The Life of William Morris/Chapter 1
THE LIFE OF
WALTHAMSTOW, WOODFORD, AND MARLBOROUGH
Poet, artist, manufacturer, and socialist, author of "The Earthly Paradise":—this terse unimpassioned entry in the "Fasti Britannici" sums up, in a form of words which he would himself have accepted as substantially accurate, the life and work of a remarkable man. What place he may finally occupy in the remembrance of the world, how long or how distinctly his unique personality may stand out above the smooth surface of oblivion under which, sooner or later, the greatest names are overwhelmed together with the least, it does not rest with his contemporaries to determine. But those who knew him unite in desiring that some record may descend of one who, in an age of transition and confusion, set a certain ideal before him and pursued it, through the many paths by which it led him, with undeviating constancy; the impulse of whose life had before his death wrought a silent revolution in those arts which he practised and transfigured; and the whole of whose extraordinary powers were devoted towards no less an object than the reconstitution of the civilized life of mankind.
William Morris, the eldest son and third child of William Morris and Emma Shelton, was born at Elm House, Clay Hill, Walthamstow, on the 24th of March, 1834. His ancestry was on neither side in any way remarkable, and family records in the undistinguished middle class, whether commercial or professional, to which both his parents belonged, are generally scanty in amount and do not go far back. Such facts as have been preserved may be briefly set down, without laying any stress on what is known or what is unknown in the history of the family.
The Morrises were originally of Welsh descent, and their native country was the valley of the upper Severn and its tributaries, where the mixture or antagonism of two races in a country of exceptional natural beauty has bred a stock of fine physical quality, but of no remarkable gift either of intellect or imagination. "The quietest places under the sun," so a local proverb describes that countryside; and so they have been and still are, ever since the Welsh Marches were reduced to outward peace. Morris's grandfather (the first of the family, it is said, who dropped the Welsh Ap from his surname) settled in business in Worcester in the latter part of last century, and throve there as a burgess, "a man excellent in every relation of life, and very religious." He married Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. Charles Stanley, a naval surgeon, who had retired from the service and was in practice at Nottingham. She is remembered and described by her grandchildren—she lived to the age of eighty-five—as a tall fine-looking woman, At Worcester their second son, William Morris, was born on the 14th of June, 1797. About 1820, his father having then removed his business to London, he was entered as a clerk in the firm of Harris, Sanderson and Harris, discount brokers, of 32 Lombard Street. It was a newly-founded London house. The Harrises were Quakers, and between them and the Morrises there was some family connexion. When a little over thirty, William Morris became a partner in the firm, which was now known as Sanderson & Co., and some years afterwards removed its place of business to 83 King William Street. Bill and discount broking, then even more than now, was a class of business carried on by a comparatively limited number of persons, whose status and social consideration approached those of private bankers. Competition was not keen, and the members of established firms lived in ease and even opulence.
Mr. Morris married soon after his admission to partnership in the firm. His wife, who long outlived him, and died in her ninetieth year so recently as 1894, was the daughter of a Worcester neighbour, Joseph Shelton. The Sheltons were a family with some history. The line can be traced back directly to a Henry Shelton, mercer, of Birmingham, in the reign of Henry VII. The Sheltons were prosperous merchants and landed proprietors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and contributed a number of members to the Church and the Bar. John Shelton, Proctor of the Consistory Court of the diocese of Worcester, Mrs. Morris's grandfather, had a family in whom a taste for music was very strongly developed. Two of his sons became singing canons of Worcester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey; a third, Joseph, was equally devoted to the art, of which he became a teacher in Worcester. The families of the Sheltons and Morrises, between whom there was some distant connexion by marriage, were intimate with one another, and the marriage of William Morris to Emma Shelton, Joseph Shelton's youngest daughter, was a natural arrangement. It was then still customary that one of the members of a City firm should live at their place of business. Mr. and Mrs. Morris when married set up house in Lombard Street, where the two eldest children, both daughters, were born in 1830 and 1832. The next year they ceased to live in the City, and took a house at Walthamstow, in the pleasant Essex country overlooking the Lea Valley and within a mile or so of Epping Forest. Like many of his neighbours in what was then a favourite residential neighbourhood for City men, Mr. Morris travelled daily to his business by the stage coach.
The modern outgrowth of London has nowhere had more devastating effects than in Walthamstow proper, where the rows of flimsily-built two-storied houses, in all the hideousness of yellow brick and blue slate, stretch in a squalid sheet over the Lea Valley. Clay Hill, a slight rising ground projecting into the flats from the higher Forest country, is now just on the edge of the brick and mortar wilderness. Looking northward from it, however, one sees the face of the country much as it was sixty years ago: a flattish heavily-timbered valley of the familiar Eastern County type, neither beautiful nor ugly, with the line of the Forest stretching along the horizon to the north-east, towards Chingford and High Beach. Elm House till quite recently remained unchanged; it was a plain roomy building of the early years of this century, the garden front facing south on to a large lawn surrounded by shrubberies and kitchen gardens, with a great mulberry tree leaning along the grass. Within the last twelve months the advancing tide of building has swept over it, and house and garden, like many others in the neighbourhood, have wholly disappeared.
William, the eldest son, was the first of the children born at Elm House. There were six younger children, four boys and two girls.
The Shelton stock was long-lived and of powerful physique. But the Morrises do not seem to have been a very robust family. Both Morris's father and grandfather died comparatively young; and he himself, though he afterwards developed unusual physical strength, was delicate in infancy and early childhood. He had to be kept alive, his mother used to say, by calves' feet jelly and beef tea. Perhaps it was on account of this delicacy that he learned to read unusually young. At four years old he was already deep in the Waverley novels; and he formed as a child, not only the love of reading, but the habit of reading with extraordinary swiftness, only equalled by the prodigious grasp of his memory. The knowledge of books came to him almost by instinct. "We never remember his learning regularly to read," his sisters say, "though the may have had a few lessons from our governess:" and he himself could not remember a time when he was unable to read.
Meanwhile the business of the bill-broking firm, and Mr. Morris's own private commercial undertakings, grew and prospered. He was now a wealthy man; and in 1840, when his eldest boy was six years old, the family left Elm House, and moved across the Forest to Woodford Hall, a large spacious mansion of Georgian date, standing in about fifty acres of park, on the high road from London to Epping. The park was only separated by a fence from the Forest itself; and the estate included about a hundred acres of farm land, sloping down to the little river Roding. Behind lay the pathless glades and thickets of hornbeam and beech which still, in spite of all encroachments, and of the nearer and nearer approach of London, remain in all essentials a part of primeval England, little changed in the course of hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. From the Hall the course of the Thames might be traced winding through the marshes, with white and ruddy-brown sails moving among cornfields and pastures. The little brick Georgian church of Woodford (since enlarged and modernized), stood alongside of the Hall, which had a private doorway into the churchyard. On the roadside nearly opposite, on a green space now enclosed, were the pound and the stocks. "When we lived at Woodford," Morris wrote to his daughter half a century later, "there were stocks there on a little bit of wayside green in the middle of the village: beside them stood the cage, a small shanty some twelve feet square, and as it was built of brown brick roofed with blue slate, I suppose it had been quite recently in use, since its style was not earlier than the days of fat George. I remember I used to look at these two threats of law and order with considerable terror, and decidedly preferred to walk on the other side of the road; but I never heard of anybody being locked up in the cage or laid by the heels in the stocks."
The outgrowth of Eastern London had not then overflowed the line of low hills which shut off the Lea Valley. The picture which Morris draws, in "News from Nowhere," of this Essex country in the restored and recivilized England of a distant future, substantially represents the scene of his own boyhood. "Eastward and landward," he says in that description, "it is all flat pasture, once marsh, except for a few gardens, and there are very few permanent dwellings there, scarcely anything but a few sheds and cots for the men who come to look after the great herds of cattle. What with the beasts and the men, and the scattered red-tiled roofs and the big hayricks, it does not make a bad holiday to get a quiet pony and ride about there on a sunny afternoon of autumn, and look over the river and the craft passing up and down, and on to Shooter's Hill and the Kentish uplands, and then turn round to the wide green sea of the Essex marshland, with the great domed line of the sky, and the sun shining down in one flood of peaceful light over the long distance."
The park abounded in wild birds and beasts from the neighbouring Forest. It was an ideal home for a boy with healthy outdoor tastes. There Morris, rambling with his brothers on foot or on Shetland ponies through the Forest, formed his intense love of nature and his keen eye for all sorts of woodland life. He never ceased to love Epping Forest, and to uphold the scenery of his native county as beautifully and characteristically English. The dense hornbeam thickets, which even in bright weather have something of solemnity and mystery in their deep shade, and which are hardly found elsewhere in England, reappear again and again in his poetry and his prose romances. Fifty years later, when the treatment of the Forest by the Conservators had been the subject of much public criticism, he went over the familiar ground and reported on the changes which had been made on it. "I was born and bred in its neighbourhood," he then wrote, "and when I was a boy and young man knew it yard by yard from Wanstead to the Theydons, and from Hale End to the Fairlop Oak. In those days it had no worse foes than the gravel stealer and the rolling fence maker, and was always interesting and often very beautiful.
"The special character of it was derived from the fact that by far the greater part was a wood of hornbeams, a tree not common save in Essex and Herts. It was certainly the biggest hornbeam wood in these islands, and I suppose in the world. The said hornbeams were all pollards, being shrouded every four or six years, and were interspersed in many places with holly thickets. Nothing could be more interesting and romantic than the effect of the long poles of the hornbeams rising from the trunks and seen against the mass of the wood behind. U has a peculiar charm of its own not to be found in any other forest."
In this healthy country life he rapidly outgrew his early delicacy of constitution. The life indoors was equally happy. "When I was a little chap" was a phrase often in his mouth; and these allusions to childhood always implied the remembrance of perfect contentment. Among the little things that impressed themselves on his childish memory are mentioned "a picture of Abraham and Isaac worked in brown worsted," and Indian cabinets, and "a carved ivory junk with painted and gilded puppets in it in a glass case."
"Naif or gross ghost stories, read long ago in queer little penny garlands with woodcuts," long haunted his imagination; and as he grew bigger, he found and revelled in Lane's "Arabian Nights." Among the books of the house there was a copy of Gerard's "Herbal." In studying it as a naturalist, the boy's eyes were led to examine the beautiful drawings, many of which later gave suggestions for his own designs in the flower-work of his earlier wall-papers, and in the backgrounds of designs for glass and tapestry. He continued an eager reader of novels. His eldest sister remembers how they used to read "The Old English Baron" together in the rabbit warren at Woodford, poring over the enthralling pages till both were wrought up to a state of mind that made them afraid to cross the park to reach home. By the time he was seven years old he had read all the Waverley novels, and many of Marryat's, besides others which were then in fashion. Reading can be acquired without regular teaching, but writing cannot; and he did not learn to write till much after the ordinary age. But his innate skill of hand made it easy of acquirement to him when he once took pains; and his handwriting became in later life one of remarkable beauty. The subsidiary art of spelling was always one in which he was liable to make curious lapses. "I remember," he once said, when speaking of his childhood, "being taught to spell and standing on a chair with my shoes off because I made so many mistakes." In later years several sheets of "The Life and Death of Jason" had to be cancelled and reprinted because of a mistake in the spelling of a perfectly common English word; a word indeed so common that the printer's reader had left it as it was in the manuscript, thinking that Morris's spelling must be an intentional peculiarity.
The life of an English country house, even of the second or third order of importance, still retained, sixty years since, much of the self-contained and self-sufficing system of the manor house of earlier times. A certain elaborateness of appliances was combined with what would now be thought a strange simplicity. At some points there were links with the habits of mediae val England. Woodford Hall brewed its own beer, and made its own butter, as much as a matter of course as it baked its own bread. Just as in the fourteenth century, there was a meal at high prime, midway between breakfast and dinner, when the children had cake and cheese and a glass of small ale. Many of the old festivals were observed; Twelfth Night especially was one of the great days of the year, and the Masque of St. George was always then presented with considerable elaboration. Among Morris's toys curiously enough was a little suit of armour, in which he rode on his pony in the park. He and his brothers were keen anglers—this taste remained one of his strongest throughout his life—and took the usual boys' pleasure in shooting, not the regular game of seniors, but rabbits and small wild birds. The redwings and fieldfares which they shot on winter holidays they were allowed to roast for supper. It was one of his childish ambitions to shoot woodpigeons with a bow and arrow. Besides the range of the lawn and park the children had little gardens of their own. He writes in later life of "the beautiful hepatica which I used to love so when I was a quite little boy." "To this day," he once said, "when I smell a may-tree I think of going to bed by daylight;" and the strong sweet smell of balm always brought to his mind "very early days in the kitchen-garden at Woodford, and the large blue plums which grew on the wall beyond the sweet-herb patch." One who shared this outdoor life at Woodford with Morris told me, in a phrase of accurate simplicity, that as a boy he "knew the names of birds." There was, indeed, little that he ever saw of which he did not know the name.
The love of the Middle Ages was born in him. Any slight remnants of mediæval tradition in the daily life of Woodford did not go deep; and it was only some years later that the Oxford movement spread over England, and deepened or replaced the superficial mediævalism brought into fashion by Scott. The religion of the family was of the normal type of a somewhat sterile Evangelicalism, which cursorily dismissed everything outside itself as Popery on the one hand or Dissent on the other. The children were not allowed to mix with dissenters with the single exception of Quakers. But the old Essex churches within reach of Woodford, and their monuments and brasses, were known by Morris at a very early age; and a visit which he made with his father to Canterbury when only eight years old left on his mind an ineffaceable impression of the glory of Gothic architecture. On the same holiday they saw the church of Minster in Thanet. It is characteristic of his extraordinary eye and even more extraordinary memory, that just fifty years later, never having seen the church in the interval, he described it in some detail from that recollection. No landscape, no building, that he had once seen did he ever forget, or ever confuse with another.
Nor were the splendid Essex country houses which survived from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries less known or loved by him than the Essex churches.
"Well I remember as a boy," he wrote in his lecture on The Lesser Arts of Life, in 1882, "my first acquaintance with a room hung with faded greenery at Queen Elizabeth's Lodge by Chingford Hatch in Epping Forest (I wonder what has become of it now?), and the impression of romance that it made upon me! a feeling that always comes back on me when I read, as I often do, Sir Walter Scott's 'Antiquary,' and come to the description of the Green Room at Monkbarns, amongst which the novelist has with such exquisite cunning of art imbedded the fresh and glittering verses of the summer poet Chaucer: yes, that was more than upholstery, believe me."
When Morris was nine years old, the casual ministrations of his sisters' governess gave place to a more regular education. He was sent to a "preparatory school for young gentlemen" in Walthamstow, kept by the Misses Arundale. This was a couple of miles off, and he rode over to it on his pony. A year or two later the Misses Arundale removed with their school to George Lane, Woodford, within a few hundred yards of Woodford Hall. He remained there first as a day scholar, and afterwards for some time as a boarder, until the death of his father in the autumn of 1847.
For a number of years before his death Mr. Morris had held a position of some consequence in the district, and was a well-known name in the City. In 1843 he obtained a grant of arms from the Herald's College: "Azure, a horse's head erased argent between three horse-shoes or, and for crest, on a wreath of the colours, a horse's head couped argent, charged with three horse-shoes in chevron sable." The boy of nine was already of an age to be keenly interested in heraldry; and whatever may have been the reasons which induced Garter and Clarenceux to assign these bearings, they became in his mind something deeply, if obscurely, associated with his life. He considered himself in some sense a tribesman of the White Horse. In the house which he built for himself afterwards the horse's head is pictured on tiles and glass painted by his own hand. To the White Horse of the Berkshire downs, which lies within a drive of his later home at Kelmscott, he made a regular yearly pilgrimage. "Not seldom I please myself," he wrote many years afterwards, "with trying to realize the face of mediæval England; the many chases and great woods, the stretches of common tillage and common pasture quite unenclosed; the rough husbandry of the tilled parts, the unimproved breeds of cattle, sheep, and swine, especially the latter, so lank and long and lathy, looking so strange to us; the strings of packhorses along the bridle-roads, the scantiness of the wheel-roads, scarce any except those left by the Romans, and those made from monastery to monastery; the scarcity of bridges, and people using ferries instead, or fords where they could; the little towns well bechurched, often walled; the villages just where they are now (except for those that have nothing but the church left to tell of them), but better and more populous; their churches, some big and handsome, some small and curious, but all crowded with altars and furniture, and gay with pictures and ornament; the many religious houses, with their glorious architecture; the beautiful manor-houses, some of them castles once, and survivals from an earlier period; some new and elegant; some out of all proportion small for the importance of their lords. How strange it would be to us if we could be landed in fourteenth-century England; unless we saw the crest of some familiar hill, like that which yet bears upon it a symbol of an English tribe, and from which, looking down on the plain where Alfred was born, I once had many such ponderings." In Great Coxwell church, halfway between Kelmscott and the White Horse, are two fifteenth-century brasses of William Morys, "sūtyme fermer of Cokyswell," and Johane his wife—the former with a figure of a man in a short gown, with a pouch hanging at his girdle. The discovery of these monuments gave him extraordinary delight. In spite of his Welsh blood and of that vein of romantic melancholy in him which it is customary to regard as of Celtic origin, his sympathies were throughout with the Teutonic stocks. Among all the mythologies of Europe the Irish mythology perhaps interested him least: for Welsh poetry he did not care deeply; and even the Arthurian legend never took the same hold on his mind, or meant as much to him, as the heroic cycle of the Teutonic race.
The very soil of his birth, "this unromantic, uneventful-looking land of England," he loved with a tempered but deep enthusiasm. "The land is a little land; too much shut up within the narrow seas, as it seems, to have much space for swelling into hugeness; there are no great wastes overwhelming in their dreariness, no great solitudes of forests, no terrible untrodden mountain-walls: all is measured, mingled, varied, gliding easily one thing into another: little rivers, little plains, swelling, speedily-changing uplands, all beset with handsome orderly trees; little hills, little mountains, netted over with the walls of sheepwalks: neither prison nor palace, but a decent home." And in that decent home there had dwelt until the coming of the evil days, "a people rustic and narrow-minded indeed, but serious, truthful, and of simple habits."
A little later, the wealth of the family became immensely increased by one of those chances which occur a few times in a generation, and give almost a touch of romance to the routine of commerce. In 1844 a company was formed to work certain veins of copper which had been discovered near Tavistock. It started on the modest capital of 1,024 shares of one pound each fully paid up. Of these Mr. Morris held 272; they had been assigned to him, it is said, in part payment of a debt. As soon as working was begun, the lodes were found to be of extraordinary richness. Copper then was worth a hundred and sixty pounds a ton: from this mine, famous under the name of the Devon Great Consols, it could be turned out for a trifling expense in apparently inexhaustible quantities. Within six months the shares were changing hands in the market at eight hundred pounds each. Mr. Morris's holding rose for a while to the value of over two hundred thousand pounds. Three quarters of a million tons of copper ore were yielded by the mine before the gradual exhaustion of the lodes, and the fall in the price of copper, brought its prosperity to a close. It still leads a somewhat struggling existence on the proceeds of the arsenic which, in the high days of the copper-mining industry, was neglected as an unimportant by-product. But its earlier fortunes, and its gradual decline, were not without importance in determining the course of Morris's life.
Some time before his death Mr. Morris had bought a nomination to Marlborough College for his son. The school had been recently founded "in a healthy and central position," to quote the terms of its prospectus, "and conveniently accessible from all parts of England, being only twelve miles from Swindon, which is to be the great point of junction of the chief lines of railway in the kingdom." It was at all events in the centre of one of the most beautiful and romantic parts of England, in a neighbourhood full of history, and still fuller of prehistoric records. A childhood on the skirts of Epping Forest was fitly followed by a boyhood on the edge of Savernake. It is not easy to over-estimate the influence of these surroundings on the development of a sensitive and romantic nature, or their share in fostering that passionate love of earth and her beauty which remained a controlling and sustaining force throughout his life.
Morris was entered at Marlborough College in February, 1848, being then just under fourteen. He remained there till the Christmas of 1851, the last year of Dr. Wilkinson's rather disastrous head-mastership. During these early years the school had never outgrown the confusion amid which it started in 1843, when two hundred boys from all parts of England were suddenly shot down into the chaos of a new school with no tradition, little organization, and insufficient funds. Yet the need for the school was so great that these numbers kept growing term by term: within the first three years they doubled, and for some time afterwards there was an incessant race between the growth of the school and the progress of the new buildings. More than a hundred new boys entered along with Morris at the beginning of 1848. The Great Western Railway was then being pushed slowly westward from Reading. Until Morris left school, Hungerford, eleven miles off, remained the nearest station. The town itself was the same quiet little place that it is now. Its remoteness from any large town, and the weakness of the school organization generally, resulted in the boys being allowed much greater individual freedom than was even then common, or than now exists at any public school. There was no regular system of athletics. Cricket and football were only played by a small number of the boys. In play hours the bulk of them used to ramble about the country. There was no fixed school dress, and no prefect system. A single large schoolroom served for all the boys under the fifth form. For the average schoolboy the effects of this loose discipline may be doubtful; but for a boy of strong tastes and exceptional gifts it was not without its advantages. Under the elaborate machinery and the overpowering social code of the modern public school the type is fostered at the expense of the individual: with a boy like Morris the strain would have been so great that something must have snapped. Even as it was he lived a rather solitary life; and he left Marlborough with little regret, and retained little affection for it in later years. But his physical and moral strength, both unusually great, saved him from serious bullying, and his school life was not unhappy. The self-sufficingness which always remained one of his most striking characteristics kept him from being either lonely or discontented. He never played either cricket or football. The weekly whole holiday of the summer half was spent by him in long rambles through Savernake Forest and over the Downs, sometimes in company with other boys of congenial tastes, but if not, quite happy to be alone. The pre-Celtic long barrows on the ridges above Pewsey Vale, the round barrows of which Silbury Hill is the most imposing example, the stone circles of Avebury, the Roman villas at Kennet, all became familiar to him; and the royal castle, as it existed in all its splendour in the reign of Henry III., was almost as real to him as the beautiful seventeenth-century building which had replaced it, and which, after so many vicissitudes, had become the home of the new school.
The school library at Marlborough was well provided with works on archæology and ecclesiastical architecture. Through these he ranged at will. His power of assimilation was prodigious; and he left Marlborough, he used to say afterwards, a good archaeologist, and knowing most of what there was to be known about English Gothic. This interest in churches was reinforced by another influence which now came for the first time into his life, that of the Anglo-Catholic movement. The college, though not founded by any theological party, had a distinctly High Church character. Blore's chapel, now demolished to make room for a larger and statelier building, was fast rising when Morris came to Marlborough, and a trained choir was formed when it was opened in the following autumn. The older church music appealed to him with a force only less than that of mediæval architecture. The romantic movement, which had originated a generation before, and had received so prodigious an impulse from Scott's novels, was now flooding into the channels of Anglo-Catholicism; and Morris left school a pronounced Anglo-Catholic.
A schoolfellow at Marlborough describes him as "a thick-set, strong-looking boy, with a high colour and black curly hair, good-natured and kind, but with a fearful temper." According to another, he took little or no part in the school games, but was a keen collector of birds' eggs. The restlessness of his fingers, which must always be handling something, was even then very noticeable. He used to seek relief from it in endless netting. With one end of the net fastened to a desk in the big schoolroom he would work at it for hours together, his fingers moving almost automatically. Mr. Fearon, the Secretary to the Charity Commissioners, who entered Marlborough in the same term, remembers him as fond of mooning and talking to himself, and considered a little mad by the other boys. On his walks he invented and poured forth endless stories, vaguely described as "about knights and fairies," in which one adventure rose out of another, and the tale flowed on from day to day over a whole term. The captain of his dormitory, who had a fancy for listening to stories, and exacted them night after night from the other boys, found him an inexhaustible source. His gusts of temper, as violent as they were brief, are what seem to have most impressed him on his contemporaries.After Mr. Morris's death, Woodford Hall became too large and difficult an establishment for the family. In the autumn of 1848, during Morris's second half at Marlborough, they removed from it to another house, on the road from Woodford to Tottenham, and within half a mile of their old house on Clay Hill. The earliest extant scrap of Morris's writing is a letter to his sister Emma, dated Feast of All Saints (1st November) in this year, asking for details about the new house. "It is now only 7 weeks to the Holidays, there I go again!" the boy's letter ends, "Just like me! always harping on the Holidays I am sure you must think me a great fool to be always thinking about home but I really can't help it I don't think it is my fault for there are such a lot of things I want to do and say and see."
Water House, Walthamstow, the new house to which he returned for the Christmas holidays, and which remained the home of the family till 1856, was one of the same general type as Woodford Hall on a slightly smaller scale; a square, heavy Georgian building of yellow brick, with a certain stolid dignity of outer aspect, and spacious and handsome within. Its principal feature was a great square hall paved with marble flags, from which a broad square staircase, floored and wainscotted with Spanish chestnut, led up to a large upper hall or gallery. In one of the window seats there he used to spend whole days reading, both before and after he went to Oxford. Behind the house was a broad lawn, and beyond it the feature which gave the house its name, a moat of some forty feet in breadth, surrounding an island planted with a grove of aspens. The moat was stocked with pike and perch; there the boys fished, bathed, and boated in summer, and skated in winter. The island, rough and thickly wooded, and fringed with a growth of hollies, hawthorns, and chestnuts, was a sort of fairy land for all the children, who almost lived on it.
In one of those prose romances which Morris, when he had just left college and was full of the romantic melancholy of two-and-twenty, contributed to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, is a passage which shows how deeply the country in which these school vacations were spent had sunk into his heart and mingled with his dreams. "I was in the country soon," writes the hero of the story; "people called it an ugly country, I know, that spreading of the broad marsh lands round the river Lea; but I was so weary with my hard work that it seemed very lovely to me then; indeed, I think I should not have despised it at any time. I was always a lover of the sad lowland country. I walked on, my mind keeping up a strange balance between joy and sadness for some time, till gradually all the beauty of things seemed to be stealing into my heart, and making me very soft and womanish, so that at last, when I was now quite a long way off from the river Lea, and walking close by the side of another little river, a mere brook, all my heart was filled with sadness, and joy had no place there at all; all the songs of birds ringing through the hedges and about the willows; all the sweet colours of the sky, and the clouds that floated in the blue of it; of the tender fresh grass, and the sweet young shoots of flowering things, were very pensive to me, pleasantly so at first perhaps, but soon they were lying heavy on me, with all the rest of things created. I noticed every turn of the banks of the little brook, every ripple of its waters over the brown stones, every line of the broad- leaved water flowers; I went down towards the brook, and, stooping down, gathered a knot of lush marsh-marigolds; then, kneeling on both knees, bent over the water with my arm stretched down to it, till both my hand and the yellow flowers were making the swift-running little stream bubble about them; and even as I did so, still stronger and stronger came the memories, till they came quite clear at last, those shapes and words of the past days. I rose from the water in haste, and getting on to the road again, walked along tremblingly, my head bent toward the earth, my wet hand and flowers marking the dust of it as I went."
In an unpublished story written fifteen years later, the description of his hero's boyhood has many passages in it which are unmistakably drawn from his own experience. The dreams which mingle with the healthy life of a boy, the first beginnings of thought, of sentiment, of romance, are touched in these passages from knowledge and vivid recollection. "You know," says the boy in the story, "one has fits of not caring for fishing and shooting a bit, and then I get through an enormous lot of reading; and then again one day one goes out and down to the river and looks at the eddies, and then suddenly one thinks of all that again; and then another day when one has one's rod in one's hand one looks up and down the field or sees the road winding along, and I can't help thinking of tales going on amongst it all, and long so for more and more books." The boy who cannot help thinking of tales going on amongst it all is undoubtedly Morris himself, and Morris as he remained all through his life. Even more strikingly autobiographic perhaps is another touch a little later in the same story: "Even though he half saw it he began to dream about it, as his way was about everything, to make it something different from what it was." This kind of dreaming, the instinct of making everything something different from what it was, was indeed, alike for strength and weakness, of the very essence of his nature.
Another passage from the same story, of vivid and singular truth, might be an actual scene on a summer evening at Water House:
"John ran into the toolhouse and took up a garden fork preparatory to going off to the melon ground where the worm-populated old dung heaps were; for some strange reason that moment and the half hour were one of the unforgotten times of his life, and in after days he could never smell the mixed scent of a toolhouse, with its bast mats and earthy roots and herbs, in a hot summer evening, without that evening with every word spoken or gesture made coming up clear into his memory. It struck on him as he came out of the toolhouse again into the glow of the evening, and all his boyish visions of the great red-finned basking chub and shadowy flitting bleak, and the great water lily leaves spreading over the perch-holes, vanished and left him with that vague feeling of disappointment in life past yet hope of life to come... some reflex of the love and death going on throughout the world suddenly touching those who are ignorant as yet of the one and have not yet learned to believe in the other.
"He went off whistling from the gate, just as the low moon was yellowing through the windless summer night, in which the nightingales were beginning to sing now: one may easily imagine that his nervous sentimental mood had vanished before the gardener's talk... at any rate that thought was not uppermost in his mind as he startled the blackbirds out of their roosts in the thick leaves; nay, whatever there was of sordid about the story had slipped off him and left a pleasant feeling of life active and full of incident and change going on about him, with I know not what of sweeter, of sweetest, lurking behind it all, and the little pleasures lying ready to his hand, they also were so keenly felt, so full of their own beauty."
Another schoolboy letter to his eldest sister, written when he had been a year at Marlborough, shows the threads of fresh interest that were beginning to mingle in his life.
"April 13th, 1849.
"My dearest Emma,
" I received your dear letter yesterday and I am glad you liked the anthem on Easter Tuesday, we here had the same anthem on Monday and Tuesday as on Sunday it was the three first verses of the 72nd Psalm, In Jewry is God known, his name is great in Israel. At Salem is his tabernacle, and his dwelling at Sion. There brake he the arrows of the bow, the sword, the shield, and the battle. I certainly thought it was very beautiful though I have never heard it in Cathedral and like you could not tell how they would sing it there; but a gentleman (one of the boy's fathers) said on the whole our choir sang better than at Salisbury Cathedral; anyhow I thought it very beautiful the first verse was sung by the whole the second began by one treble voice till at last the base took it up again gradually getting deeper and deeper then again the treble voice again and then again the base the third verse was sung entirely by base not very loud but with that kind of emphasis which you would think befitting to such a subject I almost think I liked it better than either of the other two the only fault in the anthem seemed to be to me that it was too short. On Monday I went to Silbury Hill which I think I have told you before is an artificial hill made by the Britons but first I went to a place called Abury where there is a Druidical circle and a Roman entrenchment both which encircle the town originally it is supposed that the stones were in this shape first one large circle then a smaller one inside this and then one in the middle for an altar but a great many in fact most of the stones have been removed so I could [not] tell this. On Tuesday morning I was told of this so I thought I would go there again, I did and then I was able to understand how they had been fixed; I think the biggest stone I could see had about 16 feet out of the ground in height and about 10 feet thick and 12 feet broad the circle and entrenchment altogether is about half a mile; at Abury I also saw a very old church the tower was very pretty indeed it had four little spires on it of the decorated order, and there was a little Porch and inside the porch a beautiful Norman doorway loaded with mouldings the chancel was new and was paved with tesselated pavement this I saw through the Window for I did not know where the sexton's house was so of course I could not get the key, there was a pretty little Parsonage house close by the church. After we had done looking at the lions of Abury which took us about ½ an hour we went through a mud lane down one or two fields and last but not least through what they call here a water meadow up to our knees in water, now perhaps you do not know what a water meadow is as there are none of them in your part of the world, so for your edification I will tell you what a delectable affair a water meadow is to go through; in the first place you must fancy a field cut through with an infinity of small streams say about four feet wide each the people to whom the meadow belongs can turn these streams on and off when they like and at this time of the year they are on just before they put the fields up for mowing the grass being very long you cannot see the water till you are in the water and floundering in it except you are above the field luckily the water had not been long when we went through it else we should have been up to our middles in mud, however perhaps now you can imagine a water meadow: after we had scrambled through this meadow we ascended Silbury Hill it is not very high but yet I should think it must have taken an immense long time to have got it together I brought away a little white snail shell as a memento of the place and have got it in my pocket book I came back at ½ past 5 the distance was altogether about 14 miles I had been out 3 hours ½ of course Monday and Tuesday were whole holidays. As [you] are going to send me the cheese perhaps you would let Sarah make to me a good large cake and I should also like some biscuits and will you also send me some paper and postage stamps also my silkworms eggs and if you could get it an Italian pen box for that big box is too big for school. I am very sorry I was not at home with you at Easter but of course that was not to be and it is no good either to you or to me to say any horrid stale arguments about being obliged to go to school for of course we know all about that. Give my best love dearest Emma to all,
"And believe me
"Your most affectionate brother
The quickness and precision of eye, the thoroughness which made him go back to Avebury next day to verify what he had learned after his first visit, the contempt for "horrid stale arguments," are all highly characteristic: hardly less so is the interest in church festivals and church music, in which his sister fully shared. They had both been touched by the wave of religious revival. A year later Emma Morris married a young clergyman of pronounced High Church views, the Rev. Joseph Oldham, who had been curate at Walthamstow from 1845 to 1848. Mr. Oldham was at the time of the marriage curate of Downe in Kent, but very soon afterwards he was appointed to a living in Derbyshire, and William Morris was thus put quite out of reach of his favourite sister. He felt the separation keenly; the brother and sister had been closely intimate in all their thoughts and enthusiasms; and it was to some degree under her influence that the Church was settled on as his own destined profession.
With this career in view, Oxford would naturally succeed to Marlborough, and at Oxford the natural college for a Marlborough boy to go to was Exeter. There was a strong connexion between the Westcountry school and the West-country college; and several of the Marlborough masters were Exeter men. But Morris was not high up in school, and was more of an expert in silkworms' eggs and old churches than in exact scholarship, while the condition of the school in the last year of Dr. Wilkinson's rule had become deplorable, and culminated in an organized rebellion in November, 1851. It was accordingly arranged that he should leave school that Christmas, and read with a private tutor till he was thought fit to go up for matriculation. The tutor chosen, the Rev. F.B. Guy, afterwards Canon of St. Alban's, was a man of high attainment and character, whose influence over his pupil was great, and with whom in later years Morris kept up a cordial friendship. He was then assistant master of the Forest School at Walthamstow, to the head-mastership of which he succeeded a few years later, and took a few private pupils in his house at Hoe Street. Morris was with him for nearly a year. Mr. Guy was a High Churchman of the best type, a friend and kindred spirit of Dean Church, and a man of wide sympathies and cultivated taste, with an unusually large knowledge of painting and architecture. When "The Life and Death of Jason" was published, he pleased himself by tracing its germs to the days in which they had read the "Medea" together. Under his tuition Morris developed into a very fair classical scholar.
A fellow-pupil, Mr. W.H. Bliss, recalls that time with many incidents of Morris's outdoor tastes, his intense love of nature, and his great bodily strength. In playing singlestick, of which he was very fond, his opponent had to be guarded against Morris's impetuous rushes by a table placed between the two combatants. There were frequent visits to Water House, where they chased the swans and dragged the moat for perch, with a net of Morris's own manufacture. Their walks or rides in the Forest were almost daily, and Morris used to go off there by himself when the other pupils went to take a day's amusement in London. The day of the Duke of Wellington's funeral was thus spent by him in a solitary ride to Waltham Abbey. He had refused, with some touch of his later Socialist feeling, to go to London to see the show. One habit he had even then formed which clung to him through life: that of tilting his chair back, getting his legs twisted round it, and suddenly straightening them out to the strain or collapse of the fabric. Many of his own Sussex chairs, not in his own house alone, bear to this day the marks of this trick of his.
At the beginning of June, 1852, Morris went up to Oxford, and passed the matriculation examination at Exeter. This was with the view of going into residence after the Long Vacation. But the college was then so full that his entry had to be deferred till the Lent term of 1853. He returned to Mr. Guy's meanwhile, and read with him for six months more, going with him for the Long Vacation to Alphington, in Devonshire, and returning to Walthamstow for the remainder of the year. At the examination in the Hall of Exeter there had sat next him another boy who had come up for the same purpose from King Edward's Grammar School, Birmingham, and was destined to be his most intimate and lifelong friend, Edward Burne-Jones.