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of antique words and habits is not formal or antiquarian only, but denotes a living insight into the thought and heart of the dead people whose life they shaped. Then they are both colourists of a high order. Mr. Rossetti excels all his contemporaries, is excelled by no one perhaps since Titian, in the oriental richness, the vivid splendour, the intense glow which he can bring out of colours that, in the hands of other men, remain dingy and ineffective, and produce no vivid impression. It is always, in like manner, the colour of an object which first attracts Mr. Morris's eye. He falls in love with the golden hair of his heroines before he marks whether they are tall or short, ugly or beautiful. The green and gold and purple and scarlet which Mr. Rossetti uses are reproduced in his poems.”
In his dramatic realism William Morris was not always introducing us to the knightly heroes of the past; there were poems in which he was transmuting feeling into colour in a way that might appeal to the most modern amongst us.
The following is a fair instance of early power in the production of what in a landscape painting might be called feeling. We quote from the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, following only two small typographical corrections made when the poem was reprinted, and making another small alteration that is almost imperceptible :
Think but one thought of me up in the stars.
Faint and grey 'twixt the leaves of the aspen, betwixt the cloud bars
Patient and colourless, though Heaven's gold
The heavy elms wait, and restless and cold
Speak but one word to me over the corn,
This first poetic achievement was, as might be expected, a succès d'estime rather than a commercial one. About William Morris's later works a very different story could be told; and yet he is known to have said that a man should not expect to be paid for work which has already given him his return in the pleasure of the doing of it, and that the labour which deserves remuneration is when we face the annoyances of the less ideal business of life.
“The Defence of Guenevere ” has been since reprinted, rather than republished, without any revision from the author, which might have been a considerable labour, owing to the differences that arise, not so much from any necessity for correction as from the change of view con
sequent upon the development of maturity of thought and style. It was understood that the book was not to be advertised, as the author did not care to make himself again responsible for it; but, as there was nothing positively boyish in it, he did not like to say “No” to the request for its republication.
At the end of 1857 were in progress a series of paintings in distemper, treating subjects from the cycle of Arthurean romance, upon the walls of the Oxford Union Debating Room. The painters were J. H. Pollen, E. Burne Jones, V. Prinsep, D. G. Rossetti, Arthur Hughes, and William Morris, the subject taken up by Mr. Morris being Sir Palomides' Jealousy of Sir Tristram and the Fair Isulte. Sad to say, the exquisite decorative effect of these frescoes is becoming sadly marred, and that before its time, presumably through the use of treacherous materials. But the matter of wall paintings has been a disappointing one so often that no ruin of this kind surprises any longer, and we wonder rather that Mr. Leighton's work in the New Forest should show no visible mark of decay. More recently a ceiling was painted by Morris in the same debating room, and this, we will hope, will endure.
In 1858 or 1859 Morris married Miss Burden, a lady whose name might happily be absorbed by a writer of ballads. The family consists of two daughters, who show a practical sympathy with their father's tastes.
The pre-Raphaelite group, of which Morris had become a member, was endowed, among its well-known features, with a conviction as to the honour of labour and the glory of thoroughness. This characteristic, combining with that consciousness and love of splendour which underlies any form of art, led to a practical result. Several friends—Madox Brown, Burne Jones, Rossetti, Webb, and Morris, entered into partnership and started a business, which was to embody their artistic principles. It was so ideal a little guild that one marvels it did not fade away in a year or two like a Brook Farm community or a scheme of Pantisocracy. But work and will, patience and perseverance, so long as they are downright, and not merely sentimental, are as efficacious in producing solid results when wielded by young Oxonians and exquisite-handed painters, as when they are manifested by a group of navvies. The business began on the old-fashioned principle of being small at first, and developing according to the strength it gained. It was founded on the slenderest means, and began on the smallest scale ; its capital consisting in part of the remains of Morris's little patrimony, but mostly of brains and hands. Growing out, as he was now, of that fault which of all is most easily mended_excessive youth, Morris threw off the velvet mantle of the dilettante, and took the business department upon his own shoulders. At one period he was helped in this by an old Oxford chum named Faulkner. The production of painted windows was the principal work undertaken at first, Morris acting as designer as well as his friends. The outside world for a considerable time regarded the whole affair as an amiable fad of a few young dreamers. It was, indeed, a remarkable and unusual thing for men of genius and culture so to associate themselves. For the first few years the books very naturally showed a loss. An architect or two now and again sent in a commission, Bodley being one of such who gave some help at their first starting in 1861, when the business was carried on, in a humble way, in Red Lion-square. In 1862 a medal for stained glass was obtained at the Exhibition, and some of their show was sold. The public began gradually to get ready for the wares of these new-fangled workers; and, probably to their own astonishment, they began to get on. In 1863 the style and title of the firm was Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co. Ornamented furniture and stained-glass windows were at first the only productions. In the latter department one or two of the circle, and notably Burne Jones, had, before the firm started upon such work, given one or two important designs, which had been carried out by other glass stainers. Among these were a window at the east end of Waltham Abbey church, and another in the Latin Chapel of the cathedral of Oxford. These had attracted some attention at the time.
As the firm progressed with their stained glass, they started paper hangings, to which, for a considerable time, nobody paid any attention. It was scarcely wonderful that the public, accustomed to the prevalent hideousness of gaudy arabesques and monotonous groupings of impossible flowers, should be startled at first by the suggestion of placing upon their walls—in naked beauty and natural colour—a study of fruit such as
The thin-leaved, thorny pomegranate
Or that, accustomed to overgrown and over-coloured paper roses, it should have disdained the daisy pattern. But little by little the new designs made their way, and this without a single trade advertisement or the publication of a catalogue.
Soon Burne Jones and William Morris were hard at work. Designs were required, not only for windows and walls, but for pavement-tiles, for flowered silks, mechanical carpets, and handmade rugs. It was found that beauty was at the door and ready to enter in, and wise people began to give welcome to
Fine webs like woven mist wrought in the dawn,
The designers of the day had come quite to the dregs, and could scarcely go further in rococo style. The period was one of bad taste,
some of the signs of which John Leech has handed down to posterity in Punch. To be in the fashion, a lady could not have dressed so as to please an artist, or satisfy a man of taste.
It is difficult to estimate how far any particular men may be credited with a movement, or to what extent they are but the forefront of a wave of change. However this question may be settled, it is certain that the ideas of blue and green, of composition and design, to be seen now in the better class of our shop windows are immeasurably superior to those of five-and-twenty years ago, when scarcely a fabric of high beauty could be found, save rare stuffs from oriental looms. Now there is a most distinct gain in almost every department of decorative work. The general public are now becoming alive to this change, and Morris and Company are having imitators.
The traditions of the firm continue akin to those of the old-fashioned days, before the reign of shoddied wools and clayey calicoes, the days when the handicraftsman took pride in his work, and was not hidden from the buyer by touts, middlemen, and commission agents. On the bill-heads of Morris and Co., after the enumeration of their costly wares—painted glass, embroidery, painted tiles, wall papers, chintzes, furniture silks, velvets, serges, moroccos, carpets—come the words “ the prices are for cash without discount.” No doubt by large allowances to the trade they could have agents to sell their goods, but what would come of it ? A larger business on profits so small, owing to the cutthroat competition to find middlemen, that quality might soon have to be subordinated to price, while suggestions would come from the agents : Could you not modify here or there, to come down to the public taste a little more? As matters stand, Morris and Co. are known, as was any great school of faience or loom of deserved fame in the middle ages. A principle still maintained is, that there shall be direct communication between the artist who designs and the craftsman who carries out the work. This entails an amount of trouble that few could appreciate, but it is the right means to the end of the best work. It can never be said against the Pre-Raphaelite group that they were afraid of taking trouble. The same hand that wrote “ The Earthly Paradise” engages itself in dyeing samples of wool, the skeins of which may be seen drying in the court behind the house in quaint little Queen-square. Morris himself designs his carpets and carries out the sketch into scale on sheets in squares which allows for so many thicknesses of weft and woof, and must be accurately followed in the loom. Wherever a power is found strong enough to alter popular traditions, and to oust a bad and flimsy style, we may be sure that hard and patient work, as well as capacity, is at the back of it.
There is a legal anomaly which presses somewhat severely upon original workers in decorative design. A mechanical improvement may be patented for a considerable term of years; three years' protection only is accorded to patterns in design. This suffices for fashionable season goods, but is quite inadequate for art goods which aim at permanent value rather than a fleeting vogue. No doubt steps ought to be taken to protect good work of this kind. In the United States, for instance, protection is granted to the same sort of invention for as long as fourteen years. In England the patent wears out just about the time when the public are beginning to appreciate the beauty of the design. The process of obtaining patents, too, is elaborate and onerous, while plagiary is a frequent trouble, and imitations come within a very close shade of being colourable.
It is time now to turn from William Morris, artist and craftsman, to William Morris, poet. During chosen days of holiday from business, and even in snatches of time seized in the railway carriage on a journey, poetical work had been progressing. But it was nearly ten years from the date of “ The Defence of Guenevere" before its successor appeared. The large design of “The Earthly Paradise" had been already conceived, and even one prologue written for it and thrown aside. “The Life and Death of Jason ” was begun as one of the stories of the “ Earthly Paradise" series, but having extended itself into a considerable poem, it was published separately in 1867. Very rapidly, and much to the author's astonishment, for classical stories are rarely popular nowa. days, the book came into demand. It was felt that a new poet had come with a most welcome brightness and simplicity of song, and he was greeted accordingly.
During his holiday rambles William Morris had visited Iceland, whither he had been drawn by having fallen in love with the Old Norse literature, and he made the acquaintance of one or two modern Icelandic poets. One of his visits to the volcanic isle was made in company with Eiríkr Magnússon, now under-librarian at the University library, Cambridge. With this gentleman Morris also regularly read Icelandic, and eventually a literary partnership was established, resulting in translations in verse of a Saga, and of a collection of stories. In 1869 appeared the Grettis Saga, a year later the Völsunga Saga.
In 1875, 1876, and 1877 were published the story of Sigurd, the Fall of the Niblungs, and some northern love stories. The story of Sigurd is not a translation, but Morris's last, and a most important original poem : it is pretty close to the ancient legends ; but not more so than many of the stories in the “Earthly Paradise."
The volume translated along with Magnússon was the Völsunga Saga, together with the greater part of the Poetic Edda that has to do with the same story. The Völsunga Saga in its present form was written probably early in the 14th century, and gives in rather curt prose the