lines of the story
clear, but they are deliberately the lines of a soft brush rather
than a steel point.  To read _The Chapel in Lyoness_, _Concerning
Geffray Teste Noire_ and _The Judgment of God_ is to receive an
impression which is clear enough as long as we refrain from seeking
to define it too precisely.  The central thought and incidents of
these poems are set out perfectly plainly, but there is superimposed
a mysticism to which, happily, there is no key.  We may never be
quite sure of its meaning, but we know at least that it does not mean
something which would be clear if once we divined some elusive secret
of its nature.  It is like the soft scent of an orchard, and we
accept it as gratefully and with as little question.

In poems such as _Rapunzel_ and _The Wind_, however, the quality that
in those other poems was but an incident is adopted as a definite
manner.  What was before merely atmosphere is here employed as the
substance.  These two poems scarcely make any direct statement at
all, and yet they succeed in an extraordinary way in conveying a
precise intellectual impression.  Through a wealth of imagery and
verbal colour run thin threads of suggestion that, fragile as they
are, yet stand out as clearly as the veins in dark marble and have
the same values.  It is remarkable that the coloured clouds in which
these poems are, as it were, wrapped, are never stifling.  The
flowers of Morris's poetry are never of the hot-house.  At the
moments when he is most freely putting language to decorative use, he
preserves a freshness as of windy moorlands or the green stalks of
lilies.  At times the threads of suggestion disappear altogether, and
in the third group we find poems which are frankly essays in colour
without any attempt at concrete significance.  _The Tune of Seven
Towers_, _Two Red Roses Across the Moon_, _The Blue Closet_, are
examples.  It is wrong to say that these poems have no meaning.  They
mean exactly the colours that they themselves create.  It would be as
wise to say that a sunset or a blue distance of mountains is
meaningless.  Somewhere between poems like _The Wind_ and _The Tune
of Seven Towers_ may be placed _The Gilliflower of Gold_, _Spell
Bound_, _Golden Wings_, and two or three others.

The volume, if it were to be measured by the poems already mentioned,
would have the first great quality of being unforgettable.  A note is
struck which is not necessarily beyond the compass but certainly
outside the temperament of anyone but Morris.  There is at present no
trace of the discipleship to Chaucer, but a suggestion here and there
of kinship with the Coleridge of "Kubla Khan" and the Keats of "La
Belle Dame Sans Merci."  The method of the later poems is already
clearly suggested, but the feeling and expression are marked by the
natural limitations and splendid excesses of youth.  Morris places
his figures on a background which is not unrelated to life but
unrelated to the inessential circumstances of life.  Through a
changing year of daffodil tufts and roses, cornfields and autumn
woods and the frozen twigs of winter, passes a pageant of knights in
armour of silver and blue steel, with bright devices on their tabards
and shields strewn with stars or flashing back gold to the sunlight,
and queens and ladies passionate and beautiful.  But they move on an
earth that is the real earth of Morris's own experience; he has a
definite meaning when he says

                Why were you more fair
  Than aspens in the autumn at their best?

and the enchantment of his forests is that of the hornbeam twilight
of his Essex homeland.  And they themselves are people of flesh and
blood, stirred by the common emotions of humanity.  The passion, the
glamour, and the poignancy of love and life all find mature
expression in these pages, but we have to wait until _Jason_ and _The
Earthly Paradise_ for the presence of the innate nobility of love and
life behind these things.  There is at present none of the fine
austerity that is a quality essential to the highest poetry, but that
is but to say that Morris in his youth was writing as a young man
should and must write.  The growth of the prophet in the poet is not
to be looked for in the first fervour of song.  The most that we can
ask justly at this season is witness to the presence of the poet, and
this we have here in abundance.

The most memorable achievement of the volume is, however, _Sir Peter
Harpdon's End_, which stands by itself, or, perhaps, with one other
poem, _The Haystack in the Floods_.  The historian of English drama
during the second half of the nineteenth century might, if he were
unwary, omit William Morris from his reckonings.  If he were astute
enough to remember him it would probably be as the author of _Love is
Enough_.  And yet at a time when some curious spell seems to have
fallen on the poets whenever they turned their thoughts to the stage,
_Sir Peter Harpdon's End_ reminds us of one, at least, to whom the
union of drama and poetry was not impossible.  Morris himself would
seem to have been unconscious of the fact, for not only was he
careless in this instance when a little care would have made his
success strikingly complete, but henceforth he neglected this side of
his faculty, exercising it on but one other occasion, and then in a
more or less experimental mood, of which something will be said
later.  It will be well to examine this short play in detail, for its
importance is apt to be under-estimated.  In writing it Morris
realized, as did no poet of his time and scarcely any poet since the
close of the great epoch of poetic drama in England, the exact value
of action in drama.  The complete subordination of character and idea
to action is a brief epitome of that degeneration of the modern
theatre from which we are now witnessing the dawn of a deliverance.
The supreme, though not necessarily the only, function of the drama
is to show the development of character and the progress of idea
through the medium of action, and until to-day the stage has been
surrendered for a century, if not for a longer period, to work that
is wholly unconcerned with this condition.  The event has been
everything.  The poets from Shelley to Swinburne have realized this
error and revolted, but in their eagerness to correct an abuse that
was threatening the highest manifestation of their art, they have
with amazing regularity overlooked another condition which, if not of
equal importance, cannot be disregarded without lamentable results.
Determined to dispossess action of its usurped authority, they have
neglected its lawful and indispensable service.  Their opponents in
asserting action at the cost of all other things, and having, in
consequence, nothing to say beyond the bare statement of events, have
failed to produce either good literature or good drama, whilst they
themselves, in turning to ideas alone, have had much to say and have
so produced good and often noble literature, but in neglecting to
preserve the right balance between ideas and action they too have
failed to produce good drama.  They have, unfortunately, no just
answer to the charge that they constantly allow the play of character
and idea to be unrelated to the action which they have chosen as
their framework.  Their failure in dramatic result, though free of
the deplorable poverty and baseness of the method against which they
were a reaction, is no less complete.  Shelley, Byron, Tennyson,
Browning, Swinburne, all wrote fine dramatic poetry, but they cannot
show between them a poetic play that achieves with any precision the
fundamental purpose of drama.

Morris's instinct in this matter was perfectly poised.  The
mechanical part of the technique in _Sir Peter Harpdon's End_ is as
crude as it well could be, chiefly, as I have suggested, on account
of the poet's indifference.  Short scenes follow each other in rapid
succession, and in the middle of the play there is a hiatus which is
intelligible enough but destroys the dramatic continuity.  These
defects make it difficult, though not impossible, for stage
presentation, but otherwise it would, I believe, survive the ordeal
triumphantly.  The opening of the play is admirably contrived.  In a
few deft strokes the character of Peter Harpdon is outlined, and we
know that he has humour and understanding of men, and a tenderness
coloured by a certain roughness of temper.  All this is shown
strictly by his relation to the action in which he is involved--there
is not a line but helps the development of this.  Then in perfectly
natural sequence the action enables him in a speech of little more
than twenty lines to define the circumstances from which it has
sprung, and thus we have set before us at the outset the nature of
the protagonist and the situation in relation to which we are to look
for that nature's manifestation; and already it is clear, in the
character of John Curzon, that the people among whom Harpdon is to
move will be no less sharply stated and proved than himself.  The
construction of this opening could not well be more skilful or
instinctively right.  Then follows what at first seems to be a
momentary lapse into the dramatic error of which I have spoken.  In a
long soliloquy Peter reveals directly his spiritual and mental
attitude towards this action in which he is involved and indirectly
the commentary of the poet himself upon that attitude.  This in
itself is perfectly legitimate, and supported, of course, by all the
poets of whom Shakespeare is the spring, indeed by all the great
dramatic poets of literature.  The Greek chorus realizes this end as
one of its essential functions no less clearly than do the
soliloquies of Hamlet; and until the poets see once again the
significance of this fact and adapt it to modern needs, refusing to
have their authority usurped by theatrical showmen and their stage
carpenters, they will continue to fail in bringing back their art to
the theatre.  But it must always be remembered that this choric
element of the drama justifies itself only as long as it limits
itself to the presentation of idea growing directly out of the
action.  When it allows digression and elaboration for their own
sake, or the sake of some altogether extraneous idea, in short for
any reason other than intensifying the fundamental idea which the
progress of the action creates, it becomes undramatic and ceases to
fulfil its only right purpose.  It is at this point that the poets
since the close of the Elizabethan age have misunderstood the
necessities of drama, and in Peter Harpdon's soliloquy we suspect
Morris for a moment of the same error.  But careful examination of
the speech itself proves the suspicion to be almost if not wholly
unfounded.  We find that there is nothing that is not the immediate
result of his position, and the worst that can be said of it is that
there are turns of thought which, although not dramatically
irrelevant, are a little superfluous and do not heighten our
perception.  It is curious that in this speech there is evidence of
external contemporary influence in manner such as is scarcely to be
found elsewhere in the book.  There is at least a suggestion of
Browning in such lines as--

                  Now this is hard: a month ago,
  And a few minutes' talk had set things right
  'Twixt me and Alice;--if she had a doubt.
  As (may Heaven bless her!) I scarce think she had,
  'Twas but their hammer, hammer in her ears,
  Of 'how Sir Peter fail'd at Lusac bridge:'
  And 'how Sir Lambert' (think now!) 'his dear friend,
  His sweet, dear cousin, could not but confess
  That Peter's talk tended towards the French,
  Which he' (for instance Lambert) 'was glad of,
  Being' (Lambert, you see) 'on the French side.'


The first scene closes with a swift turn of action carried on
correspondingly swift dramatic speech.  Peter Harpdon is defending an
English castle in Poictou.  His antagonist is his cousin Lambert, who
has misrepresented a circumstance of war to impugn Peter's loyalty to
his cause, careful for his own purposes that the rumour shall reach
the ears of Peter's lady, Alice.  Peter has had no means of defending
himself, and his soliloquy is the outcome of the suffering that he
experiences at the thought of his wife's possible mistrust of him.
As he finishes, his servant, Clisson, comes in again, saying that a
herald has come from Lambert--

           What says the herald of our cousin, sir?

  CURZON.  So please you, sir, concerning your estate,
           He has good will to talk with you.

  SIR PETER.  Outside,
           I'll talk with him, close by the gate St. Ives.
           Is he unarm'd?

  CURZON.  Yea, sir, in a long gown.

  SIR PETER.  Then bid them bring me hither my furr'd gown,
              With the long sleeves, and under it I'll wear,
              By Lambert's leave, a secret coat of mail.


He will also take an axe, one--as we should expect of Morris--'with
Paul wrought on the blade'--

  CURZON.  How, sir!  Will you attack him unawares,
           And slay him unarm'd?

  SIR PETER.  Trust me, John, I know
           The reason why he comes here with sleeved gown
           Fit to hide axes up.  So, let us go.


Peter Harpdon is a Gascon knight, and in the next scene Lambert urges
that this fact combined with expedience, for the French are in the
ascendancy, should induce him to leave the English.  Peter answers
him at length but finishes in an aside--

            Talk, and talk, and talk--
  I know this man has come to murder me,
  And yet I talk still.

Lambert accuses him then directly--

                              If I said
  'You are a traitor, being, as you are
  Born Frenchman.'

They flash out at each other and Lambert 'takes hold of something in
his sleeve,' strikes at Peter with a dagger, and is taken.  He is
brought before Harpdon in the castle and sentenced--

    Let the hangman shave his head quite clean,
  And cut his ears off close up to the head,

Again we have the clear-cut delineation of character thrown up on a
framework of simple and logical action which all the while is
interesting as a means but not as an end.  The blend of nobility and
savagery in Peter's nature stands sharply contrasted with the
meanness and merely dull cruelty of Lambert's.  At this point the
hiatus occurs.  The next scene is in the French camp, and Sir Peter
Harpdon is a prisoner before Guesclin and his officers, Lambert being
one of them.  The dramatic opposition of the situation to that which
has immediately preceded it is admirable, but we need some
explanation that is not made.  Apart from this defect, however,
Morris continues to build up his play with flawless instinct.  Defeat
had turned Lambert's cruelty into pitiful and cringing terror, whilst
Peter at the moment of his power over his rival, although he had not
spared him, had shown some mercy, as to one whom he despised.  Now,
with the shifting circumstance, the two prove themselves with
unerring completeness.  Defeat purges Peter Harpdon's nature of all
its grosser parts, and he responds perfectly to the demands of tragic
chance; whilst Lambert in his triumph reveals himself in all the
degradation of a mean and wholly unheroic villainy.  In both cases
the development is logical, indeed inevitable, and yet it depends
strictly upon the course of the action for its being.  Already we
know the natures of the men, and, given the event, can foresee their
attitude with some certainty, but it needs the event itself to
complete our understanding.  Peter is not a coward nor lacking in
nobility, yet when he hears that Lambert has come to him 'in a long
gown' he knows what that means, and he makes no foolish boast of
fearlessness, but frankly prepares himself with mail and axe.  Now,
before his judges, the same temper is evident.  Quite simply, and
with no blind defiance or pretence at indifference, he pleads for his
life, not, as the squire says of him afterwards--

  Sullenly brave as many a thief will die,
  Nor yet as one that plays at japes with God.

He states his case clearly, with dignity, yet earnestly.  Clisson
intercedes for him in a passage that outlines with precision yet
another character, and Guesclin is sorry but obdurate; he must die.
Then Lambert taunts him.  He exults in the downfall of his enemy with
a cruelty that is bestial yet calculated in every stroke, until his
victim blenches.  Then--

                  I think you'll faint,
  Your lips are grey so; yes, you will, unless
  You let it out and weep like a hurt child;
  Hurrah! you do now.  Do not go just yet,
  For I am Alice, am right like her now;
  Will you not kiss me on the lips, my love?

and Clisson breaks in--

  You filthy beast, stand back and let him go,
  Or by God's eyes I'll choke you.

This second speech of Clisson's is his last, and yet the tenderness
and strength of the man are shown so definitely as to make him
complete and living.  He continues, asking Peter to forgive him for
his share in his death--

                        I would,
  If it were possible, give up my life
  Upon this grass for yours; fair knight, although,
  He knowing all things knows this thing too, well,
  Yet when you see His face some short time hence,
  Tell Him I tried to serve you.

and Peter makes his last utterance, full of passionate realization of
the moment, yet chiming to his character consistently to the end--

                        Oh! my lord,
  I cannot say this is as good as life,
  But yet it makes me feel far happier now,
  And if at all, after a thousand years,
  I see God's face, I will speak loud and bold,
  And tell Him you were kind, and like Himself;
  Sir, may God bless you!

He would not have them think that when he wept he did so because of
Lambert's taunts.  He was

                      Deep in thought
  Of all things that have happened since I was
  A little child; and so at last I thought
  Of my true lady: truly, sir, it seem'd
  No longer gone than yesterday, that this
  Was the sole reason God let me be born
  Twenty-five years ago, that I might love
  Her, my sweet lady, and be loved by her;

and so up to the close, which has all the awe and terror but also the
pity and exaltation of authentic tragedy--

                I only wept because
  There was no beautiful lady to kiss me
  Before I died....
    ... O for some lady, though
  I saw her ne'er before; Alice, my love,
  I do not ask for; Clisson was right kind,
  If he had been a woman, I should die
  Without this sickness.


The last scene, as just in dramatic instinct as the rest of the play,
tells of the bearing of the news of Peter's death to the Lady Alice.

I have examined this play in some detail, and with a good many
quotations, for two reasons.  One, already stated, to show that
Morris had an understanding of the nature of drama which is generally
overlooked, and secondly, because it is a common thing to hear people
to whom poetry is a matter of real importance say that they find
Morris--for all his beauty--languid and lacking in power of
concentration.  If _Sir Peter Harpdon's End_ be languid or anything
but tense with concentrated emotion from beginning to end, then I
confess my sense of values to be much awry.  And, although he left
the dramatic form, he did not lose this quality in his later work.
He employed, for reasons which will be discussed later, a certain
easy and decorative elaboration in much of his writing, but at the
right moment in _Jason_, in the tales of _The Earthly Paradise_ and
in _Sigurd the Volsung_, he was master of the direct vitality and
vibrating force that he first used in _Sir Peter Harpdon's End_ and
elsewhere when he needed them in this earliest volume, as in _The
Haystack in the Floods_, with unquestionable control and vividness.

The few poems that have not been mentioned are the lyrical
expressions of moods, snatches of song and swift little pictures in
many colours that give their own peculiar pleasure as do all the
fragmentary strokes of a great artist.  They are exquisitely done,
but they must be read, not described.

Several of the poems published in _The Defence of Guenevere_ volume
had already appeared, as has been said, in "The Oxford and Cambridge
Magazine."  In the same magazine Morris had also printed his first
essays in prose romance.  A comparison of these with the poems shows
very clearly the value of that exaltation apart from the discovery,
which finds, as I have suggested, its expression in the music or
rhythmical pattern of verse.  In more than one of these prose stories
Morris uses a subject that differs in no fundamental quality from
those used in many of the poems.  The treatment shows the same
tenderness, the same love of the earth, the same power of direct and
vivid presentation of passion when it is needed, as in passages of
_Gertha's Lovers_, and the same delight in colour and all beautiful
things.  And Morris uses his medium skilfully, and with a curiously
personal touch; his prose has the same freshness and light as his
verse.  In short, we have here two groups of work from the same man,
alike in temper, substance and treatment, and in control, the only
difference being that of form.  And that difference is everything,
for in the form lies the visible evidence of the spiritual pressure
at the moment of conception.  There is no more stupid error than to
censure one work of art because it lacks the qualities of another
with which it has no point of contact.  No sane person thinks less
of, say, "Wuthering Heights," because it has not the poetic
perfection of "Adonais."  But the case of Morris's early prose
romances is different.  They are delightful to read, they are in
themselves the treasurable expression of a fine spirit, yet they have
in them nothing that is not to be found in the poems.  That being so,
it is inevitable that a close acquaintance with the poems should make
us a little careless of these prose tales, for in the poems we have
all the excellences that we find in the others, and we have added the
rhythmic exaltation which is the light on the wings of poetry.
Morris's fund of inventiveness was inexhaustible, but in his early
prose it discovered no quality that peculiarly fitted itself to the
medium; the inventiveness in the prose tales and the poems is the
same, and there is, in consequence, no compensation in the one for
the absence of the higher faculty of utterance that is found in the
other.  Morris realized this himself, and for the next thirty years
created in verse.  Nothing is further from my mind than to suggest
that _The Story of the Unknown Church_ and _Lindenborg Pool_,
_Gertha's Lovers_ and _The Hollow Land_ and _Svend and his Brethren_,
are other than beautiful expressions of a rare creative intelligence,
but no clearer evidence of the essential difference between that
which is poetry and that which is not could well be found than by
setting side by side things so closely related in many ways, indeed
in every way save one, as these stories and _The Defence of
Guenevere_ and _King Arthur's Tomb_, _Rapunzel_ and _The Wind_, _Sir
Peter Harpdon's End_ and _Shameful Death_.  Nor could anything be
advanced more unanswerably supporting the contention that verse is
the one unassailable medium for poetry.

Nine years were to pass before Morris published his next book, _The
Life and Death of Jason_.  The course of his life and the nature of
his development in the meantime are discussed briefly in the
following chapter.



III

INTERLUDE

In 1859 Morris married Miss Jane Burden, of Oxford.  To a man of his
profound tenderness for all the simple and rational things of life,
home was a symbol of the deepest significance.  Homestead and
homeland are words used constantly and lovingly in his writing.  A
man's home was, as he understood it, not merely a refuge from the
serious business of life or a comfortable and convenient means of
satisfying social requirements, but the temple of his daily worship.
It should be at once a centre of his labours and an expression of
himself.  The application of the artist's understanding to daily
conduct is not always possible, or of first importance, for it is the
artist's function to persuade, not to compel; but such application is
the logical outcome of true development that is not hindered by
circumstance.  We do not impugn Browning's sincerity either as a man
or an artist because he mercilessly exposed the evils of Society and
yet was a great diner-out.  We feel, indeed, that he was of sounder
judgment and a finer charity than Shelley, who not only exposed the
evils, but also left society gasping whilst he went naked to his
dinner or made his house the asylum for anybody incapable of managing
his own affairs.  But it is, on the other hand, an everlasting
vindication of Byron's strange personality that the man who wrote
'The Isles of Greece' gave his life in the service of the cause that
he sang.  Morris's unchanging gospel was that man should have joy in
his work, which meant that the results of his work would in
themselves be beautiful.  To accept anything that was unlovely on any
terms short of compulsion would, in consequence, have been to
proclaim the truth without insisting upon it by example.  Had he done
so his art might have lost none of its vitality, but by steadily
refusing to do so he made the common charge of aloofness even less
intelligible than it would otherwise have been.  Being a customer in
the world's market he was determined not to degrade the men by whom
the market was supplied.  If he could find no other solution, he
would supply it himself.

He bought a piece of land at Upton in Kent, careful that it should
include an orchard.  Here, with Philip Webb as architect, he built
the Red House, which was to be his home for five years--until
circumstances made it necessary for him to live again in London.
Immediately, the difficulty that had confronted him in his Red Lion
Square rooms grew into one that was not to be met by the friendly
co-operation of a jobbing carpenter.  There was a large house to be
furnished and fitted, and beautiful things had to be found for the
purpose.  He came away from the market empty-handed, but carrying in
his mind the idea of Morris and Company.  He would not only supply
his own needs decently; he would remove a reproach.

The original prospectus of the firm announced the names of Rossetti,
Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Morris himself, and three others as
partners.  The history of the enterprise has been told by Mr. Mackail
and others, and need not be discussed here in any detail.  Its
influence upon the lesser arts in England has been enormous, and its
activities are, fortunately, still growing.  When Morris died he had
for some years been sole director of the venture, and its work
embraced carpets, chintzes, wallpapers, stained glass, tapestries,
tiles, furniture, wall-decoration--in short, everything by which a
building might gain or lose in beauty.  The first premises were in
Red Lion Square, near to the poet's old rooms, and the earliest
achievement of the firm was to help in making the Red House at Upton,
in the words of Burne-Jones, "the beautifullest place on earth."
Webb having designed the house--with Morris at his elbow--the firm
furnished it and the painters of the group proceeded to decorate the
inside surfaces.  The house was made to fit the orchard, so that, as
Mr. Mackail tells us in a beautiful sentence, "the apples fell in at
the windows as they stood open on hot autumn nights."  Gardening was
one of the things of which Morris seems to have been born with
knowledge, and he knew the uses of hollyhocks and sunflowers.  Here,
then, was a home, fashioned, as far as might be, into an earthly
paradise.  The story of these five years is a very charming one; open
house was kept, and a good cellar and a bowling-green and tobacco
jars were not wanting.  Here the poet's two daughters were born, and
we get a delightful picture of the house at a christening, with
Rossetti refusing to wait until dessert for the raisins, and beds
strewn about the drawing-room, Swinburne contenting himself with a
sofa.  These things, however, are to the biographer, and are set down
with fitting grace in the book to which I have referred more than
once.

Morris went up to London daily to conduct the business at Red Lion
Square.  The value of the work that he had undertaken is even yet
imperfectly realized.  Most people whose artistic intelligence is
awake contrive to have in their houses many beautiful things, but it
is only when we have been into a house where everything is beautiful
that we can understand the precise aim that caused Morris to become a
manufacturer.  There is an enchantment about such a dwelling-place
that cannot be described, an atmosphere of health and completeness
that must be experienced to be understood.  A beautiful house was no
more a luxury to Morris than sound meat on his table.  But we have
laws for our butchers, whilst we have none for our upholsterers.
Some one once referred to Morris as the "upholsterer-poet," which
pleased him greatly.  That such a term should be meant as a reproach
he could not understand.  He asked for nothing better than to
convince people that an upholsterer had a soul, and to make them
determined not to deal with him until he showed it in his chairs and
sofas.

The five years at Upton were a time of many energies and a steady
establishment of the poet's attitude towards life.  The London
business was a serious and permanent undertaking, and demanded, by
the nature of its being, Morris's constant personal attention.  This,
together with the daily journeys and the claims and
responsibilities--of no ordinary kind, as we have seen--of his new
home, left little time on his hands, and his work as poet was of
necessity put aside for the moment.  But this fresh undertaking was
of peculiar value to his development, and came at precisely the right
moment.  In his first volume of poems there had been the shadow of
that new world that had already shaped itself in his consciousness.
It had been beautiful, full of significance and promise, but still a
shadow.  It is not fanciful to suppose that had his mind not found
some practical means of proving itself, of, so to speak, checking its
progress step by step, his poetry would have retained this intangible
quality to the end.  This is not to suggest that the poetry of the
_Guenevere_ volume is in any sense unreal, but to remember its
atmosphere of uncertainty, or to say, precisely, that it is but the
shadow of the world that was in the poet's mind.  In the workshop of
Morris and Company, it seems to me, this proving ground was happily
discovered.  No better illustration, by contrast, of my meaning could
be found than in that remarkable book, Mr. Gordon Craig's "Art of the
Theatre."  We have here, in some ways, the profoundest piece of
writing on the theatre that has appeared in England.  Many elementary
truths that have been forgotten for centuries, if indeed they have
even been realized since the days which are commonly supposed to
belong to an era before dramatic history had begun, are here made to
stand out with startling clearness.  But the radical defect of the
book is a vagueness, an uncertainty of statement, an indiscipline of
theory.  We are constantly regretting the fact that Mr. Craig, as
these beautiful and strangely suggestive thoughts went through his
mind, had no stage and equipment ready to his hand to test them and
bring them to perfect articulation--that he had no proving ground.
Morris was more fortunate.  He carried in his imagination a world of
which I attempt to set down the conditions elsewhere.  At first he
could grasp only its beauty and wonderful hope; its perfect
realization eluded him.  It was remote not from reality but from his
understanding.  But now, working in Red Lion Square, delighting in
the labour of his hands and inspiring the same delight in others:
building a home that should bring daily joy to himself and his
friends: investing the offices of husband and father and host with
their normal and simple dignity and stripping them of every vestige
of insincerity, he brought his dream to the crucible of experience.
The result is that when next he attempts to shape his world into
poetry there is nothing left of the indefinite.  All the beauty and
colour are retained, all the tenderness and poignancy, but the poet
has come up to his vision and the outlines are no longer in doubt.
The shadows of _Guinevere_ have become the vibrant men and women of
_Jason_.  The paradise has been brought to earth.

The only poetry that Morris wrote during these five years was part of
a cycle of poems on the Troy war.  The plan included twelve poems,
six of which were written, two begun, and four untouched.  Those that
were written were never published, but Mr. Mackail describes them for
us in some detail, and it is clear that Morris followed a just
instinct in laying them aside.  They are dramatic in form, and if
finished they would doubtless have made interesting reading after
_Sir Peter Harpdon's End_.  But the eager unrest of the early volume
is here moving towards turbulence.  It is as much a mistake to
suppose that turbulence is a quality peculiar to weakness as that it
is necessarily a token of strength.  Webster as a poet was turbulent
and strong: Bulwer Lytton turbulent and weak.  On the other hand, the
noblest strength may be quiet, but so may the most insipid weakness.
The opening of "Paradise Lost" is at once one of the quietest and one
of the most powerful passages in poetry; but the quiet ease of the
good Mr. Akenside is mere tediousness.  The point is that this new
temper that showed itself in the Troy poems was not in itself one
incapable of fine issues, but that it was at variance with the
essential inclination of the poet's development, and that Morris
himself felt this to be so.  A curious myth has grown up about
Morris's methods of work, to the effect that he threw this or that
undertaking aside as it were by whim, forgetting all about it unless
another whim sent him to it again.  Were it not for this myth it
would be unnecessary to say that great artists never work in this
fashion.  If we can but discover it, there is a perfectly hard and
logical reason in all they do.  When he was writing the Troy poems
Morris had thirty years of vigour in front of him.  He broke off the
work in the middle, and never returned to it.  We cannot suppose that
he did this other than deliberately and with carefully considered
reason.  That reason was, it is clear, the conviction that he was
labouring in a direction along which his genius did not lead him.

In 1865 Morris moved with his family to Bloomsbury.  To leave Red
House was a great trouble to his mind, but the daily journeys became
increasingly irksome, and some fluctuation in his private money
matters made it more than ever imperative that nothing should be left
undone to make the business prosper.  An able business manager was
found, and Morris was able to devote more of his time to actual
designing and craftsmanship.  The hours saved each day in travelling
meant fresh opportunities for his highest creative work, and the
scheme of _The Earthly Paradise_ began to take definite shape.



IV

NARRATIVE POEMS

_The Life and Death of Jason_ was originally planned as one of the
stories for _The Earthly Paradise_, which appeared in 1868-70.  It
developed to a length too great, however, for this purpose, and was
published separately in 1867.  It won for Morris an immediate
popularity, and it marks his realization of a matured and fully
rounded manner in poetry.  The _Guenevere_ volume had announced with
certainty the presence of a new poet, but it had said nothing at all
conclusively as to the nature of his future development, nothing to
prepare us for a narrative poet who should reach out to Chaucer in
achievement and surpass all save his master in a form strangely
neglected in English verse.  The answer to the criticism that holds
narrative poetry to be the humblest order of the art is to be made in
two words--Chaucer, Morris.  It is true that our narrative poetry
when set beside our dramatic and lyric wealth is, relatively, but a
little store of great worth.  But in the hands of these two men the
form attains a distinction that proves for ever that when employed
with mastery it is capable of the noblest ends.  Narrative poetry is,
in fundamental intention, closely related to poetic drama, and its
failure in most hands springs from the misunderstanding that has
already been analysed in connection with _Sir Peter Harpdon's End_.
It may be perfectly true to say that by his actions shall a man be
known, but there is in the statement the implied qualification that
such actions shall be normal and habitual; whilst the actions which
narrative poetry usually relates are extraordinary and irregular,
exciting the interest momentarily only, and revealing nothing of the
characters of the actors.  Marlowe wrote a great narrative poem, and
Marlowe was a great dramatist.  One of the great _lacunæ_ of
literature is the play that Chaucer never wrote.  Keats in at least
two notable successes, small in compass but complete, Byron in work
avowedly narrative in intention but largely lyrical in effect, and
Scott in admirable stories that lacked something of the finer
atmosphere of poetry, all made contributions of value to narrative
poetry; Spenser moves with Milton across the boundary line into the
region of epic.  But until the publication of _Jason_ there had been
no poet since Chaucer who had produced a considerable volume of work
at once frankly narrative in form and of indisputable greatness in
design and achievement.  The instinct that had guided Morris safely,
or nearly so, through his dramatic experiment in his first volume did
not forsake him when he turned to the creation of a great narrative
poem, and it was precisely the instinct that was essential to
success.  For narrative is drama without the stage.

The first requirement that we make of the poet in narrative, after
the paramount demand that he shall recognize this essential canon of
all art as to the subservience of incident to idea, is that he shall
be perfectly lucid.  Whilst in lyric verse we are content to be
forced at times to pause for thought and comprehension, in narrative
verse we insist that we shall instantly perceive.  With this
condition Morris complies triumphantly.  In _Jason_, as in the tales
of _The Earthly Paradise_, there is no necessity to pause at a single
line.  We read with absolute ease from beginning to end, and our
interest is almost as absolute.  Very occasionally the poet errs by
introducing incidents merely for their own sake without intensifying
our conception of character, but, with one or two possible
exceptions, the tales move swiftly and develop on every page.  That
Morris should ever fail in this swiftness of narration is, indeed,
difficult to believe when we call to mind the innumerable instances
where he conducts his story at an almost breathless speed.  This is
not to say that he is ever indistinct, either through bad
craftsmanship or undue compression, but to emphasize his extreme
reluctance to allow unnecessary events to distract our attention.  An
excellent instance is afforded in _The Ring Given to Venus_.
Lawrence is told by Palumbus that he must leave him, fast and pray
for six days, and return to him on the seventh, when he shall learn
how to accomplish his end--the recovery of his bridal ring.  The
danger at such a juncture is obvious.  We dread that the poet shall
tell us at length of the passing of those six days, of Lawrence's
impatience and distress, and so forth.  That is to say, we should
dread it of most poets, but, knowing Morris's methods, we feel that
he will work more wisely, and we are not deceived.  Palumbus'
directions being given, Lawrence and his guide depart--

  So homeward doubtful went the twain,
  And Lawrence spent in fear and pain
  The six long days, and so at last,
  When the seventh sun was well-nigh past,
  Came to that dark man's fair abode;

and we are immediately on the full tide of the narrative again.

Morris further achieves that supreme distinction in narrative of
indicating clearly at the outset what the issue is to be, and yet
retaining our interest easily and completely.  One of the most
distinguished of living critics[1] has drawn attention to this power
in Shakespeare; there is no vulgar endeavour to startle us by any
surprising turns of character; what surprise there is to be will be
found in the event.  So deftly does the greatest of poets embody his
characters at the moment when he brings them before us that we know
instinctively how they will act in the events presented to us.  In
the case of Morris this power is, perhaps, even more strongly marked,
for the reason that the web of circumstance that he folds round his
people is of a far less subtle texture.  It may be said, with but
little exaggeration, that the sole emotions with which he is
concerned are the love of man for woman, physical heroism, and the
worship of external beauty.  Again, it must be remembered that the
simplicity implied by this statement is coloured and invested with
the mystery of life itself by the temperament through which it is
presented, but with this vital qualification the fact may be so set
down.  Nearly all his stories are cast in the same general outline:
the desire of the lover, consummated or defeated only after long
physical struggle and sacrifice; the inscrutable shadow of death
looming behind attainment and failure alike; the progress of the
narrative fashioned on a background where nature and art combine to
please and soothe with an endless pageant of loveliness.  _The Life
and Death of Jason_ may, perhaps, be advanced as an instance
disproving this contention, but a moment's reflection shows that the
central interest of the poem, the interest by the side of which all
else recedes into the position of that pageantry, is the love of
Jason and Medea.  The quest of the Golden Fleece, the adventures of
the heroes, the treachery of Pelias, these things, exquisitely
handled as they are, are but the canvas upon which is thrown a
sublime and elemental love story.  The finest book of the poem, the
last, wherein is told nothing but the triumph and withering of that
love, is not only on a level with Morris's own highest achievement,
but among the supreme things in poetry.  The hopeless yet unutterably
poignant figure of Medea; the tenderness and the untutored simplicity
of Glance, the child who is the tragic plaything of the deeper and
more world-beaten natures against whom she is thrown; the desperate
self-deception of Jason and the terrible degradation of his essential
nobility--these are drawn with an intensity, at once fierce and
restrained, that bears witness to the height that narrative poetry
may attain in the hands of a master.

Not only is the substance of these poems of this transparently simple
texture, but the form of expression created by Morris is so specially
fitted for the purpose that the structures as a whole stand almost
without parallel for precision of outline and clearness of detail.
He appears to have determined that neither overloading of diction and
imagery nor intricacy of metrical effect should interfere with the
conduct of his narrative.  Having no superficially subtle or complex
statement to make, and keeping always before him the purpose to
produce a memorable cumulative effect without striving at all for
isolated felicities of phrasing, he is never forced to pause for the
fitting word.  The words that go to the making of a line flow as
naturally and certainly from his pen as the letters that fashion a
word from the pen of another.  Nowhere are there any signs of labour;
nowhere the tumultuous glory of language that rushes at times from
the lips of more variable if not greater poets; and yet, with the
rarest exceptions, he nowhere descends from his own high level.  For
sheer consistency of excellence he probably has no rival.  The
supremacy of his narrative poems lies in the fact that Morris
achieved what he attempted completely and with perfect ease.  As in
his life, so in his poetry do we feel that we are in the presence of
a titanic strength that is never exerting itself to the utmost; and
we are constantly being led, in consequence, to that exercise of the
imagination which creates the most potent sympathy between the artist
and his audience.

I have spoken of a certain easy decorative elaboration that Morris
uses in these stories, and it is this quality that has led many
people into a misunderstanding of his poetry.  To say that a poet is
swift in narration does not necessarily mean that his sole purpose is
to get the story finished in the least possible time, but that the
narrative is unimpeded at the moments when most we demand its
progress.  To say that this is the only right method would involve
enquiry into notable instances where it is not employed, which would
be to digress unduly, but most of Scott's novels might be advanced as
examples.  There we are constantly brought to a standstill at vital
points in the conduct of the story whilst some thread that has been
laid aside is again taken up, again to be dropped when it has been
drawn to a point in common with the rest of the development.  This
Morris never does; the sequence of his narrative is always direct,
and the crises of his story are always carried through at a stroke.
But in observing this condition of emphasizing his most momentous
periods in a perfectly logical continuity and boldness of statement,
he does not deny himself the right to fill in the spaces between
those periods with the large ease and contemplative calm which have
their corresponding manifestations in life.  Hannibal was not
momentarily adding leaves to his laurels.  And Jason journeying from
Thessaly to Colchis finds many adventures, and Morris records them
with vigour and intensity and the sound of swords; but he finds, too,
pleasant days of even enjoyment and companionship with his fellows,
when they move delightedly about a new countryside or see for the
first time some storied place or gather together to talk of their
homeland.  And these are days that Morris is not at all content to
leave unsung, and his instinct is perfectly sound.  It is strange
that these lovely interludes that lie between adventure and adventure
should ever be, as they often are, called "languid."  They denote, on
the contrary, a spiritual activity astonishing in its range and
sanity.  For they imply a recognition on the part of the poet that to
pass down a river on a golden afternoon, or to lie beneath the stars
at night, or to move beneath the walls of an unknown city whilst
memories of home and kin crowd on the mind, is an experience as
adventurous as the riding of a storm or the winning of a Golden
Fleece.  To be languid is to be indifferent, and indifference in the
presence of anything not wholly alienated from nature and simple
humanity was the last thing of which Morris was capable.  So that
when Medea has to go from her home to the wood, the poet is not
forgetful of the path by which she has to go.  His eyes are always
open.

              ... a blind pathway leads
  Betwixt the yellow corn and whispering reeds,
  The home of many a shy quick-diving bird;
  Thereby they passed, and as they went they heard
  Splashing of fish, and ripple of the stream;
  And once they saw across the water's gleam
  The black boat of some fisher of the night....

To travel in the company of one whose senses are so vitally
responsive to every sound and sight of beauty, to every tremor of
emotion that may show itself in the people whom we meet on the
wayside, demands no small spiritual alertness in ourselves.  But if
we fail to keep pace with his glorious and inexhaustible curiosity,
if our joy is not sane and unjaded as his, it will not mend our case
to call him languid.  It is we who lack energy, not he.  Every man is
quick-witted in the ranks of battle or the sack of cities; the true
test of his vitality is to see whether he remains so under the
orchard boughs or in the walk from his doorstep to the market-place.
Our position in this matter is but the logical issue of a social
condition against which the whole of Morris's life and art were a
revolt.  Most of us have made the working hours of the day a burden
to be borne merely for the sake of the wage that follows; the work
itself is to us no more than a weariness.  It is not necessary to
examine here the economic causes of this result, but the result
itself is obvious enough.  And in consequence we call for the
intervals between work and work to be filled either by strange
excitement or sleep.  And so we pass from lethargy through more or
less violent sensations to forgetfulness.  Morris would have none of
this.  Work meant for him, as it must mean for us all once more
before we regain our sanity and wholesomeness, a constant sense of
joy in self-expression, heightened now and again, as it were, by the
salt and sting of great adventures.  Into this scheme of life are
admitted seasons of quiet contemplation, of responsiveness to such
common things as the beauty of the clouds or the soft sound of earth
breaking to the plough, hours when all the simple and recurrent
bounties of the day are accepted joyfully and without question.  Into
his poetry Morris translated all these; the great adventures, the
deep sense of the satisfaction of labour, and the quiet moods.  Our
faculties may be so weakened that they are stirred by the great
adventures alone; but it is no fault of the poet's if we confuse his
calm and reflective exaltation with our own lethargy.

In speaking of the _Guenevere_ volume it was necessary to examine the
poems more or less in detail and separately, for they were the
changing expressions of a creative mind not yet sure of itself, of a
temperament that had not yet found its philosophic moorings.
Throughout _The Life and Death of Jason_ and _The Earthly Paradise_,
however, we have a unity of vision, a gathering up of all things into
the terms of one personal reading of life, that make it possible to
speak of them more generally and with less qualification from word to
word.  Having defined the nature of the form that Morris was using in
these poems and his particular manner of handling it, we may try to
realize the view of the world that he was seeking to present.  We may
pass from the announcement to the discovery itself.  Morris in his
poetry simplified his aim enormously by steadily eliminating two
things--enquiry into the unknown, and all endeavour to 'set the
crooked straight.'  When he called himself 'Dreamer of dreams born
out of my due time' and asked 'Why should I strive to set the crooked
straight?' he was not, again let it be said, refusing to face the
world about him, but announcing that as poet his concern was not to
destroy but to create.  And whatever good results might attend the
speculation of others as to death and the secret purposes of God, he
felt that for him, at least, it was unprofitable employment.  The
issue of this purpose is that we have a world wherein all the simple
but positive things stand out shining in the light of a
highly-organized creative temperament, undimmed by questioning doubt
on the one hand or a cloud of superficial intricacies of circumstance
on the other.  In his later socialist teaching Morris sought in some
means to show how these intricacies might be cleared away in
practice, but in his poetry he presupposes a life where the natural
impulses of men are unfettered by all save eternal circumstance.  His
philosophy becomes one of extraordinary directness and simplicity,
and yet it retains everything by which the spirit and body of man
really have their being.  To love, and if needs be to battle for
love, to labour and find labour the one unchanging delight, to be
intimate with all the moods and seasons of earth, to be generous
alike in triumph and defeat, to fear death and yet to be heroic in
the fear, to be the heirs of sin and sorrow in so far as these things
were the outcome of events that were permanent and not ephemeral in
their nature--of such did he conceive the state of men to be in the
earthly paradise that he was tying to create in his art.  We are yet
far from realizing the state.  The din of the thousand claims of the
crooked to be set straight is loud in our ears, and the cleansing of
the moment must be done.  But not until we can accustom ourselves to
the thought that this state is, if not yet realized, at least
realizable, can we hope to work out any salvation for ourselves or
the world.  We suffer daily from a neglect of the positive and
creative for the negative and destructive.  In England the symbols of
our national thought are curiously expressive of this fact.  We
decorate and honour our soldiers whose business, be it to destroy or
to be destroyed, is, in any case, connected with destruction; those
of our lawyers who are chiefly concerned with restraint and
punishment; our politicians who spend their time protecting us from
assaults of neighbours and communities as commercially rapacious as
ourselves, or, in their more enlightened moments, in adjusting wrongs
that are the dregs in the cup of civilization.  The functions of
these men may be necessities of society, but they nevertheless apply
to the small negative aspect of our state and not the great normal
life.  It is that which is, rightly, the concern of our creative
artists; but our creative artists are not decorated and honoured by
the nation as such.  Occasionally when Europe has insisted long
enough on the presence of a great artist among us, we make some
belated recognition of the fact, and occasionally we become
sentimental and throw a few pounds a year to a poet whom we refuse to
pay proper wages for his work.  This of course does not injure the
artist, but it is all very eloquent as to the frame of our national
mind.  However many noble individual exceptions there may be, the
fact remains that nationally we acclaim the negative and neglect the
positive manifestations of man.  Morris's art was, implicitly, a
challenge to this temper and a means of escape from it.  For, despite
all the clamour that the good and evil voices of the destroyers make,
we are ultimately forced back to the admission that they fill only a
very small corner of our lives.  The daily charities and heroisms,
the discipline of fellowship and love, the worship of beauty and the
pride of shaping with hand and brain, are all independent of them,
and they are the justification of life.  If we have crowded them out
of our daily courses, then it is for the poets to lead us back to
them.  This they do most certainly, not by denouncing us for our
folly or reviling the evil to which we have fallen, but by showing
us, in being, our lost estate.  This Morris did, and to understand
this is to understand the root and flower of his philosophy as poet.

It is not to be supposed that the world of Morris's poetry is a world
purged of error.  He did not imagine an ideal humanity, but a
humanity drawn from all the finer phases of experience, its vision
free of the veils of a highly artificial social state.  It is a
common thing to hear people express surprise that men who behave
towards each other with bitter animosity in business or official or
political life are on generous and friendly terms in their homes or
in what is called private life, and the solution is generally offered
that whilst they differ fiercely on profoundly vital subjects, they
can afford to be tolerant and even generous to each other in less
important matters.  The solution is, of course, as far astray from
facts as it could be.  The truth is that in the conduct of the things
that are of permanent significance these men behave to each other
generally with the innate nobility of humanity, and at times with
humanity's natural imperfection.  There is among them a deep sense of
comradeship and common delight, broken only at times by the reaction
of emotions not yet wholly chastened, expressing itself in a
violation of conflicting interests.  But when these same men are
brought into contact in surroundings compact of that artificiality of
which I have spoken, those surroundings create a hundred new and
shifting standards, and with them as many strange little jealousies
and rancours which are stifled immediately simple humanity is once
again allowed its proper dominion.  The sin and the sorrow that are
the issue of this imperfection in humanity Morris uses at their full
and tragic values in his poetry, but to the nervous irritation which
is as some new disease which we have invented for ourselves unaided
by the gods he paid no heed.  This is why his poetry, all its
vitality and strength notwithstanding, is so peaceful.  His people
may suffer great troubles and deal hard blows, love passionately and
lose fiercely, but at no time do they move with the confused unrest
of men who are never sure of themselves, having between their vision
and the world a thousand petty accidents of will.  They are
deep-lunged, but they never babble and chatter; they have enormous
energy but are never restless.

As though to emphasize the singleness of his aim in these poems,
Morris uses the simplest verse-forms.  _Jason_ is written in heroic
couplets, the prologue and seven tales of _The Earthly Paradise_ in
the same measure, seven tales in octosyllabic couplets and ten in
seven-lined Chaucerian stanzas.  Metrical experiments occasionally
make some definite addition to poetry, but they more often result in
mere formlessness.  The wide acceptance of certain forms by the poets
through centuries of practice does not point to any lack of invention
or weak servility on the part of the poets, but to some inherent
fitness in the forms.  Tradition is a fetter only to the weak; it is
the privilege of the sovereign poet to invest it with his own
personality and make it distinctively his own.  From Marlowe down to
Mr. Yeats the heroic couplet has been a new vehicle in the hands of
new poets, and its vigour is unimpaired.  Morris in accepting proved
forms merely accepted the responsibility of proving himself.  The
result is never for a moment in doubt--his use of the ten and eight
syllable line and the stanza that he took from his master is as
clearly pervaded by his own temperament as is his vision itself.  It
is one of the subtlest faculties of genius, this shaping of a manner
which shall chime exactly with mood and emotional outlook.  Just as
Shakespeare's expression is prodigal in strength and variety, and
Milton's full of weight and dignity, and Pope's marked at all points
by precision, and Shelley's by a wild and fluctuating speed, so
Morris's is everywhere animated by a pure and virile loveliness and
an all-suffusing sense of pity.  His utterance is in perfect harmony
with his spiritual temper.  We have seen that whilst he accepts the
tragedy of the world at its full value as something fundamental and
inseparable from humanity, he rejects the mere ugliness of the world
as being an artificial product of an abnormal state.  And so, when he
has to write of a dead woman lying in a peasant's hut in all the
circumstances of extreme poverty, he does so with tragic intensity
whilst eliminating all the inessential ugliness.  Poverty as we know
it in our civilization makes an unlovely bedfellow for death, yet
Morris shows it to us with a precision almost fierce in its fidelity
to truth, yet beautiful because concerned with the simple and
essential only--

  On straw the poor dead woman lay;
  The door alone let in the day,
  Showing the trodden earthen floor,
  A board on trestles weak and poor,
  Three stumps of tree for stool or chair,
  A half-glazed pipkin, nothing fair,
  A bowl of porridge by the wife,
  Untouched by lips that lacked for life,
  A platter and a bowl of wood;
  And in the further corner stood
  A bow cut from the wych-elm tree,
  A holly club and arrows three
  Ill pointed, heavy, spliced with thread.

This passage is a typical example of Morris's manner.  It shows the
occasional hastiness of composition that is found at intervals
throughout his work; 'door' and 'board' in the second and fourth
lines strike unpleasingly on the ear that is carrying the rhyme
'floor--poor.'  But it also shows the individuality with which Morris
handles at all times a well-tried measure; it shows, too, the ease
with which he conveys a certain atmospheric significance apart from
his actual statement, and, finally, it shows his exquisite sense of
word-values and his extraordinary power of visualization.  No poet
has given more beautiful expression to the sensuous delight of the
eye than Morris, and even here, where the mood is one of profound
sorrow, the thing seen is described with a sweetness and naturalness
that makes it bearable; indeed, more than bearable, something that we
gladly remember.  In this matter Morris, as we should expect, worked
always in the greatest tradition of art; his most terrible and tragic
moments are never moments that we wish to forget.

In a paper called _Churches of Northern France_ that Morris
contributed to "The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine," he talks about
Amiens Cathedral.  He imagines it first as it would look from one of
the steeples of the town.  'It rises up from the ground, grey from
the paving of the street, the cavernous porches of the west front
opening wide, and marvellous with the shadows of the carving you can
only guess at; and above stand the kings, and above that you would
see the twined mystery of the great flamboyant rose window with its
thousand openings, and the shadows of the flower-work carved round
it; then the grey towers and gable, grey against the blue of the
August sky; and behind them all, rising high into the quivering air,
the tall spire over the crossing.'  And then again, as you approach,
'the great apse rises over you with its belt of eastern chapel; first
the long slim windows of these chapels, which are each of them little
apses, the Lady Chapel projecting a good way beyond the rest; and
then, running under the cornice of the chapels and outer aisles all
round the church, a cornice of great noble leaves; then the parapets
in changing flamboyant patterns; then the conical roofs of the
chapels hiding the exterior tracery of the triforium; then the great
clerestory windows, very long, of four lights, and stilted, the
tracery beginning a long way below the springing of their arches.
And the buttresses are so thick, and their arms spread so here, that
each of the clerestory windows looks down its own space between them
as if between walls.  Above the windows rise their canopies running
through the parapet; and above all the great mountainous roof, and
all below it and around the windows and walls of the choir and apse
stands the mighty army of the buttresses, holding up the weight of
the stone roof within with their strong arms for ever.' Then, having
set down the cumulative effect of the great Gothic structure in these
few strokes, he goes on to examine the beauties of its detail, the
carving on the screens and doors, the figures on the tombs, the
mouldings and little stories in stone, all of them the vital
expressions of the joy of some nameless craftsman in his work.  Apart
from the side light that these descriptions throw on Morris's view of
art, we are reminded as we read them of the architectural design of
_The Earthly Paradise_.  It has precisely the qualities of a Gothic
cathedral.  The whole scheme of the poem, which contrives the
alternate narration of stories drawn from classic and romantic
sources, carrying the process along the months of the year and
setting the whole in a purely lyrical framework, results in a massive
general effect which must be once seen before we can wholly realize
the beauty of the stories by themselves.  But once seen it is never
forgotten, and afterwards we are content to return again and again to
the detail, as certain of finding satisfaction in any of the single
stories on which we may chance as we are in the tracery of the
cloisters or the devices on the stalls of a Gothic church.  It is, of
course, the peculiar glory of Gothic--or romantic--art, that while
the parts combine to make a whole more wonderful than themselves,
they yet have an independent beauty and completeness of their own.
Morris in writing his tales was careful never to sacrifice his
general outline for the sake of momentary effects, but each story is
complete in itself and separable from the rest.

Although it is to be accounted as a virtue to Morris that he never
sought to decorate his verse with jewels that should distract
attention from the whole texture, it must always be remembered that
he was absolved from the necessity of doing this because the texture
itself was of extraordinary richness and shot with a hundred colours.
The first and most obvious danger in a long narrative poem is that
many passages which are concerned with the mere statement of fact
necessary to the progress of the story will not be poetry at all.
But moving always, as it were, in the open country of the world, away
from everything that is not intimately related to that simplicity of
life that has been discussed, Morris is never forced to conduct his
people over moments that are fundamentally incapable of poetic
treatment.  Their most commonplace actions are still carried through
with the vividness that comes of a constant joy in labour and direct
contact with the earth.  A journey means the building of a boat and
shaping of oars, and a loaf of bread is the direct witness of corn
harvested and ground, and wood gathered for the fire.  An instance
may be taken almost at random: Jason and his warriors find that their
progress is stopped, and that their ship must be borne across the
land.  It is just such a moment as might, in the hands of a poet who
was only anxious to get the matter done to comply with the
necessities of his narrative, sink from poetry altogether.  This is
how Morris manages it:--

                        And there all,
  Half deafened by the noises of the fall
  And bickering rapids, left the ashen oar,
  And spreading over the well-wooded shore
  Cut rollers, laying on full many a stroke,
  And made a capstan of a mighty oak,
  And so drew Argo up, with hale and how,
  On to the grass, turned half to mire now.
      Thence did they toil their best, in drawing her
  Beyond the falls, whereto being come anear,
  They trembled when they saw them; for from sight
  The rocks were hidden by the spray-clouds white,
  Cold, wretched, chilling, and the mighty sound
  Their heavy-laden hearts did sore confound;
  For parted from all men they seemed, and far
  From all the world, shut out by that great bar.
      Moreover, when with toil and pain, at last
  Unto the torrent's head they now had passed,
  They sent forth swift Ætalides to see
  What farther up the river there might be.
  Who, going twenty leagues, another fall
  Found, with great cliffs on each side, like a wall;
  But 'twixt the two, another unbarred stream
  Joined the main river; therefore did they deem,
  When this they heard, that they perforce must try
  This smoother branch; so somewhat heavily
  Argo they launched again, and got them forth
  Still onward toward the winter and the north.

This is writing on a level below which Morris never falls, and it is
yet on the side of poetry.  It is possible for the artist's
temperament to throw beauty on to an object in itself unlovely, and
the result is often some confusion of mind as to the real source of
the beauty.  Mr. Brangwyn can draw men stripped to the waist toiling
in the inferno of a black-country iron-works, and his creation is
beautiful.  Emile Verhaeren can strike a song out of the utter
degradation of humanity: but the essential poetry in each case is in
the soul of the artist and not in the subject of his contemplation.
If our knowledge of the ironworks rested wholly on Mr. Brangwyn's
report we might well believe that it really was strangely and
strongly beautiful.  But if we really know the iron works itself, we
know that it is hideously ugly, using men half as beasts, half as
machines, choking the air and wounding the earth, a thing definitely
unpoetic because definitely a denial of life.  Morris worked in quite
another manner.  Instead of lending ugliness the undeserved beauty
and colour of his own temperament, he stripped all things that came
into his vision of all that was inessential, all the excrescences of
accident and will, and then allowed them in their renewed simplicity
to find natural and direct expression.  The result is that although
it may be true to say that Morris has fewer single lines which are
memorable if detached from their context than any other poet at all
comparable to him in achievement, it is equally true to say that he
stands alone in the creation of a great body of work that moves
consistently and surely on the plane of poetry from first to last
with scarcely a single lapse.  No poet has ever had a more infallible
instinct as to what was and what was not of the stuff of poetry.

With _Jason_ and _The Earthly Paradise_, Morris establishes his claim
to greatness.  The height of his power is not yet reached, but here
already we have a breadth of design, an intensity of perception, and
a sureness of utterance about which there can be no question.  Not
only does he prove himself to be a narrative poet of the first rank,
but in the songs and interludes he attains a sweetness and tenderness
which if not matchless are certainly not surpassed.  Things like--

  I know a little garden close
  Set thick with lily and red rose,--

and

  Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing--

and

  O June, O June, that we desired so,
  Wilt thou not make us happy on this day?--

--it is, indeed, unnecessary to add example to example--are of the
highest order of lyric poetry.  The lusty strength and naked passion
of _Sigurd the Volsung_ are as yet unattempted at any sustained
pressure, but in all other respects the achievement of _Jason_ and
_The Earthly Paradise_ is complete and representative.  Remembering
Pope's "awful Aristarch"--

  Thy mighty Scholiast, whose unweary'd pains
  Made Horace dull, and humbled Milton's strains.
  Turn what they will to Verse, their toil is vain,
  Critics like me shall make it Prose again--

I have refrained from any attempt to re-tell the stories that must be
read as Morris told them or not at all.  It has been my purpose
rather to hold for a moment in trembling hands the spirit that is in
them and that went to their creation.

At the time of publication of the last volume of _The Earthly
Paradise_, Morris had begun the study of Icelandic story that was to
find its splendid culmination six years later in _Sigurd the
Volsung_.  The history of these beginnings will be told more fitly
later in connection with the consideration of that poem.  The
completion of his great cycle of tales left him momentarily with a
sense of purposelessness.  'I feel rather lost at having done my
book,' he writes.  'I must try to get something serious to do as soon
as may be ... perhaps something else of importance will turn up
soon.'  He turned again to painting, and occupied some of his time in
book-illumination, an art in which he attained a perfection no less
memorable than that of the mediæval masters.  The business of Morris
and Company was developing rapidly, and in 1871 he found a new
interest in Kelmscott House, the old manor in Oxfordshire that was to
be his country home until his death.  The abiding pleasure that his
retreat afforded him has been beautifully pictured for us in Mr.
Mackail's "Life."  In the same year he made his first journey to
Iceland, and on his return he wrote the poem, which is next to be
considered, _Love is Enough_.


[1] Mr. Stopford Brooke.



V

LOVE IS ENOUGH AND SIGURD THE VOLSUNG

Discipleship in art is a thing very commonly misunderstood.  The poet
with centuries of activity behind him will inevitably find in this
voice or that an expression with which his own temperament is in more
or less direct sympathy, and, if his nature be not cramped, he will
make full acknowledgment of the fact.  But this loving recognition of
fellowship has nothing whatever to do with imitation.  In demanding
originality of the poet we do not expect him to sing as though he
moved in an untrodden world.  We might as reasonably ask each man to
invent a new speech; we should be doing no more than carrying our
demand to its logical issue.  We insist, and rightly, that the poet
shall interpret experience for us in the terms of his own
personality, but we must remember that the work of his predecessors
is an enormously important part of experience, and when he finds some
aspect of that work in correspondence with his own adventures he
will, quite naturally, take it up in some measure into his own
creation.  Confusion in this matter has led to considerable injustice
in many estimates of Morris.  His repeated announcements of Chaucer
as his master and his open allegiance throughout his life to certain
phases of mediæval art, have caused it to be said that his mood and
expression are alike archaic, the word being used to mean obsolete.
As to the mood, the suggestion is so preposterous as to be unworthy
of an answer; it is obsolete just in so far as the fundamental things
of life are obsolete.  As to expression, Morris's free use of such
words as 'certes,' 'Fair sir,' 'I trow,' and so forth is supposed to
lend support to the suggestion.  It does nothing of the kind, of
course.  Morris uses these words not for their especial value, but as
simply and naturally as he does the common parts of speech.  The
words in themselves are perfectly fit for use in poetry, and the
discredit into which they may have fallen is entirely due to inferior
writers who have sought to make them in themselves substitutes for
poetry.  To rule that their abuse henceforth makes their proper use
impossible is, however, absurd.  It may be discreet in a poet to-day
to avoid nymphs and Diana and the pipes of Pan, but to say beforehand
that his traffic with these will be disastrous is merely to lay
ourselves open to the most salutary correction at any moment.  Morris
used words such as those of which I have spoken without hesitation,
but he always subordinated them to their right offices, and their
influence in either direction upon his general manner is negligible.

This question arises more naturally in the discussion of _Love is
Enough_ than elsewhere.  Superficially the play may be said to be an
attempt to reconstruct the spirit and, in a smaller degree, the form
of the early English morality, but close consideration of the play
necessitates qualification of this statement at almost every step.
The resemblance in form is to be found not in the structure but in
the alliterative verse that Morris uses for the central action of the
play.  But even in the verse there are qualities that belong to
Morris alone; he not only discarded rhyme, which was employed by Bale
and the unknown poets of an earlier day in their interludes and
mysteries, but he brought to his lines a greater regularity and
fulness.  The pauses that play so important a part in the early
alliterative verse are replaced by syllabic values, and the
shortening of lines is far less arbitrary than in his models.  The
result, especially of the added fulness, is that a certain bare
simplicity is lost, and curiously enough this poem, where he was
influenced by a form that with all its faults has an extraordinary
directness and incisiveness of statement, is the most difficult among
all his works to read.  The long lines with their constant tightening
up of syllables are frequently too heavy for the statement.  Many
passages are of great beauty, as for example:--

  As my twin sister, young of years was she and slender,
  Yellow blossoms of spring-tide her hands had been gathering,
  But the gown-lap that held them had fallen adown
  And had lain round her feet with the first of the singing;
  Now her singing had ceased, though yet heaved her bosom
  As with lips lightly parted and eyes of one seeking
  She stood face to face with the Love that she knew not,
  The love that she longed for and waited unwitting...

and there are numberless lines where the precision of statement is
admirable, as--

  In memory of days when my meat was but little
  And my drink drunk in haste between saddle and straw...

and

                                      I saw her
  Stealing barefoot, bareheaded amidst of the tulips
  Made grey by the moonlight...

but the experiment in a form that is not now, after four centuries of
development, really natural to the language is, on the whole, a
failure.  It is, indeed, true that as we read through it the measure
becomes more acceptable to the ear, but there is a difficulty in the
outline which no familiarity can wholly overcome.

The structure of the play is mainly of Morris's own invention, and is
of singular beauty.  The figure of Love, who may be said to
correspond roughly to the Doctor or Messenger of the early
moralities, stands, not between the action and the audience, but
between the action and the people of an outer play; and, again,
beyond this we have a further group.  The structure is, briefly,
this.  The morality itself; Love and The Music who act as spiritual
interpreters and as chorus between the action and the Emperor and
Empress for whom the townsfolk are having the play performed; and
finally the peasants Giles and Joan who are equally interested in the
play and its imaginary spectators, translate the spiritual
commentaries of Love and The Music into terms of their own simple
workaday existence, and, lastly, act in some sort as chorus between
the whole representation and the actual audience.  There is a
subtlety of design in all this that reaches far beyond the
conceptions of the sombre and rugged poets of pre-Shakespearean
England, and although the play fails in other respects, Morris here
shows more clearly even than in _Sir Peter Harpdon's End_ that he
understood the exact meaning of the element contributed by the chorus
to drama more fully than any poet of recent times.

In the central action, the morality itself, there are three principal
figures, Pharamond the King, Oliver his old counsellor and
foster-father, and Azalais.  Morris retains the method of his models
in that these figures are not characters but rather abstractions.
Pharamond is not so much a man as mankind, Everyman.  Oliver is much
more definitely a personality, but he is used as a symbol of the
better nature of man, not able quite to understand spiritual
nobility, but content, even eager, to follow it.  Azalais is Love,
both giving and taking.  The motive of the play is stated clearly in
the title, Love is Enough.  Pharamond leaves kingship, fame,
everything, and sets out to find this thing only, and in finding it
proves and finds himself.  But we must return to the motive a little
later.  The point next to be considered is this symbolic use of
figures in action.  The method of the old poets was to invest these
figures at the outset with a certain presupposed and generally
accepted significance, and to start from that point.  They did not
attempt to explain what Luxury, Riot, Riches, Knowledge, Humility and
Charity were, but simply gave these names to their figures and
trusted their audience to fill in the outlines.  Then taking a
central figure as protagonist, Everyman or Youth or some such symbol,
they brought him into contact with the rest and allowed all the
emotion of the play to arise out of the transition of his moods as he
is influenced by them in turn.  There is never the least doubt as to
the lines along which each of these figures will work; they carry
their natures in their names.  We know that Pride will betray Youth
as surely as we know that his Knowledge and Good Deeds alone will
bide with Everyman.  But there is nothing dramatic in the spectacle
of Pride forsaking Youth until we see the complementary loyalty of
Charity and Humility, and we are moved by the tenderness of Good
Deeds and Knowledge towards Everyman simply because we have just seen
Strength and Beauty desert him in his need.  These transitions of
mood are carried through with consistent swiftness and are defined by
the direct contact of the figures, not by reflective comment, or only
so in a subordinate degree.  _Everyman_, which is the crown of these
early plays, realizes these conditions most perfectly.  The
protagonist is commanded to make his reckoning before God.  He asks
Fellowship to accompany him on his journey through Death's gates.
Fellowship refuses, and so in turn do Goods, Kindred, Strength,
Discretion, Five Wits, and the rest of them, as we knew they would.
Then he is aided by Knowledge, Good Deeds and Confession, and sets
out content.  Save for the few speeches that summarize the situation
from time to time, there is absolutely no comment on the development
of the play; the whole effect depends on the swift passage from one
crude symbol to another.  Within its own limitations, this simple
method not only succeeded in holding the audience for whom it was
first employed, but is completely effective to-day.  The Elizabethan
drama threw it aside to make room for its own greater glories, but it
is not impossible that a great poet should yet return to it, and with
the accumulated wisdom of the poets who have worked since then in his
blood, refashion it into something of a strange new beauty.  In _Love
is Enough_ Morris adopted it only to a point, and failed in
consequence.  He set out to enunciate a definite lesson, and he
invested his figures with symbolic significance, but he carried the
method no further.  Pharamond, instead of passing swiftly from stage
to stage in pursuit of his end and showing us that love is enough,
pauses for long periods to tell us that love is enough.  His speeches
are, generally, lyrical developments of one theme, and wholly
beautiful as many of them are as such they destroy the cohesion of
the play as a whole.  The design of _Love is Enough_ is no wider in
its scope than that of "Everyman," indeed not so wide, and yet the
play is, roughly, three times as long.  I am not, of course,
attempting any comparison of the spirit of the two plays; there is no
point at which this is possible; my comparison is merely between the
uses to which they employ the same method.

Herein, it seems to me, lies the failure of _Love is Enough_ in so
far as it is a failure at all.  The central part of the design is so
carried out as to disturb the general balance.  It was not necessary
for Morris to choose this particular form for his inner play, but
having done so he was mistaken in not observing its principles more
closely.  But, having said this, it is necessary to add that in many
ways _Love is Enough_ stands with Morris's finest achievements in
poetry.  In the morality of Pharamond itself, and apart from all
difficulties of the verse-form, there is love-poetry that is scarcely
to be surpassed in its depth and tenderness.  In this play Morris
departed from his usual ways.  His narrative and epic writing and his
lyrics have nothing of that didacticism which if not essential is at
least proper to the greatest art.  Art confesses to no limitations.
In _Love is Enough_, however, he allowed himself this new privilege,
and he translates his teaching into art with perfect instinct.  Here,
as throughout his work, it is impossible to point to any passage and
say, "that is not poetry," and yet speech after speech is as
specifically didactic as the Sermon on the Mount.  In the words of
Pharamond, in the stately heroic couplets spoken by Love, and in the
exquisite stanzas of The Music he pursues the same theme, and over
and over again he carries it to a sublime pitch of intensity.

  What, Faithful--do I lie, that overshot
  My dream-web is with that which happeneth not?
  Nay, nay, believe it not!--love lies alone
  In loving hearts like fire within the stone:
  Then strikes my hand, and lo, the flax ablaze!
  --Those tales of empty striving and lost days
  Folk tell of sometimes--never lit my fire
  Such ruin as this; but Pride and Vain-desire,
  My counterfeits and foes, have done the deed.
  Beware, Beloved! for they sow the weed
  Where I the wheat: they meddle where I leave,
  Take what I scorn, cast by what I receive,
  Sunder my yoke, yoke that I would dissever,
  Pull down the house my hands would build for ever.


In this poem, too, we find the isolated instances wherein Morris
makes some allusion to the desire for seeing beyond the veils of our
existence, some suggestion of the hope of spring when leaves are
falling.  Even here there is none of the exultant certainty of the
_Ode to the West Wind_, but a quiet fearlessness that is no less
inspiring and consoling in its way--

  Live on, for Love liveth, and earth shall be shaken
    By the wind of his wings on the triumphing morning,
  When the dead and their deeds that die not shall awaken,
    And the world's tale shall sound in your trumpet of warning,
  And the sun smite the banner called Scorn of the Scorning,
    And dead pain ye shall trample, dead fruitless desire,
    As ye wend to pluck out the new world from the fire.

And again--

  In what wise, ah, in what wise shall it be?
  How shall the bark that girds the winter tree
  Babble about the sap that sleeps beneath,
  And tell the fashion of its life and death?
  How shall my tongue in speech man's longing wrought
  Tell of the things whereof he knoweth nought?
  Should I essay it might ye understand
  How those I love shall share my promised land!
  Then must I speak of little things as great,
  Then must I tell of love and call it hate,
  Then must I bid you seek what all men shun,
  Reward defeat, praise deeds that were not done.


The Emperor and Empress who watch the play point its moral for
themselves, and their somewhat remote humanity serves admirably as a
step between the pure poetry of the central action and the homespun
reality of Giles and Joan.  They send gifts to the actors of
Pharamond and Azalais, and then the Emperor--

                            Fain had I been
  To see him face to face and his fair Queen,
  And thank him friendly, asking him maybe
  How the world looks to one with love set free;
  It may not be, for as thine eyes say, sweet,
  Few folk as friends shall unfreed Pharamond meet.
  So is it: we are lonelier than those twain,
  Though from their vale they ne'er depart again.

But Giles and his wife are under no such restraint of state; they
will bid the players to their home and be their scholars for a while

  In many a lesson of sweet lore
  To learn love's meaning more and more,

and the scene between the two peasants that ends the play is an idyll
full of the simple fragrance and humanity and earth-love that were
the crowning splendours of _Jason_ and _The Earthly Paradise_.

In 1869 the poet had published his translation of the _Grettir Saga_,
carried out in collaboration with Eiríkr Magnússon, and this was
followed in the next year by the _Völsunga Saga_ from the same hands.
Morris's feeling for the northern stories had already found
expression in more than one of the tales in _The Earthly Paradise_,
notably 'The Lovers of Gudrun,' and the Icelandic visit of 1871 was
followed by a second in 1873.  In 1875 he published _Three Northern
Love Stories_, translations of extraordinary directness and
conviction, and these six years of study of and service to the
curiously neglected story of the northern race were now approaching
their culminating triumph.  To examine these various preliminary
essays in detail here is neither possible nor necessary.  The
journals of the travel in Iceland, written as they were without any
definite purpose of publication, show how intensely he was moved by
the spirit of the Sagas, how close his own being was to it.  Every
stone was quick with a tradition that meant for him the very breath
of splendid and heroic life.  His feeling for the earth was at all
times, as we have seen, one of an almost indefinable tenderness and
yearning, but once he had seen Iceland it was the earth that
nourished Sigurd and Brynhild and Gunnar and Gudrun that was
thenceforth most deeply rooted in his love.  The austere beauty and
gloomy strength of the Icelandic countryside were from that time
sacred things in his imagination, and it was, perhaps, not without
taking thought that in the first poem that he wrote on his return he
made Pharamond, when trying to recall the country to which he must
again turn to find the end of his seeking, say that

                  ever meseemeth
  'Twas not in the Southlands.


In the preface to the translation of the _Völsunga Saga_, the last
paragraph says:--


    'In conclusion, we must again say how strange it seems to us,
    that this Volsung Tale, which is in fact a universified poem,
    should never have been translated into English.  For this is the
    Great Story of the North, which should be to all our race what
    the Tale of Troy was to the Greeks--to all our race first, and
    afterwards, when the change of the world has made our race
    nothing more than the name of what has been--a story too--then
    should it be to those that came after us no less than the Tale of
    Troy has been to us.'


That was in 1870.  Now, five years later, with the whole story
matured in his mind, with its appeal quickened by the exploration of
its landscape, he determined to gather up its essential features and
fuse them through his own temperament into a new completeness both of
substance and music.  It was a tremendous undertaking, both in its
actual difficulties and its responsibility.  Morris was not likely to
hesitate before the difficulties, but he realized perfectly the
danger of attempting to reshape a story which, as it stood, he
reverenced as the greatest in the world.  To have done it ill or in
any way other than excellently would have been an unpardonable sin
against himself.  The risk was taken, and _The Story of Sigurd_, _The
Volsung_, and the _Fall of the Niblungs_ was published in 1876.  It
is not only the supreme achievement of a great poet, but one of the
very great poems of the modern world.

The story of Sigurd, showing in the beginning the Volsung heritage to
which he is born and in the end the fall of the Niblung house that
comes of his death, with his life set between these, satisfies the
requirements of epic poetry as, perhaps, does no other.  We have the
first necessities of architectural form satisfied--the beginning, the
development, the close.  Then in the main theme, the life of Sigurd,
we have a story of men and women living under normal conditions.
They are, indeed, the conditions of a heroic world, but the central
events of the tale are controlled not by abnormal circumstance or
artificial conditions, but by fundamental human emotions.  Behind
these events we have a landscape that is in direct imaginative
correspondence with the character of the people--that has gone to the
shaping of this character.  This is a matter of peculiar importance.
When, in poetry, the scene of action moves freely from one country to
another, as it does, for example, in "Childe Harold," the landscape
becomes merely an ornament, but when the scene is fixed and the
characters move consistently in their own homeland, then the
landscape becomes a corporate part of the poem's significance.
Sigurd would be the less Sigurd away from his grey mountains and
unpeopled heaths and the dusk of his pine-woods.  And then finally we
have the will set over man's will suffusing the whole in the
intangible yet tremendous sense of Fate, the Wrath and Sorrow of Odin.

It has been said that in opening the poem with the tale of Sigmund,
Sigurd's father, and the destruction of the Volsungs Morris
imperilled the unity of his epic, if indeed he did not destroy it.
When a critic of Mr. Mackail's distinction and proved insight makes a
pronouncement we can differ from him only with the greatest respect,
and knowing that ultimately these things are not fixed, being
variable as men's understandings.  It seems to me, then, that this
first book, called Sigmund, is the inevitable opening of the epic of
Sigurd.  Not because, as another critic suggests, it forms a
background of mystery and heroic terror upon which to throw the more
human story that follows, but because it introduces the whole motive
of that story.  One does not wish to stray into polemics, but here
again I must dissent from another writer, Miss May Morris, and again
I do so with full appreciation of the value of those introductions of
which I have already spoken.  Miss Morris also points out that this
first book 'introduces the very motive of the epic,' but she
identifies that motive with the Wrath and Sorrow of Odin.  But the
motive is in reality the splendid survival of one brand plucked from
the ashes of the Volsung house; the avenging, not in blood, but in
the one swift arc of Sigurd's heroic life in a world wherein he
stands magnificently alone, of the Volsung name.  The sense of Fate,
the wide horizons, the sinister figure of Grimhild and the terrors of
the Glittering Heath are all alike influences that work upon the
shaping of this central theme, and to confuse them with the motive
itself makes it impossible to see clearly the rightful place of the
book of Sigmund in the poem.  It is there that the disaster, the
catastrophe, of which Sigurd's passage from birth to death is the
compensation and adjustment is set forth, and without it, it seems to
me, the epic unity of the poem would not have been intensified, but
made impossible.

There is, however, a difficulty of another kind in this opening book.
The quality of all others in the _Völsunga Saga_ that fits it for the
highest poetry is its elemental humanity, and it was this that
stirred Morris most deeply and inspired his most memorable work, here
as elsewhere.  The Sigmund Story of the Saga, however, is as much
savage as human, and savage not with the primal fierceness of man but
with the terrible and implacable caprice of a malign, or at least
inhuman Fate.  Here, as later in the poem, that Fate is embodied in
the figure of Odin, but there is a profound difference.  When Sigurd
has slain Fafnir and found Brynhild on Hindfell, the humanity of the
story reacts perfectly clearly upon the Fate that overshadows all.
The Fate loses none of its power, but it is humanized, mellowed, and
as it were made tolerable by taking into itself something of the
human spirit of love.  In the Sigmund book there is none of this,
and, indeed, the same is to be said of the second book called Regin.
Until Sigurd himself begins to control the story, the characters are
in constant peril of being swung out of their courses by some fierce
stroke of the gods, meaningless and wholly unrelated to anything in
themselves.  It is a supportable argument to advance that this
happens in life, but the answer is that it should not happen in great
art.  Morris's difficulty was, of course, that he was loth to
interfere with the story as it came to him in the Saga, but I cannot
help feeling that he here allowed his loyalty in some measure to
betray his artistic instinct.  It was just one of those supreme
difficulties that face only the men who are attempting supreme ends.
_Sigurd The Volsung_ as it stands ranks with the masterpieces of
which the countless millions of men have but created a score or so
between them.  The Sigmund book was essential to his epic; had Morris
been able to retain the terror of the Saga and yet invest it more
fully with the primal impulse of humanity, it is not easy to point to
any product of man that would have been clearly entitled to rank
above this poem.

In speaking of a thing for which we have the deepest reverence, we
would be very clear.  The books of Sigmund and Regin, as Morris has
given them to us, remain the poetry of a great poet.  Whole passages
rise to a height as to which there can be no question.  The first
lines of the poem are enough to satisfy any intelligence that knows
what epic poetry is that here we are to be in the presence of fine
issues finely wrought--

  There was a dwelling of Kings ere the world was waxen old;
  Dukes were the door-wards there, and the roofs were thatched
      with gold;
  Earls were the wrights that wrought it, and silver nailed its
      doors:
  Earls' wives were the weaving-women, queens' daughters
      strewed its floors.
  And the masters of its song-craft were the mightiest men
      that cast
  The sails of the storm of battle adown the bickering blast.
  There dwelt men merry-hearted, and in hope exceeding great
  Met the good days and the evil as they went the way of fate,
  There the gods were unforgotten, yea whiles they walked
      with men,
  Though e'en in that world's beginning rose a murmur now
      and again
  Of the midward time and the fading and the last of the
      latter days,
  And the entering in of the terror, and the death of the
      People's Praise:

and the greatness of the poem is manifested long before the finding
of Brynhild.  But up to that point there is lacking in the spirit of
the work as a whole that sense of the inevitable and logical cause
and effect in the weaving of human destiny that gives so marvellous a
strength to the books called Brynhild and Gudrun.

The plan of the poem seems to me, then, to be perfectly wrought, and
the treatment of one part of it not so instinctively right as that of
the rest, which is beyond all criticism.  As to the actual
workmanship apart from the design, the general examination of
Morris's methods which has already been made in an earlier chapter
covers its main characteristics.  But there are qualities here which
were not found in _Jason_ or _The Earthly Paradise_.  There was in
those poems an extraordinary ease and at the same time an indication
of a titanic strength in reserve.  In _Sigurd_ this reserve is used,
but all the ease is, by some superb paradox of artistic power,
retained.  The hewn rocks and the cloud-wrack of Iceland, the great
thews of Sigurd and the might of his god-given sword, the proud
beauty of the deep-bosomed women who are the mates and mothers of
fierce and terrible kings, all these things are sung with a vigour as
tremendous as is their own, and yet there is not a strained moment or
an uncontrolled turn of expression from beginning to end.  And, save
in places where the substance of the story itself momentarily
excludes it, there is always beauty in the strength.  Again we have
but to read a page or two into the poem to find an example.  Sensuous
beauty and fiery strength could not well be more perfectly blended
than in this description of the Volsung throne under the Branstock:--

  So there was the throne of Volsung beneath its blossoming
      bower,
  But high o'er the roof-crest red it rose 'twixt tower and
      tower;
  And therein were the wild hawks dwelling, abiding the dole
      of their lord,
  And they wailed high over the wine, and laughed to the
      waking sword.

And again, when Sigurd is singing in the Niblung hall:--

  But his song and his fond desire go up to the cloudy roof,
  And blend with the eagles' shrilling in the windy night aloof.


It is at the end of the book of Regin that Sigurd finds Brynhild
asleep

                            on the tower-top of the world,
  High over the cloud-wrought castle whence the windy bolts
      are hurled;

and from the moment he awakens her new light and life break into the
narrative.  Not only in their troth-plighting is a new note of human
passion struck, but the Volsung spirit in Sigurd undergoes a change
and takes on a larger charity and a more beneficent purpose.

  So the day grew old about them and the joy of their desire,
  And eve and the sunset came, and faint grew the sunset fire,
  And the shadowless death of the day, was sweet in the
      golden tide;
  But the stars shone forth on the world and the twilight
      changed and died;
  And sure if the first of man-folk had been born to that
      starry night,
  And had heard no tale of the sunrise, he had never longed
      for the light:
  But Earth longed amidst her slumber, as 'neath the night
      she lay,
  And fresh and all abundant abode the deeds of Day.

And these abundant deeds of day are deeds of peace and healing.
Sigurd among Hemir and his 'Lymdale forest lords' brings the dawn of
a new age, when

  The axe-age and the sword-age seem dead a while ago,
  And the age of the cleaving of shields, of brother by
      brother slain,
  And the bitter days of the whoredom, and the hardened lust
      of gain;
  But man to man may hearken, and he that soweth reaps,
  And hushed is the heart of Feurir in the wolf-den of the
      deeps...

and again, when he rides to the Niblungs it is with peace and
comfortable words upon his lips--

  For peace I bear unto thee, and to all the kings of earth
  Who bear the sword aright, and are crowned with the crown
      of worth;
  But unpeace to the lords of evil, and the battle and the death;
  And the edge of the sword to the traitor, and the flame to
      the slanderous breath:
  And I would that the loving were loved, and I would that the
      weary should sleep,
  And that man should hearken to man, and that he that
      soweth should reap.
  Now wide in the world I fare, to seek the dwellings of kings,
  For with them would I do and undo, and be heart of their
      warfarings;
  So I thank thee, lord, for thy bidding, and here in thy house
      will I bide,
  And learn of thy ancient wisdom till forth to the field we ride.

It is in this mellowing of the fierce Volsung strain that the
redemption of the cosmic spirit of the epic is found.  To show this
is a purpose not less noble than that of Milton when he robed himself
to justify the ways of God to man, and it is one which must be
clearly understood before we can hope to grasp the imaginative
impulse that runs as a central thread through all the coloured jewels
of Morris's masterpiece.  This new chastening of the humanity in
Sigurd not only makes the life among which he moves sweeter, but it
reacts upon the most tragic judgments of the gods.  Nothing could be
finer than the way in which we are shown the ennobling influence that
it has upon so terrible an event as the betrayal of Sigurd by the
Niblung Gunnar and his brothers.  It is an act of the blackest
treachery, a violation of sacred vows sworn under the roof-tree of
their home, an act which in the world of Sigmund would have been
merely horrible.  But here it is transfigured by the elemental
humanity working along the logical ways of cause and effect in the
heart of Sigurd and from him into the action of his betrayers, into
pure tragedy.  Before this quickening, enmity between man and man was
a sullen and savage thing, some blinding of their eyes by the hands
of mocking gods, but now it springs from the clear conflict of
essential emotions and it has in it a new element of pity.  Gunnar
knows that the ravelled web can be straightened only in this way, but
there is no loveless exultation in his mood, and in after days he
cherishes the great memory of the man whom he has slain.  And Sigurd
knows of the coming end, but there is no hatred in him--

                            the heart of Hogin he sees,
  And the heart of his brother Gunnar, _and he grieveth sore for
      these_.


In detail Morris discovers a wealth of inventiveness that appears to
be inexhaustible.  He never allows his beauty of expression to be
isolated in such a way as to interfere with the swiftness of
narration, but there are many more instances of separable splendours
in _Sigurd_ than in any other of his poems.  When Sigurd tells King
Elf, his stepfather, that he would go out into the world, the King
answers--

  Forsooth no more may we hold thee than the hazel copse
      may hold
  The sun of the early dawning, that turneth it all into gold.

And how exquisite is this of Gudrun's beauty--

  And her face is a rose of the morning by the night-tide
      framed about.

and how perfect in imagination this of the Volsung King's sword--

  Therewith from the belt of battle he raised the golden sheath,
  And showed the peace-strings glittering around the hidden death.

and there is surely no more lovely description in poetry than this--

  So the hall dusk deepens upon them till the candles come arow,
  And they drink the wine of departing and gird themselves to go;
  And they dight the dark-blue raiment and climb to the wains aloft
  While the horned moon hangs in the heaven and the
      summer wind blows soft.
  Then the yoke-beasts strained at the collar, and the dust
      in the moon arose,
  And they brushed the side of the acre and the blooming dewy close;
  Till at last, when the moon was sinking and the night was
      waxen late,
  The warders of the earl-folk looked forth from the Niblung gate
  And saw the gold pale-gleaming, and heard the wain-wheels crush
  The weary dust of the summer amidst the midnight hush.


In _Sigurd_, too, Morris's power of investing his language with the
utmost dramatic compression at exactly the right moment is developed
to its highest point.  One example may be given.  Regin means to use
Sigurd for his own ends--to make him secure the treasure of Fafnir.
But Sigurd as yet has no will for action--

  the wary foot is surest, and the hasty oft turns back.

Then the craft of Regin is concentrated into six lines--

                            The deed is ready to hand,
  Yet holding my peace is the best, for well thou lovest the land:
  And thou lovest thy life moreover, and the peace of thy
      youthful days,
  And why should the full-fed feaster his hand to the rye-bread raise?
  Yet they say that Sigmund begat thee and he looked to fashion a man.
  Fear nought; he lieth quiet in his mound by the sea-waves wan.

and Sigurd cries back--

  Tell me, thou Master of Masters, what deed is the deed I
      shall do?
  Nor mock thou the son of Sigmund lest the day of his
      birth thou rue.


In the treatment of the poem throughout, however, the quality that is
predominant may be most fittingly described as magnificence of
imagination.  This is, of course, a thing quite distinct from mere
magnificence of phrase.  Not only is the utterance splendid, but the
thing uttered and the thing suggested are splendid too.  The voices
are indeed tremendous, but that is because they are the voices of
tremendous people.  We feel always that we are moving among a
humanity not in any way idealized, but framed in the proportions of
giants, purged of everything inessential and tautened in all its
sinews.  And when the spirits of these people are drawn up to some
unwonted height of emotional intensity the result is a cry from a
world the knowledge of which moves us to a heroic hope for our race.
The grief of Gudrun over Sigurd dead, with the wonderful refrain
interwoven by the narrator, is a grief that in itself is a triumph
over any blows that destiny can inflict.  Once man can sorrow in this
fashion, we feel he has conquered his fate.  And the death-song of
Gunnar is yet more magnificent.  The poet who wrote that wonderful
chant of man in the face of death has fathomed the very depths of
song-craft.  Readers who know Morris's poetry will forgive me for
taking them through these lines once again--

  So perished the Gap of the Gaping, and the cold sea
      swayed and sang,
  And the wind came down on the waters, and the beaten
      rock-walls rang;
  There the Sun from the south came shining, and the
      Starry Host stood round,
  And the wandering Moon of the heavens his habitation
      found;
  And they knew not why they were gathered, nor the
       deeds of their shaping they knew:
  But lo, Mid-Earth the Noble 'neath their might and their
      glory grew,
  And the grass spread over its face, and the Night and the
      Day were born,
  And it cried on the Death in the even, and it cried on the
      Life in the morn;
  Yet it waxed and waxed, and knew not, and it lived and
      had not learned;
  And where were the Framers that framed, and the Soul
      and the Might that had yearned?

  On the Thrones are the Powers that fashioned, and they
      name the Night and the Day,
  And the tide of the Moon's increasing, and the tide of his
      waning away;
  And they name the years for the story; and the Lands
      they change and change,
  The great and the mean and the little, that this unto that
      may be strange:
  They met, and they fashioned dwellings, and the House
      of Glory they built;
  They met, and they fashioned the Dwarf-kind, and the
      Gold and the Gifts and the Guilt.

  There were twain, and they went upon earth, and were
      speechless unmighty and wan;
  They were hopeless, deathless, lifeless, and the Mighty
      named them Man;
  Then they gave them speech and power, and they gave
      them colour and breath;
  And deeds and the hope they gave them, and they gave
      them Life and Death;
  Yea, hope, as the hope of the Framers; yea, might, as the
      Fashioners had,
  Till they wrought, and rejoiced in their bodies, and saw
      their sons and were glad:
  And they changed their lives and departed, and came back
      as the leaves of the trees
  Come back and increase in the summer:--and I, I, I am
      of these;
  And I know of Them that have fashioned, and the deeds
      that have blossomed and grow;
  But nought of the God's repentance, or the God's undoing
      I know.


No more striking example of the meaning of personality in poetry
could well be found than in a comparison between this song and the
famous second chorus of Swinburne's "Atalanta in Calydon," which had
been published ten years earlier.  Superficially there is a kinship
both of substance and music, but superficially only.  A moderately
sensitive ear will immediately catch the difference in the swell of
the lines, and the substance is alike just as a landscape of Turner
is like one of Corot's--they are both landscapes.

The imaginative and moral atmosphere of Sigurd is that of the
northern peoples.  The figures of the story are giants and move along
their lives as such, but there is always behind them the mute shadow
of a yet greater immensity, the fate that reveals itself through no
oracles.  At the moments of their most glorious victories and
sweetest attainment, these men and women, Sigurd and Gunnar and
Brynhild and Gudrun and their fellows, are more or less consciously
in the presence of the end that makes neither presage nor promise.
The hope of Valhall is in reality no more than sublime courage.
Morris himself, in a letter written at the time when he was going
through the Sagas, said 'what a glorious outcome of the worship of
Courage these stories are.'  This is, finally, the supreme gift of
the northern race to the world, and it is embodied for us for ever in
the song of _Sigurd the Volsung_; not unquestioning acceptance, not
the cheerful strength of faith, not mere indifference begotten of the
delights of the immediate moment, but a deep sense of the mystery
that may or may not be beneficent in its design, and in the face of
all an invulnerable Courage.



VI

TRANSLATIONS AND SOCIALISM

The completion of _Sigurd the Volsung_ may conveniently be treated as
a half-way house in Morris's career.  The poet had fully proved
himself.  The lovely morning song of _Guenevere_, a little uncertain
both in its own expression of life and in the direction along which
it pointed the singer's development, but nevertheless clearly the
promise of some memorable doings in the world of poetry, had matured
through the simple clarity and joyousness of _Jason_ and _The Earthly
Paradise_ into this fierce and elemental strength, corrected as it
were from step to step by the practical experience of the poet's
daily life.  At the beginning of the translation of the Völsunga Saga
he had written--

  So draw ye round and hearken, English Folk,
    Unto the best tale pity ever wrought--

and now he had fashioned that tale anew into its greatest
presentment, raising its spirit into an expression worthy to rank
with the supreme masterpieces of the world.  His creativeness as poet
had not exhausted itself, but it had achieved its most urgent
purpose; it had evolved a life which the poet's imaginative longing
told him might yet be realized on earth.  From this time the business
of setting the crooked straight among the affairs of his day began to
absorb his attention and energy, and in the outcome he published but
one more book of poems, which will be considered later.  In 1875 he
had printed his verse translation of _The Aeneids of Virgil_, about
which, as was inevitable, the opinion of classical scholars was, and
remains, divided.  There is a quality in poetry which is finally
untranslatable from one language to another, the quality that is knit
into the words themselves.  The ecstasy of which I have spoken is
capable of a thousand shades of spiritual colour, and when a poet is
moved by it he is moved by it in a kind that can never be precisely
repeated, either in himself or another.  The translator as a rule
gives us the substance and loses this other quality altogether; the
most that we can hope for is that he may be a poet himself, and,
retaining the substance, substitute an ecstasy of his own which shall
in some measure compensate for the loss of the particular exaltation
of the original.  This Morris does; reading his translation we
may--indeed must--miss some essential Virgilian quality, but we have
the great story faithfully told, and we have poetry.  We may continue
to ask for more than that, but we shall continue to be denied.  This
translation was followed by _The Odyssey_ in 1887 and _Beowulf_ in
1895.

The growth of Morris's socialism can fortunately be traced without
divergence into chronological data.  Of its nature we have already
seen something in considering his poetry, but in _A Dream of John
Ball_ and _News from Nowhere_ he defined it in detail, not only in
its imaginative but also in its practical aspect.  Before turning to
these it will be well briefly to outline his movements in the later
years of his life.  The business of Morris and Company had already
passed into his own hands, not without some difficulty--though
without friction--in closing the partnership arrangements.  This
really meant but little added labour, as he had in effect been
responsible for its control almost since its commencement.  In 1877
he was asked whether he would accept the Professorship of Poetry at
Oxford in the event of its being offered to him, and declined
emphatically though graciously enough.  In the next year he moved to
the house on the Mall at Hammersmith to which was attached the
lecture room where the early meetings of the Hammersmith Socialists
were held, and his active propagandist work had begun.  In addition
to constant meetings and lectures on socialism and art, the conduct
of his paper _The Commonweal_, and his own business affairs, he
undertook any work that came to his hand for the furtherance of his
fixed ideal.  Among other things he was one of the founders and the
first secretary of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient
Buildings, and finally he linked to his name the brief but noble
career of the Kelmscott Press.  He died on the 3rd of October, 1896,
at the age of sixty-three, and was buried in the churchyard at
Kelmscott, wearied out but not embittered by the strife of his later
years and the insults of people who could only feel the vigour of his
blows without understanding the cause in which they were struck.

_A Dream of John Ball_ was published in 1888.  In it Morris gives
once again a picture of that life lived in close contact with earth
which he so earnestly desired, but it is not the complete life of
_The Earthly Paradise_ or _News from Nowhere_.  The people are not
yet free, although they have not yet fallen to the indifference to
freedom that Morris looked upon as the most distressing manifestation
of his own day.  Together with this picture we have a long discussion
between John Ball, the people's priest, and the dreamer--Morris
himself--as to the result of the risings that are then taking shape,
and the future of civilization.  The hope that the priest cries out
to the people from the village cross becomes in turn the hope of
Morris for his own generation, and slowly, in the talk that follows,
the dreamer outlines the whole cause and effect of the evil that is
analysed much more closely in _News from Nowhere_; the age of
commercial tyranny that shall come will be strong in its days because
the slaves will nurse the hope that they themselves may rise to the
seats of the tyrants in turn--'and this shall be the very safeguard
of all rule and law in those days.'  John Ball speaks with the voice
of Morris.  When he was in prison he--


    'lay there a-longing for the green fields and the white-thorn
    bushes and the lark singing over the corn, and the talk of good
    fellows round the ale-house bench, and the babble of the little
    children, and the team on the road and the beasts afield, and all
    the life of earth.'


The book need not be considered in detail in connection with Morris's
socialism, for it is but a suggestion, whilst _News from Nowhere_ is
an elaborate statement.  But it contains certain words that were very
close to Morris's heart.  The recognition, for example, that humanity
cannot reach the simplicity that he conceived to be its finest end
without much thought and careful fostering, or in other words that
this simplicity was not the product of barbarism but of a highly
perfected state of evolution, finds expression in the frank
acceptance by this clear-headed and high-hearted priest of the value
of his companion's scholarship.  In this book, as always, Morris kept
his work definitely in the region of imaginative art.  Not only is
the descriptive writing vivid and full of beauty, but he retains
throughout the full power of literary illusion.  This is very
strikingly shown in the pages where the priest questions the dreamer
as to what will be the end of that distant day of oppression of which
they are speaking.  Will a new and clear day break on us?  As we read
through to the answer we become deeply concerned as to what it will
be, as though we were listening indeed to one speaking with
authority; and when we find that it is one of hopefulness and courage
we feel strangely and splendidly reassured.  We know again that the
finest persuasiveness is that of art.

_News from Nowhere_ appeared in America in 1890 and in England in
1891.  It has been, perhaps, the most popular of all Morris's
writings, but curiously under-estimated by his critics both as a
practical enunciation of his social creed and as an embodiment of his
social vision.  The scheme of the book is very simple.  The
narrator--Morris again, of course--goes to bed one winter night at
his Hammersmith house.  He wakes to a fresh June morning in an
altered world.  The life of this world, the new communism somewhere
in the twenty-second century, he describes at length, and weaves into
it a long conversation with one of its old men which traces the
course by which it has grown from the nineteenth century and defines
the errors which it has cancelled.  The constitution of this life may
be assailable at certain points, and some of the steps by which it
has been reached--the armed revolution for instance--may be arbitrary
in conception, but these things are of no moment.  The important fact
is that Morris's indictment of our contemporary social system is
perfectly logical at every point, and that the new life that he
creates is complete in its humanity and not that of a misty world of
dreams.  Of its prophetic value it is impossible to speak; as to that
we can decide in our imagination alone.  But to suggest that the book
is not consistently conscious of the true nature of our social
defects on its negative side, and on its positive side fiercely alive
to the real meaning of life, is merely to misunderstand it and its
subject.  Some examination on both these sides is necessary in
support of this statement, and its negative or destructive teaching
is to be considered first.

Men should have joy in the work of their hands, and they had none.
That, in Morris's view, was the fundamental evil to be cured, and he
seeks at the outset to discover its cause.  Says Hammond, who acts as
spokesman for the new people--


    'Go and have a look at the sheep-walks high up the slopes between
    Ingleborough and Pen-y-gwent and tell me if you think we waste
    the land there by not covering it with factories for making
    things that nobody wants, which was the chief business of the
    nineteenth century!'


This state was the product, he continues, of 'a most elaborate system
of buying and selling, which has been called the World-Market; and
that World-Market, once set a-going, forced them to go on making more
and more of these wares, whether they needed them or not.'  The
result was, of course, that the system became master of the work, and
the work itself ceased to have any significance, and 'under this
horrible burden of unnecessary production it became impossible for
them to look upon labour and its results from any other point of view
than one--to wit, the ceaseless endeavour to expend the least
possible amount of labour on any made, and yet at the same time to
make as many articles as possible.'  Anybody who has had the smallest
experience of commerce knows that this is precisely the vicious
circle into which we have been caught.  And with this Morris sets out
clearly the fact that the support of this state is to the interest
solely of the men who have the power to control labour and not that
of the labour itself, but that the workers have on the one hand, as
he says in the passage quoted from _A Dream of John Ball_, a hope
that they too may become masters and tyrannize in turn, and, on the
other hand, the long habit of drawing wages from these controllers
has imbued them with a dull belief that they are in reality dependent
not on their own work but upon some indefinable source of wealth set
up above them.  Then, again, this system of class privilege has
behind it the power of a government that, though mainly ineffective
in itself, yet controls a further system of right by might--the Law
Courts and police and military, all of which things, with a fine show
of judicial balance, can be and are employed not to develop society
but to uphold establishments, the chief of which is this very
privilege and inequality.  So that by an elaborate structure of
oppression which is necessary to the maintenance of the position of
the few, the people are quite effectually prevented from bringing any
spiritual discipline into their work, and are so deprived of the most
abiding happiness that life has to offer.  That briefly is the
central significance of Morris's social proposition.  The practical
means of deliverance is a matter upon which no two people are likely
to agree, and the method suggested by Morris need not be discussed,
because it does not really affect the general question.  But it
cannot well be denied that his view of the evil is a sound one, and
that deliverance in one way or another is a possibility by which
alone contemplation of the evil is made tolerable.

The constructive aspect of the book not only shows the life for which
Morris hoped, but answers many of the objections made by reaction to
socialism in any shape.  'I have been told,' says the stranger, 'that
political strife was a necessary result of human nature.'


    'Human nature!' cried the old boy impetuously; 'what human
    nature?'  The human nature of paupers, of slaves, of
    slave-holders, or the human nature of wealthy freemen?  Which?
    Come, tell me that!


And then again--


    'Now, this is what I want to ask you about, to wit, how you get
    people to work when there is no reward of labour, and especially
    how you get them to work strenuously?'

    'No reward of labour?' said Hammond, gravely, 'the reward of
    labour is life.  Is that not enough?'

    'But no reward for especially good work,' quoth I.

    'Plenty of reward,' said he, 'the reward of creation.  The wages
    which God gets, as people might have said time agone.  If you are
    going to ask to be paid for the pleasure of creation, which is
    what excellence in work means, the next thing we shall hear of
    will be a bill sent in for the begetting of children.'

    'Well, but,' said I, 'the man of the nineteenth century would say
    there is a natural desire toward the procreation of children, and
    a natural desire not to work.'

    'Yes, yes,' said he, 'I know the ancient platitude; wholly
    untrue; indeed, to us quite meaningless.'


That is very simple, and yet it shows the profoundest insight into
the essential nature of humanity.  Nothing is sadder or more
ludicrous than to hear people say that they turn to the degraded
sensationalism that passes for life in daily report because of their
interest in human nature.  The enervating influence of this
perversion of life upon much of our finest artistic genius has been
mentioned.  Morris was not much given to criticizing contemporary
literature in his writing, but he makes one of the people in his new
world say of certain books of the late nineteenth century--


    'But I say flatly that in spite of all their cleverness and
    vigour, and capacity for story telling, there is something
    loathsome about them.  Some of them, indeed, do here and there
    show some feeling for those whom the history-books call 'poor,'
    and of the misery of whose lives we have some inkling; but
    presently they give it up, and towards the end of the story we
    must be contented to see the hero and heroine living in an island
    of bliss on other people's troubles; and that after a long series
    of sham troubles (or mostly sham) of their own making,
    illustrated by dreary introspective nonsense about their feelings
    and aspirations, and all the rest of it.'


That was written before the new day of John Galsworthy and John
Masefield, and even then Morris would have been the first to make
many honourable exclusions from his charge.  But the charge itself
was founded on deep understanding.

In the life to which the revolt against this sham life has led in
_News from Nowhere_ the radical change is, of course, that all this
misuse of work has been abolished.  People no longer make unnecessary
things and so find time to make the necessary things well.  And the
very act of doing this has brought a strange new exultation into
their lives, and once again human nature has come into its own
unbridled expression.  They still have their troubles, their
love-quarrels, 'the folly which comes by nature, the unwisdom of the
immature man, or the older men caught in a trap,' the anxiety of the
mother as to her children--'they may indeed turn out better or worse;
they may disappoint her highest hopes; such anxieties as these are a
part of the mingled pleasure and pain which goes to make up the life
of mankind,'--but they are free of the cares of a time when the aim
of men's work was to come uppermost in competition and not to make
the work its own joy and reward.  The men and women still have their
difficult sex problems to solve, but they do not complicate them by
wilful neglect of obvious facts; they recognize for instance that a
man or a woman may love quite genuinely and tire and even love again
as at first, and if a match does not turn out well, they break it and
shake off the grief 'in a way which perhaps the sentimentalists of
other times would think contemptible and unheroic, but which we think
necessary and manlike.'  Their acceptance of these natural facts does
not mean that they live in a state of disorganized and capricious
relationship.  Faithful love is a common enough condition among them,
but they are not unwise enough to suppose that when it is not present
its place can be satisfactorily and wholesomely taken by an
artificial pretence.  Finding this joy in the work of their hands,
and seeing no end to work other than that joy, they have lost all
jealousy of the work of their fellows, and every man is encouraged to
the best that is in him by common consent and approval.  Infinite
variety has taken the place of monotony, and one man's pleasure in
another's achievement the place of fear that it may mean loss to
himself.  Hammond can say--


    We live amidst beauty without fear of becoming effeminate, ... we
    have plenty to do, and on the whole enjoy doing it.  What more
    can we ask of life?


What indeed?  It must be remembered that he says 'we.'  The delight
is complete only because it is common to all.


    'In time past, indeed, men were told to love their kind, to
    believe in the religion of humanity and so forth.  But look you,
    just in the degree that a man had elevation of mind and
    refinement enough to be able to value this idea was he repelled
    by the obvious aspect of the individuals composing the mass which
    he was to worship; and he could only evade that repulsion by
    making a conventional abstraction of mankind that had little
    actual or historical relation to the race, which to his eyes was
    divided into blind tyrants on the one hand and apathetic degraded
    slaves on the other.  But now, where is the difficulty in
    accepting the religion of humanity, when the men and women who go
    to make up humanity are free, happy, and energetic at least, and
    most commonly beautiful of body also, and surrounded by beautiful
    things of their own fashioning, and a nature bettered and not
    worsened by contact with mankind?'


That was Morris's clear conviction as to the whole question, and the
word that he uses to describe the new meaning of work--that is the
remedy of all the social evils against which he was in revolt--is art.

This, then, was the creed and the hope that Morris set out in detail
in _News from Nowhere_.  That the dream was farther from realization
than he thought may be the unhappy truth, but of this at least we are
sure, that he dreamt a good thing.  The picture that he shows us is
of healthy, aspiring, joyous men and women, full of sweet humour and
clean passion, who, far from having lost all incentive to endeavour,
have found a new and tremendous cause for endeavour in every hour of
the day.  For them work and worship have become one, and of the union
has come life.  The prose that Morris uses is beautiful because
perfectly adapted to its purpose.  In the practical discussions on
particular questions the style is swift and incisive; in the
descriptions of the life of his new world it is coloured by all his
tenderness and love for men and natural beauty.  'The earth and the
growth and the life of it!  If I could but say or show how I love
it!'  It is a cry always ready upon his lips.  And he brings to his
work here, too, a charming and whimsical humour.  The little sketch
of that wonderful person the Golden Dustman is a master-stroke of
genuinely human comedy.  And the humour may be leavened with
admirable satire; he has in his mind a certain day in Trafalgar
Square, when 'unarmed and peaceable people were attacked by ruffians
armed with bludgeons.'  'And they put up with that?' says Dick--


    'We _had_ to put up with it; we couldn't help it.'

    The old man looked at me keenly and said: 'You seem to know a
    great deal about it, neighbour!  And is it really true that
    nothing came of it?'

    'This came of it,' said I, 'that a good many people were sent to
    prison because of it.'

    'What, of the bludgeoners?' said the old man.  'Poor devils!'

    'No, no,' said I, 'of the bludgeoned.'

    Said the old man rather severely: 'Friend, I expect that you have
    been reading some rotten collection of lies, and have been taken
    in by it too easily.'


The book has been described, quite aptly, as insular.  In its
atmosphere and colour it is essentially English.  The accounts of a
reconstructed London and a cleansed countryside, of the great Thames
reaches and the stone buildings of the Cotswolds, of the happy and
generous but rather silent folk, of their traditions and customs and
their characteristics, are all written by an Englishman of Englishmen
and their country.  Their natures have not been fundamentally
changed, but stripped of the excrescences of an effete and degraded
society, and they are still drawn in their proper relation to their
native landscape.  They are the clearly wrought ideal of our race,
but they have left in them nothing of those products of our race who
consistently confuse expediency with ethical fitness, sentimentalism
with passion, and celebrate the planting of the British flag in all
sorts of places where it is not in the least wanted by calling
themselves God's Englishmen.



VII

PROSE ROMANCES AND POEMS BY THE WAY

During the later years of his life, when he was distracted by the
many claims of his active socialism and constantly harassed by
details of organization and the efforts to reconcile people who,
having the same interests, persisted in misunderstanding each other,
Morris wrote a series of prose romances that hold a distinctive place
in his art.  His long poems show us a life conceived on lines that I
have sought to trace, approached in a mood of austere responsibility
and defined with all the completeness that he could bring to work.
In these prose romances the life is unchanged, but it is seen through
a different mood.  It is as though he turned aside from the stress of
his daily work to the world that his imagination had already created
as the only sane one for men, and saw it with a kind of new
leisureliness and wholesome irresponsibility.  It was impossible for
him to allow fancy to intrude upon the life that he desired to the
exclusion of any of its vital qualities, but, as far as was possible
without such offence to his artistic conscience, in these romances he
indulged his faculty for story-telling without curb.  The people and
their adventures and characters are still, as in the poems, related
continuously to Morris's radical conception of life, but they are no
longer related to any central purpose contained in the work of art
itself.  The waywardness and profuseness of romanticism are here
carried to their extreme limits, and yet we never feel that the
narratives are formless, so powerful and fixed is the vision through
which Morris draws them into unity.  The justification of his
indifference to the ordinary demands of construction in a book like
_The Roots of the Mountains_, is that we do not feel that the work
would gain in any way were he scrupulously careful in this matter.
Morris had created a world in his imagination, just and beautiful as
it seemed to him.  From that world he drew the substance of his great
poems, reducing it to the essential and symbolic terms of art.
_Jason_ and _The Earthly Paradise_ and _Sigurd_ are all perfectly
constructed results of the submission of this world to the severe
process of artistic selection.  But in the later prose romances we
are led into the very world itself from which these things were
drawn, and given leave to wander through it as we will.  We find that
it is cosmic as life is cosmic, but it is not yet wrought into the
stricter proportions of art.  If we can think of Morris writing
through another generation, it is impossible to believe that he would
have turned again, say, to the Volsung story; that he had shaped
finally in _Sigurd the Volsung_; but we feel that he might have found
material in these romances for poem after poem, that, indeed, they
are, as it were, a panoramic expression of the world from which his
poems must inevitably be imagined.  There is in them nothing of
inconsistency, but there is a prodigal diffuseness that belongs
rather to nature than to art.  They are the storehouse from which
Morris's own art was drawn, and poets to come may yet turn to them as
they do to Malory or as Morris himself did to the Sagas.

The choice of prose for these romances was, for this reason, not in
any way arbitrary but the result of sound artistic deliberation.
Where Morris used the same material and crystallized it through his
finest imaginative impulse, verse was the natural and inevitable
medium; but he is here showing us the material before it had been
subjected to this highest creative energy, and there is not the
spiritual fusion that makes verse necessary to complete expression.
The prose that he uses is stamped always with his personality, and so
justifies itself even where most open to criticism.  It is commonly
of extraordinary beauty, full of the gravity and high manners that
belong to the heroic atmosphere of the stories themselves; and even
where the adaptation of an archaic method of speech is most
pronounced it is not self-conscious.  All language is dependent
largely on convention, and that Morris used a convention that was not
generally accepted was a virtue in workmanship rather than a vice.
The important thing is that he was consistent in the use, or, in
other words, that his convention was never a mannerism but definitely
a corporate part of his style.

These stories are but another instance of the remarkable range of
Morris's artistic power.  They do not, of course, rank with his own
most splendid work, but in a particular kind of prose romance they
attain an excellence that had not been known in England for several
centuries.  And in the ease with which they hold our interest in the
story and at the same time maintain a perfect consistency of
character, they show that, had he chosen, Morris might have added yet
another to his many achievements, and challenged comparison with the
best of Fielding's successors.  The Bride and the Sunbeam,
Face-of-God and Walter and Folk-Might, and, above all, Dallach, are
drawn with that certainty and depth of understanding of the
individual that are perhaps the chief distinction of the youngest of
the literary arts in England.

In 1891 Morris's last book of poems, _Poems By The Way_, was
published by the Kelmscott Press.  In it the poet gathered together
some fifty of his shorter poems written at intervals during the
thirty years since the publication of _The Defence of Guenevere_, and
there are naturally in the volume a wide range of subjects and much
diversity of manner.  Fragments from rejected or unfinished tales
intended for _The Earthly Paradise_, fine echoes and memories of his
Icelandic studies and travel, lyrical expressions of this mood or
that, translations from the Flemish and Danish and his beloved
saga-tongue, fairy tales, chants that grew out of his socialism, and
a few poems that show that when he chose to apply his poetic vision
to modern conditions he could do so with profound penetration, are
brought together almost at haphazard.  If, as Mr. Arthur Symons says,
a pageant is a shining disorder, then this book is truly a pageant.
And yet behind all these expressions of many times and moods is to be
seen the central impulse of Morris's life knitting them together into
a clear spiritual unity.  It seems a far cry from the delicate
tenderness of 'From the Upland to the Sea' to the passion of 'Mother
and Son,' from the sombre brooding of 'To the Muse of the North' to
the airy romance of 'Goldilocks and Goldilocks,' yet they are all
unmistakably begotten of the same temperament.  The high reverence
for naked life, the insistence on labour being joyful if it was not
to be abominable, the fierce worship of beauty and the courageous
acceptance of its passing, these were the things by which Morris had
his being, and they are woven into all the pages of his last book.
He was a man who took literally no thought as to the relation of the
work in hand to that of years passed.  A story is told of him that
when a friend who was helping him to collect the material for _Poems
By The Way_ brought a poem to him he could not remember having
written a line of it.  The perfect consistency of his aim and temper
from first to last is the more remarkable in consequence, and the
kinship between two fragmentary expressions of his life, divided
perhaps by thirty years, is fine to see.  His understanding of the
ideal towards which he strove became clearer as he passed through his
strenuous existence, and his powers of realizing it in his art
matured steadily to the end, but the ideal itself was unchanged.
That in an artist is a splendid thing: a thing that perhaps of all
others is the token of his divinity.  For it is that central
certainty of purpose that is immortal in him, austerely set above the
change of circumstance.  The form of his art may pass from its first
imitative and awkward groping slowly to its perfection or it may
prove itself at the beginning, but it is the great guiding purpose
that he cannot gain by seeking, and that lends truth to the common
phrase.

Of certain of the poems no more than a word need be said, whilst
others need to be considered more fully.  The northern poems, such as
'Gunnar's Howe' and 'Of the Wooing of Hallbiorn' and those belonging
to the _Earthly Paradise_ period are beautiful strays from phases of
the poet's work that have already been discussed.  Here and there we
find a deliberate return to an earlier manner, as in 'The Hall and
the Wood,' written in 1890, where many of the devices used in the
Guenevere volume are again employed and with even greater success.
Here, for example, is a beautiful reminiscence of lines already
quoted--

  She stood before him face to face,
  With the sun-beam thwart her hand,
  As on the gold of the Holy Place
  The painted angels stand.

  With many a kiss she closed his eyes;
  She kissed him cheek and chin:
  E'en so in the painted Paradise
  Are Earth's folk welcomed in.


The short lyrics, 'Love's Gleaning Tide,' 'Spring's Bedfellow,' 'Pain
and Time Strive Not,' and two or three others, have just that
intangible beauty that makes lyrical poetry at once unforgettable and
impossible to discuss in any detail.  In one of them, 'The Garden by
the Sea,' which is the lovely song from the Hylas episode in _Jason_,
Morris altered three lines, not, I think, for the better.  The fairy
poem 'Goldilocks and Goldilocks' is play, but the play of a great
poet.  Then we have the charming verses written for tapestries and
pictures, slight enough and yet struck by Morris's unerring instinct
into sparks of poetry.  This of the Vine--

  I draw the blood from out the earth;
  I store the sun for winter mirth.

and this of the Mulberry Tree--

  Love's lack hath dyed my berries red:
  For Love's attire my leaves are shed.

are perfect of their kind.  There remain two groups, both inspired
more or less by the same impulse, but differing a good deal in their
artistic value.  The first of these consists of poems written
directly to embody the principles of active socialism that absorbed
the greater part of his energy in later life; it includes 'All for
the Cause,' 'The Day is Coming,' and 'The Voice of Toil' among
others.  Here again Morris proved his incapacity to write verse that
was not poetry, but he gets nearer to the border-line at times in
these poems than he does anywhere else in his work; he is, however,
still well on the right side.  'All for the Cause' is a fine direct
challenge to the workers to assert their own lives, but the challenge
is made to all that is best in their nature, even to the best of that
nature that the poet hopes will yet be fostered in them.  'The Day is
Coming' has a strong vein of irony in it that looks a little strange
in Morris's verse, and yet it is admirably managed--

  For then, laugh not, but listen to this strange tale of mine,
  All folk that are in England shall be better lodged than swine.

  Then a man shall work and bethink him, and rejoice in the
      deeds of his hand,
  Nor yet come home in the even too faint and weary to stand.

  Men in that time a-coming shall work and have no fear
  For to-morrow's lack of earning and the hunger-wolf anear.

  I tell you this for a wonder, that no man shall be glad
  Of his fellow's fall and mishap to snatch at the work he had.

  For that which the worker winneth shall then be his indeed,
  Nor shall half be reaped for nothing by him that sowed no seed.

  O strange new wonderful justice!  But for whom shall we
      gather the gain?
  For ourselves and for each of our fellows, and no hand shall
      labour in vain.

  Then all Mine and all Thine shall be Ours, and no more
      shall any man crave
  For riches that serve for nothing but to fetter a friend for a
      slave.

The tremendous sincerity that induced an artist so sensitive to the
proper uses of his art to press it into the service of a cause to
which he had linked his life is in itself a justification of the
result.  The higher qualities of his imagination may be momentarily
set aside, but the thing is nevertheless afire; it burns with
conviction.  The optimism that disgusts us is the optimism that is
not in direct relation to effort.  The sacrifices that Morris was
making to his socialism in the practical conduct of his life were
reflected quite clearly in the spirit of these poems and quickened
it.  It is said that this poetry was written for the occasion, but it
must be remembered that the occasion was one knit into the very fibre
of the poet's being.  A curious poem which belongs to this group is
'The God of the Poor,' the first draft of which was written about
1870 or earlier.  A simple story of allegorical cast, telling of the
overcoming of the oppressor of the people, Maltete, by their
deliverer Boncoeur, it is interesting as showing a definite attitude
in the poet's mind towards these problems years before he sought
actively to deal with them.

In the second of the groups of which I speak are six or seven poems
that deal with some particular rather than general aspect of life.
'Hope Dieth: Love Liveth' and 'Error and Loss' touch remote, though
essential, aspects of the psychology of love, if I may use the
phrase, with a subtlety that was one of Browning's peculiar
distinctions.  The endurance of love when everything, even hope, is
lost, and the pathos of the defeat of love's end by mere chance, have
never been handled with greater poignancy and insight.  'Of The Three
Seekers' lacks this depth of vision, and states rather than
convinces, though there is that habitual simplicity of Morris in the
statement that gives it its own value.  In 'Drawing Near the Light'
we have lyrical expression of a universal mood drawn into contact
with a particular state.  It may be quoted in full--

  Lo, when we wade the tangled wood,
  In haste and hurry to be there,
  Nought seem its leaves and blossoms good,
  For all that they be fashioned fair.

  But looking up, at last we see
  The glimmer of the open light,
  From o'er the place where we would be:
  Then grow the very brambles bright.

  So now, amidst our day of strife,
  With many a matter glad we play,
  When once we see the light of life
  Gleam through the tangle of to-day.

There is here a suggestion of the application of Morris's whole
poetic vision to the concrete affairs of his socialism that found its
supreme achievement in the three magnificent poems, 'The Message of
the March Wind,' 'Mother and Son' and 'The Half of Life Gone.'  In
these poems the contemplation of life amid the conflicting currents
that spring from a particular phase in the evolution of civilization
rather than from the fundamental sources of humanity is lifted into
the highest regions of poetry.  They stand apart from, though not
above, the rest of Morris's work, and are indirectly an emphatic
vindication of his general method.  What that method was we have
examined already, but in these poems he gave final proof that if he
chose to bring his art into superficial and obvious relation with the
localized conditions of his time he could do so as admirably as any
man.  That with the consciousness of this power in himself he
deliberately chose the other method in the great mass of his work is
the reply to his critics who suggest that he turned away from his own
time in his art because he was not stirred to any real imaginative
understanding of it.

'The Message of the March Wind' is the complete expression of the
central tenet of his socialistic creed.  The poet--or the speaker--is
keenly responsive to the things that Morris held to be alone of worth
in life.  He is among the green beauty of earth in the springtide;
the woman he loves with him.  They have wandered

  From township to township, o'er down and by village,

and now they stand in the twilight, looking down the white road
before them, where

  The straw from the ox-yard is blowing about;
  The moon's rim is rising, a star glitters o'er us,
  And the vane on the spire-top is swinging in doubt.

They are in the full content of their love and the sweetness of the
earth, and then--

  Hark, the wind in the elm-boughs! from London it bloweth,
  And telleth of gold, of hope and unrest:
  Of power that helps not; of wisdom that knoweth,
  But teacheth not aught of the worst and the best.


The contrast is thus imagined, and leads the poet into a direct
statement of his understanding of the whole problem.  He never
flattered the people for whom he was working into the belief that the
great unleavened majority had the wisdom of the world on its side.
His rejection of that idea was as emphatic as Ibsen's.  What he
sought was to make them realize the fact themselves.  He did not tell
them that they were fitted for the great simple joys of life, but
that they had the right to be so fitted, and that it was in
themselves alone to assert that right.  His aim was to make them
discontented with themselves and the ugliness of their own lives,
knowing that once this was done the rest would inevitably follow.
And he realized, on the other hand, that the life which he worshipped
was made impossible and all its virtue destroyed simply by the
surroundings that by some obscure process of evil had established
themselves on earth.  The happiness of the speaker and his lover in
this fresh beauty of the spring twilight was the outcome not of any
inherent virtue of their own, but of the mere chance of their escape
from this disease of circumstance.

  Hark! the March wind again of a people is telling:
  Of the life that they live there, so haggard and grim,
  That if we and our love amidst them had been dwelling
  My fondness had faltered, thy beauty grown dim.

The poem takes up, with exquisite tenderness, the hope that these
people over whom the March wind has passed will yet awaken from their
sleep of degradation, and turns back again to the quiet peace of the
village inn with the 'lights and the fire,'

  And the fiddler's old tune and the shuffling of feet;
  For there in a while shall be rest and desire,
  And there shall the morrow's uprising be sweet.

The whole poem is one more witness to the sovereignty of art.  The
deepest social difficulty of our time is here drawn through the
meshes of the artist's imagination and, purged of everything
inessential, set out in vibrating colour and line far more appealing
and convincing than all the statistical statements of the lords of
rule.  The failure of our modern legislation to realize the value of
art in any hope of national regeneration is not the least of its
blunders.  Artists have, happily, escaped from the patronage of
courts, but until the propagandists rediscover the fact that they
must bring back the artists to their help, not as servants but as
fellow labourers, they will not work wisely.  The artists continue
their labour, building some beauty in the world.  That labour can be
directed by no one but themselves, but it is at their peril that the
workers who are striving, earnestly enough, towards a better hope
refuse to throw the creations of the artist into the balance with
their own endeavour.  To bring poetry to the issue of a definite
social problem, is, unfortunately, thought of as mere idleness.  But
let 'The Message of the March Wind' be delivered to the people up and
down the land, as systematically if need be as the demand for rent or
taxes, and it will be heard willingly enough, and when it is heard
there will be new life among us.  I speak in metaphors, but there may
be method even in a metaphor.  For 'The Message of the March Wind'
might bring people in turn to _The Earthly Paradise_, and then the
aim of Morris's art--of all art--would be understood by the world.

'Mother and Son' is wider than 'The Message of the March Wind' in its
scope inasmuch as it deals with a subject less peculiar to a
particular generation or age, narrower in that it is concerned with
one definite event instead of general conditions.  A woman is
speaking to her love-child.  To analyse the poem would be to quote it
almost line by line, but the conflict of the very roots of humanity
with the blind dictates of circumstance, the tenderness of motherhood
and the wistful yearning of a soul crossed in an uncharitable social
scheme could scarcely find an expression more purely poetic.  And
'The Half of Life Gone' touches this conflict with equal vigour and
pity.

Reading these poems we are glad that Morris ordered his art as he
did.  Beautiful as they are and perfectly as they show the
possibility of bringing all things into the purifying influence of
the imaginative faculty, they yet leave us with an exultation that
has in it some strain of despondency.  Through no fault in the poet's
working there is somewhere a flaw in the crystal.  We thank him for
showing us these things as we had not seen them before, but he has
already tutored us too well.  We turn back to the life that he has
already made necessary to our being in the quiet ways of _The Earthly
Paradise_ and the great wind-swept world of _Sigurd the Volsung_.



VIII

CONCLUSION

To enquire whether Marlowe was a greater poet than Milton or Milton a
greater than Keats is but to juggle with words and to spin them into
nothingness.  It is enough that all were great.  It is no honour to
the giants of the earth to pit them one against another for our
sport.  That Morris was or was not the greatest poet of his age or
century is a matter of complete unimportance upon which nothing
depends.  The supremely important thing, the splendid circumstance,
is that here again in due season was a man unmistakably moulded in
heroic proportions, one claiming and proving kinship with the masters
whose names are but few.  If humanity was fortunate enough to see
others of his peers in his own day we can but be thankful for grace
so prodigal; but, however that may be, here at least was one
establishing anew the proudest succession of mankind.  The creator of
_Sigurd the Volsung_ and so much more that is compact of sane and
wholesome magnificence has his rightful company, and it may well be
the gladdest boast of the world that he has; but in that company
there are no degrees.  Æschylus, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Michael
Angelo, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Beethoven, Wagner, Shelley,
Wordsworth--there is an inspiration to the lips in the very names of
these men and their fellows, but there must be no disputation as to
the headship in their presence; they themselves will but laugh if
they heed us at all.  And Morris is, as I see him, clearly of that
fellowship.  By some strange generosity of nature he was not only
allowed to give great poetry to the world, but also to readjust for
us the significance of life in phases a little lower than the
highest.  It happened that a man who had the profoundest sense of the
real nature of circumstance and conditions in his generation could
enforce his direct and practical teaching by a creative imagination
of the highest order.  It would, perhaps, be fitter to say that in
this man a supreme creative faculty was allied to another faculty
that enabled him to interpret his imaginative art to the world in
terms of immediate practice.  The result of this is that although the
indirect influence of his creative art--and that is always the
profoundest influence in these things--is neither more nor less
definable than that of other men of an equal power, his direct
influence not upon abstract or scientific thought but upon the
spiritual perception of men, has perhaps been more instant and
far-reaching than that of any man in the history of English genius.
It is, indeed, difficult to find anywhere a precise parallel to the
curious phenomenon that was Morris.  Experience proves the advent of
a great poet to be apparently capricious, the unconsidered whim of
powers that make but little distinction of seasons.  The "Songs of
Innocence" were quite definitely sung in the wilderness.  But that
manifestation of genius which covers a range wider than its own
finest creation, and takes on something of universality in pervading
itself not only with its own life but with the life of the world,
would seem to be reserved for days that mark the culmination of some
memorable epoch of imaginative activity, and in itself to be the
crowning expression of such days.  Michael Angelo and Shakespeare
came at times when national life had been running with rare spiritual
force for some years; when, that is to say, the world was cherishing
beauty and had rich gifts to offer such men when they arose.  The
great word was but seeking a voice, and it is difficult to dissociate
Michael Angelo from the impulse of Renaissance Italy, or Shakespeare
from the impulse of Elizabethan England.  The mighty utterance of
these men was their own, wrought into its perfection by their
separate and distinctive temperaments; of the essential isolation of
the artist I have already spoken.  But it is nevertheless an
utterance in some measure made possible by the currents of the time
in which it came and one for which an examination of the immediately
preceding years prepares us.  These men are exultant figures
challenging the world for ever from heights that they did not build
unaided.  This, of course, does not effect their achievement, and the
subordination of many splendid forces to one supreme end is, perhaps,
the highest exercise of the faculty of design in the cosmic genius.
The coming of such men is not less moving because it seems to be
inevitable, but that it does seem inevitable is clear.  There are,
too, times when men move, as it were, in a kind of receptive stupor,
times when great forces are latent in their midst; it is possible for
a man of this imaginative universality to arrive at such a time
without any apparent preparation in the days before him, and, being
at once the pioneer and culmination of a new era, yet not to excite
our astonishment as well as our worship, because the time, although
lending him no impulse, at least offers him no resistance.  The world
could not be said to be expecting Goethe or--Collins and Gray
notwithstanding--Wordsworth, and yet we are not surprised when we
come to these men, because we have been moving through darkness
between light and light, and have been expecting any new and sudden
revelation that might be made--expecting to be surprised.  Goethe and
Wordsworth, unlike Michael Angelo and Shakespeare, did not appear as
the final and perfect articulation of a word passed freely from lip
to lip by their fellows, but they were at least allowed to speak
without any violent denial being implicit in the whole intellectual
and spiritual and artistic attitude of their time.  Having the
revelation of new temperaments to make, they found, inevitably,
isolated voices of criticism against them, but, save for these, the
age, although not demanding them as the logical issue of its own
effort, at least did not appear to be essentially unfitted to produce
them.  _Lyrical Ballads_ was printed at a time that had no deliberate
artistic purpose of its own, but was, nevertheless, ripe for some new
and striking manifestation of the spirit of man.  The night had
already lasted over-long.  Wordsworth, it is true, came strangely
early in the new day, but although the great voice in the dawn was
unusual, it was not amazing.

These men, it would seem then, are to be looked for in a time that
either demands them for its own sublimated utterance or is at least
negatively ready to receive them.  Morris, however, whose genius was
distinguished clearly by this universality, not only was not the
essential figure of a great movement that had grown before and about
him, but he came at a time that, far from demanding him as its
natural fulfilment, was not even waiting to receive any new
impression that might be struck upon it.  When Tennyson had sounded
his clearest music and Browning had wrought his subtlest perceptions
into poetry, it was felt that the highest achievement of a new age
had been reached.  Then when the wonderful second summer of the
romantic revival seemed to be exhausted, Swinburne gave to it a new
term of strong life.  Taking all the material that the new poetry had
used since the first beginnings over a hundred years earlier, he
blended it with his own temperament and gift of speech and, when men
looked for no more than the quiet lapse into imitation and echoes, he
showed it to be capable of an added and ringing significance that had
been wholly unexpected.  Taking language at the value that use had
allotted to it, he not only retained the poetry that had already been
found in those values but made it clear that no one had wrung the
full measure of poetry from them.  After this piling of crest above
crest no further great expression could justly be looked for until in
due time a fresh impulse had been fostered to its full strength.  The
Victorian development of romantic poetry had reached its splendid
final achievement, and quiet if not wholly songless years would have
been the natural succession.  And yet, at the very time that
Swinburne was lending this last glory to the marvellous epoch of
which Collins had been the herald, another poet was already
announcing a new day with the authentic voice of a master.  The
eternal impulse that conspired with Morris's own vision to create his
poetry is, perhaps, more difficult to define than in the case of any
other poet.  It certainly is not to be found in his own age, and
although to say that he sought to continue the mediæval tradition may
account for much in his literary form, it does not help very greatly
in the understanding of his spiritual temper.  The fact is that in
its fundamental qualities Morris's art came as near as any art can do
to being unaffected by any external impulse at all.  His love for
certain aspects of mediævalism did not prevent him from reaching far
beyond them both in the construction and the philosophy of his art.
The quality in mediæval art that chiefly attracted him was its direct
simplicity, and this quality he took up into his own work.  Instead
of using words for their cumulative poetic value he threw poetry over
words that had hitherto gone naked.  Apart from a few of his early
poems and the use that he makes of models from time to time in verse
forms, there is scarcely any evidence in the manner of his work that
he had ever read any of the poetry before him.  Reducing life to its
simplest equation, he embodied it in an utterance as simple.  But, in
its interpretation of life, the world that he created was rather a
world of the future than a world of the past, and it incorporates the
essence of the spiritual and intellectual experience of the ages that
had passed between, say, Chaucer and his own day.  The intensity of
his vision and the certainty with which he disentangled the essential
from the ephemeral forced in him an utterance of a nature not unlike
that of the earlier masters whom he was never tired of praising, but
it is a mistake to suppose that he saw the history of the world shorn
of five centuries.  He was not misled into thinking that the
fundamental meaning of life had changed, but he knew that man's power
of adjusting his understanding to that meaning develops and is
increased by the succession of prophetic voices, and in assimilating
the cumulative growth of this power he was modern in the only worthy
and valuable way.  He applied a definitely modern faculty of analysis
and definition to the permanent things of life, and embodied it in an
utterance that was clearly his own but coloured in the shaping by a
mediæval rather than any other influence.

That such a poet should come was in itself not remarkable, but that
he should come at such a moment was a phenomenon scarcely to be
paralleled in literature.  The current tradition of poetry when he
was writing was not only hostile to his method, but in a negative way
it had helped to make the age one peculiarly unfitted for his
message.  The eager selfishness of the new scientific thought had
paid but little attention to the social ideal for which Morris stood.
This neglect the poets had either flattered or, certainly, had not
opposed, and the result was that at a time when poetry was passing
through one of its most memorable epochs, the life of the people was
suffused with vulgarity and meanness.  Neither art nor science,
whatever else they might be doing, realized that the basis of a
wholesome national life is a delight among the people in their daily
labour.  The people did not discover this for themselves, and when
Morris wanted to furnish his rooms he was forced to make his own
chairs and tables.  His work henceforward was to show his age its
errors on the one hand in his social teaching, and on the other in
his poetry and craftsmanship to announce its possibilities.  This was
a perfectly natural result of the influence of the conditions that
surrounded him upon his own creative impulse, but how that impulse
came to birth among such conditions must remain a splendid
perplexity.  Morris's work was directed to certain ends by the
requirements of his age, but his spirit was one to which the age had
no logical claim.  He came not in due time but by some large
generosity of the gods.

When a great poet comes not unexpectedly but as the natural and full
development of a long tradition, it is easy not only to estimate the
positive value of his own achievement, but also to trace or even to
predict his influence upon his successors.  New poets will come,
possessing some measure of genuine inspiration, and carry the
tradition through to its quiet and often lovely close; they will take
their honourable places about the few commanding figures, worthy of
their kinship and proud of it.  But when the great poet happens to be
at the beginning instead of at the full day of an epoch, we can but
await the event.  Morris not only discovered a new world in his art,
but he was allowed to explore and establish it.  His word was not one
of rumour and promise alone, but more or less of fulfilment.  Strands
of his influence have already been drawn through the art and life of
his followers, but the work that has been done in deliberate
imitation of his is scarcely recognizable as such.  A poet may
imitate Tennyson with some success because he may inherit the same
tradition that shaped Tennyson; the impulse is already in his blood
towards the expression and temper of which his model is the
consummation.  But there is no such tradition behind Morris; his art
was in a peculiar degree the creation of his own vision alone, and
that is a thing which is beyond imitation.  The new tradition that
Morris himself began may or may not be carried along a clear line of
progression, but it can only be taken up in its full compass by a
poet that shall be not far short of Morris's own stature, and by the
time he comes it is possible that the influence of the author of
_Sigurd_ may have done its work by operating indirectly through many
new movements rather than through a direct succession of its own
begetting.  If this should happen, Morris's influence will be no less
valuable a force in the world, but it is not unlikely that when the
history of poetry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries comes to
be written, he will stand as a lonely titanic figure, excelled by
none in the depth and range of his art, but outside any categorical
lines of development.

About Morris's own attitude towards his art a good deal of nonsense
has been written.  It appears, for example, that he once, in a moment
of irresponsible conversation, said that poetry was 'tommy rot.'  The
remark had, of course, the exact value of all such small talk, but it
is the kind of thing that has been solemnly advanced as a proof that
he was primarily what is commonly called a man of action, who wrote
poetry as a pleasant recreation.  The truth is, of course, that
Morris was a great artist, and knew that he was a great artist.
That, to him, was the supremely important thing, because his art
meant for him the sweetest and noblest life that he could perceive
through his imagination.  As a man of action he proved himself fully
when occasion arose, but he undertook his propagandist work with
reluctance and often turned from it in disgust.  It was not that he
was ever for a moment in doubt as to the excellence of the end at
which such work was aiming, but that he knew that his own great work
in the world, the work by which he could most effectually help it a
little towards that end, was his art.  To suggest that the man who
created _Jason_ and _The Earthly Paradise_, _Sigurd_ and _Love is
Enough_ had anything but the profoundest reverence for his art, and
especially for the supreme expression of his art--poetry--would be a
preposterous insult if it were not ludicrous.  Art was his gospel,
and all his social teaching and activity were but an effort to bring
his gospel to pass upon earth.

We can imagine a race that had attained a wisdom fuller than has yet
been found, adopting one simple form of daily supplication.  Always
from the people's lips this prayer should go up, "Lord, give us
character."  Character.  That is the supreme need of man, and it is
simply the faculty of being himself and expressing himself in all the
conduct of his life.  He may not be a very great man, or a very wise
man, or even a very good man, but if he be himself he may, in some
measure he must, become these.  There is, at the outset, the
necessity of material opportunity for so being himself.  One who is
overworked, or employed all the while in degrading work, or
insufficiently paid for his work, one who is, in short, driven,
cannot be himself, just as the man who is denied the chance of
working at all cannot be himself.  But, given the material
opportunity, the power of proving his character, of asserting his
individuality, of being himself, is inherent in every man.  And this
Morris felt with the whole energy of his being.  He saw men having no
adventurousness in their own spirits, dulled by routine, and with
their own wills bent and impoverished by the will of some one else,
degraded into mere echoes and reflections.  He saw that the crying
need of the world was character, and he sought to teach men that in
bringing back joy to their daily work they would put their feet on
the first step towards the only true dignity and pride of life.  The
satisfaction that comes of a piece of work truly done and having in
it something of the soul of the worker was, to him, a holy thing.
His own craftsmanship and manufacture were the expression of a man
with this conviction; his imaginative writing was of a world peopled
by such men.  The spiritual exaltation of which I have spoken, the
finer tissue of some mysterious emotional experience that is laid
over the definable substance of poetry, is always in his work,
translating its message into the imaginative terms of art; but the
message itself is perfectly articulated, and it is one of the
profoundest and most inspiriting that it has been given to any man to
deliver.  Other poets have given us courage to face a world fallen
into uncharitable ways, or directed us to secluded places where we
may forget the dust and trouble of a life that we must accept as an
unfortunate necessity, or given good promise of revelation and
comfort in a life to come; but none has ever announced so clearly as
Morris the hope of life here upon earth.  Cloistered quiet was an
impossible state to this man who so loved fellowship, and the world
beyond death he was content to leave to its own proving.  But he did
not endeavour to encourage men to face the life that he knew was
unwholesome and draining them of freedom and manhood; he cried to
them to destroy it and he showed them in his art the life that might
be theirs in its stead.

The basis of Morris's social creed was an unchanging faith in the
essential dignity of the nature of man.  The trickeries and
jealousies that beset our commercial phase of civilization he refused
to accept as being fundamental in humanity, thinking of them rather
as ill habits imposed upon humanity by some cruel sport of
circumstance that made men forgetful of their own better instincts.
He did not suppose that habits that had been slowly assimilated could
be put off in a moment of violent reaction, but he never doubted if
once men could be brought to consider the real purpose of traffic and
social community, and so free themselves from a tyranny that endured
only because part of its method was to carry its victims along in a
continuous necessity of adjusting themselves to the immediate moment
without allowing them to pause for reflection and see life in its
completeness, that then these habits would inevitably be set aside.
His desire always was that men should at least be allowed to prove
themselves freely.  From the turbulent passions and sorrows
inseparable from humanity he asked no escape, taking them gladly as
the darker threads in the many-coloured web of our heritage, but he
denounced fiercely the doctrine that, finding men forced into daily
betrayal of themselves, blandly announced that here was proof of
their radical meanness and unworth.  For the people who told him that
before he could hope for the world of his imagining he must change
human nature, he had a fine contempt.  That this cleaner life was
realizable on earth, and that without any revolutionary excesses, he
showed as clearly in the work of his own life as any one man could
do.  He conducted a large business enterprise profitably and in open
competition, but he did not degrade labour in employing it.  He
accepted the normal conditions of society in public and family life,
but he did not allow them to cramp or violate his own personality.
He realized fully that a great social fabric is not constructed out
of mere unreason, and he had no wish to destroy systems that had been
evolved from perfectly sound impulses; the thing that he fought
against with all his extraordinary power was their abuse.  Principles
of exchange and of labour for the common good were a necessary
complement of his belief that a man must get from his labour two
things: joy in the work itself and the means whereby to live; but he
knew that the real significance of these principles had been
forgotten.  His life was an active endeavour to impress it once again
on the mind of the people, and in his poetry was the same endeavour
embodied in creative imagination.

Writing of the northern stories Morris said, 'Well, sometimes we must
needs think that we shall live again; yet if that were not, would it
not be enough that we helped to make this unnameable glory, and lived
not altogether deedless?  Think of the joy we have in praising great
men, and how we turn their stories over and over, and fashion their
lives for our joy: and this also we ourselves may give to the world.'
It was curiously prophetic of that which we feel about Morris
himself.  His life, his art, the figure of the man, all fit into the
outlines of a heroic story such as those that he loved.  He gave,
indeed, to the world in this manner and in large measure.  And he
added generously to the joy that we have in praising great men.



THE END



  WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD.
  PRINTERS, PLYMOUTH





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