Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Birthday to our dear William Morris

William Morris was born in Walthamstow in East London on March 24, 1834 - 176 years ago today.

"When William Morris (1834-1896) died at the age of sixty-two, his physician declared that the cause was "simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men." This multi-faceted man was at one time or another (and sometimes simultaneously) a designer and manufacturer of furniture, stained glass, tapestries, wallpaper and chintzes; an accomplished weaver; a pioneering preservationist; an active Socialist and social reformer; a successful poet and novelist; and in his last years, the founder of the Kelmscott Press. Yet all of these activities were of a piece, unified by several threads in the tapestry of Morris's life.

Garden of Delight

One continuity, dating from early childhood, was his love of nature, evidence of which may be found in the fond natural descriptions of his letters and poetry, the patterns of his tapestries, and the vining borders of the Kelmscott book. There was also his passionate devotion to the Middle Ages and to everything they represented; romantic Medievalism informs Morris's literary output, as well as his arts and crafts work and the books from his Kelmscott Press.

From The Wood Beyond the World

A third thread was his belief that it is impossible to separate esthetic issues from social and political ones. Morris often contrasted the social organization of the Middle Ages with the present condition of England, which led him to advocate a complete reform of industrial society. At first, he advocated an overhaul of the flawed esthetics of the age and later, realizing that such reform alone was insufficient, a thoroughgoing political revolution.

Sketch by Walter Crane
William Morris speaking at a meeting of Hammersmith Socialist Society

One must also mention his conviction that it was impossible for an artist to exist outside the context of a community. Thus Morris's homes in London's Red Lion Square, Red House in Kent, Kelmscott House in Hammersmith near London, and Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire became centers of communal artistic and intellectual endeavor. Morris's talent for friendship was another continuity in his life. Though he was a somewhat solitary child, as a university student he formed enduring attachments to the Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These close friendships influenced his choice of a life devoted to art. ..."

William Morris and his close friend Edward Burne-Jones

Above text courtesy Richard W. Oram
Ransom Center Librarian
Exhibition Curator -


"William Morris was born in Walthamstow and the Gallery is housed in his former family home ‘Water House’, where he spent his formative years in the 1840s and 50s. The Gallery was established by the Borough of Walthamstow (now the London Borough of Waltham Forest) and was opened in 1950 by the then Prime Minister, Clement Attlee." - The Friends of the William Morris Gallery

"On 10 [April], the BBC Symphony Orchestra will present the world premiere of 'The Earthly Paradise', a setting of prose, poetry, and sayings by William Morris composed by Ian McQueen."

"The search for the land where "none grow old" guides the twists and turns of William Morris’ 'The Earthly Paradise'. Ian McQueen’s new work for chorus and large orchestra evokes the extraordinary world of the poet, surges with erotic charge and conjures up Morris’s magical vision of Iceland’s landscape and sagas."

Above image above courtesy Atlantic Free Press - Link
Sketch by Walter Crane courtesy WCML - Link

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