Robin Page Arnot
Source: Pamphlet, 1934, Martin Lawrence, Ltd, 33 Great James Street, London, WC1<
Transcription/Markup: Steve Painter
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The revolutionary Socialist fighter, William Morris, artist, craftsman and poet; born in London on 24th March, 1834, of a well-to-do bourgeois family; went through the routine of his class at public school and Oxford University. He wrote poems, became a master craftsman in one kind after another, from furniture designing to printing; became a manufacturer; took up the secretaryship of an anti-war association in the 'seventies; in 1883 joined a Socialist organisation, agitated and organised; edited the Commonweal, to which Frederick Engels and Eleanor Marx contributed; and, worn out by a life of intense and ceaseless activity over many fields, died at the age of sixty-two, having remained to the end a revolutionary Socialist.
William Morris is a name in the working-class movement of Britain. His revolutionary poems, almost our only native revolutionary poems, are sung at May Day demonstrations. His memory is revered by those who recall him, especially his plain, simple habit of speech, essence of straightforwardness and revolutionary vigour. His revolutionary Socialist writings still have an influence, and would have more but for the veil with which the capitalists have surrounded him. For, more than any other Socialist leader of the nineteenth century, Morris has been subjected to that "canonisation" of which Lenin spoke:
"During the lifetime of great revolutionaries the oppressing classes have invariably meted out to them relentless persecution and received their teaching with the most savage hostility, most furious hatred and a ruthless campaign of slanders. After their death, however, attempts are usually made to turn them into harmless saints, canonising them, as it were, and investing their name with a certain halo, by way of 'consolation' to the oppressed classes, and with the object of duping them, while at the same time emasculating and vulgarising the real essence of their revolutionary theories and blunting their revolutionary edge."
In March 1934 these words of Lenin were strikingly proven in the case of William Morris. The centenary of his birth was turned into an orgy of "canonisation"; books poured forth "in his honour"; newspaper articles were written in dozens; and this "great Victorian" (did they ever read what Morris wrote of Queen Victoria?) was hoisted up to his niche as a "harmless saint".
Consequently this graven image of Morris has to be shattered before any estimate of him is possible. The myths built up about him have to be destroyed, especially the bourgeois myth on the one hand and the Labour Party-ILP myth on the other.
The bourgeois myth was proclaimed by the choice of Mr Baldwin to open the William Morris Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In Mr Baldwin's speech, and in newspaper comments upon it, there was no mention whatever of Morris as a revolutionary. He is a great poet, a great craftsman, a great artist, a great influence, a great what-not; but he is not mentioned as a revolutionary. The capitalists were not always as impudent as this. When Mr Asquith delivered his Romanes Lectures at Oxford on the "Great Victorians" he significantly omitted William Morris from the list. But now the Tory leader of the House of Commons — representative of the capitalist class, of "these foul swine" as they are called in The Dream of John Ball — has the impudence to scatter his dirt over the memory of the man who said of Parliament that it was:
"On the one side a kind of watch committee, sitting to see that the interests of the upper classes took no hurt; and on the other hand a sort of blind to delude people into supposing that they had some share in the management of their own affairs."
Of course Morris was a great artist and a great craftsman; but neither his art nor his craftsman's work can be truly understood, nor can the whole man be understood, unless he is seen as he really was, as a revolutionary Socialist, fighting for the overthrow of capitalism and for the victory of the working class. And neither the capitalist politicians nor the official biographers will be able to rob the working class of his memory and his teachings.
The Labour Party and ILP myth is of a different character. It pictures Morris as a "gentle Socialist" and fits in well with what Mr Ramsay MacDonald, as leader of the ILP, once said of Socialism — his Socialism, the ILP Socialism — as being based not upon economics, but as having a historical, ethical "and literary" basis. William Morris was hardly dead before this myth began to be built up by Bruce Glasier and many others, including some of his close associates. The hash of "Appreciations" written for the Walthamstowe Centenary Celebrations in several cases carry the myth into wildest travesty.
The main burden of this myth, as it has lasted for over thirty years, is that Morris was "not a Marxist", and if there is now some assimilation of Morris and Marx in their scribblings, it is only because they have at length created a mythical Marx to fit in with their mythical Morris. It does not matter to them that his first political writings display his consciousness of class antagonism and class hatred; and that these writings, beginning with the influence of what are called Ruskin's Socialist teachings, became more and more filled with the influence of Marx; that he joined a Marxist organisation; that, like Marx and Engels, he distrusted and fought the adventurer Hyndman; that along with Marx's daughter Eleanor, and other close associates, he founded a second Marxist organisation; that he attended the Marxist International Congress in Paris in 1889, while Hyndman ranged himself with the opposition (possiblist) Congress; and that in his whole writings during the period of his political activity, Morris is accepting and following as best he can the teachings of Marx on economics, the class struggle and the victory of the working class through a period of civil war.
It should be realised that there is no question at all of these people weighing up the mistakes of Morris, as Engels did, estimating his grievous errors in tactics and concluding that he was less of a Marxist for these things. No. They simply brush aside the Morris that was and construct a Morris that never existed, a sort of sickly dilettante Socialist, as personally incredible as he would be politically monstrous.
What was the cause of this myth building? The early mythmongers of the ILP, all of them bitterly anti-Marxist, found it intolerable that an artist whom some of them regarded as the new Michelangelo or new Leonardo da Vinci should be counted a follower of Marx. So that in essence the fight over the body of Morris was a fight against the influence of Marx inside the Labour movement; and unfortunately the only Socialist society on a class-struggle basis was dominated by H.M. Hyndman — the evil genius of the early Socialist movement — whose bitter antagonism to Morris made him ready to hand over Morris's memory to the ILP traducers without a struggle.
The result is to this day that even old associates of Morris will calmly state that he had not even studied Marx. What evidence is brought forward for this? Can it be believed that the only substantial evidence is his statement (since repeated over and over in books about him) that:
"Whereas I thoroughly enjoyed the historical part of Capital, I suffered agonies of confusion of the brain over reading the pure economics of this great work."
Everyone knows that the first chapters of Capital are difficult; as much is stated by Marx himself as well as by Engels (and also by Lenin), and the only meaning of this sentence is that Morris was honest enough to confess his difficulties. Yet, actually, the meaning of this sentence was somehow twisted to make the proof that "Morris was an anti-Marxist", they then proceeded on the evidence of ill-remembered gossip to rule out all in his writings that is evidence to the contrary.
It will be necessary in the course of this booklet to deal with various examples of this wholesale distortion of Morris's actual words.
Meanwhile, a few brief references will serve to smash their axiom, "Morris is not a Marxist".
First, in The Principles of Socialism, written by H.M. Hyndman, and William Morris and published at the end of 1883 by the newly founded Democratic Federation, the standpoint taken, whatever its imperfections, is most distinctly intended to be Marxist. Secondly, amongst the papers of the late J.L. Mahon (one-time secretary of the Socialist League) there is a manuscript in the handwriting of Morris, being a short precis of one of the "economic portions" of Capital, which for those so blind that they cannot see the results of a study of Marx in John Ball, should be an incontestable proof enough that Morris swotted at Marx. Thirdly, in the Commonweal series, called Socialism from the Root Up (1886-87), jointly written by William Morris and Belfort Bax, an attempt is made to trace development of society from the earliest times in the light of historic materialism. Chapters of particular interest are that in which Utopian Socialism is analysed and condemned (and yet, in the Morris myth Morris is referred to as a Utopian Socialist!) and that other entitled , Scientific Socialism; Karl Marx, in which the argument of Capital is summarised and defended. This last book has proved a snag for the mythmongers; amongst them Bruce Glasier (editor for many years the ILP organ, The Labour Leader) who wrote a book on Morris published in 1921. Glasier, who was busy remaking Morris in his own image (see the ridiculous chapter on "Morris Religion", where Glasier, himself deep in the swamp of religiosity, flounders pitifully around Morris's explicit statement: "I am what is called bluntly an atheist"), has the effrontery to suggest that Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome presented the views of Bax but not those of Morris, who "belonged to the old Utopian school rather than to the modern Scientific Socialist school of thought". The answer to this slander by Glasier had already been given by Morris and Bax in their preface, in which they wrote:
"We have only further to add that the work has been in the true sense of the word a collaboration, each sentence having been carefully considered by both the authors in common, although now one, now the other, has had more to do with the initial suggestions in different portions of the work."
But it was clear that the chapters of that book, with their anti-Fabian and anti-ILP outlook, had to be discounted at all costs.
How did Morris come to be a revolutionary Socialist, and how did he come to join a Marxist organisation?
The usual explanation is to treat of Morris's "excursion into Socialism" as some sort of aberration of the poet, one of these things which show what fantastic fellows artists are. When this usual explanation is furbished forth in its Labour Party variety it is the revolutionary character of his Socialism which is regarded as the aberration. This essentially philistine view of the development of any great artist or fighter is buttressed up by sentimental reflections on struggles that Morris had to carry through inside the Socialist body to which he belonged — all written in the offensive kindly manner of a doctor descanting on an imbecile patient — and on the other hand by sham versions of the history of the 'eighties and the three preceding decades.
Actually the clue to the development of Morris is relatively simple and obvious. Morris left Oxford a rebel against capitalism, without, however, knowing capitalism and its meaning and its cause, except as a manifestation of ugliness, anarchy and bad conditions for the mass of the people. Wholly unacquainted at that point with the life of the working class, and unaware of the existence of the Marxian Socialism — this was in the later 'fifties — he was nevertheless aware of the writings of Carlyle and his school, of the feudal socialists. Thomas Carlyle, in his Past and Present, as well as in his Latter-day Pamphlets and Chartism, had adopted a standpoint which could be classed as feudal Socialism, and — though this twenty years afterwards rattled down to a support of slavery, as Marx pointed out in Capital — Carlyle's earlier eloquent comparison of the lot of a wage-worker amid the Chartist struggles with the lot of a serf seven hundred years before, was sufficiently striking to draw commendation from Engels at the time. Morris was affected by this school, and it is to be noted that there is a certain resemblance between Morris's treatment of the Middle Ages and what Engels discerned in the germ in Carlyle as "a curious apotheosis of medieval times". Linked, too, with feudal Socialism, as Marx pointed out in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, is Christian Socialism, which, under Frederick Denison Maurice, Charles Kingsley, Thomas Price Hughes, was flourishing in the 'fifties. John Ruskin, who was to horrify orthodox capitalist writers by his essays on political economy, Unto This Last, was also writing at this time. The Working Men's College in Crowndale Road, London, had taken John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti as its art teachers. But the voice of the Chartists was low, and it was at first to the influence of these non-proletarian kinds of Socialism that Morris was subjected.
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the gifted young artist, with powers yet unexplored, should from the very beginning show a fierce hatred of capitalism. At first the expression of this attitude to capitalism takes various forms: it takes the form of delight in other periods of history. It is shown in his attempt to change completely the whole expression of capitalist civilisation in its arts, in his hatred of the conventions of bourgeois society, its customs, its costumes, its furniture, its decorations and patterns, its cant and hypocrisy. Not until twenty years have passed does this hatred of capitalism begin to take on a political form. But this hatred endures all the time, increases, deepens and grows to be a fiery, inextinguishable fury against capitalism, an unquenchable hatred, "a lightning flame, a shearing sword, a storm to overthrow".
Meantime, in his poetry — The Defence of Guenevere 1858), The Earthly Paradise (1868-70), Love is Enough 1872) — Morris retells the stories of other times, and recreates the world that is gone. Not once does he deal with the capitalist centuries. These poems, expressing in this negative way a hatred of capitalism, are also to some extent an escape from it. Later, when he comes to grips with Capitalism, the poet becomes merged in the revolutionary fighter.
Throughout all this period Morris regards with eyes of hatred the "art products" of Capitalism. He sees the worker made into a machine, while he does not (as some of his philistine philistine supporters imagine, and handicraft reactionaries think) teach a hatred of machines. But he does intuitively grasp the fact which Marx was to express in classic form in Capital that:
"Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into a hated toil; they estrange him from the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life time into working time and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut of Capital."
How true this is can be judged from something published a hundred years after Morris's birth, in a worker' answer to a motor manufacturer. The motor magnate, standing at the microphone dully repeating the Whig panegyrics of machinery, had said:
"Mechanisation is now relieving the brain of the old tediums and giving it a new stimulus ... slaves of today being made of metal, while the mind of man directs."
To this twaddle there was given a terrible answer from William Ferrie, a motor mechanic, whose statement (duly banned by the British Broadcasting Corporation) might well be an additional footnote to Part IV of Capital:
"I'd like," he said, "to take you on a trip through a modern motor plant, then you'd be able to see for yourselves whether the slaves are made of metal or not ... in the old days the trimming of upholstering of a car was done by a group of four trimmers. They did the complete job: ordering, measuring, cutting, mashing, fixing, fitting, and finishing. They were craftsmen. The finished production was the work of this small group, and I am sure there was pride in their eyes as they walked around the finished cabriolet.
"Nowadays what do you see? In the trim shop of the modern factory the conveyor belt has been put in. Hundreds of men carry out small jobs — some of them taking only a few minutes. Everyone is working against the clock ...
"When I hear it said that man is the master of the machine, and that the slaves of the day are made of metal, I can't help smiling rather cynically. I can tell you this: the machine enslaves us. It compels us to do its bidding, we have to accept its pace and follow its commands. The conveyor belt is our master. If the management in the factory decide to increase speed by ten per cent, a thousand hands work ten per cent faster. I am not exaggerating when I say that those of us who work on the conveyor belt are bound to it as galley slaves were bound to the galley."
Morris, with his grasp of the results of the application of machinery by the capitalist method of production, concentrated his attention on the produces and especially the consumption of goods produced by capitalism in the mid-nineteenth century. He looked on it all and saw that it was ugly; and he pierced through to the root cause in the division of labour and the tiresome life of the exploited worker. While he witnessed this mortal disease of the domestic arts, so that ugliness reigned along with Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace and Balmoral as well as in the tenements and hovels of the mass of the people, he saw on the other hand that art in its process of perishing had reached the stage of becoming the preserve of the small section of the upper classes. All that art had meant in the life of mankind had become narrowed down to fine arts for ladies and gentlemen. Morris detested this anaemia of the arts, just as he detested the flat ugliness of the ordinary consumption products of capitalism. So Morris reached the twofold conclusion: first, that art must perish unless it be a people' art; secondly that the worker must be an artist and the artist must be a worker. For art, he said, is the result of man' joy in his labour. It was to the working out of the second conclusion that Morris first applied himself. Rich enough to have a house built according to his fancy and to be decorated by his Pre-Raphaelite friends, he found that there was no furniture in the market that he could tolerate in his house. There were no beds to lie in nor chairs to sit upon, neither tables, nor carpets, curtains, hangings, tableware or any other furnishing. Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road and all the other shopping centres in every town in England were one Sahara of ugliness, both costly ugliness and ugliness that was cheap and nasty.
Therefore he set himself to be the maker of goods that would be produced by worker-artists, that would serve their use, be a pleasure to the eye, a joy to the maker and the user. A firm of himself and his friends was established, and presently Morris was turning out furniture, upholstery and all kinds of decorative ware. Later it was to be carpets; the revival of the art of weaving; the revival of the use of the old vegetable dyes, which gave brighter and better colours than the aniline dye then in its crudest stage; the revival of high-warp tapestry, in which he made pictures the like of which had never been seen before; and, finally, the revival of the art of printing. Each of these was taken up, one after the other, and all of them continued to the end of his life of ceaseless activity. All of these changes made by Morris could only be fully developed and used in a non-capitalist society. Morris became more and more aware of this, more and more certain that all his ordinary capacities as a craftsman must be thwarted, narrowed and confined, so long as capitalism existed; and not only his own capacities but the millionfold potentialities of all other workers; while even what little could be done by him, or by all other artists, could not be appreciated by the masses of mankind in their life of toil and misery.
"The poets have sung and the builders have builded,
The painters have fashioned their tales of delight.
For what and for whom has the world' book been gilded,
When all is for these but the blackness of night?"
Thus Morris became increasingly conscious of the contradictions of capitalism, appearing to him first in their effect on the art superstructure of society. This consciousness finds expression, and extremely poignantly, in one place: in the Preface to The Earthly Paradise, where he writes:
"Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme
Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,
Telling a tale not too importunate
To those who in the sleepy region stay,
Lulled by the singer of an empty day.
"Folk say a wizard to a modern king
At Christmas-tide such wondrous things did show,
That through one window men beheld the spring,
And through another saw the summer glow,
And through a third the fruited vines a-row,
While still, unheard, but in its wonted way,
Piped the drear wind of that December day.
"So with this Earthly Paradise it is,
If ye will read aright, and pardon me,
Who strive to build a shadowy isle of bliss
Midmost the bleating of the steely sea,
Where tossed about all hearts of men must be;
Whose ravening monsters mighty men shall slay,
Not the poor singer of an empty day."
The meaning is unmistakable: Morris sees the problem though he does not yet see how he can solve it. Merely this insight raises him above the ranks of contemporary artists and poets; a higher stage still is to be reached, when the gifted artist, poet and craftsman, hater of capitalism, casts by his hesitation and sets out himself to slay the ravening monsters, leaving him forever "the idle singer of an empty day".
The ascent into politics was preceded by the decade of the 'seventies, wherein Morris found inspiration for struggle, on the one hand in the Icelandic sagas, and on the other hand in an anti-war agitation led by him. The extraordinarily potent effect upon Morris of the Icelandic Middle Ages, a society of quite a different type from European feudalism, requires more than a passing mention. Here was a society, with class antagonisms but little developed, as is shown by the rudimentary form of state power, but where, on the other hand, the struggle of man with nature came to the forefront. The history of the struggles between Viking families and their descendants against this background of the struggle of man with nature, grim, harsh and terrifying, forms the content of the Icelandic sagas. Just as medieval Iceland differed in its class structure from medieval Europe, so too its literature. The difference can be most clearly brought out in the attitude to the supernatural. The supernatural exists in the Icelandic sagas, but there is no such helplessness and craven yielding as characterised much of medieval literature, product of material and spiritual exploitation of serfs. If there were no snakes in Iceland, there were no monks either. The whole array of the parasite classes of feudal times was largely absent. And so the supernatural is met with and fought with and overcome. Grettir, in the saga, goes out and grapples to the death with the murderous ghost of the Thrall.
Morris was powerfully affected by this literature, in which the quality of courage is so highly developed as to make much of contemporary medieval literature appear like bravado. He translated many of the sagas, and twice, in 1871 and 1873, he made what was then the unusual journey to Iceland, where he trod the wastes and deserts hallowed for him by the sagas' heroes. The culmination of his Icelandic studies was that he translated the Volsunga Saga, the epic story that was to the other sagas what Homer had been to the classic literature of Greece. As he himself says:
"For this is the great story of the North, which should be to all our race what the Tale of Troy was to the Greeks — to all our race first, and afterwards, when the change of the world has made our race nothing more than a name of what has been, a story too — then should it be to those that come after us no less than the Tale of Troy has been to us."
This story was afterwards, in 1877, retold in English verse in Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs, his greatest poem and the greatest epic poem of the nineteenth century. The towering courage and spirit of the epic is unmistakable and tells us something of what its writer was becoming. Iceland of the Sagas had nerved Morris for the epic struggle of classes in Britain.
The antiwar association and "anti-scrape" (as Morris called the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings) were the first skirmishes of Morris' entry into public life. How far he progressed from the "idle singer of an empty day" is seen by the antiwar manifesto written by him and addressed to the working men of England. It contained this significant paragraph (written in May 1877):
"Working men of England, one word of warning yet: I doubt if you know the bitterness of hatred against freedom and progress that lies at the hearts of a certain part of the richer classes in this country; their newspapers veil it in a kind of decent language; but do but hear them talking amongst themselves, as I have often, and I know not whether scorn or anger would prevail in you at their folly and insolence. These men cannot speak of your order, of its aims, of its leaders, without a sneer or an insult; these men, if they had the power (may England perish rather!) would thwart your just aspirations, would silence you, would deliver you bound hand and foot forever to irresponsible capital."
The writer of these words, who had been formerly a Liberal, is already putting on his armour for the class struggle. That arming was to be completed in the ranks of a Socialist organisation, in the inspiration of the example of the Communards, the first fighters for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in the study of the teachings of Marx.
Morris did not become a literary Socialist or an artistic Socialist, or any other kind of middle-class parody of a Socialist. Morris became a revolutionary Socialist. When, in 1883, he declared himself to be a Socialist, or, as he once said, became "one of the Communist folk", it was precisely in the meaning of the last words of the Communist Manifesto, written by Marx and Engels thirty-five years before:
"They (Communists) openly declare that their purpose can only be achieved by the forcible overthrow of all the whole extant social order. Let the ruling classes tremble at the prospect of a Communist revolution. Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains — they have a world to win."
"Proletarians of all countries unite!"
THE Democratic Federation, of which Morris became a member in January 1883, had been formed eighteen months before on the initiative of Henry Mayers Hyndman, a man who was to play a prominent part in the history of the working-class movement for another forty years. Hyndman was some thirty years later accurately described by Lenin as "a British bourgeois philistine, who, being an exceptionally bright specimen of his class, made his way, at last, into the road leading towards Socialism, but has never been able to divest himself wholly of bourgeois views and prejudices". Hyndman' opportunism and jingoism was to cost the Movement dear. Himself a born sectarian, he was to be a cause of split after split in the ranks of the revolutionary working class (the Socialist League, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, etc) which had reduced the parties of the revolutionary working class to a debris of sects by the beginning of the war of 1914.
But now we are concerned with the first beginnings of Hyndman on "the road leading to Socialism" on which he had led for some time, as fellow travellers, John Burns, Bernard Shaw and others. Hyndman began his plunge in the Socialist direction badly, with a plagiarism of Marx. In the last letter written by Marx to his friend Sorge (15th December 1881) Marx said:
"Before this, in the beginning of June, there was published by a certain Hyndman a little book, England for All. It pretends to be written as an expose of the programme of the Democratic Federation — a recently formed association of different English and Scottish radical societies, half bourgeois, half proletarian. The chapters on Labour and Capital are only literal extracts from, or circumlocutions of, the Capital, but the ****** does neither quote the book nor its author ... the man is a weak vessel and very far from having even the patience — the very first condition of learning anything, of studying a matter thoroughly. All these amiable middle-class writers — if not Socialists — have an itching to make money, or name, or political capital immediately out of any new thoughts they may have got at by any favourable windfall."
What was the situation of the English working-class movement at the moment when this Democratic Federation (in 1883) proclaimed itself Socialist? The answer to this question is to be found in the letters of Frederick Engels to Bebel and other leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party:
"In no circumstances," he writes, in August 1883, "think of believing anyone who tells you that a genuinely proletarian movement is developing in England. I know that Liebknecht wants to convince himself and the whole world that this is so; but that is not the case. The elements displaying activity at the present time may acquire significance, after assimilating our theoretical programme and thus getting a basis — but only when a spontaneous movement among the workers breaks out here and if they succeed in mastering that movement. Until then they are individuals, behind whose backs are a melange of confused sectarians, remnants of the great movement of the 'forties, and nothing more. But a real general workers' movement will arise here — if nothing unforeseen occurs — only when the workers feel that the English world monopoly has been broken. Participation in the hegemony of the world market has been and remains the economic basis for the political nullity of the English workers. Tailing behind the capitalist in the economic exploitation of this monopoly, but always sharing in its benefits, they are naturally enough the political tail of the 'Great Liberal Party'."
A satisfactory history of the 'eighties and 'nineties has still to be written. Here we are concerned only with the progress in Socialism of Morris, who immediately on proclaiming himself a Socialist, had got hold of Marx (in French) and was reading him with the greatest assiduity and delight. From this moment onwards the teachings of Marx in Capital begin to shine through Morris' writings, letters and speeches. At first, indeed, like that earlier Socialist manufacturer, Robert Owen, Morris hoped that "leaders of society" or, at any rate, that artistic section with which he was best acquainted, would be ready to follow him into the ranks of the class struggle. So we find him writing to Swinburne and others, but without success. Presently, however, Morris, in writing to a friend who thought that change depended on "individuals of good will belonging to all classes," says outright:
"The upper and middle classes as a body will by the very nature of their existence resist the abolition of classes ... I have never underrated the power of the middle classes, whom, in spite of their individual good nature and banality, I look upon as a most terrible and implacable force."
To destroy this force by the power of the revolutionary workers consciously fighting for its overthrow had now become Morris' chief end in life. "The antagonism ofclasses, which the system has bred, is the natural and necessary instrument of its destruction" (letter to CE Maurice, 1st July, 1883).
In the Social Democratic Federation Morris, rather against his own will — he had wanted to be a 'rank and filer' — found himself playing a leading part, but a leading part in that little organisation meant either submission to Hyndman or opposition. That opposition in which participated Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx' youngest daughter, her husband, Edward Aveling, and Belfort Bax, as well as Morris, became more and more opposed to Hyndman' methods. At length, at the end of 1884, they were driven by Hyndman' chicanery to force matters to an issue, and by a majority passed a vote of censure on Hyndman. And then, as a majority, withdrew from the organisation, the main reason being, as Engels said, "because the whole Federation was nothing but a swindle". The seceders then formed the Socialist League on 30th December, 1884. Within two months they had brought out a new paper, the famous Commonweal. Engels, who had helped to organise the split with Hyndman' bunch, was nevertheless not over-sanguine as to the prospects.
"Those who resigned," he wrote at the time, "were Aveling, Bax and Morris, the only honest men among the intellectuals, but were as unpractical (two poets and one philosopher) as you could possibly find. In addition, the better of the known workers. They want to act in the London branches; they hope to win the majority and then let Hyndman carry on with his non-existent provincial branches. Their organ will be a little monthly journal. Finally they will work on a modest scale, in proportion to their forces, and no longer act as though the English proletariat were bound to follow as soon as a few intellectuals became converted to Socialism and sounded the call. Their entire strength in London was (on Morris' admission) less than four hundred: in the provinces they had not a hundred supporters."
Morris turned with great enthusiasm and courage to the building up of a new Party. The files of the Commonweal and the letters to his friends give a picture of what now became his main activity. He goes, with Eleanor Marx and her husband, to a meeting of Oxford undergraduates, thence to meetings in Glasgow and Edinburgh, thence again to meetings in London, speaking all the weekend in the open air at various pitches, sometimes to large audiences, sometimes to the proverbial half-dozen. He is busy writing and proof-reading the Commonweal and then selling it in the street. Unlike other well-known men who had given their blessing to Socialism, Morris understood the hard, unremitting toil that was necessary to build up a party, because, it should be noted, he understood well that it would be impossible for the working class to win the victory in a revolutionary situation without a strong party. He understood well, too, in this sharing the opinion of Engels on the lumpen proletarian riots led by Hyndman, that without a mass movement and a working-class party, strong in its revolutionary theory, there was no possibility of real advance. But though Morris understood this well enough, and understood also many essential features of a revolutionary workers' movement much better than anyone else in England up to the war of 1914-1918, he was not in the situation, nor was he himself the man to build successfully the Party that was needed.
Here is no space to give the detailed history of the Socialist League. It was the period when the Fabian and Hyndmanite opportunist tendency amongst the sects was met by a wave of anarchism amongst whose prominent representatives were Kropotkin in Britain, Domela Neuwenhuis in the Low Countries, and Pelloutier in France.
Within a short time an anarchist wing began to develop in the Socialist League. Morris, desperately afraid of a drift back to the opportunist policies of Hyndman, allowed, and even encouraged, the anarchists in the League to gain increasing influence. Engels, who knew well how to fight on two fronts (which Morris did not) and who, along with Marx, had had to leave the Communist Workers' Educational League in the early 'fifties, when it began to fall into the hands ofthe Putchists, gave experienced counsel in vain:
"Of the so-called Movement here," Engels writes, "I cannot communicate anything good. Hyndman gets more played out every day, he has lost all the trust of his own adherents, but the League is passing more and more into the hands of the Anarchists ... Bax and Morris are strongly under the influence of the Anarchists. These men must go through it in corpore vili: they will get out of it somehow; but it is a real piece of luck that these children' ailments are finishing before the masses come into the movement."
Morris, though never an Anarchist, fought against the best elements in the League who were making a stand against this epidemic of "children' ailments". The best elements were driven out. The fact is that Morris in the late 'eighties was largely of the same type as those "Left" Communists with whom Lenin thirty years later carried on a convincing polemic (incidentally taking the title of his book Left Wing Communism: an lnfantile Ailment,from just this pungent reference by Engels to the case of Morris and Bax) and by means of this polemic brought them back into the ranks of Communism. In the case of Morris what Engels had predicted came to pass.
The League, after losing the help of Eleanor Marx Ave1ing, got finally into the hands of the Anarchists through yielding on Morris' part, and once it became an Anarchist body it soon ran upon the rocks. Morris was driven out of the League by the Anarchists. The editorship of the Commonweal was taken from him. The truth of Engels' prophecy is best related in Morris' own words some years later, when he wrote:
"Such finish to what of education in practical Socialism as I am capable of I received afterwards from some of my Anarchist friends, from whom I learned, quite against their intention, that Anarchism was impossible."At the age of fifty-seven Morris set himself to build a new Socialist organisation and composed the manifesto of the Hammersmith Socialist Society, but it was little he could do. He was rapidly becoming an old man. Four years before this he had written:
"I wish I was not so damned old ? if I were but twenty years younger."
Hardly had the new society begun when he was prostrated by his worst attack of gout, with disabling kidney disease added thereto. He continued to speak and give lectures, but his most active period was over. To some extent, too, his experience had left him unsure. But those who, like Mrs Bruce Glasier in the Northern Voice of March 1934, suggest that he had surrendered to opportunism are simply slandering the memory of Morris. The story is told by the correspondent of Vorvaets that at the funeral of the Russian revolutionary, Stepniak, Morris heard one speaker say that in his later years Stepniak had become more moderate, had abandoned his revolutionary outlook and had come to see the need of Fabian or Liberal methods. Morris was furious. It was a funeral speech, but Morris had no hesitation as he spoke at the grave:
"This is a lie," he said, "to suggest that Stepniak had ceased to be a revolutionary. He died as he had lived, a revolutionary to the end."
It was as though Morris already heard the drumming hooves of the asses on his own grave. Within a twelve-month William Morris was dead (on Saturday, 3rd October, 1896). The next week the Liberal newspaper, the Daily Chronicle, contained an article by Bernard Shaw on William Morris as a Socialist in which, inevitably, there appeared the words:
"He, Morris, practically adopted the views of the Fabian Society as to how the change should come about."
The mythmonger had lost no time in getting to work.
The revolutionary Socialist writings of Morris are to be found chiefly in the Commonweal and other Socialist journals. In the Commonweal he poured forth editorial articles, political notes, serial articles (several reprinted afterwards as pamphlets or in book form), dialogues, old stories retold, such as the Revolt of Ghent, occasional poems, one long serial poem, The Pilgrims of Hope, and serial stories such as The Dream of John Ball and News From Nowhere.
But anyone who seeks to find Morris' standpoint on war, on the colonial question, on the monarchy, etc, etc, as revealed in his current comments (the liveliest vehicle of man' thoughts), will look in vain in the Collected Edition published in 1912 under the editorship of his daughter, May Morris. For the principle followed in these twenty-four thick quarto volumes is to exclude all that did not appear to the editor to possess "literary merit". Thus the daughter, too, wittingly or unwittingly, joins the ranks of the myth-makers; and no Baldwin, dipping into these volumes, is likely to be shocked by coming across some of the "cruder" or "more violent" expressions of Morris' hatred of the bourgeoisie.
Nor is there any question of the space available. For this same Collected Edition contains poetic fragments which the poet withheld from publication, but his daughter or his literary executors withhold from republication much that Morris himself published.
The Tables Turned: or Nupkins Awakened, a Socialist interlude by William Morris, a revolutionary play which a "Left" theatre in this country might well revive, enthusiastically praised at the time by the playwright, Bernard Shaw, is quietly dropped out of the canon of Morris' writings, and the working class for whom it was written are thus deprived of it.
Other Socialist pieces of value have been dropped as well while the political notes and editorial articles are dismissed by his chief biographer with the bookish writer' lofty contempt:
"There is little to say except that he, no more than other men, escaped the vices of journalism when he took to being a journalist."
Actually, it is in some of these current "journalistic", "ephemeral" notes that the man comes alive as much as anywhere. Actually one of the best ways to gain a picture of the workers' struggle in the 'eighties, of the doings of the Socialists and of Morris' own revolutionary activities, is to turn over the pages of the Commonweal.
Take the year 1887 at a venture. Open the first number, published on 1st January, and on the first page the war danger then threatening is dealt with by Morris in these words:
"Meanwhile if war really becomes imminent our duties as Socialists are clear enough, and do not differ from those we have to act on ordinarily. To further the spread of international feeling between the workers by all means possible; to point out to our own workmen that foreign competition and rivalry, or commercial war, culminating at last in open war, are necessities of the plundering classes; and that the race and commercial quarrels of these classes only concern us so far as we can use them as opportunities for fostering discontent and revolution; that the interests of the workmen are the same in all countries and they can never be really enemies of each other."
"Opportunities for fostering discontent and revolution." — It is twenty years later that the Seventh International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart will pass its famous resolution, with its final clause:
"Should war break out, it is their duty (ie the duty of the workers and their Socialist leaders) to intervene for its speedy ending and with all their powers to use the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby to hasten the overthrow of capitalist rule."
It is thirty years later that Lenin, fighting stubbornly against those leaders of the International who, like Arthur Henderson, abruptly changed over in a week from being pacifists into becoming warmongers and recruiting sergeants, carries through the international Socialist decision, deepens and sharpens the struggle, and thereby hastens effectively and indeed leads the workers in bringing about the "overthrow of capitalist rule". Surely this thirty-year-old thought of William Morris would not have seemed just "one of the vices of journalism" amid the war crisis of 1914.
If, however, anyone would suggest that Morris was simply a pacifist or a Toistoyan in his attitude, let them turn to the article written to celebrate the men of the Commune of Paris — ("We honour them," says Morris, "as the foundation stone of the new world that is to be") — and read how he bids his readers think that it would be "well for them to take part in such an armed struggle within Britain".
"Remember," he says in another place, "that the body of people who have, for instance, ruined Inida, starved and gagged Ireland, and tortured Egypt, have capacities in them — some ominous signs of which they have lately shown — for openly playing the tyrant' game nearer home."
To linger over the pages of the Commonweal to recover those buried thoughts of the 'eighties is tempting: but we may take leave of it with one last citation. When modern "Socialists" hasten to defend the British monarchy and are found dancing attendance on pregnant princesses; when so many, too, of Morris's old associates have taken knighthoods from "the Fountain of Honour", it is refreshing to quote Morris's own attitude on the monarch of the day, who was not to be given the gratification of snubbing her Liberal ministers for nominating Morris Poet Laureate.
"What a nuisance," he says, "the monarchy and court can be as a centre of hypocrisy and corruption, and the densest form of stupidity."
The Jubilee of Queen Victoria is for Morris "hideous, revolting and vulgar tomfoolery". "One' indignation," he writes, "swells pretty much to the bursting point." The "great Queen", Victoria, for him was a representative of capitalism; and her life was that of "a respectable officer, who has always been careful to give the minimum of work for the maximum of pay." In the very height of the loyalist orgy, today only paralleled by the vamped-up excitement of Armistice Day, Morris dismisses "this loathsome subject of the Jubilee" with the hope that it "may deepen the discontent a little ... when people wake up as on the morning of a disgraceful orgy."
When we turn from these least-known writings of Morris to his best-known writings — the serial stories in the Commonweal — it might seem that these, in their wide circulation, would have killed the Morris-myth. Anyone who thinks so does not realise how persistent and all-pervading has been the anti-Marxist propaganda around the name and fame of Morris, does not remember that "the lie is a European power".
Take News from Nowhere: Or an Epoch of Rest, being some Chapters from a Utopian Romance, which has gone through many reprints and is his best-known work. It was translated into German by Marx's old friend Liebknecht and was circulating in Russia before the revolution. Yet, in the case of this book, the poison ivy of the myth has completely hidden the oak. Almost everyone appears to have read News from Nowhere under the domination either of the bourgeois, Labour Party or ILP myth, and have, consequently, read not what was in the book but what they expected to find.
Whereas the essence of News from Nowhere is the insistence on the necessity of an armed rising and bitter civil war as the only path to Socialism for the working class.
Thirty years later it took all the force of Lenin' genius and profound knowledge of Marxism to restore in a revolutionary epoch the actual teachings of Marx and Engels. So much the easier was it for the mythmongers to smother up the teachings of Marx forty-five years ago.
The vulgarity of the Morris myth appears particularly in its treatment of Morris, because he wrote a Utopian Romance, as thereby belonging to the school of "Utopian Socialism" — which, as a Marxist, he so explicitly and strongly condemned. See especially his painstaking analysis of the chief Utopian Socialists in Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome.
News from Nowhere was written at a time when the vapid counter-revolutionary book of Bellamy, Looking Backwards, had just been published and when this American petty-bourgeois philistine — a real predecessor of HG Wells, who lifted several ideas from him — was attaining a wide popularity. It was written, too, shortly after the events of "Bloody Sunday" in Trafalgar Square had given a foretaste of the ferocity of the bourgeoisie — a ferocity displayed many times since, up to the Fascist atrocities in Vienna, and always regarded by the mythmongers and refurmists on each occasion as an "accident" in the "peaceful path" to Socialism. It was written fugitively for publication in the Commonweal, and just because of its fugitive and unconsidered nature it is possible to estimate Morris' views; because if what a man says in a hastily written series forms an artistic and logical whole, then we can be certain that it represents his essential outlook.
Morris set out in News from Nowhere to write a Utopian romance about a Communist society, about what Marx called the "higher phase" of Communist society, when the State shall have withered away and the Government of Men given way to the Administration of Things. A romance is not to be judged like a treatise, and clearly some of the matters in News from Nowhere are set down by Morris just as they came up his back; and so it is really astonishing the extent to which Morris' picture corresponds to the indications given by Marx in his letter on the Gotha Programme, and even anticipates some of the features already beginning to show themselves in embryo in the present transition to Socialism within the USSR.
Those who fail to see the insistence upon the civil war as the central feature of News from Nowhere also blame Morris, because, unlike Anatole France, in his White Stone, he did not draw a picture of the marvellous machinery of the future society. But since it is precisely the same type of people who omitted to note in the case of Anatole France, the insistence on the proletarian dictatorship as a preliminary to his future society — and this in a book written ten years before the Russian Revolution — their views of Morris can have but little value. Supposing Morris had made his book hum with machines and complicated metal devices, what would have happened? His machines, imagined before the age of electricity, before the age of flying machines, or wireless, or television, would have been not the machines of a Communist society, but of a decade, or at most, two decades ahead of 1890. Morris did not care to display the wooden imagination of an HG.Wells in his Anticipations, which would have made his book take on the peculiarly ephemeral quality of Wells' pre-war writings. Thus Morris, while missing the local popularity of the man who can tell what the parson is going to have for dinner by virtue of having peeped over the Vicarage wall and seen the cook plucking the mint, did work of a more lasting value. What Morris says is that the productive forces have enormously developed in Communist society. "The great change in the use of mechanical force" which he mentions was the basis of his conception of work ceasing to be useless toil and becoming a healthy need like play. As for the new power and the actual machines, he says simply that they were beyond his comprehension or capacity to explain.
For Morris was not concerned simply with the improved and novel machinery which he assumed as the basis of heavy industry and transportation, but with the relations of men in the process of production. Given these developed productive powers, his business was to imagine a world with no exploitation of man by man, with no birthmarks of capitalism, or — to give it a local habitation and a name — to picture the lower reaches of the Thames as they would be in the higher phase of Communism.
Morris goes on to make one assumption, which is unlikely enough, namely, that after the material basis of Communism is laid there comes to mankind an epoch of rest wherein men express their joy in labour largely through handicraft. Nevertheless, this assumption of a temporary epoch of rest before the advance of mankind to further heights of Communist development is an essential part of Morris' picture. Once this assumption was made, what else was to be expected but that Morris would hark back to the London as it once was, where "Geoffrey Chaucer's pen moves over bills oflading", to get some concrete idea of what it again might be. So the stones of his buildings seem hewn out of the masonry of the Middle Ages, and the picture recalls the opening lines of his Earthly Paradise:
"Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small and white and clean,
The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green."
There is a prevalent objection to the absorption of Morris in the Middle Ages, partly due to the mythmongers, and also in part due to the lack of understanding of Utopias and how they are made and imagined. After the Renaissance Utopias of Sir Thomas More and Rabelais, the first great outburst of Utopian thoughts and imagination was in the writings of the French revolutionaries, who imagined "justice", "equality" and all other "republican virtues" to be just round the corner. But when they wanted symbols of their dreams they evoked the ancient republics of Rome and Sparta, the toga and the Phrygian cap. Utopians all look back to a golden age and then project it into the future.
If the ancient world of the slave-holders may be used in a transfigured form by other Utopists, then William Morris may evoke John Ball as well as Spartacus, or Chaucer' London instead of Lacedaemon. So presently, in his Utopian romance, some of the atmosphere of the transfigured Middle Ages is built up as the antithesis to the atmosphere of London fifty years ago. But this atmosphere, this fragrance of the Garden of England in which this Communist dialogue is written, so overpoweringly assails the senses already drugged by the Labour-ILP myth that, seemingly, many who wander there hear the News From Nowhere but do not hearken to it; remember the fragrance of the garden, but nothing of the men who dwell therein. It is as though readers of the Dialogues of Plato were to remember only their setting —the shady plane tree beyond the banks of the Cephisos and Socrates paddling his feet in the burn — but forget what the Dialogue was about.
We, who can look back over the developing years since Morris wrote, can see with what insight he beheld the class struggle in Europe. Had he lived another ten years he would have seen many features of his chapter on "How the Change Came" enacted in the year 1905 in Russia, from the massacre of Bloody Sunday, through the mutinies of the armed forces and the General Strike to the creation of Soviets (Workers' Committees, Morris called them), the formation of the Black Hundred (the Friends of Order, Morris called them), and finally the armed rising.
Again, in 1934 in Britain, the growth of Fascism (both Governmental and Blackshirt) pays tribute to the insight of Morris.
"A great part of the upper and middle classes," he writes in News from Nowhere, "were determined to set on foot a counterrevolution; for the Communism which now loomed ahead seemed quite unendurable to them. Bands of young men, like the marauders in the great strike of whom I told you just now, armed themselves and drilled, and began on any opportunity or pretence to skirmish with the people in the streets. The Government neither helped them nor put them down, but stood by, hoping that something might come of it. These 'Friends of Order', as they were called, had some successes at first, and grew bolder.
"A sort of irregular war was carried on with varied success all over the country; and at last the Government, which at first pretended to ignore the struggle, or treat it as mere rioting, definitely declared for the 'Friends of Order'."*
The Dream of John Ball has also suffered from the mythmakers. It is highly praised as a dream of beauty, as full of wonderful thoughts on mankind and its destiny, as a work of artistic perfection; and amid these generalities of praise for its form the revolutionary content is forgotten.
Certainly it is a wonderful piece of work. The revolutionary Socialist falls asleep and dreams; and in his dream awakens on a highway in Kent in the year of the Peasants' Revolt. For in 1381 the peasants overthrew their lords, came to London, captured it and executed the Archbishop of Canterbury. Then he hears an agitator of the time, John Ball, just released by the rebels from the Archbishop's prison, stand up and exhort the armed peasants in words that have the double quality of heartening the workers in their struggle today, as well as of summoning to life the struggle of the oppressed five centuries and more agone.
Some seventy pages long it is, and in this short compass the great opening sentence of the Communist Manifesto of 1848, "the history of all human society, past and present, has been the history of class struggles", is illustrated from the climax in England of the struggle between baron and serf.
Then a marvellous change takes place in the story, marvellous in that without any clumsiness or any sense of anachronism the dreamer and John Ball begin to talk of the days to come and in this talk five hundred years or more of the future are unrolled. In language of the greatest simplicity and beauty the beginnings of capitalism, its primitive accumulation, its driving of the peasants from the land and the formation of a class of "free labourers", its enormous heaping up of wares of all kinds, its extraction of surplus value, its development into cyclical crises, its cheatery of capitalist democracy and its final defeat by the workers are foretold. Morris had been studying the first volume of Marx' Capital with some care, had been arguing out all the analysis of capitalist society with his associates in the Socialist League; and those who are curious may trace how the chapter headings of Capital run like themes through this part of the vision, and are ever reinforced by the faith in the struggle of the workers and their ultimate victory. Everything that Morris knew of the Middle Ages — and that was more than any other artist of his time — combines with all his experience of work and struggle and all his learning of Marxism to make one of the greatest imaginative books of the world (as true to life as the most painstaking scientific research) and itself alive.
In all Morris' writing during his great revolutionary period of the 'eighties, the poet has become the revolutionary artist, whose special skill, energies and insight are devoted to the class struggle. The Dream of John Ball is revolutionary. A King' Lesson — that marvellous picture of the life of the lord and the serf — is a revolutionary lesson. The poems he wrote were short revolutionary chants for Socialists, or, as in his larger unfinished poem, The Pilgrims of Hope, devoted to the life of a proletarian and the struggles of the workers, culminating in the Paris Commune. His poetry, his whole high power of expression in prose and verse, had been turned by Morris into a revolutionary weapon.
The lectures and pamphlets of Morris — now, alas, so hard to get — served the same end. The great poet and craftsman had found self-understanding and self-expression in the heart of the workers' struggle, under the banner of Marxism.
AIl this does not mean that William Morris had anything like the understanding of Marxism that was afterwards to be shown by the Bolsheviks. On the contrary, he allowed himself to be influenced by the Anarchists, showed an anti-Parliamentary tendency, and several other tendencies — all of them (as Lenin was to note afterwards) a punishment of the movement for the sins of opportunism rampant in Hyndman and the Fabians.
If Maxim Gorky, who may rightly be acclamied as the gretest artistic force of the Russian proletariat, made mistake after mistake, even in the most serious moments of the revolution, how much more is this likely to have been so for Morris, who had lived four parts of his life before he joined the Social Democratic Federation in his fiftieth year. Just herein lies the contradition which which made it hard for Morris to apply with full correctness the teachings of Marx.
But these things no more entitle Morris to be canonised as a Reformist by two generations of the Labour Party and the ILP than Gorky' weaknesses would entitle him to be regarded as a White Guardist and a Menshevik.
It is high time that the Morris myth was destroyed; for the real Morris belongs to us, belongs to the revolutionary working class of Great Britain.
What cometh here from west to east awending?
And who are these, the marchers stern and slow?
We bear the message that the rich are sending
Aback to those who bade them wake and know.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day
We asked them for a life of toilsome earning,
They bade us bide their leisure for our bread;
We craved to speak to tell our woeful learning;
We come back speechless, bearing back our dead.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day
They will not learn; they have no ears to hearken.
They turn their faces from the eyes of fate;
Their gay-lit halls shut out the skies that darken.
But, lo! this dead man knocking at the gate.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day
Here lies the sign that we shall break our prison;
Amidst the storm he won a prisoner' rest;
But in the cloudy dawn the sun arisen
Brings us our day of work to win the best.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day
Written for the red funeral of Alfred Linnell, who died from injuries received from the police in the struggle of "Bloody Sunday", November 13th, 1887.
1. "He was a great Distributist," writes GK Chesterton. The fascist Sir John Squire and the ex-ILP Lord Snowden also cast their stone.
2. Afterwards republished in book form under the title of Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome
3. In writing this and other chapters I have used and amplified portions of an article written by me for the March 1934 Labour Monthly.
4. Morris, a few years later, on the death of Lord Tennyson, was "sounded" by the Cabinet as to whether he would take the Poet Laureateship if offered. Morris declined. A speciment of his chief biographer' level is to be seen in the record set down of Morris' sentiments on this occasion, whereby the revolutionary socialist' sarcastic references to the Marquis of Lorne, a Court poetaster of the time, are taken literally, as though Morris had a courtier-like attitude to the monarchy.
5. For over ten years I have made it a practice to ask three questions, which have almost invariably been answered as follows:
Question I: Have you read News From Nowhere?
Answer: Yes, a long time ago.
Question 2: What would you say about it?
Answer: A beautiful dream of a future society, but quite impossible.
Question 3: Do you remember how the change took place to the future society?
Answer: No, I can't say that I do remember.
6. The Fascist Weekly at the time of the Morris Centenary had the impudence to claim him as a forerunner of Fascism on the ground that he was "imbued with the Viking spirit." This is "canonisation" with a vengeance!