Introductory Note to Good King Wenceslas, by Dr Neale

By William Morris

The poem here illustrated by Mr Gaskin's beautiful pictures was written to suit a Medieval tune by Dr John Mason Neale, who was one of the leaders in the early days of the Ritualistic movement. Dr Neale was a representative of a side of the movement, which, unless I am mistaken, has almost died out as a special characteristic of Ritualism: the historical side to wit. This has happened I think because of the growth amongst thinking people generally of a sense of the importance of Medieval history, and of the increasing knowledge that the ecclesiastical part of it cannot be dissociated from its civil and popular parts. Medieval history in all its detail, with all its enthusiasms, legends, and superstitions, is now cultivated by many who have no ecclesiastic bias, as a portion of the great progress of the life of man on earth, the discovery of which as an unbroken chain belongs almost entirely to our own days. But to Dr Neale must be awarded the honour of being the chief figure of the history lovers, or shall we say the Medievalists in the movement in question, and the poem before us is a good specimen of his manner and its limitations. The legend itself is pleasing and a genuine one, and the Christmaslike quality of it, recalling the times of my boyhood, appeals to me at least as a happy memory of past days.

As this preface is a part of the book and not a criticism of it as a work of art I must not say much of the merits of the pictures done by my friend Mr Gaskin; but I cannot help saying that they have given me very much pleasure, both as achievements in themselves and as giving hopes of a turn towards the ornamental side of illustration, which is most desirable.


The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology