I never thought that the person, who’s artwork I was continuously introduced to in A-level and Foundation year, would be such an influential person, such a deep thinker and lover of nature. William Morris lived his life as a poet, prose writer, artist and a craftsman but most importantly, he lived to make his world a better place.

During his early years, Morris enjoyed a good deal of freedom which he liked to spend exploring the surrounding countryside- exceptionally rich in the monuments of a man’s past. One of his earliest letters records a visit to Silbury Mount and the great stone circle at Avebury, which, characteristically, he not only enjoyed but measured and examined carefully.

The High Church Oxford Movement during that time, was attracting serious-minded students, which appealed to his sense of history and drew his attention to the life and art of Middle Ages. These years of the middle eighty-fifties were a time when Victorian Capitalism seemed most secure and invincible. In these circumstances Morris’ romantic medieval ism was a challenge to the ethic and values dominating society. Nor was he alone. He found friends like Edward Burne Jones and Cormell Price who shared his feelings and had considerably more experience of actual social conditions.

In this hour of triumphant capitalism the few who rejected it felt helpless and isolated- it was hard to see how the enemy could be defeated or even how one could come to grips with him (i.e capitalism). Morris, for all his talk about dreams, was essentially practical and combative and the next part of his life was taken up with the search of a satisfactory background before he started his arts and crafts movement.

Morris argued that while modern techniques (such as those we see now in industrailisation) can imitate old forms the life behind them comes from the whole man, totally engaged in what he is doing. Such work cannot be reproduced by the wage earner under capitalism who is required to be no more than a hand.

I want to share some of his sayings. There are many that I love, but I have to be selective to complete this post. His sayings certainly have great meaning for the society and how it should be cultivated. What we should run after, how we can really believe in the beauty of hard work.

”I went to iceland and… I learned one lesson there, thoroughly I hope, that the most grinding poverty is a trifling evil compared with the inequality of classes.”

Even though, William Morris became very popular and rich due to his social, political stances, he still fought for workers. It was indeed a new birth- ”I was born once long ago: I am born again tonight.”

”We of the English Middle Classes are the most powerful body of men that the world has yet seen… And yet when we come to look the matter in the face, we cannot fail to see that even for us with all our strength, it will be a hard matter to bring about that birth of the new art: for between us and that which is to be, if art is not to perish utterly, there is something alive and devouring; something as it were a river of fire that will put all that tries to swim across a hard proof indeed, and scare from the plunge every soul that is not made fearless by desire of truth and insight of the happy days to come beyond.”

In this passage, Morris speaks about art and life, he realized the need for a social revolution to bring about real art. He had a deep concern that art and people should lead free, happy and dignified lives in which all could develop to the full powers. But he knew this was only possible if the natural world co-existed in harmony. He saw capitalism trying to conquer it and exploiting its resources and lands whereas he himself, wanted its love to be won and be cherished as a friend. His passionate love of the earth as it had been shaped by thousands of years of co-operation between the man and his environment comes out very strongly in ‘Under the Elm tree’.

”For there indeed if anywhere, in the English country when people cared about such things, was there a full sympathy between the works of a man and the land they were made for. The land is a littile land; too much shut up within the narrow seas, as it seems, to have much space for swelling into hugeness: there are no great wastes over-whelming in their deariness, no great solitudes of forests, no terrible untrodden mountain walls: all is measured, mingled, varied, gliding easily one thing into another: little rivers, little plains, swelling, speedily changing uplands, all beset with handsome orderly trees; little hills; little mountains, netted over with the walls of sheep-walks: all is little; yet not foolish and blank, but serious rather, and abundant of meaning for such as choose to seek it: it is neither prison nor palace, but a decent home.”

He believed that capitalism, which grows by creating imaginary wants, so that we are persuaded into buying ever increasing numbers of useless articles in order that profits may increase, has not produced happiness but increasing waste and pollution. Today as experts calculate how long the resources of earth will last, at this rate of consumption and how quickly lakes and rivers will be poisoned we should perhaps start to understand his concern more than ever before.

”I had thought that civilization meant the attainment of peace and order and freedom, of goodwill between man and man, of the love of truth and the hatred of injustice, and by consequence the attainment of good life which these things breed, a life free from craven fear, but full of incident: that is what I thought it meant, not more stuffed chairs and more cushions, and more carpets and gas, and more dainty meat and drink- and herewithal more and sharper differences between class and class.”

”I tell you civilization will begin on the day when we determine that Riches and Poverty shall disappear into commonweal of happy people.”

Some of the works of William Morris in arts and crafts:

Reference: Political Writings of William Morris (by A.L. Morton)

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