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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
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 nowadays, 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 whole story of the Niblungs, the great epic of the north, as it was then current in Scandinavia. Some of this is only a prose rendering of songs that still exist (damaged by gaps here and there) in the Poetic Edda, some is a similar rendering of poems then existing, now lost (except for the fragments preserved in the Völsunga), and the rest is no doubt got together from floating tradition. The story exists otherwise, first, in ballads, some Faroese, early and obviously taken straight from the Eddaic poems; some Danish, which latter are often more akin to the German than the Icelandic version ; second, in the great German poem of the Nibelungen Noth, which differs so widely and so curiously from the Eddaic version that it will probably always be an open question whether the Germans had or had not a different original from the Scandinavians ; third, the story, much overlaid with additions is told in the Vilkina Saga, an Icelandic romance, so to say, of the 14th century, which takes the German account for the more part.
Morris's poem aims at making a complete story out of the elements which have formed these more or less incomplete and fragmentary works; in doing this it naturally sticks closest to the Icelandic form as both the completest and most artistic; but the German legend has also been used in the latter part.
But these works, although well appreciated, do not move the public like Morris's other works. It would seem that people receive a dismal impression of chill from the northern country, and would rather go for love stories to the more paradisaic realms of the East.
A man must write both rapidly and easily and with pleasure to himself before he can take up a poetical work of such magnitude as “The Earthly Paradise,” in its three substantial volumes, and carry it through with such trifles thrown in in addition as several volumes from the hard Icelandic tongue, a rhymed rendering of the Æneid, and a regular avocation requiring unremitting personal attention. Another proof of Morris's peculiar ease in poetry is to be found in his preference to re-writing over tinkering anything with which he may have become dissatisfied.
He is not used to alter when he reprints. Some may “diligently revise and reshape,” but if he is discontented with his work, he throws it aside and begins again. So it was, for instance, with a great part of “Sigurd”; so, as we have already named, with the prologue to “The Earthly Paradise.” What we have is the second writing, and it is so fine that we cannot regret the destruction of the other if it led us to this. Indeed, perhaps we owe some of its effects to the intensification due to the author's disappointment over his first results. We quote this prologue or apology entire, for it is so fair a specimen of the author's style, so easy and yet so finished:
Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to Let it suffice me that my murmuring sing,
rhyme I cannot ease the burden of your fears, Beats with light wing against the ivory Or make quick-coming death a little gate, thing,
Telling a tale not too importunate Or bring again the pleasure of past To those who in the sleepy region stay, years,
Lulled by the singer of an empty day. Nor for my words shall ye forget your
Folk say, a wizard to a northern king tears,
At Christmas-tide such wondrous things Or hope again for aught that I can say,
did show, The idle singer of an empty day.
That through one window men beheld the But rather when, aweary of your mirth,
spring, From full hearts still unsatisfied ye
And through another saw the summer sigh,
glow, And, feeling kindly unto all the earth, And through a third the fruited vines Grudge every minute as it passes by,
&-row, Made the more mindful that the sweet While still, unheard, but in its wonted days die
way, Remember me a little then, I pray, Piped the drear wind of that December The idle singer of an empty day.
day. The heavy trouble, the bewildering care
So with this Earthly Paradise it is, That weighs us down, who live and earn
id earn If ye will read aright and pardon me, our bread,
Who strive to build a shadowy isle of These idle verses have no power to bear ;
bliss So let me sing of names remembered,
Midmost the beating of the steely sea, Because they, living not, can ne'er be
Where tossed about all hearts of men dead,
must be ; Or long time take their memory away
Whose ravening monsters mighty men From us poor singers of an empty day.
shall slay, Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due Not the poor singer of an empty day.
time, Why should I strive to set the crooked
straight ? It was happily remarked some few years ago that facts had well falsified Mr. Morris's description of himself as “Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,” seeing that his ready acceptance, or rather his immediate bound into a reputation, was proof enough of his arrival being very distinctly opportune.
No doubt poetry is in more or less of opposition to the average life of the present day; but when the poet comes who is its exact polar opposite by the law of contraries, he is bound to be welcomed. To all those who feel themselves out of tune with the times, he is the natural friend and companion. He brings in new light by seeing the darkness, and new colour by putting garish commonplace into shadow, and letting the gaiety and sweetness of old days fill our inner chamber for a little while. As a poet, he is essentially the bringer of beautiful things.
In the envoi to "The Earthly Paradise,” the author sends his book for sympathy to “My master, Geoffry Chaucer,” whose inspiration he thus owns. He bids the book say:
And fragrance of old days and deeds have brought