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International Socialism, Spring 1963


Ken Coates

Our Great Dreamer


From International Socialism, No.12, Spring 1963, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


William Morris. Selected Writings and Designs
Edited by Asa Briggs
Penguin Books. 7s6d.

The knights come soil’d from the quest, in vain;
In vain they struggle for the vision fair.’

This is not the William Morris most of us know, although these lines could express something of the mood of the mid-century socialists treading the slime as they are so much of the time. To the Young Socialists, fresh once a month from yet another skirmish with the knight of Transport House, the vision fair itself is apt to fade. The more reason, then, to welcome Asa Briggs’ most valuable little book. Briggs gives us our Morris in the round: 35 pages of the Romances; a fascinating selection of the designs with an introductory note by Graeme Shankland; a chunk of autobiography; and, so that IS readers be not disappointed screeds and screeds on socialism, on socialism and art, on labour, education, morals, on socialism and civilisation. The result is a book which every Young Socialist should buy, and which most old hands will have bought already. For seven-and-six, here, you get all of News from Nowhere, of Useful Work versus Useless Toil, and of How We Live and How We Might Live, plus a heap of lesser writings equally timely. The heavy wisdom of Douglas Jay or Anthony Crosland costs four to five times as much. True, newthink doublecross comes between hard boards: but you get it with no fascinating interlude of tapestry and chintz; and more to the point, you get it by the cold ton without an atom of the love, the beauty, the fire, and the hope that burn so fiercely, in Morris’ slightest tracts.

In the ‘affluent’ sty in which we are all confined, all around us are

‘people engaged in making others live lives which are not their own, while they themselves care nothing far their own real lives-men who hate life though they fear death.’

If you see and feel this, Penguins have produced a key text for you. It will continue to prepare young minds ‘for the new day of fellowship’ when newthink is a forgotten file card in the library racks. For Morris, our great dreamer, called up a ‘vision rather than a dream’.

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