William Morris

Reports of Speech on the Opening of the Dardanelles1

(1) The London Daily News

A meeting convened by the Committee to Promote the Free Navigation of the Straits of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, and admitted by ticket, was held at Willis's Rooms yesterday afternoon, in favour of the objects of the committee, and to protest against any attempt to maintain the present conditions affecting those straits by the employment of military force. [....]


Mr. MORRIS, author of "The Earthly Paradise," denied the truth of the statement that there was no war party in the country. There was a war party in this country, and, what was more, a party for war at any price. (Cheers.) There were some good Liberals and Radicals who lived in '48 who thought that Russia was the same now as then. There were people who believed in the regeneration of the Ottoman Turk.2 Then there were persons whose private interest it was─not English interests─that we should sustain the Ottoman Empire at any price. These were the men led by the Daily Telegraph. (Hisses, and a call for three cheers, which were not given.) He would not say much of the Daily Telegraph, because it seemed to him that paper has allied itself with the ignorant of all classes throughout the country (Cheers.) (A Voice: "The Daily Telegraph did not review 'The Earthly Paradise' favourably.") (Shame, shame.) There were people whose arguments had so little sense and reason in them that they were scarcely worth thinking about. Such stuff might, however, be dangerous, because he was afraid there was a spirit in the country which might be whipped into froth by the geniuses of the Daily Telegraph among the ignorant of all classes (A Voice: The Duke of Sutherland.) The Duke of Sutherland, for example. Another class was that of the intellectual reactionists who had suddenly discovered the intellectual virtues of the Turk, and the irremediable vices of the Russians. These had a violent hatred against everything generous so long as it was popular. Some might remember the hatred they showed against the ebullition of feeling by the whole country on the news of the massacre at Batak.3 Those were the gentlemen who fired the great single-minded statesman, Mr. Gladstone, to passion. (Loud cheers, and a call for three cheers for Lord Beaconsfield─hisses.) And he did not wonder when they saw how Mr. Gladstone had thrown over prejudice after prejudice in favour of the cause of truth and justice. (Great cheering.) In the Pall Mall Gazette they found represented a class of people who could not do much good or much harm, but he must say their malice astonished him, and he would that some of them could live two or three hundred years to see what they would see then. He must now go higher and speak of the court. The Court was using all the influence it possessed. (Interruption and a call for three cheers for the Queen. Voices─"No Court." "The Queen is above all parties." "We are loyal subjects." "Three cheers for the Queen." "We will not cheer the Queen.")

The CHAIRMAN─I think it is better we should keep clear of that subject, This is a Constitutional country, and we deal with ministers. The Court is a sort of entourage to the Ministers.

Mr. MORRIS said he would procede to speak of ministers. There had been put over our heads a man who of all men was unfortunately least fitted to be in that position, and in that position he was the heart and soul of the war party. This man, without genius, but with a galvanic imitation of it, was a man of ambitious shiftiness, and the country ought to offer the most earnest resistance to schemes that were a disgrace to the names of peace, goodwill, and justice. (Cheers.)

(2) The Leeds Mercury

Mr. Wm. Morris, who was described as the author of "The Earthly Paradise," wished the statement of the Pall Mall Gazette, that there was no war party, was true. But it was not true. The writer of the remark knew it was not true and indeed there was a war-at-any-price party. (Hear, hear.) Who were they? They were Liberals, living in the spirit of 1848, who believed in the regeneration of the Ottoman Turk, and who wished to engage this country on behalf of everything reactionary and of the success of absolutism over peoples who had the right to rebel. Then there were the intellectual reactionists, who were actuated by a hatred of anything high minded so long as it was popular. Mr. Morris spoke of Mr. Gladstone as the noble man who had thrown over prejudice. after prejudice at the bidding of justice and truth, and this led to three cheers for Mr. Gladstone. The third section of the war-at-any-price party (the speaker continued) was the Tory party as a party. This war party knew that if war resulted home reforms would be postponed, and reaction would flourish. To calls from the meeting to allude to Mr. Roebuck and Mr. Cowen, Mr. Morris replied that he would go higher than that, and say that the Court was throwing all the influence it possessed (cries were raised. "Mr. Chairman, do you allow that;" "No Queen," and three cheers were given for Her Majesty.4)

The Chairman said the Sovereign's name should not be introduced.

Mr. Morris concluded by saying that the soul of the war party was Lord Beaconsfield - a man without genius, but with a galvanic imitation of it. (Uproar.) To that man, they must oppose the utmost resistance.


1Morris wrote to his wife a few days later "you will have got the newspapers by this time with a sort of report of our proceedings including the speech of me, & its ─ may I call it amicable indiscretion: of course I said much more, & more connected words than that: the little meeting was very noisy, but I call it a success considering the slight care with which it was got up: at least it quite refused to cheer the Empress Brown: you see I had to speak at the end by wh: time the peace-party desired to fight for peace & the war party was blue with rage." (Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol 1, No. 480)

2 Marx and Engels (then unknown to Morris) belonged to both of these groups, being both anti-Russian and in favour of the "Turkish peasant" as "one of the ablest and most moral representatives of the peasantry in Europe." (See in particular Marx and Engels Collected Works vol 45. letters 206 and 208).

3 During the defeated Bulgarian uprising against the Ottomans the previous year, rebels who surrendered to the Ottoman army at Batak were executed. Gladstone had written a pamphlet on this in 1877.

4 Morris later repeated that this was not true: "please to remember that the meeting did not cheer the Queen after all" (Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol 1, No. 481)

Bibliographical Note


Reports of Speech on the Opening of the Dardanelles


16th January 1878 in Willis's Rooms, King St, St. James's (London)


  1. London Daily News,, 17 January 1878, p.2
  2. Leeds Mercury, 17 January 1878, p.8.

The meeting was widely reported but Morris's contribution was not, often either being ignored or limited to his comment on the Queen. In some reports he is called 'Maurice'.


The full text of this speech has not been published. According to LeMire (Unpublished Lectures of William Morris, p. 292) there may be a manuscript copy in the Emery Walker House collection.

Transcription, HTML and notes

Graham Seaman, November 2020