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William Morris

William Morris

William Morris (1834-1896), one of the most versatile and influential men of his age, was the last of the major English romantics and a leading champion and promoter of revolutionary ideas as poet, critic, artist, designer, manufacturer, and socialist.

Born at Walthamstow, Essex, on March 24, 1834, William Morris was the eldest son of a bill and discount broker with wealth and status approaching those of a private banker. Nature and reading were the passions of William's childhood, and the novels of Walter Scott inspired him with an abiding love of the Middle Ages. Morris was educated at Marlborough and Exeter College, Oxford, where he formed a close friendship with Edward Burne-Jones.

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

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

Literary Career

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

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

His Politics

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

Arts and Crafts Movement

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

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

Further Reading

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

Additional Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morris, William

William Morris, 1834–96, English poet, artist, craftsman, designer, social reformer, and printer. He has long been considered one of the great Victorians and has been called the greatest English designer of the 19th cent.

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

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

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

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

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Morris, William

Morris, William (1834–96). English artist, poet, craftsman, medievalist, and printer, who had a profound effect on architecture. Early in his career he studied the medieval churches of England and France. Working briefly (1856) in Street's office, he met Philip Webb, with whom he became friendly, and was influenced by the ideas of Ruskin. Disappointed by contemporary architecture and design, he commissioned Webb to build his own dwelling, the Red House, Bexleyheath, Kent (1859–60): with its unpretentious brick walls, fenestration arranged where needed, and tiled roof, it drew on vernacular, Gothic, and other traditions, treated in a very free way, and was influential, especially in the search for a style-less architecture. The difficulties of finding furniture and furnishings for the house led Morris to found Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co., ‘Fine Art Workmen in Painting, Carving, Furniture, and the Metals’ in London (1861—after 1874 Morris & Co.).

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

Bibliography

A. Crawford & C. Cunningham (eds.) (1977);
C. Harvey & and Press (1996);
Henderson (1967);
Leatham (1994);
MacCarthy (1979, 1994);
Morris (1966);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Pevsner (1968, 1972, 1974a);
Stansky (1996);
P. Thompson (1993)

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"Morris, William." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, William." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/morris-william

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Morris, William

Morris, William (1834–96). Poet, artist, craftsman, and socialist, Morris was educated at Marlborough and Oxford. At first intended for the church, he changed to study architecture and then became a painter under the influence of Rossetti. He quickly realized he had no great talent for painting but that he could design, and in 1861 founded Morris & Co. to produce wallpapers, furnishings, and stained-glass windows. He raised the standards of English design and craftsmanship and through his Kelmscott Press, founded 1890, had a similar effect on book design and printing. A founding member of the Socialist League, many of his later writings were anti-industrialist, supporting a return to handicraft. In 1877, Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

June Cochrane

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"Morris, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Morris, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-william

"Morris, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/morris-william

Morris, William

Morris, William (1834–96) English artist, craftsman, writer, social reformer, and printer. Associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), he founded (1861) the Arts and Crafts Movement, a collection of decorators and designers influenced by medieval craftsmanship. Morris is perhaps best remembered for his wallpaper designs, which anticipated art nouveau in their use of the S-curve. In the 1880s he became interested in socialism, writing The Dream of John Ball (1886–87) and News from Nowhere (1890). In 1890, Morris founded Kelmscott Press.

http://www.morrissociety.org

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