Morris, Lewis (DNB12)

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MORRIS, Sir LEWIS (1833–1907), poet and Welsh educationist, eldest surviving son of Lewis (Edward Williams) Morris, solicitor of Carmarthen, by Sophia, daughter of John Hughes, shipowner and merchant of the same town, was born in Spilman Street, Carmarthon, on 23 Jan. 1888. His father, who was grandson of Lewis Morris (1703-1765) [q. v.], Welsh poet, originally of Anglesey and later of Penbryn, near Aberystwyth, was first registrar of the Glamorgan circuit of county courts, and from the subdivision of the office till his death on 30 June 1872 registrar of the Swansea court. He possessed great political influence (on tho liberal side) in the town and county of Carmarthen' (J. Lloyd Morgan, Life of Prof. Morgan, p, 39). Besides an elder brother and a sister who died in infancy, Morris had three brothers, William Hughes (d. 1003) and Charles Edward, both solicitors, and John, rector of Narberth since 1885.

Morris was educated at Queen Elizabeth's grammar school, Carmarthen (1841-7), and at Cowbridge (1847-50) under Hugo D. Harper, whom he followed, with a number of other Welsh boys, to Sherborne, where he remained one year (1850-1). With Harper he formed a lifelong friendship. At Cowbridge he wrote a prize poem on Pompeii; at Sherborne he won the Leweston prize for classics and a prize for an English poem, 'A Legend of Thermopylæ.' He proceeded to Jesus College, Oxford, matriculating on 26 June 1851, and took first class in both classical moderations in 1853 and literæ humaniores in 1855 (Harriet Thomas, Father and Son, p. 51). He graduated B.A. in 1856, proceeding M.A. in 1858, and was awarded the chancellor's prize for the English essay on 'The Greatness and Decline of Venice' in 1858. 'Nothing but the possession of more than the statutable amount of property prevented his election to a fellowship' (Hardy, Jesus College, p. 201). For the same reason he had been ineligible for an entrance scholarship, but had been granted the rank of an honorary scholar. A college literary club, including among its members John Richard Green (who entered as a scholar in 1855), jointly produced a poem entitled 'The Gentiad', satirising the more exclusive and wealthier set to which Morris belonged (Letters of J. R. Green, p. 15). One of its most caustic lines, attributed by Morris to Green, though it is authoritatively stated it was not written by him, gave great offence to Morris owing to a subtle imputation on his father's professional conduct. The breach between Morris and Green was never healed, not even in 1877, when both were simultaneously elected fellows of the college, shortly alter the appointment, as principal, of Morris's old master (Dr. Harper).

Morris was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn on 21 Nov. 1856, was awarded a certificate of honour on 7 Jan. 1861, was called to the bar on 18 Nov. 1861, and practised, chiefly as a conveyancer, till 1880. Two poems, 'At Chambers' and 'A Separation Deed,' are based on incidents in his professional life.

In 1871 there appeared anonymously the first series of his 'Songs of Two Worlds, by a new writer.' It consisted chiefly of lyrical poems contributed from 1865 downwards to a small literary and artistic society, 'The Pen and Pencil Club,' meeting at the house of Peter Taylor [q. v.] (The New Rambler, p. 112). The sonorous verse and placid optimism won for these 'Songs' great popularity, and a second series which followed in 1874, and a third issued in 1875, proved equally attractive. Though published anonymously, the last poem in the third series, 'To My Motherland,' indicated the writer's identity (cf. Athenæum, 23 Sept. 1876). A new edition of the three series in one volume was issued in 1878.

Meanwhile Tennyson's 'Tithonus' had suggested to Morris (New Rambler, p. 121) a series of blank verse monologues put into the mouths of the chief characters of Greek mythology. His three earliest poems on this plan — 'Marsyas,' 'Eurydice,' and 'Endymion' — were rejected by various magazines {ibid. 112). Other poems expressed in a like spirit the reconceptions and moral ideals of his own age. The pieces were linked together by the device of a pilgrimage to the Shades. Finally all were collected umder the general title of 'The Epic of Hades' in three sections named Hades, Tartarus, and Olympus. The Hades section appeared as book ii. of the 'Epic' early in 1876 ; this was followed by books i. and iii. in the subsequent year, when a complete edition in one volume was also issued. The work, which was mostly written 'amid the not inappropriate sounds and gloom of the (London) Underground Railway' (ibid. p. 117), was described as 'by the author of "Songs of Two Worlds." ' The success of the volume was surprising : it ran through three editions of 1000 copies each in its first year, and some forty-five editions (exceeding fifty thousand copies) during the author's lifetime. A quarto edition with illustrations by George R. Chapman appeared in 1879. The lucidity of expression, the many idyllic pictures, the passages of spiritual exaltation, coupled with a strongly didactic character, made the work specially popular with the middle class, whose appreciation was voiced by John Bright when in his speech on Cobden at Bradford, 25 July 1877, he described it as 'another gem added to the wealth of the poetry of our language.'

Morris owed his vogue as a poet, which lasted throughout his lifetime, to his enforcement of simple truths in simple language and metre. He earnestly taught in verse a cheerful optimism, and if he often excited critical scorn for his lack of subtlety, he exerted a wide moral influence. Much of his work betokens discipleship to Tennyson. After 'The Epic of Hades' came in 1879 'Gwen : a Drama in Monologue, in Six Acts.' The theme was the tragedy of a secret marriage. Its form may have been suggested by Tennyson's 'Maud.' There is an interesting picture of Llangunnor church, where the author was himself buried. 'The Ode of Life' (1880), consisting of a series of poems descriptive of various stages and phases of life, maintained the 'Epic's' note of high moral purpose.

'Songs Unsung' (1883) was the first volume issued under the author's name. It was described on the title-page as 'by Lewis Morris of Penbryn.' He had used the same designation in 1876, when he first published a poem under his own name, namely, an elegiac poem in memory of his great-grandfather's poet-friend Goronwy Owen [q. v.], in ' Y Cjnumrodor,' vol. i., and in the 'Poetical Works of G. Owen,' ed. by R. Jones (1876), ii. 309-312, but this was never included in any edition of Morris's works. Penbryn was the name of the house near Aberystwyth where his great-grandfather had spent his later years, and Morris bestowed it on a house on the outskirts of Carmarthen bought by his father about 1840. This 'territorial' description of the author was the main theme of a savage attack on him in the 'Saturday Review' for 24 Nov. 1883.. Lewis Morris was contrasted with 'William Morris of Parnassus.' Yet the 'Saturday Review' had already hailed 'The Epic of Hades' as 'one of the most considerable and original feats of recent English poetry' (ibid. 31 March 1877).

'Gycia: a Tragedy, in Five Acts' (1886), written 'with a view to stage representation,' and based on a story (circa 970 A.D.) recorded by Constantine Porphyrogenitus in his 'De Administratione Imperii,' displays more of a Greek spirit than any other of Morris's works. 'Songs of Britain' (1887) contains some patriotic odes like that on Queen Victoria's Jubilee (1887); three long poems based on Welsh legends are inferior in treatment to his verse on classical subjects.

Collected editions of Morris's works were issued in three volumes in 1882, and in one volume in 1890. 'A Vision of Saints' (1890) was Morris's last poem of first-rate importance, and was intended to be the Christian counterpart of his pagan 'Epic of Hades,' consisting of a series of monologues of nineteen saintly characters, concluding with Elizabeth Fry and Father Damien. His remaining volumes were three collections of lyrics — 'Songs without Notes' (1894); 'Idylls and Lyrics' (1896) ; and 'Harvest Tide' (1901) — and 'The Life and Death of Leo the Armenian (Emperor of Rome): a Tragedy, in Five Acts' (1904). When in 1907 Morris carefully revised his collected works for a sixteenth edition, he announced in the preface that he 'brought to a definite close his long career as a writer of verse.' An authorised selection of his poems was issued in 1904, and after his death a volume of selections, 'reprinted under the author's supervision' from the fourteenth edition of the collected works, appeared in 'The Muses' Library.'

In 1905 Morris issued a volume of essays, appreciations, and addresses under the title 'The New Rambler: from Desk to Platform' (Longmans, Green & Co.). The work, in which he discusses his ideals as a poet, and answers some of his severest critics, is largely autobiographical. Most of the addresses deal with problems of Welsh education, which was the second great interest of his life. Until 1876, Morris, who then lived chiefly in London, took no active interest in Welsh affairs. He had not mastered the Welsh language (cf. his poem, The Eisteddfod: 'Hardly the fair tongue I know'), nor did he know much of the history and literature of Wales, while Welsh archaeology did not appeal to him. Hugh Owen [q. v.] first interested him in Welsh education (New Rambler, 262). In Oct. 1878 he became one of the joint honorary secretaries to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, which from its opening in 1872 depended entirely on voluntary contributions. Thenceforth he was concerned with all its varying fortunes, drafting various appeals on its behalf and (with another) its amended constitution in 1885 (after its receipt of a government grant). He was joint treasurer of the college from March 1889 to March 1896, and from the latter date till his death one of its two vice-presidents.

He was one of the five members of a departmental committee appointed in Aug. 1880, with Lord Aberdare as chairman, to inquire into of intermediate and higher education in Wales. The committee's report (C. 3047), issued in 1881, resulted in the establishment of two new colleges and eventually of the University of Wales, and the passing of tho Intermediate Education (Wales) Act of 1888, 'the educational charter of modern Wales' During the inquiry Morris epecially interested himself in the higher education of women, to which he was 'early a convert' (New Rambler, 280. 301). He threw himself with vigour into the propaganda and constructive effort which followed the issue of the report.

After the establishment of the university in 1893 he became its junior deputy chanoellor for 1901–3, and received from it the honorary degree of D.Litt. in 1906. He was a member of the council of the Cymmrodorion Society from 1877 to Dec. 1802, and thenceforth one of its vice-presidents. He served as a member of the Carmarthenshire intermediate education committee, and was a justice of the peace for Carmarthen. When Sir Hugh Owen's proposal for the reform of the eisteddfod by the formation of a National Eisteddfod Association were adopted, Morris was in Sept. 1880 appointed chairman of the council of the executive committee of the new body. That office he held till his death.

During Tennyson's later years Morris was a frequent guest of his (Lord Tennyson, by his Son, ii. 389), and on Tennyson's death in 1892 he was disappointed of the poet-laureateship (cf. New Rambler, p. 180). In 1893 he wrote the odes on the marriage of the Duke of York (now George V) and on the opening of the Imperial Institute, and in 1895, during Lord Rosebery's premiership, he was knighted.

Next to the laureateship his main ambition was a seat in parliament, which he also failed to win. An advanced liberal in politics, and from 1887 till his death a member of the political committee of the Reform Club, he was in favour of home rule and Welsh disestablishment. But his chief interest lay in social reform (see his odes for the first co-operative festival in 1888, for the trade union congress at Swansea in 1901, and on the opening of the West Wales Sanatorium in 1906). In 1868, and again in 1881 and 1883, he was invited to contest the Carmarthen Boroughs but withdrew in favour of another liberal. In July 1886 he unsuccessfully contested the Pembroke Boroughs (cf. his idyll, In Pembrokeshire, 1886). In 1892 Morris and another liberal submitted to arbitration their respective claims to be the official liberal candidate for Carmarthen Boroughs, but the award went against Morris (Western Mail, 14 April 1892). He was not a popular speaker, and suffered from a shyness often mistaken for hauteur.

He died at Penbryn on 12 Nov. 1907, and was buried at Llangunnor. By his will he left to the Aberystwyth College, for the Welsh national library (in the promotion of which he had been interested), the autograph letters of the Morris brothers, 1728-65 (edited by J. H. Davies, 2 vols. Oxford, 1906-9), and certain books. He married in 1868 Florence Julia, widow of Franklin C. Pollard, and by her, who survived him, he had two daughters and one son, Arthur Lewis, a naval constructor at Elswick. He did not announce his marriage till 1902. His portrait, painted in 1906 by Mr. Carey Morris (of Llandilo), is at Penbryn. A bust by Sir William Goscombe John, R.A., was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1899.

[Private information and personal knowledge; The New Rambler, passim; The Times, 13 Nov. and 24 Dec. 1907; Western Mail, and South Wales Daily News (Cardiff), 13 Nov. 1907; Athenaeum, 16 Nov. 1907; Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society's Reprint (1906-7), ii. 190-2; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; Allibone's Dict. Eng. Lit., Suppl.; A. H. Miles, Poets and Poetry of the Century (1892), v. 591-620. As to Morris's work in connection with Welsh movements, especially education, see Sir Hugh Owen, his Life and Life Work (1885), by W. E. Davies (for which Morris wrote a preface); Report of the Hon. Society of Cymmrodorion for 1906-7 in Transactions for that year, p. v; Annual Reports of the National Eisteddfod Association from 1881 on; The University of Wales (in College Histories series), by W. C. Davies and W. L. Jones (1905), 111-118 129, 221; The Welsh People, by Rhys and Brynmor Jones, 492, 495; Students' Handbook (Univ. Coll. of Wales, Aberystwyth), 1909, pp. 22-3.]

D. Ll. T.