22 September 2015

A Visit to "J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free"

Yesterday I visited the Turner show currently featured at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Titled “J. M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free,” it focuses on Turner’s work in the last 15 years of his life, including watercolors as well as oils, night scenes as well as blinding sunlight, and seascapes as well as fire and smoke (sometimes at the same time, as in Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth [1842]).

The exhibition’s labels cited John Ruskin frequently as Turner’s first and best interpreter, and as the contemporary critic most presciently alert to Turner’s power and significance. This continual reference to Ruskin made me think of William Morris, and made me wonder whether and how Ruskin’s highly favorable view of Turner may have rubbed off on Morris, given Ruskin’s vital influence on Morris’s aesthetic vision.

In so many ways, Morris and Turner would appear to be opposed in their approaches to art. Morris revived the crafts – the “low” arts – as art forms in their own right; Turner painted for the Academy. Turner’s protoimpressionistic compositions offer nothing like photographic verisimilitude; Morris is associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, whose creed of “truth to nature” can be seen in Morris’s botanical designs. Perhaps most strikingly, there is a quality of abstraction and elementalism in Turner’s work that seems at odds with the ornamentation and lushness of Morris’s designs.

And yet, there are similarities too. Many of Turner’s paintings were originally exhibited with bits of poetry – often Turner’s own poetry, though Byron shows up frequently too – which reminded me of the Pre-Raphaelite tendency to weave together painting and poetry, and of Morris’s lifelong interest in visual-textual interplay. One room of the exhibition focused on Turner’s innovative approach to the shape of the frame and his experiments with square, round, and octagonal compositions, which brought to mind the crucial role of the border and the frame in Morris’s artistic work. There is, too, a hint of social criticism in Turner’s dazzling representations of smoke, fire, and disaster; these recall the ugliness of modern civilization that Morris so hated, as well as the impermanence and mutability of civilization that gave him hope.

After the exhibition, I looked for references to Turner in Morris’s writings and found surprisingly little. But Mackail’s biography of Morris includes a wonderful description of Morris reading Ruskin on Turner, reading aloud as though he himself were on fire:
Morris would often read Ruskin aloud. He had a might singing voice, and chanted rather than read those weltering oceans of eloquence as they have never been given before or since, it is most certain. The description of [Turner’s] Slave Ship, or of Turner’s skies, … were declaimed by him in a manner that made them seem as if they had been written for no end but that he should hurl them in thunder on the head of the base criminal who had never seen what Turner saw in the sky.” (46-7)
This anecdote reveals, perhaps, the most important quality that Turner and Morris shared as artists: a resolute appetite to challenge orthodoxy. Certainly this was a quality shared by Ruskin, too, and it is a quality that unites and triangulates the intersecting careers of the painter, the critic, and the craftsman.

-Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, Professor of English and Department Chair at UC Davis.

14 September 2015

The Pre-Raphaelite Fellowship: A Joint Fellowship from the University of Delaware Library and the Delaware Art Museum

The Delaware Art Museum and the University of Delaware Library invite applications from scholars focused on the Pre-Raphaelites and their general circle, for a one month fellowship.

This is an excellent opportunity to work with primary sources such as Rossetti's Lady Lilith (left), and the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection at the U Delaware Library.

The Pre-Raphaelite fellowship can come with up to 3,000 dollars and housing. Although the fellowship is intended for “significant research in the lives and works of the Pre-Raphaelites and their friends, associates, and followers,” applications focused on “the Pre-Raphaelite movement and related topics in relation to Victorian art and literature, and cultural or social history” will also be considered.

They especially encourage “Projects which provide new information or interpretation—dealing with unrecognized figures, women writers and artists, print culture, iconography, illustration, catalogues of artists’ works, or studies of specific objects” and those “which take into account transatlantic relations between Britain and the United States.”

Past projects have included a monograph on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and research for a biography of William Allingham.

See the website below for more details:

Click here for information on how to apply, and for the application form.

(Image, top: Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Copyright of the Delaware Art Museum. Via Wikimedia Commons.)

09 August 2015

Peacock Room REMIX: Dan Waterston’s Filthy Lucre at the Freer | Sackler Gallery

Aestheticism has often been defined as the religion of beauty, characterised by the celebration of art for art’s sake. Decadence, on the other hand, takes this to an extreme, finding beauty even in ugliness, decay and destruction. Filthy Lucre inspired by James McNeill Whistler’s masterpiece of interior design, the Peacock Room, is perhaps the clearest manifestation of the difference between these two approaches. Aesthetes may run from this room in floods of tears; decadents will love it

For in FilthyLucre,contemporary artist Darren Waterston has recreated Whistler’s original room, but with a difference. In contrast to the Whistler’s blue-green jewel of a dining room, structured by an intricate framework of golden shelves that line the walls (each of which houses an exquisite porcelain vase), in Waterson’s reimagining, utter destruction has taken place. The room looks like a bomb has detonated, or a particularly wild party has taken place. The shelves are crooked and crumbling, the vases are smashed or warped, golden paint dribbles down the wall and puddles onto the floor. The painting that hangs in the original, Whistler’s Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain,has suffered a monstrous change: the female subject’s face has become a dark mass, bubbling up from the neck of her kimono. The surface of the canvas is spattered with filth and decay. This is the Picture of Dorian Gray,by way of Francis Bacon.

Waterston’s installation is essentially a nightmarish vision of contemporary decadence – an act of deliberate destruction wrought on an icon of nineteenth-century aestheticism in order to expose the hostility of capitalistic relations between the artist and the wealthy patron bubbling beneath the surface of Whistler’s shimmering glaze and gold paint. Filthy Lucre is in this sense the dark double of the Peacock Room, manifesting Whistler’s hatred and bitterness towards his patron, the Liverpool shipping magnate Frederick Richards Leyland.

Throughout the 1860s, Leyland supported Whistler’s work and the two men became friends. Whistler painted flattering and affectionate portraits of Leyland and his family (these images are currently on display at the Freer alongside Filthy Lucre. In 1876, Leyland was having his London home redesigned and Whistler became responsible for the redecoration of the dining room (a task that originally fell to Thomas Jeckyll, who was indisposed by illness). Whistler became increasingly obsessed with his ‘Harmony in Blue and Gold’, departing from Jeckyll’s plans and creating the startling peacock-hued masterpiece we see today. But Leyland was not happy with the result, nor with the £2,000 price tag that Whistler demanded. Their friendship destroyed, Leyland coughed up half the money and Whistler left behind his own parting ‘gift’. On the wall at the far end of the room, he painted two golden peacocks; the one on the left, the poor peacock, mangy and beset, symbolic of the artist; on the right, the rich peacock, plumage on show and money at his feet. No prizes for guessing who that represents…

The animosity between the two men continued when, in 1879, Whistler was forced to file for bankruptcy. Leyland was his main creditor. Once again manifesting his rage in paint, Whistler gleefully portrayed Leyland as a peacock-human hybrid, in a work entitled The Gold Scab: Eruption in Frilthy Lucre This bizarre caricature depicts Leyland as a scaly monster, all claws and whiplash tail, playing a piano and sitting on a house (apparently Whistler’s), bags of golden coins piled up around him.

This painting, of course, inspired Waterston’s own title for his installation,Filthy Lucre or ‘Dirty Money’. It is also referenced in the disorientating sounds you hear on entering this enclosed space, as a discordant piano strikes up. The original fighting peacocks in Waterston’s version are now no longer squaring up to one another, they are ripping each other’s guts out. Beyond being a horribly literalised manifestation of Whistler and Leyland’s fight, the proximity of the two birds as they tear at one another’s flesh renders them symbiotic – mutually destructive but also intimately connected, as through a reciprocal umbilical cord. Thus, Filthy Lucre functions not only as a commentary on the creation of Whistler’s room, but also as a damning commentary on relations between art and money in the contemporary era. As Waterston himself has stated, his portrayal is affected by his own position as a twenty-first century artist – underfunded, fighting for patronage and support, and in this sense facing conditions not dissimilar to Whistler’s original crisis.

-Sarah Parker (University of Stirling)

Peacock Room REMIX: Dan Waterston’s Filthy Lucre is on display at the Freer|Sackler Gallery in Washington, D. C. until January 2017. More information can be found here: http://www.asia.si.edu/filthylucre/

09 June 2015

The Joseph R. Dunlap Memorial Fellowship: Call for Applications

The Joseph R. Dunlap Memorial Fellowship awarded by the William Morris Society in the United States supports scholarly and creative work about William Morris.  The fellowship offers  funding up to $1000 for research and other expenses, including travel to conferences and  libraries.

Projects may deal with any subject—biographical, literary, historical, social, artistic, political, typographical—relating to Morris. The Society also encourages translations of Morris's works and the production of teaching materials (lesson plans and course materials) suitable for use at the elementary, secondary, college or adult-education level.

Applications are sought particularly from younger members of the Society and from those at the beginning of their careers. Recipients may be from any country and need not have an academic or institutional appointment, nor must recipients hold the Ph.D.

In some years the Society offers a second, smaller fellowship, the William Morris Society Award (the amount to be determined by the committee of judges).  The purpose and aims of this second award are the same as for the Joseph R. Dunlap Fellowship.

Applicants should send a two-page description of their projects, along with a c.v. and at least one letter of recommendation. For a translation project, please submit an additional letter from a recognized authority able to certify the applicant's competence in both languages. For teaching materials, we ask also for a cover letter describing the ways in which the materials might be used in learning situations.

The Society would be pleased to publish any completed translation or teaching materials on its website, but this is not a requirement.

The deadline for applications is 15 December 2015. Applications are judged by committee, and the decision announced by 15 January 2016.

Send applications to:

Linda K. Hughes
Department of English
TCU Box 297270
Texas Christian University
Fort Worth, TX 76129


Submissions, including supporting documents, should be sent via email (letters of recommendation should be emailed separately by the recommender). Although recipients are not required to be members of the William Morris Society, we encourage those applying to join and to share in the benefits of membership.

(Caricature of William Morris by Edward Burne-Jones via the U of Cincinnati Archives & Rare Books Library )

23 May 2015

Victorian Connections

The Grolier Club, at 47 East 60th Street, is a bibliophile's dream. The book-lined walls and the  dark-wood rooms may seem like an exclusive retreat for literary elites, but in fact, exhibitons here are open to the public 9-5 Monday through Saturday.

The lucky New York public had the chance this month to catch the radiant "Victorian Connections" exhibition co-curated by Natasha Moore and Mark Samuels Lasner, located discreetly on the second floor of the Grolier Club. Here one found an exuberant collection of rare artefacts from a broad swath of Victorian cultural life. From a presentation copy of William Morris's Volsunga Saga, to letters, inscribed books, and portraits of other giants such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, there was much to marvel over. 

The sheer breadth of an exhibition devoted to a minor poet, William Allingham (1824–1889),  and his artist wife Helen (née Paterson, 1848–1926),  seemed out of place only until the nature of this extrovert couple became more  clear. A famous diarist, William Allingham recorded some of the most personal and human anecdotes that survive about Tennyson, Carslyle, Morris, and other Victorian greats. As Mark Samuels Lasner put it in his talk about the exhibition on May 6th, the Allinghams were friends with simply everybody. This exhibition is a testament to the many, many deep connections they made among the literary and artistic circles of London and elsewhere during their lifetimes.

At the exhibition, Pre-Raphaelite fans were delighted with a caricature of love-lorn Dante Gabriel Rossetti following close behind Jane Morris with an armful of cushions for her comfort and his watercolor for the cover of Allingham's book Day and Night Songs, along with an early self-portrait by Edward Burne-Jones and a sketch of Elizabeth Siddal by Anna Mary Howitt.  Victorianists and book lovers of all stripes found something to moon over at this pretty little exhibition; watch the Grolier Club's website for delights to come.

Sadly, the show ended today. For those who missed it, there is a detailed, illustrated catalogue, $35, available from Oak Knoll Books in New Castle, Del.

(Image: Helen Peterson Allingham. 1840-1926. Study of a Cottage Window, watercolor on paper. From the Baskin Collection.)

10 May 2015

Part III, Printing on the Press: Steven Lee-Davis

This is part three of a three part conversation series on the Kelmscott/Goudy Press and the original William Morris broadside we commissioned to be printed on that press. Today, the artist Steven Lee-Davis joins us to talk about his inspirations and creative process.

Do you feel that Morris has influenced your art at all?

I attended art school in the 80's and at that time painting was largely within the realm of expressiveness. DeKooning and Kandinsky were still the exemplars. So, I was a bit of an oddball as I sought out the Pre-Raphaelites, Nazarenes, and Neo-Classical painters. Even as far back as high-school I would study paintings executed by the Pre-Raphaelites reproduced in fairytale books -- of course, I had no idea what I was looking at, but it fit well with my passion for fantasy illustration. It wasn't until much later that I really began to pull out the different artistic personalities of the Victorian age and dive into the writing of Ruskin, Rossetti, and Morris. Fast forward two decades and I find myself a Roycroft Renaissance Artist working among artists and craftsmen that very much uphold the ideals espoused by William Morris. I guess Morris has been part of my artistic growth since I was a kid.

Can you tell us a little about the printing process?

Printing on an iron hand press is deceptively difficult. I regularly use an Albion "foolscap", which is a tabletop model issued by Hopkinson & Cope and so I knew a thing or two about the process when I approached the Kelmscott housed at the Cary Collection at RIT. Since the press is so large and has such an historic presence, I was glad to be assisted by Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, the Associate Curator of the Cary Collection and the woman who restored the press over the past year. Together, we spent hours wrapping the tympan, adjusting the micro-settings on the bed of the press, measuring the exact height of the carved block, setting the position on the bed, setting the stop point, and cutting the frisket to make a perfect mask for the image. We spent more time practicing the hand-rolling of the ink and making sure it was the right viscosity. Actually, that ink is not straight black, but has reflex blue cut into it to contrast the yellow tint of the paper. Oh, it was a huge process, but we just had to glance the book display case to our left to see the Kelmscott Chaucer and we knew that we had to make Morris proud. I think we did.

How did it feel to use the Kelmscott Press?

Printing on the Kelmscott Press was the highlight of my printing career. Really, when I am hanging out with other printers and we are exchanging print stories over a beer, my story wins every time!

How did you approach the design of this broadside?

The design of this broadside was created in collaboration with the Board of the William Morris Society, U.S. Jack Walsdorf, the President, was a tireless communicator who made sure that this project came to fruition. I really think it is an amazing thing to have a limited edition portrait of William Morris printed on the Kelmscott Press. I hope that the proceeds benefit the Society and that members enjoy the print. It was a pleasure to work with everyone involved.

To purchase the broadside, visit our online store here. All proceeds benefit the William Morris Society in the United States. 

Part II, Restoring the Press: Amelia Hugill-Fontanel

This is part two of a three part conversation series on the famous Kelmscott/Goudy Press. The K/G was once used by William Morris at his Kelmscott press, and is now found at the Cary Collection at RIT.

Our first guest was Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Collection. Today, we catch up with Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, Associate Curator at the collection, and the person charged with restoring the press. Watch this space for a Q & A with Stephen Lee-Davis, the talented artist who printed a limited-edition broadside on the press.

1. What did you enjoy most about restoring the Kelmscott/Goudy Press? 

As with any of the historic presses in the Cary, I enjoy the process of giving an historic printing press a new useful life. While working on a press I always picture the finished press, how it will be used to teach, and what projects and programming we can design around it.

I admit that the restoration of the K-G was a bit nerve-wracking. I was hyper-aware that many great designers and publishers used it. I recognized that the press was responsible for bringing The Kelmscott Chaucer, one of the most beautiful books in history, to publication. It would be disappointing to many people if the press did not print well after my best effort in repairing it. I am so lucky that these machines are actually quite simple, and that I have a lot of connections with experts who could give me good advice on fixing the press. That the K-G finally prints well is the best reward in being associated with its restoration.

2. How does this press compare to other presses?

The Kelmscott-Goudy Albion iron hand press is the third Albion type model printing press to join the Cary Collection. It is the one with the most illustrious provenance, having been owned by William Morris, Frederic Goudy, Melbert Cary, Jr., and the founder of the American Printing History Association, J. Ben Lieberman. However, one of our other Albions was also in Frederic Goudy’s shop, so the K-G is reuniting with a companion in its history. (Incidentally those two Albions came to the Cary via American wood-engraver, John DePol, so cumulatively these three presses printed some amazing work!)
The K-G is the youngest of the three Albions, having been manufactured in 1891. It is also the most puzzling in terms of its design. The K-G is not as elegant in its engineering and manufacture in a few ways as its older prototypes. For example, the platen-raising spring in the top finial is connected to the main impression piston via two beautifully-engraved, but materially weak, brass plates. The older Albions neatly conceal this connection in the internal housing of the piston, and they use steel-to-steel linkages, which are technically stronger and in theory, superior.

Also, I am curious why the K-G has a rough surface finish when compared to the other Albions, which are smooth cast iron. I believe Hopkinson & Cope, (its manufacturer), did not take the last step to buff out the pocked surface left by sand-casting its iron frame.
Finally, the K-G has two 4-foot-high iron straps along each side of its staple or frame. Supposedly, these were added so the press would not torque under the stress of printing the large engravings in The Kelmscott Chaucer. They make the K-G look a bit cobbled together. I hope to some day address all of these questions through continuing research. But regardless of these minor flaws, it still prints beautifully.

3. Do you have a favorite historical press?

Can I say they are all my favorites? I know that is avoiding the question, but each press in the Cary is there because it represents some milestone in the engineering of how a printing impression was made: from flat-bed hand press to platen press to cylinder press. We can teach the gamut of 500 years of printing history by showing how these mechanisms work.

It would be politic to say that the K-G is my favorite because I took it apart and put it back together, and because I’m linked now to that famous lineage. I am so proud of the work I did on it. However, I am also very interested in platen presswork that succeeded the hand press era. I am even involved right now with a group of RIT engineering students who are designing a 21st century platen press with modern materials. One goal of this work is that enthusiasts would not a have to rely on restoring vintage presses to print letterpress. That opens the field to prospective printers!

4. What is most challenging about assisting artists, such as Lee-Davis, with their projects on the press? Most rewarding?

I have to educate any potential user of the K-G to expect that hand press printing is deliberate and time-consuming. You must be fastidious in how the press is set-up before printing and be aware of such small adjustments in impression, paper dampness, dwell time, and registration in order for the prints to come out perfectly. Sometimes artists prefer immediacy in their creation process—hand press printing does not offer that!
Steven Lee-Davis was already a meticulous wood-engraver before he worked with us, so he knew what to expect in terms of the printing process. I was so pleased with facilitating his vision and making the K-G print a beautiful image worthy of its grand legacy.

Amelia Hugill-Fontanel
Associate Curator
RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection

For more information: See this video, where Hugill-Fontanel walks viewers through the printing process.

Image, Top: Amelia Hugill-Fontanel sets up the Kelmscott-Goudy Press for printing at its dedication. RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection, October 9, 2014. (Image by A. Sue Weisler.)

20 April 2015

The Kelmscott/Goudy Press Prints Again

When the auctioneer’s hammer landed on our high bid, I ducked out into the lobby and did what was probably a very grotesque dance. I really couldn’t believe we were successful”

-Steven Galbraith, Curator at the Cary Collection at RIT

In December of 2013, the press used by William Morris at his famous Kelmscott Press—and later used at the Goudy Press—went under the hammer at Christie's. The winner was anonymous at first, but then it emerged that the press would be going to the respected Cary GraphicArts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Since settling into its new home at RIT, the Kelmscott/Goudy Press (K-G Press) has been restored by associate curator Amelia Hugill-Fontanel and put to use again.

One of its first projects was our broadside, featuring an original portrait of Morris. This month we had short conversations with Steven Galbraith, the Curator of the Cary Collection; Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, the Associate Curator who restored the press; and Steven Lee-Davis, the artist who designed and printed our broadside on the press, about what it was like to obtain and work with this glorious historical press. Today we'll start with Steven Galbraith: watch this space as the story of the K-G press unfolds.

Part I, Giving the Press a Home: Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Collection, RIT

What was it like to procure this famous press? Was the process difficult? Exciting?

The Kelmscott/Goudy printing press had been on the Cary Collection’s wish list for some time, but we were taken by surprise to learn that it was going to be auctioned. Time was tight, but fortunately we found a donor to be our sponsor. Without his support we likely wouldn’t have had a chance.

The auction was actually pretty stressful! The press was lot number 156. I arrived with our bidding agent, Phil Salmon, around lot 80. Although the Christie’s auctioneers keep things moving on a tight schedule, the pace of auctioning the next 75 items seemed unbelievable slow. It was like a build up of suspense. When it came time to bid on the Kelmscott/Goudy press, the pace seemed to pick up considerably. It was almost dizzying. When the auctioneer’s hammer landed on our high bid, I ducked out into the lobby and did what was probably a very grotesque dance. I really couldn’t believe we were successful.

How does the press fit into the broader collection there?

After our acquisition of the press was announced, we received so many messages of support and congratulations. It was wonderful. My colleagues and I felt strongly that RIT was the right home for the press, but to receive affirmation from printers, artists, and historians just confirmed it in the nicest way.

I think the Cary Collection offers the perfect home for the Kelmscott/Goudy press. We are a special collections library with a focus on the history of printing. More specifically, we have strong collections relating to the former owners of the press, including Frederic Goudy, who is the topic of 2015 spring exhibition. We also maintain an active pressroom housing over fifteen historical printing presses. So the press is in good company.

RIT more broadly has a long history of teaching printing and graphic design. Distinguished printers, designers, and book artists frequent our campus and the Cary Collection. Our university also offers a unique interdisciplinary environment for the press. For example, over the past year our Associate Curator Amelia Hugill-Fontanel restored the press with help from our Curator Emeritus David Pankow. During this process, they found a few parts that were damaged or, in one instance, missing. Amelia partnered with RIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering to recast new pieces. In this way, RIT and the Cary Collection have the resources to study, use, and even repair a nineteenth-century printing press.

Finally, having the Kelmscott/Goudy press here at RIT is a homecoming of sorts. The press once belonged to our namesake, Melbert B. Cary Jr.

What are your plans for the future of the press?

The Kelmscott/Goudy press has already been included in several RIT classes, and that will continue to grow. Reaching off campus, we also hope to host master printing classes on the press, perhaps beginning this summer. The first broadside we printed on the press was a collaboration between Amelia Hugill-Fontanel and a wood engraver named Steven Lee-Davis, who prepared illustrations of five of the press’s former proprietors. We were very pleased with it. Steven printed a second broadside featuring just the Morris woodcut for the US branch of the William Morris Society.

This coming October 23-24, the Cary Collection will host the 2015 conference of the American Printing History Association. Inspired by the Kelmscott/Goudy press, our theme will be “Printing on the HandPress and Beyond.”

19 January 2015

The Reach of William Morris and Co.

Caricature of Morris by D.G. Rossetti, image via the Rossetti Archive (© The Trustees of the British Museum )

While searching through W. E. Henley’s Scots Observer lately for a conference paper on newspaper poetry, I encountered an anonymous satiric poem on Morris & Co. In the eyes of the satirist, clearly, Morris and Co. designs had spread everywhere. But the writer also zeroed in on what concerned Morris himself and continues to engage Morriseans today, the conflict between the ideal of beauty accessible to all and the high price of Morris & Co. goods. Here is the poem, from the 7 December 1889 Scots Observer (p. 65):

Playnte Dolorous

Who clothed my chairs with coloured chintz,
In arabesques of pear and quince
That make the very bravest wince?—
My Morris!

Who on my curtains told the tale
Of Arthur and the Holy Grail,
Yet built my bath of Chippendale?—
My Morris!

Who made my rooms (like chimney-shafts)
A mighty colony of draughts,
And then let loose the Arts and Crafts?—
My Morris!

Who smiled an earnest smile, and took
My one and only decent book,
‘That Saunderson* might have a look’?—
My Morris!

Who caused me such atrocious pain
With dinner plates (by Walter Crane),
The paint whereto no man may chain?—
My Morris!

Who built me in with painted glass
So that, by daylight or by gas,
My closest feres** do call me Ass?—
My Morris!

My couch me-seemeth full of stones;
Forth from my flesh protrude my bones;
Were we designed by Edward Jones,
My Morris?

Who sent me that preposterous bill?
And ah! who waiteth for it still?
Before you get it you may grill,
My Morris!

* T. J. Cobden-Saunderson (1840-1922), Arts and Crafts book binder
** An archaic word for friend or mate, here in keeping with the poem’s medieval title and reference to Arthurian legend

The poem responded not only to the popularity of Morris and Co. goods at this time but also, in part, to the second Arts and Crafts Exhibition at the New Gallery, which opened in October 1889. A number of papers reviewed the exhibition. The 12 October 1889 Saturday Review, for example, noted the book bindings of Saunderson, complaining that some were so tight “that some of the volumes will not close properly” but acknowledging that his “gold tooling is simply superb. In beauty of design and manipulative skill we have never seen anything like it” (p. 406). The Saturday Review also reported that Morris and Co. had 46 examples of textiles on display in the exhibition (p. 407).

The Scots Observer itself reviewed the show on 19 October 1889. It spent little time on the details of individual objects. Instead the review’s most telling remark was this: “Plainly, ‘None but Socialists need apply’ is the revered maxim of the Society of the Arts and Crafts, whose second Exhibition has been organised and manœuvred by Mr. Walter Crane and a few friends” (p. 602).

A conservative paper, the Scots Observer was resolutely anti-Socialist. In printing “Playnte Dolorous,” Henley could chaff middle-class readers who submitted to the fashionable taste inspired by Morris and Co. goods, only to rue the bills, and also snipe at Morris and other Arts and Crafts designers who advocated Socialism while reaping profits. If the poem is hostile to Morris, it nonetheless testifies to his influence—his “reach”—in 1889.

--Linda K. Hughes, Ph.D.
Addie Levy Professor of Literature
Texas Christian University