William Morris (2)

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Mon Mar 13 09:32:08 MST 1995


A Bibliographical reference on William Morris:

_Three Works by William Morris_, with an introduction by A. L.
Morton.  Berlin: Seven Seas Books, 1968, 1969; co-published in
Britain by Lawrence & Wishart and in the U.S. by International
Publishers.

This book contains "The Pilgrims of Hope," a 60-page poem about
revolutionary politics and the Paris Commune, "A Dream of John
Ball," a novelet about the English peasant rebellion of 1381, and
"News from Nowhere," a novel on the familiar pattern of
"protagonist awakens in strange future and wonders at the
changes" in which the "strange future" in England after a
socialist revolution.

A. L. Morton's 20-page introduction is a good short summary of
Morris' life and politics, focussing on his Marxism and his work
as a leader of the Socialist League (the left-wing split from H.
M. Hyndman's Social Democratic Federation which had been
organized by Morris, Edward Aveling and Eleanor Marx in
consultation with Fredriech Engels).  Morton then deals with each
of the three works in context.

Morton quotes several times a work I'm unfamiliar with--_Morris
As I Knew Him_, by George Bernard Shaw, to buttress his
assertions about the Marxist character of Morris' work.  "Morris,
when he had to define himself politically, called himself a
Communist ... He was on the side of Marx _contra mundum_." (Shaw)
"Between complete Socialism and Communism there is no difference
whatever in my mind.  Communism is in fact the completion of
socialism; when that ceases to be militant and becomes
triumphant, it will be Communism." (Morris)

The book has a reproduction of one of Morris' more famous
wallpaper designs as its cover motif, and I found myself thinking
as I looked at it how much nicer the Kelmscott editions probably
were, and realized that no one had yet mentioned Morris the
printer.  As part of the struggle against the general degradation
of life in Victorian times, Morris was one of those who put a
good deal of effort into revival of printing as an art form.  In
that respect he was very influential and his Kelmscott Press set
standards which dominated until the rise of offset printing.
When I first worked in a print shop (1969), I remember my boss
promising to take me out to Long Island to see Morris' actual
press if I made it to work on time every day for a month.  (I
didn't.)

And, as a final aside, I see from consulting C. Desmond Greaves
that it was indeed the Socialist League which James Connolly
joined in 1889 as his first socialist group.  The split with the
S.D.F. never went deeply in Scotland, and the branches of the two
organizations were later united as the Scottish Socialist
Federation.

Tom Condit


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