William Morris's Socialist Diary

edited and annotated by Florence Boos


[I begin what may be called my diary from this point January 25th, 1887]

I went down to lecture at Merton Abbey (1) last Sunday: the little room was pretty full of men mostly of the labourer class: anything attacking the upper classes directly moved their enthusiasm; of their discontent there could be no doubt or the sincerity of their class hatred: they have been very badly off there this winter (2) and there is little to wonder at in their discontent; but with a few exceptions they have not yet learned what Socialism means; they and Frank Kitz were much excited about the Norwich affair* (3) and he made a very hot speech: (4) he was much exercised about the police being all about the place, detectives inside and so on: I fancy their game is to try to catch the club serving non-members with beer or in some way breaking the law.(5) But there is no doubt that there is a good deal of stir amongst the labourers about there; the place is wretchedly poor.

I slept at Merton, and in the morning got the Norwich paper with a full account of the trial of Mowbray and Henderson;(6) the judge's summing up of the case was amusing and instructive, as showing a sort of survival of the old sort of bullying of the Castlereagh times mixed with a grotesque attempt at modernisation on philanthropical lines: it put me in a great rage.(7) The Daily News(8) printed my letter;(9) it had also a brief paragraph asserting that, Germany would presently ask France the meaning of her war-preparations, and an alarmist article therewith.(10) I did not know but what the other papers had the same news, and was much excited at the idea: because whatever one may say, one cannot help hoping that such a huge turmoil as a European war could not fail to turn to some advantage for us.(11) Coming to town however I found that the evening papers pooh pooh it as a mere hurrying up of the belated Daily News.(12) Yet there may be something in it.

At the Council of the Socialist League in the evening:(13) the Avelings(*) there mighty civil, but took no part in the proceedings.(14) A dullish meeting, both sides rather shy of the Norwich matter, which but for the heaviness of the sentences would be but a pitiful affair: a committee was appointed to see after Mowbray's wife and children while he is in:(15) a letter came from Norwich with the news of their having held a great meeting of 6OOO in the market place on Sunday at which they passed resolutions condemning the sentence, and in favour of the Social Revolution: though I fear few indeed out of the 6OOO knew what that meant. They were getting up a petition to the Home Secretary.(16)

Our attempt to get up an Irish meeting of the Radicals led by the Socialists will fail: we are not big enough for the job: the Radical Clubs are civil to us but afraid of us and not yet prepared to break with the Liberals. Donald proposed to accept the challenge thrown out by Bradlaugh to the Socialists to debate with him; (17) Donald's proposal included a paper debate of six articles, three on each side, to be carried on in the Commonweal, or Bradlaugh in C[ommonweal], and our champion in the National Reformer. The whole meeting in spirits at the idea: but surely Bradlaugh is too old a cat to drag that straw. (18) More by token Andreas Scheu was chosen as the oral debater and Bax as the literary: (19)everyone relished the idea of seeing Scheu and Bradlaugh face to face; both of them so combative and dogmatic: that with the addition that Scheu would be sure to get the best of C[harles] B[radlaugh] quite put us in spirits: but of course Bradlaugh will find some way of escape.(20)

This morning the Daily News still sticks to its guns; but I am inclined to think it was a canard bred out of the great probability of the thing.

26 Jan(uary): Went to S[outh] K[ensington] M[useum](21) yesterday with Jenny to look at the Troy tapestry again since they have bought it for £1250:(22) I chuckled to think that properly speaking it was bought for me, since scarcely anybody will care a damn for it. A. Cole showed us a lot of scraps of woven stuff from the tombs of Upper Egypt; very curious as showing in an unusual material the transition to the pure Byzantine style from the Classical:(23) some pieces being nothing but debased Classical style, others purely Byzantine, yet I think not much different in date: the contrast between the bald ugliness of the Classical pieces and the great beauty of the Byzantine was a pleasing thing to me, who loathe so all Classical art and literature.(24) I spoke in the evening at the Hammersmith radical club(25) at a meeting to condemn the Glenbeigh evictions. The room crowded, and of course our Socialist friends there, my speech was well received, but I thought the applause rather hollow as the really radical part of the audience had clearly no ideas beyond the ordinary party shibboleths, and were quite untouched by Socialism: they seemed to me a very discouraging set of men; but perhaps can be got at somehow. The frightful ignorance and want of impressibility of the average English workman floors me at times.

27. I went to Merton yesterday on a lovely day: Wardle(26) told me the whole story of what they are doing and are going to do at St. Mark's at Venice.(27) I was incoherent with rage: they will soon finish up the whole thing there - and indeed everywhere else. I suppose the 'anti-scrape' will make one last stand for it;(28) but a few archeologists, and archeological Socialists cannot resist civilization (be damned to it!): nor are the 'Italians' (the bourgeoisie of course) much worse than other people; though I think as to matters of history [plus?] art, they must divide the prize with the Germans: both French and English being a trifle better.(29)

Parliament is to meet today: that is not of much importance to 'we-uns'.(30) It is a matter of course that if the Government venture to bring forward a gagging-bill they will not venture to make it anything but an Irish one.(31) For my part I should rather like the Liberals to get in again:(32) for if they do, they must either push on the revolution by furthering Irish matters, which will be a direct gain to us; or they must sneak out of the Irish question which would be an indirect gain to us, but a far greater one, as it would turn all that is democratic sick of them. It seems that they by no means want to get in, and I don't wonder, considering that dilemma.

News this morning that Goschen has lost Liverpool;(33) the Daily News of course in high spirits;(34) and since Goschen won't like it of course I do. Probably it will somewhat damage the Tories, and also serve as a show to Chamberlain to make some sort of terms with the Gladstonites: it all looks very like a compromise and the Liberals coming in. It is curious to see how equally the parties are balanced in the electorate, by the way: and this again is hopeful for us, because it will force the Liberals to be less and less democratic, and so consolidate the Party of Reaction.(35)

Feb[ruary]3rd. Went down to Rottingdean(36) on Friday 28th and spent three or four days there: was very glad to leave the Newspapers alone while there: did Homer(37) and an article for Commonweal, which last was weak, long and no use:(38) got a surprise on Monday by hearing that Janey and Jenny are going to Rome with the Howards.(39) I was very loth to come back; though as for Holidays, 'tis a mistake to call them rests: one is excited and eager always; at any rate during a short holiday, and I don't know what a long one means. The ordinary drifting about of a 'busy' man is much less exciting than these sort of holidays.

They have got at their parliamentary twaddle fairly by this time.(40) Everybody all agog about Randolph Churchill's speech and his hard hits at the Liberal Unionist allies of the Tories:(41) the whole debate duller even than usual, and quite beneath notice of my kind. The day before yesterday the Standard had a very alarmist article on the war-scare: I suppose it really is coming.(42) That evening I took the chair at a debate between Annie Besant and Foote:(43) she was fairly good, though too Bradlaughian in manner; she has advanced somewhat in her Socialism.(44) Foote was nothing special; the ordinary well-practiced secularist speaker. It seems he is a land-nationalizer, which I didn't know.(45) The audience (naturally, as it was in the Secularists' own ground) was about two-thirds anti-socialist.

Feb[ruary] 7th (Monday). On Friday I went up to the Chiswick Club, where Mordhurst (one of our Hammersmith Branch) was to have opened a debate on the class-war, but as he didn't turn up, I was called on to take his place:(46) the room was not large; about twenty people there at first; swelling to forty perhaps before the end: the kind of men composing the audience is a matter worth noting, since the chief purpose of this diary is to record my impressions on the Socialist movement. I should say then that the speakers were all either of the better-to-do workmen or small tradesmen class: except Gordon Hogg who is a doctor and is trying to push himself forward so as to get himself into parliament on the democratic side; he seems more than half a Socialist. My Socialism was gravely listened to by the audience but taken with no enthusiasm; and in fact however simply one puts the case for Socialism one always rather puzzles an audience: the speakers, except Hogg and a young timid member of our branch, were muddled to the last degree; but clearly the most intelligent men did not speak: the debate was adjourned till next Friday, but I was allowed a short reply in which I warmed them up somehow: this description of an audience may be taken for almost any other at a Radical Club, mutatis mutandis. The sum of it all is that the men at present listen respectfully to Socialism, but are perfectly supine and not in the least inclined to move except along the lines of radicalism and trades Unionism. I ought to have noted that, on the day that Parliament met, a young and new Morris.P., Cunninghame Graham by name, called on me by appointment to pump me on the subject of Socialism, and we had an agreeable talk. A brisk bright sort of young man; the other day he made his maiden speech and produced quite an impression by its brilliancy and socialistic hints.(47) His opinion of Chamberlain by the way is that of others who are engaged in party politics, to wit that he is a self-seeker pure and simple and that he set on foot this Unionist business out of sheer spite against Gladstone.

Yesterday Sunday we began our open-air meetings at Beadon R[oa]d:(48) near the Broadway there. I spoke alone for about an hour, and a very fair audience (for the place which is out of the [way]) gathered curiously quickly; a comrade counted a hundred at most. This audience characteristic of small open air meetings also quite mixed, from labourers on their Sunday lounge to 'respectable' people coming from church: the latter inclined to grin: the working men listening attentively trying to understand, but mostly failing to do so: a fair cheer when I ended, of course led by the three or four branch members present. The meeting in the evening poor. Hyndman at the Chiswick Club.(49) I saw Janey and Jenny off to Rome on Saturday:(50) news this morning of their happy arrival at Paris.

Feb[ruary] 12th. I have been on League business every night this week till tonight. Monday the Council meeting:(51) peaceable enough and dull: G.B. Shaw was proposed and accepted as our champion against Bradlaugh;(52) there was talk of the Norwich defense fund and the Commune Celebration:(53) also election of three new members to Council, all workmen.(54) Tuesday I took the chair at the meeting to protest against the (possible) coming war at Cleveland Hall, Cleveland S[tree]t:(55) a wretched place once flash and now sordid in a miserable street.(56) It is the head-quarters of what I should call the orthodox Anarchists: Victor Dave the leading spirit there. Of course there were many 'foreigners' there, and also a good sprinkling of our people and I suppose of the Federation also. It was rather hard work getting through all the speeches in the unknown tongues of French and German, and the natives showed their almost superstitious reverence for internationalism by sitting through it all patiently: the foreign speakers were mostly of the 'orthodox Anarchists'; but a collectivist also spoke, and one at least of the Autonomy section(57) who have some quarrel which I can't understand with the Cleveland Hall people:(58) a Federation man spoke though he was not a delegate; also Macdonald of the Socialist Union:(59) the Fabians declined to send on the grounds of the war-scare being premature; but probably in reality because they did not want to be mixed up too much with the Anarchists:(60) the Kropotkin-Wilson people(61) also refused on the grounds that Bourgeois peace is a war,(62) which no doubt was a genuine reason on their part and is true enough: but of course the meeting was meant to be a protest against the Bourgeois whether in peace or war, and also to keep alive the idea of a revolt behind the Bourgeois and Absolutist armies if the war did happen.(63) This same Tuesday the SDF had announced a meeting on Clerkenwell Green and a torch-light procession westward in commemoration of last year's riot:(64) a stupid thing to do unless they really had strength and resolution to make a big row, which they know they have not got. Of course Sir C[harles] Warren proclaimed the procession;(65) so the leaders drew back but the rank and file determined to hold the meeting and the procession. But the meeting was as good as nothing; the police easily stopped the procession, and a very small bit of window-breaking was all that happened.

Of course the papers made the most of it next morning and on Thursday was an elaborate account in the Daily News of the seige of a butcher's shop,(66) an incident of which all the papers had an account more or less.(67) But on Friday comes a note in the papers from Warren contradicting the whole story, which contradiction, by the way, some of our people confirmed(*). This is too good a joke to miss especially as all the papers printed Warren's contradiction as small as they durst and did not give one word of excuse:(68) nay the Pall Mall did not even chaff the Daily News on its blunder.

On Wednesday I went to lecture at a schoolroom in Peckham High S[tree]t for some goody-goody literary society or other:(69) it was pretty different from my Tuesday's experience: the people were Christians and began the meeting with prayer and finished with a blessing. However it is worth noting that a good part of the audience (not a large one about one hundred I should think, there being counterattractions in the neighbourhood) was quite enthusiastic, though I suspect the presence of some our people or the SDF there: also I should not forget that they gave me thirty s[hillings] towards our printing fund.

Thursday I went to the Ways and Means Committee at the League:(70) found them cheerful there on the prospects of Commonweal: I didn't feel as cheerful as the others,(71) but hope it may go on.

Friday I went in the evening to finish the debate begun last week:(72) the room full Sparling made a good speech; I didn't: the meeting having got very conversational by that time.

Feb[ruary] 16th. Sunday I spoke on a very cold windy (NE) morning at the Walham Green station:(73) the people listened well though the audience was not large about sixty at the most. I was busy all the afternoon entertaining Walker Scheu and his daughter(74) Tarleton and Tochatti; and Cunninghame Graham at last.

I lectured on 'Medieval England' to a good audience here in the evening: lecture rather 'young'.(75) Carruthers there: announced his going away in a fortnight to Venezuela again:(76) I am sorry as he is very useful here: also I like him.

Monday Council meeting very quiet and short: new branch at Walshall, a creation of Mahon's travels:(77) excited letter from the Glasgow branch: they have held a big meeting there Sunday in sympathy with the Lanarkshire miners:(78) more than 20,000 present they say; which as they collected twenty-four pounds (in coppers chiefly) seems likely. By the way in the afternoon Bax called with Champion, who thinks of starting a new weekly, a private paper not so much a party journal as Commonweal and bigger, as he is to be backed by money.(79) He wanted my goodwill which he is welcome to; but I distrust the long endurance of a paper at all commercial, unless there is plenty of money at its back. Champion spoke in a friendly way and was quite open and reasonable; but seems out of spirits about the movement: he has been extremely over-sanguine about getting people to show their strength, which of course they don't do at present as soon as it looks dangerous, and so he is correspondingly depressed at the poor performance of the SDF in agitation lately.

By the way Bax tells me that the Clerkenwell affair was wholly and from the first the doing of the Clerkenwell and Marylebone Branches and that the executive disapproved of it, and were near to expelling the two sinning branches. That is all very well but after all is hardly fair; as it is but of a piece with the general advertising tactics of the SDF. Next Sunday they are going to have a 'church parade' at St Paul's: but unless they can get an enormous crowd, it will be a silly business, and if they do there will be a row; which got up in this way I think a mistake: take this for my word about this sort of thing: if a riot is quite spontaneous it does frighten the bourgeois even if it [is] but isolated; but planned riots or shows of force are no good unless in a time of action, when they are backed by the opinion of the people and are in point of fact indications of the rising tide.(80)

Again by the way at the Council meeting G.B. Shaw's letter was read accepting the championship against Bradlaugh, but with almost superfluous civility to him; and also saying that he could not bind himself to defend our Manifesto through thick and thin.(81) I expected an outburst of opposition on this, as I thought rather needless proviso; but I suppose everybody saw that we mustn't withdraw our challenge, and Shaw is obviously the best man for the purpose.

Tuesday to Bax at Croydon(82) where we did our first article on Marx:(83) or rather he did it: I don't think I should ever make an economist even ofthe most elementary kind: but I am glad of the opportunity this gives me of hammering some Marx into myself.

Today I read the account in the paper [Scotsman] of the Glasgow meeting: it was very satisfactory. Muirhead a very mild and 'good' young man whom I met last year at Glasgow presided at one platform: this really is courageous of him, considering his mildness and his position, as he is something at the University.(84) By the way I forgot to say of last week that Parnell's amendment to the address was divided on last Thursday: I don't know if he expected to catch any Unionists by its 'moderation': if so he failed: for the majority against it was 106, a mere party division.(85)

In the evening gave 'Medieval England' again at the League's place:(86) middling audience, no discussion: except a working man of the debating club type, not exactly a socialist I suppose; and a parson who preached sympathy between the classes: and Webb who shut him up.(87)

February 23rd. I had a sort of threat of gout the last days of last week, so kept myself quiet at home.(88) Sunday for same reason I did not speak out of doors. I went to Mitcham (the branch) on Sunday evening and spoke extemporary to them at their club-room, a tumble down shed opposite the grand new workhouse built by the Holborn Union: amongst the woful hovels that make up the worse (and newer) part of Mitcham, which was once a pretty place with its old street and greens and lavender fields.(89) Except a German from Wimbledon (who was in the chair) and two others who looked like artisans of the painter or small builder-type, the audience was all made up of labourers and their wives: they were very quiet and attentive except one man who was courageous from liquor, and interrupted sympathetically: but I doubt if most of them understood anything I said; though some few of them showed that they did by applauding the points. I wonder sometimes if people will remember in times to come to what a depth of degradation the ordinary English workman has been reduced;(90) felt very downcast amongst these poor people in their poor hutch whose opening 1 attended some three months back (and they were rather proud of it).(91) There were but about twenty-five present: Yet I felt as if I might be doing some good there: the branch is making way amongst a most wretched population.

Monday was Council-night again,and I attended. Poor Allman had been before the magistrate that day and fined forty s[hillings] and was sent to jail in default of payment: his offence was open-air preaching close to the meeting-place of the Hackney Branch:(92) so we are beginning our troubles early this year; which is a great nuisance; but I don't see what is to be done: we can't give up street-preaching in spite of what Bax and one or two others say about its uselessness: Yet the police if they persist can put us down; and unless we can get up a very good case of causeless interference on their part, and consequent presumption of unfairness against us, we shall not be able to enlist the radical clubs on our side, which is our only chance. At the Council we agreed not to pay Allman's fine, as he cried out loudly against it; and I believe meant it as he is a courageous little man; and is single and wretchedly poor: it was agreed that a committee should see to getting up a free speech demonstration in Hackney.(93) I may note here for the benefit of well-to-do west enders that the police are incredibly rough and brutal to the poor people in the East End; and that they treated Allman very ill. Charles was hauled over the coals at this Council meeting for having written to Justice in a way that seemed to imply an official communication, and a disclaimer of officiality was ordered to be written.(94) Bax brought the matter on, and 1 thought at first that it was a piece of eager party spirit on his part, as Charles belongs to the quasi-Anarchist-section: but I saw that Charles had made a mistake, so I did not oppose. The occasion of the letter was a paragraph in Justice jeering at Mahon, who is on a stumping mission in the country for his change of front on the parliamentary matter.(95) I may as well say here that my intention is if possible to prevent the quarrel coming to a head between the two sections parliamentary and anti-parliamentary and which are pretty much commensurate with the collectivists and Anarchists: and this because I believe there would be a good many who would join the Anarchist side who are not really Anarchists, and who would be useful to us: indeed I doubt if except for one or two Germans we have any real Anarchists amongst us:(96) and I don't want to see a lot of enthusiastic men who are not very deep in Socialist doctrines(97) driven off for a fad of the more pedantic part of the Collectivist section.

We had an answer from Bradlaugh about the debate; rather doubtful I think: however we shall try to carry it through. Donald and Barker (the secretary) appointed to see to it.

Yesterday all day long with Bax trying to get our second article on Marx together:(98) a very difficult job: I hope it may be worth the trouble.

[Facing page contains article by William Morris; see appendix, 'Newspaper Articles Inserted in the Socialist Diary.' Morris's gloss reads, 'A railway proposed from Windermere to Arnbleside intending to go right through the Lake Country in time/ Pall Mall Gazette Feb[ruary] 221887.](99)

News of the German Elections today: the Socialists seem to be going to lose seats (and no wonder considering Bismark's iron fist) but they are gaining numbers according to the voting.(100)

Sparling went down on Monday night to Reading to try to found a branch, after the good reception which he and Carruthers had there last week: but it was a dead failure:(101) a good many had given their names to attend, but when it came to the scratch 'with one consent they all began to make excuse': I note this because it is characteristic of the present stage of the movement; for as abovesaid there was plenty of agreement at the meetings we have held there. This hanging-back is partly fear of being boycotted by the masters; but chiefly from dislike to organisation, for a question which the 'respectable' political parties ignore; and also fear of anything like revolt or revolution.

March 3rd. Last Thursday to Ways and Means Committee but nothing done there because of a meeting of the Commune Celebration Committee, at which the Autonomy group (of unrespectable Anarchists) had sent people to make a mess of our arrangements; wanting us to give up our meeting and join them on a meeting the day after, ihough they knew that our bills were out and that we had hired the hall; I think I have mentioned that this section of Anarchists have a quarrel on with the others, and just mention this trifling matter to illustrate it: there were delegates from other bodies there who, not understanding the affair were for 'giving way to' the Autonomy group, who only number about seventeen persons, and include Reuss among them, whom we expelled as a spy.

Sunday Shaw here to meet Th[eodore] Watts,(102) and was very amusing. I urged him to get on with the promised handbook of Socialism:(103) he pleaded poverty, and gave us a comical account of the adventures of a literary man among the publishers: he writes slowly and carefully all he does, which certainly doesn't pay.

As to Sunday meetings of our branch: Walham Green had a sort of debate, with a gathering of the Primrose Leaguers to oppose;(104) but went off pretty well, though a sort of thing which is a great nuisance.

I spoke at Beadon Road; fair attendance of the usual kind, I met a posse of horse police going to St Paul's apropos of the SDF's church-parade there;(105) and there were also a crowd of Police at the metropolitan station.

Mrs Wilson in evening; the lecture good with the usual anarchist twang in it:(106) she was somewhat heckled by Beasley and Carruthers; the latter speaking very well. Her defence was not strong.

The SDF Church Parade went off well: they ought not to spoil it by having inferior ones at small churches now; but should change the entertainment, which remark points to the weak side of their tactics: they must always be getting up some fresh excitement, or else making the thing stale and at last ridiculous; so that they are rather in the position of a hard-pressed manager of a theatre - what are they to do next?

Good meeting on this Sunday at Edinburgh in favour of the miners got up by the League and the SDF.(107) All went much as in Glasgow.

Went to the Council meeting on Monday;(108) the meeting rather inclined to quarrel. The Charles letter-affair brought up again as I knew it would be, but Charles himself moved the dropping of it. A good deal of talk about the open-air-free-speech business: we are to have it out next Monday, when I shall take some trouble to get them to be reasonable but don't expect to succeed:(109) the matter of the monthly meeting of members is also to come up next Monday: so we shall have a pretty lively time of it. It really is a pity that the said meeting should drop; but holding it on the Monday means knocking off one council meeting a month, and I don't think we have a right to do that. Lane's journey to Paris as our delegate by the way turned out rather a joke:(110) the Feast he was to go to was a paying business, and though a delegate he was received with no hospitality; though Lafargue knows him and speaks English; the meeting a poor one. Altogether Lane, and Charles (who went with him) came back with a very poor impression of the Guesdist or orthodox collectivist section there; and after making all deductions for their Anarchist prejudices, I suspect their impression is right, and that Bax exaggerates their importance.(111) That implies that, though the Socialist idea is widespread in France, there is nothing scarcely of an organised party there: I forgot to say that on Monday Shaw sent in a letter very clear and precise statement of the terms on which he would debate with Bradlaugh:(112) the latter cannot say that they are unreasonable, and can scarcely draw out of it without discredit.

Tuesday I spent with Bax doing the next Marx article, which went easier:(113) as a contrast I had a long spell with Carruthers, to whom I went to take leave of him as he is going back to Venezuela and he read me the second (and important) chapter of his Political Economy, which is by the standard of Marx quite heretical.(114) It seemed to me clear and reasonable; and at any rate has this advantage, that it sets forth the antagonism of classes in the nakedest manner: the workman is nothing but part of the capitalist machinery; and if he is rebellious is to be treated like a rebellious spade would be, or say a troublesome piece of land.

March 9th. The ways-and-means committee meeting on Thursday last was swamped by the meeting of delegates about the Commune celebration: the Autonomy people were represented and inclined to give way: also the SDF had written to Brocher (who with a Socialist Union man had been told off to arrange matters with the other groups including the SDF)(115) asking us to join them in a big hall and have but one meeting. This was all very well but I saw from the letter that they simply meant that we should attend their meeting and swell their triumph: which indeed I thought we had better do, if they would come only a little way to meet us. The other groups were harmonious.

On this night there was a good row in the House between the Government and the Parnellites backed by a few radicals:(116) Hicks-Beach the Irish Secretary lost his temper and threatened the Irish members roundly, and they gave back as good as they took or better. For it is clear that the Government is in a shaky condition. The Union Liberals are beginning to see that the cat is going to jump the other way: Trevelyan made a speech at Devonshire house this week as good as renouncing the Tory alliance:(117) so it seems the Liberal party is to be remitted on the basis of a Compromise Home Rule Bill; which will last as long as the Irish find convenient. Meantime the Government are threatening a very harsh coercion bill:(118) indeed I shouldn't wonder if they were not to make it as stiff as possible in order to ensure their own defeat, and then were to appeal to the Country on the ground of law and order. All this is blessed bread to us even the reunion of the Liberal party; because after all that means the Whigs still retaining their hold of it, the stripping it more and more of anything which could enable it to pose as a popular party; while on the other hand it cripples the radicals, and takes away all chance of their forming a popular party underneath the more advanced Liberals: so that in politics the break up of the old parties and the formation of a strong reactionary party goes on apace.

The morning after this row, lo Hicks-Beach has resigned on the score of 'ill-health'!(119) Balfour the new secretary; though it matters little who among the Tories takes the place.(120)

Sunday I went to the new premises of the Hoxton Branch (the Labour Emancipation League) to lecture:(121) I rather liked it: a queer little no-shaped slip cut off from some workshop or other neatly whitewashed, with some innocent decoration obviously by the decorator members of the branch: all very poor but showing signs of sticking to it: the room full of a new audience of the usual type of attenders at such places: all working men except a parson in the front row, and perhaps a clerk or two, the opposition represented by a fool of the debating club type; but our men glad of any opposition at all. I heard that our branch lecture was a wretched failure.(122) The fact is our branch which was very vigorous a little time ago, is sick now; the men want some little new thing to be doing or they get slack in attendance. I must try to push them together a bit.

I attended the Council meeting on Monday. It was in the end quarrelsome;(123) Donald captious and obviously attacking Lane, who was very raw and sore: and at last over some nothing about the Commune meeting the latter resigned his place on it, and everything seemed at a deadlock:(124) then I must needs flyte them, which I did with a good will, pitching into both parties. As to details it is worth noting that we are getting noisy in our Hyde Park meeting, and the police are interfering: no doubt, as Donald states, the police are getting all this up there in order to rouse public feeling so that they may put down speaking there altogether: I note by the way that there is no doubt that the police take careful notes of the Socialist speakers now. We passed a resolution practically bidding our speakers not to draw on quarrels with the police: though I doubt if they will heed it often: as some of them are ambitious of figuring as heroes in this 'free-speech' business.(125) This is a pity; as if the police stick to it, they can of course beat us in the long run: and we have more out-o-door stations already than we can man properly already.

The Conference - Donald moved that it be held on Whit Sunday: Lane moved for the August holiday, on the ground of the financial statement not being likely or possible to be ready at the earlier date: I supported him on the true grounds that I don't want to hurry the branches over the parliament -non-parliament question.(126) We were beaten: which Lane took hardly.

Bradlaugh writes declining to modify his conditions (though no one could understand what they were); however we shall give way in order to pin him; which by the way we shall fail to do.

March 21st. Sunday 13th I went to lecture in a queer little den for the Hackney branch, a street out of Goldsmiths' Row, Hackney road, a very miserable part of the east end of course:(127) meeting small almost all members I suspect: one oldish man a stranger, a railway labourer who opposed in a friendly way gave me an opportunity of explaining to the audience various points which I expect; also a fresh opportunity (if I needed it) of gauging the depths of ignorance and consequent incapacity of following an argument which possesses the uneducated averagely stupid person. I found we had had a bad meeting at home the next morning.(128) 0n the Monday I went to Edinburgh(129) and lectured at the lower Tron hall; the audience was but slender in numbers:(130) there being counter-attractions again, two important meetings being on the same night: one under the same roof, and so near that its applause interfered with my oratory. The audience however was both attentive and intelligent and very enthusiastic: the opposition came only from two persons, one a conservative secularist apparently who seemed to speak well, but was so indistinct that I couldn't really catch the thread of his argument; the other an old fellow named Bone and nicknamed the 'Bone of Contention' who goes about opposing everywhere, a wooden creature, but not quite stupid.(131) An SDF man spoke very well, also one of ours no less well. On the whole a satisfactory meeting.

In fact things seem on the rise in Scotland.(132) In Edinburgh our branch is doing better, though the SDF are more active, as they have more working-men amongst them; our people are on quite good terms with them: best of all the general feeling of advanced political people is turning our way there. Glasse proclaimed himself a socialist and active, at the lecture, and said he was going to join the League:(133) this means a good deal as to the turn of public opinion, as his position[*] forces him to be cautious. Glasse and I went to Roslin the next day;(134) a beautiful glen-ny landscape much spoiled temporarily by the remains of last week's snow, and permanently by the misery of Scotch building and a manufactory or two. The chapel strange indeed; unquestionably romantic; but the work coarse and quite lacking the deft skill and crispness of medieval work; the romance laid on with a trowel, as if by an amateur determined to be romantic; and all this before the end of the fifteenth century!(135)

Back I went to London by night train and waking at Hatfield(136) found the whole country under a white blanket of snow, and the trees like a father-Christmas toy: that day (the Tuesday) everybody told me had been the blackest and nastiest day ever seen in London.

Thursday (17) came off our Commune celebration at last and turned out very successful:(137) Kitz Kropotkin Mrs Wilson Donald, all made very good speeches: only Mrs Wilson's was too much of a lecture, and she really went too far with her Utopian Anarchist superstition: Donald rather attacked her, and fairly.(138) I spoke last and, to my great vexation and shame, very badly; fortunately I was hoarse, and so I hope they took that for an excuse; though it wasn't the reason; which was that I tried to be literary and original, and so paid for my egotism.(139) However it didn't matter. I hear that the SDF rather paid for their egotism by the way; couldn't get the big hall they boasted about, and so were out of it, and had to put up with holding small local meetings.

Sunday the annual meeting of our Hammersmith Branch came off: a dead failure, as all our meetings except the open air ones have been lately.(140) However I really think the savage second winter has had something to do with it; we have had a hard frost for nearly a fortnight now, and often a bitter blast of the NE with it; and our stablemeeting room is not very warmable under such conditions.(141)

I lectured in the Chiswick Hall Club and had a scanty audience and a dull. It was a new lecture, and good, though I say it,(142) and I really did my best; but they hung on my hands as heavy as lead. The open-air meeting at Walham Green in the morning was very creditable considering the cold weather and the underfoot misery.

Thursday 24th - fifty-three years old today - no use grumbling at that. The frost broke on Monday-Tuesday and we have now got reasonable weather. Monday afternoon Mahon called from Newcastle where he has been carrying on a campaign chiefly amongst the miners on strike: he reports well of it:(143) only as he had to work with J. Williams and Hunter Watts (of the SDF) he will hardly be able to form a branch of the League, and thinks that he had better invite them to form a separate body independent of League and SDF: this is awkward but perhaps can't be helped.(144)

Council-meeting short and confused: the two parties rather bitter but not inclined to do much since the Conference comes off so soon: settled now for Whitsunday. Lane gave notice of resolution for next Monday pledging the Council to leave the whole matter of tactics alone at present: I shall support that.(145) I am certainly feeling discouraged about the League: between them they will break it up I fear, and then the SDF will be the only practical body here; which I don't like the idea of as its advertising tactics make it somewhat ridiculous. I shall move at the conference that the question of parliament or non-parliament be deferred for a year. The Fabians by the way have issued their parliamentary League manifesto:(146) I don't mind this if they like to try it. But the S[ocialist] L[eague] going parliamentary would be a misfortune.(147)

Tuesday 22nd. I gave my 'Feudal England' at Hammersmith Radical Club:(148) nine people for audience! The fact is this is a slack time for lectures.

March 30th, Wednesday. On Sunday I gave my 'Monopoly' at the Borough of Hackney Club, which was one of the first workmen's clubs founded, if not the first;(149) it is a big club numbering 1,600 members: a dirty wretched place enough giving a sad idea of the artisans' standard of comfort: the meeting was a full one, and I suppose I must say attentive; but the coming and going all the time, the pie-boy and the pot-boy was rather trying to my nerves: the audience was civil and inclined to agree, but I couldn't flatter myself that they mostly understood me, simple as the lecture was. This was a morning lecture over about two o'clock: I went afterwards with poor Vandenhout(150) to the Hackney Branch as I had to speak at the 'free-speech demonstration' in Victoria Park. Dined on the way off three pence worth of shrimps that I bought in a shop, and ate with bread and butter and ginger beer in a coffee shop, not as dirty as it looked from outside.

I went afterwards to the Demonstration on Free speech in Victoria Park:(151) as a demonstration it was a failure, i suppose enough fuss hadn't been made about it: but it was a good Sunday afternoon gathering the crowd very quiet and attentive 300 or 400 I should suppose. Faulkner lectured here in the evening, a good lecture to a better audience than lately.(152) Good meeting at Walham Green: none because of rain at Beadon R[oa]d. Monday's Council meeting was unsatisfactory: Lane brought forward his motion that all members of Council should drop the question of parliamentary agitation; but of course the other side would not agree, and Lane withdrew his motion: he had not quite made it clear that he meant it for a compromise.(153) Donald admitted that some compromise might have to be come to at the Conference. By the way, I forgot to mention that on Monday 27th we discussed at the Branch a motion that I put forward to be moved by the Branch at the Conference, shelving the question for a year; Bolas objected to some of the wording of it, which seemed to him to express opinion as to the matter itself;(154) but did not object to the shelving. Doubtless the Branch will pass it thus amended unanimously. Whatever happens, I fear however that as an organisation we shall come to nothing, though personal feeling may hold us together.

At Monday's meeting Mainwaring brought up a co-operative scheme, the profits made to go to the funds of the League; I rather agree to this so as.to give our people something to do; though of course I see its disadvantages.(155)

Thursday 31st. Yesterday I got a letter from Lane about his canvassing the Branches on the anti-parliamentary side;(156) I am afraid he won't do much good if he goes, though his obvious earnestness and good faith make him a convincing speaker. I also wrote to Maguire of the Leeds Branch urging him to adopt the compromise: Lane says he will accept that. Charles called to say goodbye: he is broke here and is going to America.(157) They are at it in the House about the Coercion Bill, which will however be carried, I suppose, as the Tory and Whig majority is overwhelming. If only the radicals would exert themselves and come out into the streets and make a great show, which they might do,(158) the Whigs and Liberal Unionists might be frightened into voting against it; but I can't see that there is any enthusiasm against it outside the mere party business.

April 27th. I have been busy about many things and so unable to fill up this book. I have had a propaganda tour in the north of which I now give some account. I got to Glasgow in the morning of April 3rd and was met by Muirhead Glasier, and other members of the branch: I spoke at a meeting, their ordinary Sunday one, on the Green; the audience something like our London ones but I should say more intelligent, knew better what was being spoken about, I mean.(159)

In the evening I lectured in the Waterloo Hall to a big audience, say 1,000:(160) which was good as they had to pay. Cunninghame Graham MP took the chair for me, which was thought bold on a Sunday and a Socialist meeting: he declared himself not a socialist because he agreed with the Owenite doctrine of man being made by his circumstances; which seemed strange, and I rather took him up on that point. The lecture was well received, and a Socialist resolution carried. The next day I went to Dundee, to a certain parson David Macrea, once a U[nited] P[resbytarian] minister but turned out for heresy, and now running a congregation on his own hook. My position was only to form part of the fortnightly entertainment which he gives to his flock, music and a terrible recitation being the bulk of it as to time: however I spoke for forty minutes (from notes) and got a good deal into the space: the audience was large, 'respectable', mostly lower middle class, and seemed rather startled, but not unfriendly.(161) I went to Edinburgh next day and lectured in that hall again:(162) audience small, my last lecture had discounted this I doubt: old Bone was tiresome, the chairman, a very good fellow was not a good chairman; but we carried our resolution, though clearly there were many dissentients at one time in the hall: those who agreed seemed very hearty. Slept at Glasse's. The next day went to Glasgow again,(163) and met the Branch and friends at a tea-party, which was rather a slow affair: there I got a letter from London urging me to go to help Mahon in the Newcastle district on Easter Monday;(164) so, much against my will I wired him that I would do so. The next day we went to Hamilton which is the centre of the coal mining district: the miners had gone in on a sort of compromise, but were beaten in point of fact: so it is hardly to be wondered at that this was a depressing affair: we met in an inn parlour some members of the Branch which seems to be moribund, and they would scarcely say a word and seemed in last depths of depression: the hall, not a large one, was nothing like full; it was a matter of course that there was no dissent, but there was rather a chilly feeling over all.(165) A comic event enlivened us of a drunken man in the gallery who insisted on mistaking me for his representative Mr Mason,(166) and quarrelling with me on some political matter which the liquor told him I was saying.

Paisley was the next place: nor was this a very lively meeting, chiefly I think because our Glasgow friends had not had time or opportunity to work it up: once more there was no dissent.(167) The Provost (Mayor Anglic[is]e) took the chair a curious old body once a chartist I think.(168) The next day saturday we went to Coatbridge the centre of the iron district and held an open air meeting at a sort of open space by a canal at the end of that miserable cinder heap, lighted up, as night came on cold and clear, with the flare of the iron furnaces.(169) We were late as we did not get out at the proper station; so we had to compete with a cheap-jack and the Salvation Army, but had a pretty good meeting too; only disturbed by a drunked Irishman.(170)

The next day Sunday I spoke to quite a big meeting on the Green(171) before leaving for Newcastle where a socialist and anticoercion resolution (one of each) was passed. The audience quite enthusiastic. The Glasgow Branch is in good condition apparently are working hard, and getting a good deal of support. There are some very nice fellows amongst them; they are a good deal made up of clerks designers and the like, and rather under the thumbs of their employers or they would be able to do more. Kropotkin's visit has turned them a little in the Anarchist direction, which gives them an agreeable air of toleration, and they are at present quite innocent of any parliamentary designs.(172) The feeling amongst the working men about is certainly in favour of Socialism; but they are slack in joining any organisation as usual: still the thing is taking hold.

Sunday evening I went to Newcastle and was received by Donald and Mahon, and presently stumbled on Hyndman who had been lecturing that evening.(173) I was pressed to come down to Newcastle because the SDF after seeming to agree that neither organisation should press itself on the miners has been playing a double game and trying to bag them after all. Well, next morning we started for the collieries early, and came to a place called Sedghill,(174) where went into a miner's cottage and D[onald] and I sat down and talked while Mahon went to arrange matters, as there was to be a converging march on the field at Horton where the meeting was to be. The goodman was a tall strong man his face wrecked by an accident which had blown out one eye and damaged the other: he seemed a kindly intelligent man, and gave us all information carefully, speaking without any bitterness against the masters: the strike is on this wise; the men were working about four days a week and only earning after all deductions about thirteen s[hillings], and the masters are for reducing their wages by twelve and a half per cent on the grounds that the price of coal justifies this reduction, although according to the sliding scale of wages agreed to by employers and employed this was not called for: so the miners are striking against this reduction. The man's wife and daughter were about, tidy and good-tempered women, his house was very clean as clean as a cottage in the country, and so were apparently most of the others inside,(175) though they are most woful looking dwellings of man, and the whole district is just a miserable back yard to the collieries. Mahon and I leaving D[onald] behind went by train to Blyth (which is a seaport)(176) and at the station found a considerable crowd waiting for us who followed us into the market place where I spoke to them from a trolley for about forty minutes while Mahon again saw to some business. Then we started without any show or banners or band, and consequently without many with us:(177) about halfway however we picked up a band and a banner and a lot of men, and soon swelled into a respectable company: the others had got there before us and lots more were streaming up into the field: the day was bright and sunny, the bright blue sea forming a strange border to the misery of the land.(178) We spoke from one waggon Fielding of the SDF in the chair,(179) then Mahon then me then Hyndman then Donald. It was a very good meeting: the front ranks sat down to let the others hear and see. The audience listened intently and were heartily with us: they began by objecting to the reporters, and cried out to 'pit them out' unless they put all down. They hooted the police lustily when I said something about those worthies;(180) being much excited by the news of J. Williams' arrest in London the day before, as he has been down speaking to them.(181) I note that my speech as given in the Chronicle is verbatim almost; as I fancy is Hyndman's, but Donald I thought made the speech of the occasion.(182) We three hurried off to catch the train for Newcastle which we just did, and got hungry but pleased there in time [to] have a bite and drop in the refreshment rooms. There Joseph Cowen stumbled on us and we had a friendly talk together(183) and saw us off by train to a place called Ryton Willows where we had advertised another meeting: it is a piece of rough healthy ground by the Tyneside under the bank by which the railway runs: it is a pretty place and the evening was lovely: a mere recreation ground with swings and merry-go-rounds.(184) But we had a very fair meeting there of most attentive persons, though I guess I tried their patience as I got 'lectury' and being excited went on and on till I had gone on too long: however it was successful and the audience stayed till it was nearly dark, gave three cheers for the Socialists and off we went back.(185)

The next day I went up to London and got to the Council in time to come in for one of the usual silly squabbles about nothing,(186) and to propose a Hyde Park meeting in aid of the Northumbrian miners in a fortnight which was agreed to.(187) There is no doubt of the success (which may be temporary) which we have made in these northern mining districts.

I spoke the next Sunday at Beadon Road and couldn't help contrasting our cockneys much to their disadvantage with the northerners: the meeting fair, also a good one at Walham Green, and at our room in the evening where I lectured. The Easter Monday anticoercion meeting was certainly a success;(188) I have no doubt much bigger than the Suffrage-meeting where we got hustled three years ago.(189) The democratic element was dominant in it, and the socialists very popular.

The next Monday meeting at Farringdon R[oa]d was the meeting of London members also, and Lane read his manifesto; which indeed turned out to be a long lecture not at all fit for its purpose, and which would have been damaging to us antiparliamentarians if it had gone to the Branches:(190) a vote was taken as to whether the Council should be advised to print it and the majority report and it was carried that it should not be, I voted in the majority.

The next Sunday 24th our Hyde Park meeting came off on a stormy day, but was a fair success under the circumstances, although a hail storm drove a lot of people out of the Park just as we were beginning.(191) Note that all this time anticoercion meetings are being held all about: but to my thinking there is no great enthusiasm about it except among regular political persons.(192) Still it is something that the political Democracy has taken it up.

By the by on Sunday 24th Brocher came to lecture here about Colins the Belgian Utopist Socialist and had no audience:(193) he is not in any case a lively lecturer though an interesting man and also the Hyde Park meeting damaged us no doubt: still it was discouraging. Council meeting on Monday 25th. Lane and Mainwaring very much in opposition and not a little unreasonable: a kind of discussion as to the 'making of a Conference being made' like the gate of the old Medieval King. Donald practically sent to Northumberland to help to resist the intrigues of the SDF. The papers full during these days of the Snabele arrest;(194) my private opinion is - war.(195)

List of Newspaper Clippings Inserted by Morris in the Socialist Diary

  1. Within entry for 25 January:
    'The Disturbances at Norwich', letter from William Morris to the editor of The Daily News.
  2. Within entry for 12 February:
    report 'The Socialist Demonstration in Clerkenwell / The Siege of a Butcher's Shop', The Daily News 10 February 1887.
  3. Within entry for 23 February:
    'Against (ii.) By Mr W Morris', article labelled by Morris, 'a railway proposed from Windermere to Ambleside intending to go right through the Lake Country in time / Pall Mall Gazette / 22 February 1887.
  4. Within entry for 21 March:
    report 'Celebrating the Commune', The Daily News Friday, 18 March 1887.
  5. Within entry for 21 March:
    report 'Socialist Meetings in Newcastle. / Speeches by Mr Mahon'. Newcastle Daily Chronicle 7 March 1887.
  6. Within entry for 21 March:
    'Manifesto of the Fabian Parliamentary League' .
  7. Within entry for 27 April:
    report 'The Socialists and the Miners / The Great Demonstration at Horton/Speeches by Messrs Morris and Hyndman', Newcastle Daily Chronicle 12 April 1887.
  8. Within entry for 27 April:
    report 'Meeting at Ryton' and 'The Arrest of Mr John Williams', Newcastle Daily Chronicle 12 April 1887.