17 March 2019

An Afternoon at Kelmscott Manor


In this past summer of 2018 a few members of the William Morris Society U.S. went to England, all independently, to conduct research.  We each thought to make some connections with our English counterparts, if possible. Jane Carlin, our secretary, met in London with the president of the William Morris Society UK, Lord Sawyer, and reported on it in this blog on the 23rd of October.  I met with Dr Kathy Haslam, curator of Kelmscott Manor, Morris’s former country home and a popular tourist attraction in the Cotswolds, located about half an hour’s drive from Oxford where I was researching. Dr Haslam became curator, or Heritage Manager as her position is called, in 2012, after having held a comparable post at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House, in Cumbria above Lake Windermere. She had been a William Morris Society trustee for over twenty years.
May Morris Attic Sketch, Ashmolean Museum,
WA1941.108.21 
At my request (and given my special interest in Morris and Iceland), Dr Haslam showed me the hand-carved wooden objects William and May had been given on their respective trips to Iceland. The objects are kept in the attic of Kelmscott Manor, a room dominated by exposed rafters, where one also sees the green-painted bed by Ford Madox Brown. May Morris made a pencil sketch of the attic in 1873, and I reproduce it here.

The wooden objects include two bedboards, one needlecase (or box), one lidded wooden bowl or askur as the Icelanders call it, and a carved box presented to May Morris when she visited Iceland in 1924. The needlecase, carved in 1844, still had some wooden awls in it in different sizes and a metal needle with some webbing still on it. According to a letter from Őrn Gíslason to Gary Aho (on the William Morris Archive), the needle is for mending fishing nets. The askur at Kelmscott is a typical example, carved in 1874. These carved wooden bowls had a lid and were used in past centuries so the owner could sit by the fire while eating. They were sometimes made of driftwood, the best local source of wood in primarily treeless Iceland. Nowadays they are more often kept as decorative objects within the home. They are also known by way of the mischievous Yule Lad or Christmas elf named Aska-sleikur, who will sleikja (lick) whatever is left in your dish when you are not watching.
Image from Brian Pilkington's The Yule Lads
(Reykjavik: Forlagid, 2001)
The presentation box or casket is the most elaborately carved object, which I intend to describe in more detail elsewhere. On one side is carved a nice medieval dragon. The inscription carved around the box reads, in translation: “(For) Morris-daughter. Over the wide sea this gift of friendship offers thanks from the Icelanders for your visit. May protective spirits make your homeward journey safe.”
May Morris Icelandic Presentation Box
Image by Dr Haslam, Kelmscott Manor






From the attic I descended to Jane Morris’s bedroom, where her bed is covered with the recently acquired “Homestead and the Forest” quilt, designed by May Morris and embroidered by her mother, Jane (see the NationalHeritage Memorial Fund newsletter, 8 February 2016). Volunteer steward Diana Sims and I spent some time in front of the jewelry box kept under Jane’s portrait (a copy from Rossetti made by Charles Fairfax Murray), which box I wrote about in the Morris Society Newsletter (Useful & Beautiful 2013.1) and which Diana is currently researching further. One illustrated end panel depicts a peasant ring dance and may have been painted by Rossetti instead of his wife Elizabeth Siddal, who painted the other panels; Ms. Sims hopes to verify that hypothesis.
Afterwards I spoke with Dr Haslam in her office. We first discussed her proposal to the Heritage Lottery Fund for renovations to Kelmscott Manor. These include reinstating the original pomegranate wallpaper in Jane’s bedroom, opening new rooms for an exhibition space, and restoring some outbuildings.  Kelmscott Manor’s proposal was approved on October 25th so we can look forward to these and other changes.
Dr Haslam then told me more about the Icelandic diaries of May Morris, recently acquired by the Society of Antiquaries (which owns Kelmscott Manor) and kept in their library in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. William Morris is famous for having twice gone to Iceland and kept journals of his trips which May Morris published in her edition of his Collected Works (volume 8, 1911, reproduced in the William Morris Archive). It is less well known that May went to Iceland three times, in 1924, 1926 and 1931, with her companion Mary Lobb. May kept daily notes which she then wrote up neatly in two diaries per trip, six in all; the Society lacks the second volume from 1926. The diary entries are accompanied by May’s sketches. May and Mary also traveled together in England, Scotland and Wales; Dr Haslam is transcribing May’s travel diaries for Great Britain first and the Icelandic ones afterwards. When they appear, these accounts will add considerably to our knowledge of May Morris, whose legacy is finally being given its due, as evidenced by the recent exhibit of her work at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow (see this blog for 14 July 2017 and the printed catalogue, May Morris: Arts & Crafts Designer).
Prof. Paul Acker, President, William Morris Society U.S.

29 January 2019

2019 Dunlap Fellowship Winner: Dr. Rebekah Greene




The William Morris Society in the U.S. is pleased to award the 2019 Dunlap Fellowship to Rebekah Greene, a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology (where she is also the Assistant Director of Assessment for the Writing and Communication Program). Here is Dr. Greene’s summary of her project:
Following in the footsteps of scholars such as Rosalind Williams (The Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Stevenson, and Morris at the End of the World) and Stephen Arata (“Stevenson, Morris, and the Value of Idleness”), my work has recently evolved from closely studying the works of Robert Louis Stevenson alongside his interests in art and aesthetics to more broadly considering how Stevenson and his close circle of intimates thought about issues of education, world affairs, and improved rights for the working classes. Learning more about the connections between the Stevenson family and their interest in the revitalization of the Christian Socialism movement in the US led in turn to my learning that Stevenson, a fan of William Morris’s poetry and translations for at least 20 years, sent a letter expressing his admiration to Morris in 1892. In further considering the connections between Stevenson, Morris, and the leaders of the Christian Socialism movement in Boston in the 1890s, I became fascinated by the ways that Morris’s visionary writings on society and the treatment of the workers under his charge at operations such as Morris & Co. influenced Stevenson’s own political engagement during the final stage of his life. I now find myself shifting towards a new project as a result, one dealing with the impact of Morris on the Christian Socialism revival in the 1890s.


Logo of the Society of Christian Socialists (founded 1889), initial publishers of The Dawn


I would like to use any funding provided by the Dunlap Fellowship to support my travel to the 2019 Modern Language Association conference in Chicago, IL and to the Harvard Divinity Library. During the 2019 MLA conference, I will be presenting a talk in the William Morris Society sponsored session William Morris: Reflections on Art and Labor. This project explores the ways that Morris’s work as a business owner and as a political thinker intersected, providing inspiration for a revival of the Christian Socialism movement in the United States, especially the founder of The Dawn newspaper, Rev. W.D.P. Bliss. Drawing upon lectures and editorials by Morris—“How we live and how we might live,” “True and False Society,” and “The Society of the Future”—I investigate the ways that Morris’s beliefs that workers might be able to build a more effective, healthier, and robust future society directly impacted not only the mission but the design, publication, and distribution of The Dawn during its existence (1890-1897). In my talk, I suggest that Morris’s appeals for increased rights for workers in particular were pivotal to the development of a radical political and literary trans-Atlantic exchange of ideas culminating in the work of W.D.P. Bliss in revitalizing the Christian Socialism movement in America.

In reading the introduction to William Morris and the Twenty-First Century (2010) by Phillippa Bennett and Rosie Miles we are reminded that “[p]hysical and psychological wellbeing, a healthy environment, social justice, meaningful work, beautiful buildings, a dynamic art and literature are never, for Morris, isolated areas of concern: they are so thoroughly interrelated that failure in one sphere is inevitably related to failure in another” (7). Indeed, the commitment of Morris to social justice, fair rates of pay for laborers, and a healthy work and living environment captured the attention of both British and American labor activists and religious leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Interestingly, Morris also suggests that more fortunate members of society also are responsible for transforming society, observing that for many, “they know that the poor exist” (394). Morris, in these particular works, argues that all have a duty to improve society, not just the working classes. “Feeling for the poor” (to use Carolyn Betensky’s term) through occasional charitable acts or small donations is not enough for activists such as Morris or Bliss. They both continually advocated throughout their careers for a fuller understanding of the political, public, and private spheres, as well as a more active, individual commitment to transformation of both the individual self and the overall human condition.

Digitized page from The Dawn

One of the special challenges associated with this project is the fact that while much of The Dawn has been digitized and made freely available via HathiTrust.org, several volumes allegedly digitized are, in fact, missing. Traveling to view the missing volumes at the Harvard Divinity Library will be essential in aiding me post-MLA as I complete the finalization of an article that I currently have under preparation relating to the influence of Morris on the efforts of W.D.P. Bliss in revitalizing the Christian Socialism movement in America. In the end, the work completed in both the MLA paper and the article will further understanding of the true trans-Atlantic impact of Morris on the working class in America, especially on the organization and development of educational programs for workers in the United States amidst the turbulence of the 1894 Pullman strikes.

20 January 2019

New Voices in Morris Studies: John Minto, University of Dundee


I am a PhD candidate at the University of Dundee. The aim of my thesis is to develop an implicit aesthetic theory derived from William Morris’ practical endeavour and situate this amidst the history of continental philosophy. The title of the thesis is as follows: An Aesthetics of Care: In-between William Morris and Martin Heidegger on Cultural Well-Being. I intend to critically explore the relation between the two with reference to such aestheticians as Friedrich Nietzsche, Herbert Marcuse, Guy Debord, Richard Sennett, and Yuriko Saito. I argue for the fundamental importance of aesthetic experience to cultural well-being: it can evince the pleasure of the individual imagination and allow one to re-situate oneself amidst technological culture.
David Mabb, Transitional Monument (2004)

In this blog post I will give an overview of my thesis on cultural well-being, which draws upon William Morris and Martin Heidegger, with the aim of uncovering what is means to be-well, either individually or culturally, in our present time and place. This argument will be applied to educational culture, from which a distinction of fittingness and difference will shed light upon what it means to be well educated in our present socio-cultural situation: whereas fittingness denotes a giving oneself over to educational culture, difference denotes an active educational nature. Today, to be well educated is thought as a means of ‘getting on’ or ‘making the best of it’, yet this speaks of cultural fittingness not individual difference, or how to simply be oneself.

In the prologue to his Earthly Paradise, Morris in an almost self-depreciative, humble and modest, yet ironic way describes himself as ‘an idle singer of an empty day’, and to take this as such, as other, as difference, is suggestive of his diagnosis of human being in industrial modernity: ‘thoughtlessness, hurry and blindness’.[1] Indeed, it would be more accurate to describe Morris as ‘a busy worker of a full day’, where he strives to affirm nature, and create beauty, amidst the decadence of modern culture. In his lectures on the condition of art and society, Morris makes apparent the fundamental importance of the ‘ordinary functions of life’ or animal life.

In an 1889 lecture, How Shall We Live Then?, Morris notes:
How shall we live then? Whatever system of production and exchange we may come to, however justly we may arrange the relations of men to one another we shall not be happy unless we live like good animals, unless we enjoy the exercise of the ordinary functions of life: eating sleeping loving walking running swimming riding sailing we must be free to enjoy all these exercises of the body without any sense of shame; without any suspicion that our mental powers are so remarkable and godlike that we are rather above such common things.[2]
To be well for Morris is to be in a place where such experience can thrive, where the people of the world will discover or re-discover the wonder amidst everyday life: ‘They will discover, or rediscover rather, that the true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life and elevating them to art’.[3] To take such an interest, as Wendy Parkins suggests, consists in ‘not only turning an analytical eye to the way we currently think of such practices, but in adopting a particular mode of attention and investing emotionally in such mundane action’.[4] In this respect, the everyday praxis of human being should be creative in such a way to reveal a more fundamental relation with things which can transform our lived experience. The famous declaration by Morris to ‘have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ should be understood as such: it is not only a call to enhance the beauty of everyday life, but to make everyday life more pleasurable.[5]

This analysis can be contextualised in relation to two related theoretical frameworks which articulate the difference between individual and cultural well-being. These are Martin Heidegger on dwelling and Herbert Marcuse on affluent society. In respect to the former, it is claimed that within technological modernity we have come to forget a caring and nurturing aspect, namely dwelling, with the advance of culture. In respect to the latter, it is claimed that within affluent society we no longer strive for individual difference but cultural fittingness, to be not healthy or sane, but sick and insane. 

In his 1954 lecture, Building, Dwelling, Thinking, Heidegger deconstructs the notion of culture and shows how in our technological culture we have forgotten an essential caring or nurturing aspect: whereas culture can dominate, it can also let things be.[6] To act in accord with culture would be to build, to dwell, or dwelling as a manifestation of building, but, as Heidegger notes, ‘the way in which you are, and I am, the manner in which we humans are on the earth, is Buan, dwelling’.[7] This means that the situated human being must take a step back, with thoughtful meditation, if they are to overcome cultural domination, the they, or das man. There are two modes of building: cultivating (as colere or cultura) and construction (as aedificare). In relation to culture, we have forgotten the caring aspect, in the sense of culture as derived from cultivation and nurture, that is, to create a place in which things can simply be. In his 1890 utopian novella, News from Nowhere, Morris describes a place in which dwelling resides over building, a place ‘alive and sympathetic with the life of dwellers’.[8] On his initial boat ride across the Thames, Guest describes this place as such:
Both shores had a line of very pretty houses, low and not large, standing back a little way from the river; they were mostly built of red brick and roofed with tiles, and looked, above all, comfortable, and as if they were, so to say, alive, and sympathetic with the life of the dwellers in them. There was a continuous garden in front of them, going down to the water’s edge, in which the flowers were now blooming luxuriantly, and sending delicious waves of summer scent over the eddying stream.[9]
This is to note the influence of culture upon human being. To dwell in the world, one must be aware of individual and cultural well-being, which is to build with care in mind to ensure a reciprocity between nature and culture, as aedificare. In short, to dwell as opposed to build is to let things be: ‘to dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its nature. The fundamental character of dwelling is this sparing and preserving’.[10]  The notion of the affluent society considers civilization as an organic as opposed to an artificial structure, with human beings situated amidst this living-being as the blood cells, as the substance essential to the flourishing of this organism.

In his 1968 essay, Aggressiveness in Advanced Industrial Society, Marcuse gives a diagnosis of this organism, as a physician, priest, or doctor would examine a human being, in body, mind, and soul.[11] This affluent society is predicated upon a twofold aspect: firstly, he posits the emergence of a cultural aspect brought forth by human being, which has developed to such an extent to condition and structure our everyday lives; secondly, he recognises to live a normal functioning life is to give oneself over to this cultural apparatus, to the negation human flourishing. The fundamental problem is that human being is limited to such an extent to be normal, and to be normalised inhibits natural re-constitution, or the transformation of culture. In the same way the human being functions in accord with the biological and physiological disposition of the body, the affluent society functions in accord with the situated human being, which must be of a certain disposition to ensure cultural well-being. The lived-condition of human being in affluent society is predicated upon cultural well-being, not individual well-being, which means to be is to be other than ourselves. To turn again to News from Nowhere, the Great Change of society, as told to Guest by Old Hammond, shows the relatedness of human being to culture in terms of individual well-being:
This is how we stand. England was once a country of clearings amongst the woods and wastes, with a few towns interspersed, which were fortresses for the feudal army, markets for the folk, gathering places for the craftsmen. It then became a country of huge and foul workshops and fouler gambling-dens, surrounded by an ill-kept, poverty-stricken farm, pillaged by the masters of the workshops. It is now a garden, where nothing is wasted and nothing is spoilt, with the necessary dwellings, sheds, and workshops scattered up and down the country, all trim and neat and pretty. [12]
In short, the lived-experience of human being amidst affluent society is not conducive to individual well-being, to be healthy and sane, but cultural well-being, to be sick and insane, and to merely adapt to this and make it normal negates human being.

'Social Democratic Federation membership card (1883)
The William Morris Society
The problem with education in our contemporary sphere is related to a strife between individual and cultural well-being: whereas the former is predicated upon human flourishing, the latter is predicated upon cultural flourishing. In other words, to be human involves a duality of being, of individual and cultural, with the organic constitution of culture dependent upon a certain type of human being. In the educational sphere, this plays out in debates over the nature and purpose of education as a means of producing citizens fitting to or different from the status quo. In respect to the former, the production of citizens as fitting to the given socio-cultural apparatus makes for a healthy culture and society, yet to be shaped and moulded in such a way precludes an amoral conviction regarding our present way of life. In respect to the latter, the production of citizens as different to the given socio-cultural apparatus makes manifest the possibility of change, yet to be destructive and reconstructive in such a way precludes a supra-moral conviction regarding human being. In short, the educational learning of functional fittingness with radical difference, embedded practicality with distanced criticality, alone can ensure cultural well-being.

In an article, Thoughts on Education Under Capitalism, Morris argues against the goal of education as means to ‘true society’; indeed, ‘people are educated to become workmen or the employers of workmen, or the hangers-on of the employers, they are not educated to become men’.[13] In response, he sought to educate the lower classes, who by all means were considered un-educatable, so to foster agitation, organisation, and emancipation by themselves for themselves. ‘Therefore, I say, make socialists’, he declares, ‘We Socialists can do nothing else that is useful, and preaching and teaching is not out of date for that purpose; but rather for those who, like myself, do not believe in State Socialism, it is the only rational means of attaining to the New Order of Things’.[14] ‘The work that lies before us at present is to make Socialists’, he continues, ‘to cover the country with a network of associations composed of men who feel their antagonism to the dominant classes, and have no temptation to waste their time in the thousand follies of party politics’.[15] In short, he argues the goal of education should be to revolutionise consciousness, as the insignia of the Social Democratic Federation states: to educate, agitate, and organise for difference amidst fittingness.

The Tables Turned; or, Nupkins Awakened,
Front Cover 
To conclude this overview, I would like to turn briefly to an oft neglected work which also emphasises the difference between individual and cultural well-being. In his 1887 play, The Tables Turned, or, Nupkins Awakened, Morris literally turns the tables on what it means to be well in our contemporary socio-cultural situation.[16] In the first part of the play, we bear witness to the fittingness of industrial capitalism which plays out in court with the contrast between the gentry and proletariat: whereas the former are referred to as gentlemen, the latter are referred to as foreigners. Indeed, the petty crime of the proletariat is met harshly, whereas the white-collar crime of the gentry is met sympathetically, because the former are more in need of gentrification. In the second part of the play, we bear witness to the ‘great change’ which is not so much a slave revolt as a transformation of cultural well-being. In this society of the future, to be well is no longer predicated upon class difference, with all citizens including the gentry now referred to as friends as opposed to foreigners. The former Justice Nupkins (now Citizen) experiences this change with existential unease, he finds this altogether different time and place to be absurd, and he becomes anxious. This is emphasized by a misunderstanding of intention: he awaits address at the Council of the Commune where he overhears a discussion regarding the putting-down of an unruly dog by means of rifle, yet he selfishly mistakes this as metaphorical. In this time and place, there is reciprocity between individual and cultural well-being with an equality of difference which does not impose a fitting way to be in the world.

The people of this place express this as such:
What’s this that the days and the days have done?
Man’s lordship over man hath gone.
How fares it, then, with high and low?
Equal on earth, they thrive and grow.
     Bright is the sun for everyone;
     Dance we, dance we the Carmagnole.
How deal ye, then with pleasure and pain?
Alike we share and bear the twain.
And what’s the craft whereby ye live?
Earth and man’s work to all men give.
How crown ye excellence of worth?
With leave to serve all men on earth.
What gain that lordship’s past and done?
World’s wealth for all and every one.[17]





[1] William Morris, ‘The Beauty of Life’, [in] May Morris [ed.], The Collected works of William Morris, Volume XXII, Hopes and Fears for Art, (London: Elibron Classics, 2006), p. 65.
[2] William Morris, ‘How Shall We Live Then?’, [in] May Morris [ed.], The Collected works of William Morris, Volume XXIII, Signs of Change, (London: Elibron Classics, 2006), p. 65.
[3] William Morris, ‘The Aims of Art’, Signs of Change, (London: Longmans Green, 1902), p. 94.
[4] Wendy Parkins, ‘Introduction’ [in] Wendy Parkins [ed.], William Morris and the Art of Everyday Life, (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2010).
[5] Morris, ‘The Beauty of Life’, p. 76.
[6] Martin Heidegger, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, [in] Albert Hofstadter [trans.], Poetry, Language, Thought, (London: Harper & Row, 1975).
[8] William Morris, News From Nowhere, (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), pp. 48-9.
[10] Heidegger, ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, p. 149.
[11] Herbert Marcuse, ‘Aggressiveness in Advanced Industrial Society’, [in] Negations, (London: Penguin, 1968).
[12] Morris, News From Nowhere, pp. 105.
[13] William Morris, Thoughts on Education under Capitalism, [Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1888/commonweal/06-education.htm] [Accessed on: 19/12/2018].
[14] William Morris, Where are we now?, [Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1890/where.htm] [ Accessed on: 19/12/2018].
[15] William Morris, Socialism and Politics (An Answer to ‘Another View’), [Accessed at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1885/commonweal/07-answer.htm] [ Accessed on: 19/12/2018].
[16] William Morris, The Tables Turned, or, Nupkins Awakened, (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994).
[17] William Morris, The Tables Turned, or, Nupkins Awakened, (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994), p. 84.