The Life of William Morris/Chapter 3
In the summer term of 1855, the Brotherhood, as they now began to call themselves, came up to Oxford full of ideas and enthusiasms that could no longer be suppressed, and that demanded some active outlet. The primitive or monastic ideals of the previous year were fading away before a wider knowledge and a more quickened intelligence. The serious employments of mature life lay still seemingly far ahead, and meanwhile the art of literature made its first appeal to them with all the charm and potency which, in those susceptible years and amid those romantic surroundings, it so inexhaustibly renews over minds full of the first ardour of knowledge and the earliest consciousness of manhood. The newly discovered power and delight of original imaginative writing, and their dissatisfaction with the current tone of thought on all matters deeply affecting human life, alike urged them to some literary enterprise in which imagination and criticism should find harmonious expression. To find some united and organized method of bringing their beliefs and enthusiasms before the world, to join actively in the crusade of which Carlyle, Ruskin, and Tennyson were the accepted leaders, became the first object of their ambition; and their plans now took definite shape in the resolution to found and conduct a magazine of a really high order. It was not to be one of the ephemeral productions, blossoms of the flying terms, which succeed one another year after year at both Universities, but equivalent in substantial value to Blackwood's or Fraser's, the two leading monthlies of the time. The first suggestion of this magazine was made by Dixon to Morris. It was taken up eagerly by the others. Co-operation was invited from Cambridge, where Wilfred Heeley had, while keeping up a close friendship with his old schoolfellows at Oxford, gathered round him a set of the ablest and most eager of the Trinity men. He was just about to go up for examination for the Indian Civil Service, but was cordial in his support and sympathy. At the end of the term Morris and Burne-Jones went to Cambridge for a week at his invitation, and the plan of the joint venture was farther discussed. As a matter of fact, however, the magazine, while it bore on its title-page the words "Conducted by members of the two Universities," was wholly conducted, and for by far the greater part written, by the Oxford group. At Trinity, Heeley showed them, to their intense delight, the Tennyson volume of 1830, containing two poems which kindled them to rapture, the long-suppressed "Hesperides" and the earlier version of "Mariana in the South."
From Cambridge, Morris returned home to Walthamstow. A plan had been arranged between him and Burne-Jones to go a month later for a walking tour in Normandy: Fulford and Price were also to be of the party, but Price, rather to the dismay of the other two, was prevented from going. The following letter appears to have been written on the 6th of July, a few days after the Cambridge visit. The allusions to the magazine (for which "The Brotherhood" was then one of the suggested titles) show that arrangements were already well forward for starting it. That year's Exhibition of the Royal Academy included Leighton's famous picture of the Procession of Cimabue's Madonna and Millais's "Rescue," and also a picture by Maclise of the wrestling scene from "As You Like It." The other allusions explain themselves.
"What am I to say about your letter? for I was very glad to get a letter from you even though it brought such bad news; and you should not have said what you did say about Fulford, for though I like him very much, and though he will without doubt be a very pleasant travelling companion, yet to me he is a very poor substitute for you.... Please write as often as you can. I am so awfully glad to hear that you are writing something, do let me see anything you do, I am not at all afraid of it; I should think Trench's 'Study of Words' would do very [well,] but that as it's a little bit old, it would perhaps be better to put it in the second or third number, rather than the first, but by all means write it; I have finished the tale I began last term and failed signally therein, I am afraid that it won't do for the 'Brotherhood'; I am going to send it to Dixon and Ted to look at, and see if it is altogether hopeless, will you look at it too?... If you remember, you were to review 'North and South'; are you thinking of it?
"As to Cambridge, it is rather a hole of a place, and can't compare for a moment with Oxford; it is such a very different kind of place too, that one feels inclined to laugh, at least I do, when I think of it. I suppose by this time, Ted has told you all about it, and how we went to see Ely, which disappointed me somewhat, it is so horribly spoilt with very well meant restorations, as they facetiously term them; the bit of a hill that the Cathedral stands on is very jolly however, green fields and gardens and many trees, all dotted about with quaint old houses, and bits of the old conventual buildings; there are several gorgeous bits about the Church too, and outside happily it has been hardly touched, which makes the exterior much more beautiful and interesting than the interior.
"I saw the Exhibition the other day and liked the Procession of Cimabue better than I thought I should have done, as I said to Ted, I wish I hadn't seen Ruskin's Pamphlet before seeing the picture, for I don't know now what effect his commendation may have had upon me. Millais's Picture is indeed grand, how gorgeously the dawning is painted! I had been sitting up late the night before, and saw the dawn break, through the window in our hall, just as it might have been there, minus the smoke. There was a very sweet little picture by Collins in the Octagon room, called 'The Good Harvest of '54,' did you notice it? I think Maclise's picture about as bad as possible, fancy the brute spoiling one of the best scenes in your favourite comedy, don't you hate him therefore? I saw Dyce's 'Christabel' and thought the face very sweet; but Ruskin says the face is a copy; certainly it doesn't help me at all to the understanding of Coleridge's Poem.
"I saw that same day an impression of Albert Dürer's S. Hubert, and very nearly bought it but couldn't afford it, the same being 6 guineas; I think I should have done so though if I wasn't living in hope of getting a photograph of it; the photographs represent the engravings much better than I thought they did, looking very much like impressions whose paper is yellow by age, only somewhat darker: what a splendid engraving that S. Hubert is! O my word! so very, very gorgeous.
"I bought some engravings from Fra Angelico's picture in the Louvre, I am afraid only pretty good; will you have them? they represent the picture fairly I think on the whole, only the loss of colour makes of course a most enormous difference, where the colour is so utterly lovely as in the original—well, I hope you will like them. I have just been doing them up into a parcel whose clumsiness is something absolutely glorious, it is so clumsy. O this steel pen!—tell me if they reach you safely. Well, good-bye. I have forgotten what else I had to say to you, though I know I had plenty.
"Yours most lovingly,
The names, and some of the work, of the Pre-Raphaelite school were by this time becoming known to Morris and his companions, though the artists themselves were still unknown to them. In the summer term at Oxford he and Burne-Jones had seen Mr. Coombe's collection at the Clarendon Press, which included two pictures by Holman Hunt and Rossetti's water-colour of Dante drawing the head of Beatrice. During the Easter vacation, in the "very pretty old-fashioned house on Tottenham Green" belonging to Mr. Windus, they had seen for the first time pictures by Millais and Madox Brown. A copy of "The Germ" had also about the same time fallen into their hands; and from "Hand and Soul" and "The Blessed Damozel," which they read and re-read for ever, Rossetti rose to a first-rank place in their list of heroes.
On the 19th of July, Morris, Burne-Jones, and Fulford started on their tour in France, crossing from Folkestone and going straight to Abbeville. "We meant it to be really a walking tour," Sir Edward Burne-Jones writes, "for cheapness' sake: not that we walked far, but started with fine ideas of economy, necessary for me and conceded by him, who never said whether he had, or had not, money. We went to Abbeville, and there I drew, and to Amiens, and to Beauvais, he falling lame at Amiens, filling the streets with imprecations on all bootmakers; but he bought a pair of gay carpet-slippers, and in these he walked from Clermont to Beauvais, about 18 miles. But from this point, as he was footsore, we tried no more walking, but went everywhere by rail or diligence. We took a volume of Keats with us, and no other book: he knew everything about every place we went to. There was a little quarrel as to whether we should go to Paris or not, for though we wanted to go to Chartres, which lay south of it, he would have had us skirt the city, even by two days' journey, so as not to see the streets of it. But I wanted to see the pictures in the Louvre, and Fulford wanted to see Paris, and after all there was the Hotel Cluny to pacify him with. He had told me that Notre Dame would be a sight miserable to look at, for the sculptures were half down and lying in careless wrecks under the porches. He was fidgetty in Paris, and after three days we hurried away and went straight to Chartres."
On the 25th of July Fulford wrote from Chartres: "On the morning after arrival at Paris we went first to the Sainte Chapelle; thence to the Beaux Arts department of the Exposition: conceive our delight to find no less than seven Pre-Raphaelite among the English pictures: three by Hunt, including the Light of the World, three by Millais, one by Collins. They seemed to be entirely unappreciated, except the Order of Release, which attracted a great many from time to time. In the evening to the Opera, to hear Alboni in Le Prophète. Jones was enraptured; Morris seemed a good deal bored. Yesterday to the Louvre. We have moved again, to Morris's great delight: he has been dying to leave Paris and get to Chartres."
Another letter from Morris to Price, at the end of the three weeks' trip, gives the rest of its history.
" August 10th, 1855.
"I haven't quite forgotten you yet, though I have been so long writing, but the fact is, I am quite uncomfortable even now about writing a letter to you, for I don't know what to say; I suppose you won't be satisfied with the names merely of the places we have been to; and I scarcely think I can give you anything else. Why couldn't you come, Crom? O! the glories of the Churches we have seen! for we have seen the last of them now, we finished up with Mont S. Michel yesterday and are waiting here (which is a very beautiful place however,) till Saturday evening or Sunday morning when we shall go back to Granville and take steamer for Jersey and Southampton. Crom, we have seen nine Cathedrals, and let me see how many non-Cathedral Churches; I must count them on my fingers; there, I think I have missed some but I have made out 24 all splendid Churches; some of them surpassing first-rate English Cathedrals.
"I am glad that Fulford has lightened my load a little bit, by telling you what we did as far as Chartres: so I won't begin till after we left that place: Well, Crom, you must know that we had thought that we should be forced to go back to Paris to get to Rouen and that we should be obliged to go by railway all the way, which grew so distasteful to us after a bit, that we made efforts, and found that we could get across the country with very little railway indeed; so we went; I enjoyed the journey very much, and so did the others I think, though Ted's eyes were bad, as they have been all the time whenever the sun has been out: we went the greater part of the way in a queer little contrivance with one horse the greater part of the way. Behold our itinerary. We started from Chartres quite early (six o'clock) with drizzling rain that almost hid the spires of the Cathedral, how splendid they looked in the midst of it! but we were obliged to leave them, and the beautiful statues, and the stained glass, and the great, cliff-like buttresses, for quite a long time I'm afraid—so we went for about 20 miles by railroad to a place called Maintenon, where we mounted the quaint little conveyance and went off, with the rain still falling a little, through the beautiful country to Dreux, for a distance of about 17 miles; there was plenty to look at by the road, I almost think I like that part of the country better than any other part of the lovely country we have seen in France; so gloriously the trees are grouped, all manner of trees, but more especially the graceful poplars and aspens, of all kinds; and the hedgeless fields of grain, and beautiful herbs that they grow for forage whose names I don't know, the most beautiful fields I ever saw yet, looking as if they belonged to no man, as if they were planted not to be cut down in the end, and to be stored in barns and eaten by the cattle, but that rather they were planted for their beauty only, that they might grow always among the trees, mingled with the flowers, purple thistles, and blue cornflowers, and red poppies, growing together with the corn round the roots of the fruit trees, in their shadows, and sweeping up to the brows of the long low hills till they reached the sky, changing sometimes into long fields of vines, or delicate, lush green forage; and they all looked as [if] they would grow there for ever, as if they had always grown there, without change of seasons, knowing no other time than the early August. So we went on through this kind of country till we came to Dreux, and the rain had cleared up long before we reached it, and it was a bright sunny day. Some distance from Dreux the country changed very much into what I will tell you afterwards, but a great part of Picardy and the Isle of France seemed to be a good deal the same kind of country, and the land between Rouen and Caudebec, along the side of the Seine, was much like this, so much so, that I think I had it in my mind a good deal just now; perhaps it is even lovelier than this, the hills are much higher, but I scarcely think the flowers are so rich, or perhaps, when we went through it, the flowers had gone off a good deal. Well, we had to stop at Dreux about an hour and we saw the church there, a very good one, flamboyant mostly, but with an earlier apse very evilly used, and with a transept front very elaborately carved once, now very forlorn and battered, but (Deo gratias) not yet restored: there is a delightful old secular tower at Dreux too, and that is flamboyant also, with a roof like the side of a cliff, it is so steep. So we left Dreux, and set our faces as though we would go to Evreux; we were obliged to undergo about half an hour's ride in the railway before we got there, to my intense indignation. We had only a very short time to stay at Evreux, and even that short time we had to divide (alas! for our Lower Nature) between eating our dinner and gazing on the gorgeous Cathedral: it is an exceedingly lovely one, though not nearly so large as most of the Cathedrals we saw, the aisles are very rich flamboyant, with a great deal of light canopy work about them; the rest of the Church is earlier, the nave being Norman, and the choir fully developed early Gothic; though the transepts and lantern are flamboyant also by the way: there is a great deal of good stained glass about the Church. When we left Evreux we found that the country had changed altogether, getting much more hilly, almost as glorious in its way as the other land perhaps, but very different; for it is a succession of quite flat valleys surrounded on all sides by hills of very decent height with openings in them to let out the river, the valleys are very well wooded, and the fields a good deal like the other ones I have described, quite without hedges, and with fruit-trees growing all about them; so we kept going on, first winding up a long hill, then on a table land for a greater or less time, then down into the glorious lake-like valley, till at last we got to Louviers; there is a splendid church there, though it is not a large one; the outside has a kind of mask of the most gorgeous flamboyant (though late) thrown all over it, with such parapets and windows, it is so gorgeous and light, that I was utterly unprepared for the inside, and almost startled by it; so solemn it looked and calm after the fierce flamboyant of the outside; for all the interior, except the Chapels, is quite early Gothic and very beautiful; I have never, either before or since, been so much struck with the difference between the early and late Gothic, and by the greater nobleness of the former. So after we had looked at the Church for a little time we mounted the omnibus to go to the railway station where we were to take train to Rouen—it was about 5 miles I should think from Louviers to the station. What a glorious ride that was, with the sun, which was getting low by that time, striking all across the valley that Louviers lies in; I think that valley was the most glorious of all we saw that day, there was not much grain there, it was nearly all grass land and the trees, O! the trees! it was all like the country in a beautiful poem, in a beautiful Romance such as might make a background to Chaucer's Palamon and Arcite; how we could see the valley winding away along the side of the Eure a long way, under the hills: but we had to leave it and go to Rouen by a nasty, brimstone, noisy, shrieking railway train that cares not twopence for hill or valley, poplar tree or lime tree, corn poppy or blue cornflower, or purple thistle and purple vetch, white convolvulus, white clematis, or golden S. John's wort; that cares not twopence either for tower, or spire, or apse, or dome, for it will be as noisy and obtrusive under the spires of Chartres or the towers of Rouen, as it is [under] Versailles or the Dome of the Invalides; verily railways are ABOMINATIONS; and I think I have never fairly realised this fact till this our tour: fancy, Crom, all the roads (or nearly all) that come into Rouen dip down into the valley where it lies, from gorgeous hills which command the most splendid views of Rouen, but we, coming into Rouen by railway, crept into it in the most seedy way, seeing actually nothing at all of it till we were driving through the town in an omnibus.
"I had some kind of misgivings that I might be disappointed with Rouen, after my remembrances of it from last year; but I wasn't a bit. O! what a place it is. I think Ted liked the Cathedral, on the whole, better than any other church we saw. We were disappointed in one thing, however, we had expected Vespers every afternoon, we found they were only sung in that diocese on Saturday and Sunday. And weren't they sung, just. O! my word! on the Sunday especially, when a great deal of the psalms were sung to the Peregrine tone, and then, didn't they sing the hymns?
"I bought the Newcomes at Rouen, Tauchnitz edition, it is a splendid book. Well Crom, I can't write any more, I am fairly run down; I am tired too, and have got to pack up as well, which is always somewhat of a bore; when I see you (which I hope will be soon) I will tell you about the rest. Ah me! if only you had been here, how I have longed for you! so very, very much. This is a seedy letter to send to such a fellow as you are, Crom, please forgive me, and be jolly when I see you. Shall I see you at Birmingham?
"Your most loving
Even to so intimate a friend, however, this letter keeps silence as to the great event of the journey. The careless freedom of that summer holiday, with the glories of the world lying all about the fair land, among the sweet breath and colour of the fields, broke down the last hesitations. Walking together on the quays of Havre late into the August night, Morris and Burne-Jones at last took the definite decision to be artists and to postpone everything else in this world to art. It was decided that night that neither should proceed to take Orders, that the Oxford life should be wound up as quickly as possible; and that thereafter Burne-Jones should be a painter, and Morris an architect. From the art which he then chose for his own the former never swerved or wavered. Morris did not graduate as a professional architect, nor in all his life did he ever build a house. But for him, then and always, the word architecture bore an immense, and one might almost say a transcendental, meaning. Connected at a thousand points with all the other specific arts which ministered to it out of a thousand sources, it was itself the tangible expression of all the order, the comeliness, the sweetness, nay, even the mystery and the law, which sustain man's world and make human life what it is. To him the House Beautiful represented the visible form of life itself. Not only as a craftsman and manufacturer, a worker in dyed stuffs and textiles and glass, a pattern designer and decorator, but throughout the whole range of life, he was from first to last the architect, the master-craftsman, whose range of work was so phenomenal and his sudden transitions from one to another form of productive energy so swift and perplexing because, himself secure in the centre, he struck outwards to any point of the circumference with equal directness, with equal precision, unperplexed by artificial subdivisions of art, and untrammelled by any limiting rules of professional custom.
In the prose romance, written a few months after he took this momentous decision, which has been already noted as containing many fragments of half-conscious autobiography, the hero describes himself in the following significant words: "Ever since I can remember, even when I was quite a child, people have always told me that I had no perseverance, no strength of will; they have always kept on saying to me, directly and indirectly, 'Unstable as water thou shalt not excel;' and they have always been quite wrong in this matter, for of all men I ever heard of, I have the strongest will for good and evil. I could soon find out whether a thing were possible or not to me; then if it were not, I threw it away for ever, never thought of it again, no regret, no longing for that, it was past and over to me; but if it were possible, and I made up my mind to do it, then and there I began it, and in due time finished it, turning neither to the right hand nor the left till it was done. So I did with all things that I set my hand to. Love only, and the wild restless passions that went with it, were too strong for me, and they bent my strong will, so that people think me now a weak man, with no end to make for in the purposeless wanderings of my life."
Two other great disturbing forces there were which came at long intervals into his life. One was the temporarily overpowering influence of Rossetti, that masterful personality which swayed every one who approached it out of his own orbit. The other was more impersonal and more impalpable, the patient revenge of the modern or scientific spirit, so long fought against, first by his aristocratic, and then by his artistic instincts, when it took hold of him against his will and made him a dogmatic Socialist. Apart from these influences and their effects, he continued as he began; the rare instance of a man who, without ever once swerving from truth or duty, knew what he liked, and did what he liked, all his life long.
A few days after returning from France, Morris rejoined Burne-Jones at Birmingham. There also were Fulford and Price, and Heeley had just returned after passing his examination for the Indian Civil Service. Dixon was at home at Liverpool, reading Carlyle's "French Revolution" and pondering over the difficulties of original composition. Three weeks were spent at Birmingham in furious reading and talking, and in the further incubation of the magazine. The following extracts from a diary kept by Price's younger sister are not without quiet humour:
"Aug. 22. Fan (an elder sister) was invited over to Jones' to meet Morris. Fulford also was there. F. says Morris is very handsome.
"Aug. 23. Fulford, Morris, and Jones came over to tea and supper. Morris is very handsome.
"Aug. 27. Crom, Edward, and Morris went to Dudley Castle: came here to tea and supper, and Fulford later on. Fulford read 'The Palace of Art' 'Vision of Sin' and 'Oenone.' Morris also read, but he is a queer reader.
"Sept. 2. Edward and Morris came to tea and supper. We had great fun: Morris got so excited once that he punched his own head and threw his arms about frantically."
From Price's own diary an extract has also been preserved.
"Sept. 7. Ted, Top, and Fulford came over to tea and supper. Had much talk with Top about architecture and organization of labour. Discussed the tone of reviews in general, and 'Blackwood' in particular. It is unanimously agreed that there is to be no shewing off, no quips, no sneers, no lampooning in our Magazine."
(Aytoun's unsympathetic review of "Maud" in Blackwood's Magazine for that month had been the last drop in the cup of their indignation against the tone of current literary criticism. "Maud" had been hailed by the set with unalloyed enthusiasm.)
"Sept. 9. Saw Ted and Topsy. Talked chiefly about the review. Politics to be almost eschewed: to be mainly Tales, Poetry, friendly Critiques, and social articles."
During this visit to Birmingham Burne-Jones took Morris to Cornish's, the bookseller's shop in New Street, where, in accordance with the leisurely eighteenth century practice that still lingered in provincial towns, customers were allowed to drop in and read books from the shelves. There Burne-Jones had passed "hundreds of hours" in this employment; and there lately he had found and begun to read a copy of Southey's edition of Malory's "Morte d'Arthur," a work till then unknown to either of the two, and one which Burne-Jones could not afford to buy. Morris bought it at first sight, and it at once became for both one of their most precious treasures: so precious that even among their intimates there was some shyness over it, till a year later they heard Rossetti speak of it and the Bible as the two greatest books in the world, and their tongues were unloosed by the sanction of his authority.
The resolution to become an architect, once taken, was put into effect without delay. After the visit to Birmingham, Morris at once began to read hard for his Final Schools and to place himself in communication with Mr. Street with a view of entering his office in Oxford as soon as possible. On the 29th of September he writes to Price from Walthamstow:
"I went to Malvern the day after I parted from you, it is certainly a very splendid place, but very much spoiled by being made into a kind of tea gardens for idle people. The Abbey bells rang all the day for the fall of Sebastopol, and when I went by railway to Clay Cross the next day, they had hoisted flags up everywhere, particularly on the chimneys at Burton—at Chesterfield they had a flag upon the top of their particularly ugly twisted spire—at Clay Cross, by some strange delusion, they had hoisted all over the place the Russian tricolour (viz., horizontal stripes of blue, red, and white,) thinking, honest folks, that it was the French flag; they have no peal of bells at Clay Cross, only one bell of a singularly mild and chapelly nature, said bell was tolled by the patriotic inhabitants ALL day long, the effect of which I leave you to imagine. My life is going to become a burden to me, for I am going, (beginning from Tuesday next) to read for six hours a day at Livy, Ethics, &c.—please pity me."
A week later he writes again in a more serious tone:
"Thank you very much for taking so much interest in me—but make your mind easy about my coming back next term, I am certainly coming back, though I should not have done so if it had not been for my Mother; I don't think even if I get through Greats that I shall take my B.A., because they won't allow you not to sign the 39 Articles unless you declare that you are 'extra Ecclesiam Anglicanam' which I'm not, and don't intend to be, and I won't sign the 39 Articles. Of course I should like to stay up at Oxford for a much longer time, but (I told you, didn't I?) I am going, if I can, to be an architect, and I am too old already and there is no time to lose, I MUST make haste, it would not do for me, dear Crom, even for the sake of being with you, to be a lazy, aimless, useless, dreaming body all my life long, I have wasted enough time already, God knows; not that I regret having gone to Oxford, how could I? for I should be a very poor helpless kind of thing without Ted and you. Didn't I tell you that I meant to ask Street of Oxford if he would take me? I intended to tell you, if I didn't; if that could happen, it would be glorious, for then I need not leave Oxford at all. Ah well, may it be so!"
At home the change in his plan of life caused indeed disappointment and almost consternation. It had always been taken for granted that he was to enter the Church. The feelings with which Colonel Newcome received Clive's intimation that he was going to be a painter were still those of nearly the whole of the wealthier middle class. Bohemia was a strange foreign kingdom. To be a painter was barely respectable; even to be an architect—a profession in which there was at all events definite office work and possibility of wealth and honour—was to cut oneself away from the staid traditions of respectability. Mrs. Morris at first hardly credited the project announced to her; and it was not until he was safe at Oxford and among his friends again that he ventured to lay his intentions clearly before her. Term was half over when the following letter, written after deep thought and with an unsurpassable delicacy of tenderness, set the matter before her as fixed beyond recall.
"Ex: Coll: Oxon.
"Nov. 11th, 1855.
"My dear Mother,
"I am almost afraid you thought me scarcely in earnest when I told you a month or two ago that I did not intend taking Holy Orders; if this is the case I am afraid also that my letter now may vex you; but if you have really made up your mind that I was in earnest I should hope you will be pleased with my resolution. You said then, you remember, and said very truly, that it was an evil thing to be an idle objectless man; I am fully determined not to incur this reproach, I was so then, though I did not tell you at the time all I thought of, partly because I had not thought about it enough myself, and partly because I wished to give you time to become reconciled to the idea of my continuing a lay person. I wish now to be an architect, an occupation I have often had hankerings after, even during the time when I intended taking Holy Orders; the signs of which hankerings you yourself have doubtless often seen. I think I can imagine some of your objections, reasonable ones too, to this profession—I hope I shall be able to relieve them. First I suppose you think that you have as it were thrown away money on my kind of apprenticeship for the Ministry; let your mind be easy on this score; for, in the first place, an University education fits a man about as much for being a ship-captain as a Pastor of souls: besides your money has by no means been thrown away, if the love of friends faithful and true, friends first seen and loved here, if this love is something priceless, and not to be bought again anywhere and by any means: if moreover by living here and seeing evil and sin in its foulest and coarsest forms, as one does day by day, I have learned to hate any form of sin, and to wish to fight against it, is not this well too? Think, I pray you, Mother, that all this is for the best: moreover if any fresh burden were to be laid upon you, it would be different, but as I am able to provide myself for my new course of life, the new money to be paid matters nothing. If I were not to follow this occupation I in truth know not what I should follow with any chance of success, or hope of happiness in my work; in this I am pretty confident I shall succeed, and make I hope a decent architect sooner or later; and you know too that in any work that one delights in, even the merest drudgery connected with it is delightful too. I shall be master too of a useful trade; one by which I should hope to earn money, not altogether precariously, if other things fail. I myself have had to overcome many things in making up my mind to this; it will be rather grievous to my pride and selfwill to have to do just as I am told for three long years, but good for it too, I think; rather grievous to my love of idleness and leisure to have to go through all the drudgery of learning a new trade, but for that also good. Perhaps you think that people will laugh at me, and call me purposeless and changeable; I have no doubt they will, but I in my turn will try to shame them, God being my helper, by steadiness and hard work. Will you tell Henrietta that I can quite sympathise with her disappointment, that I think I understand it, but I hope it will change to something else before long, if she sees me making myself useful; for that I will by no means give up things I have thought of for the bettering of the world in so far as lies in me.
"You see I do not hope to be great at all in anything, but perhaps I may reasonably hope to be happy in my work, and sometimes when I am idle and doing nothing, pleasant visions go past me of the things that may be. You may perhaps think this a long silly letter about a simple matter, but it seems to me to be kindest to tell you what I was thinking of somewhat at length, and to try, if ever so unsuccessfully, to make you understand my feelings a little: moreover I remember speaking somewhat roughly to you when we had conversation last on this matter, speaking indeed far off from my heart because of my awkwardness, and I thought I would try to mend this a little now; have I done so at all?
"To come to details on this matter. I purpose asking Mr. Street of Oxford to take me as his pupil: he is a good architect, as things go now, and has a great deal of business, and always goes for an honourable man; I should learn what I want of him if of anybody, but if I fail there (as I may, for I don't know at all if he would take a pupil) I should apply to some London architect, in which case I should have the advantage of living with you if you continue to live near London, and the sooner the better, I think, for I am already old for this kind of work. Of course I should pay myself the premium and all that.
"My best love to yourself, and Henrietta, and Aunt, and all of them:
"Your most affectionate son
" P.S. May I ask you to show this letter to no one else but Henrietta."
This term at Oxford was the busiest and happiest of all. The Brotherhood had grown into a close union of minds and hearts, an intimate fellowship in all projects and ideas and enthusiasms. To such a period of common youth and hope, the isolation of later life must turn backward with deep gratitude, yet with such a passionate sense of loss as one might have who found himself alone in a strange world. "Forsooth," says John Ball in his sermon at the village cross, "he that waketh in hell and feeleth his heart fail him shall have memory of the merry days of earth, and how that when his heart failed him there he cried on his fellow, and how that his fellow heard him and came."
Morris passed in the Final Schools without difficulty: the negotiations with Street were successful, and it was arranged that he should be formally articled at the beginning of the year. The set were for the last time all together; Fulford, who had taken his degree a year before and had for a time been teaching in a school at Wimbledon, having returned to Oxford, and Heeley being also there for a considerable part of the term. During this term, too, Morris found a new occupation for his busy fingers. A volume of poems by William Allingham, entitled "Day and Night Songs," had just appeared, containing a woodcut from a drawing by Rossetti. Writing to his mother in this year Rossetti speaks of "Allingham's new Collection of Poems, where there are some illustrations by Hughes, one by Millais, and one which used to be by me till it became the exclusive work of Dalziel, who cut it. I was resolved to cut it out, but Allingham would not, so I can only wish Dalziel had the credit as well as the authorship." To Allingham himself he wrote of it with equal dismay, speaking of a "stupid preconceived notion about intended 'severity' in the design" on the part of the engraver, "which has resulted in an engraving as hard as a nail, and yet flabby and vapid to the last degree." Severity, in the noblest sense, the design possesses as one element of its beauty. Both Morris and Burne-Jones pored over it continually. The latter wrote of it as "I think the most beautiful drawing for an illustration I have ever seen": and Morris at once set to work at drawing on wood and cutting the designs himself.
Entries in Price's diary show the progress of the magazine meanwhile.
"Nov. 6. After Hall to Faulkner's where I helped Top to concoct a letter to the publishers.
"Nov. 17. Evening to Dixon's: Solemn conclave as to the form title &c. of the coming Mag. Ultimately decided on 72 pages monthly.
"Nov. 22. Ground at a prospectus with Top: in the evening to Pembroke and go on with the prospectus, Fulford joining in and doing lion's share."
The publishers were Messrs. Bell and Daldy; and the first number of "The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, conducted by Members of the two Universities," appeared on the 1st of January, 1856. Twelve monthly numbers duly appeared. At the end of the year the financial drain, Morris's own engrossment in other occupations, and the rapidly divergent interests of the principal contributors, led to its discontinuance. The price of each number was a shilling. But this moderate sum was found too high for the amount of matter by some purchasers, and was thought to have injured the circulation. Each number consists of from 60 to 72 pages in double column, and the contents are classified as Essays, Tales, Poetry, and Notices of Books. The financial responsibility was undertaken wholly by Morris, the only one of the projectors who could easily do so; though Dixon, out of more limited means, was anxious to help. At first Morris had the general control which, in default of more specific arrangements, follows the control of the purse. But the details of publishing were little to his taste, and as a corrector of proofs he was not very competent. Before the second number appeared the editorship had been formally assigned to Fulford, to whom Morris paid a salary of £100 a year for the performance of that duty. Towards the end of the Christmas Vacation Burne-Jones writes to Price, "Topsy has surrendered active powers as editor to Fulford, who is now to be autocratical master of the magazine, with full powers to accept or reject or modify anything or everything submitted to his imperial jurisdiction—it will be a good thing for all of us, and a great relief to Topsy." The results of this arrangement on the fortunes of his venture are uncertain. On the one hand, the magazine became greatly overweighted with Fulford's own compositions both in prose and verse; yet without his energy, it may be doubtful whether the task of getting out a number somehow on the first of every month would ever have been accomplished. There was some idea, which however did not take effect, of having illustrations after the precedent set by Fraser's Magazine, and by the Pre-Raphaelite "Germ." An elaborately facetious drawing of "Faulkner's Improved Sewerage," designed by Burne-Jones for an article on Sanitation by Faulkner, is still extant: and Fulford writes in March, "I expect Edward will have an illustration in the Magazine in April." It was only the expense which stood in the way. As it was, the deficit on the year's accounts was several hundred pounds, all of which came out of Morris's pocket. The only illustrations issued in connexion with the magazine were two photographs of the medallion portraits by Woolner of Carlyle and Tennyson; and these were printed and sold separately.
The venture received slight, though not unfavourable, notices in the press; 750 copies of the first number were printed, and a further supply of 250 copies had to be added. But a large number of these were presentation copies, and the circulation of the succeeding numbers slowly fell off. At the end of the year there was a large stock of unsold copies on the publishers' shelves. But encouragement came from valued sources. Ruskin praised it warmly, and gave some sort of promise, which however was not carried out, to contribute to it. Fulford writes on the 9th of January, "Ruskin has sent a most jolly note to Jones, promising to write for us when he has time, which won't be at present. But he is very despondent: he thinks people don't want honest criticism; and he has never known an honest journal get on yet." Among the contents of the January number was the first of a series of three articles on Tennyson's poetry by Fulford. He sent a copy to Tennyson and received a cordial acknowledgment.
"I find," Tennyson wrote to him, "in such of the articles as I have read, a truthfulness and earnestness very refreshing to me: very refreshing likewise is the use of the plain 'I' in lieu of the old hackneyed unconscientious editorial 'we.' May you go on and prosper. As to your essay on myself, you may easily see that I have some difficulty in speaking; to praise it, seeming too much like self-praise."
After the editorship was placed in Fulford's hands, Morris's own connexion with the management was confined to writing cheques; but he contributed articles, in prose or verse, to every number except those for June and November. "Topsy and I," Fulford writes in September, "are the only ones of the set that write at all regularly. Ted won't write." In deference to the wishes of certain contributors, I have thought it right not to give a full list of authors, which would otherwise be of no inconsiderable interest: the more so as all lists hitherto published are inaccurate in important particulars. Generally, however, it may be stated that two-thirds of the whole contents came from members of the Oxford Brotherhood. Beyond these, Wilfred Heeley was an important contributor to the earlier numbers; but he was married in September and went out to India soon afterwards, and so ceased to have connexion with it. Of the other writers, the only ones responsible for more than a single article were Vernon Lushington, who had now left Cambridge and was studying law at the Temple; his brother Godfrey, recently elected Fellow of Oriel; and Bernard Cracroft, of Trinity College, Cambridge, who, like Vernon Lushington, was studying for the Bar, and afterwards became a statist and jurist of some distinction. He was one of the regular contributors to the Westminster Review under Mill, and the author of "Essays on Reform" and various other politico-social works. To these names, however, must be added that of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Three of his best-known poems appeared in the later numbers of the magazine: "The Burden of Nineveh" in August; "The Blessed Damozel" in November; and "The Staff and Scrip" in December. "The Blessed Damozel," a poem which, even more than the others, Rossetti kept perpetually retouching, is here printed with many variant readings, both from its original form in "The Germ" and from the later versions in the successive editions of his published volume of poems. The other two, which also vary materially in text from their later forms, were printed here for the first time.
There is little in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which may not be read, even at this distance of time, with much interest: but except these poems of Rossetti's, Morris's own contributions represent, on the whole, that part of its contents which is of permanent value. "Topsy has got the real grit in him and no mistake. But we shall all go to Heaven. Now I call that rather good, a whole natural history in two sentences." So wrote one of the Brotherhood, in a flash of real insight, when seven numbers of the magazine had appeared. These contributions consist of eight prose tales, five poems, an article on Amiens Cathedral and another on two engravings by Alfred Rethel, and a review of Browning's recently published "Men and Women." The article last named is, I believe, the single instance in which Morris ever voluntarily took the rôle of a reviewer; and together with an article on Rossetti's volume of poems of 1870, which, much against his will, he wrote for the "Academy," it represents the sum of his formal contributions to literary criticism.
The full list is as follows: the poems being distinguished by having their titles printed in italic.
|January:||The Story of the Unknown Church. (A tale.)|
|February:||The Churches of North France, No. 1. Shadows of Amiens.|
|March:||A Dream. (A tale.)|
"Men and Women." By Robert Browning.
|April:||Frank's Sealed Letter. (A tale.)|
|July:||Gertha's Lovers. (A tale.) c. 1—3.|
|August:||"Death the Avenger and Death the Friend."|
Svend and his Brethren. (A tale.)
Gertha's Lovers, c. 4, 5.
|September: ||Lindenborg Pool. (A tale.)|
The Hollow Land. (A tale.) c. 1, 2.
The Chapel in Lyonness.
|October:||The Hollow Land, c. 3.|
Pray but One Prayer for Me.
|December:||Golden Wings. (A tale.)|
"These early poems," Canon Dixon writes to me, "seem to me to be lifted out of poetry: to have, besides poetry, a substance of visible beauty of one particular kind: to be poetry without any notion of being poetry, or effort, or aim at it." Four of them were included two years later in "The Defence of Guenevere," and require no further notice here; they are "Riding Together," "The Chapel in Lyonness," "Pray but One Prayer for Me" (there entitled "Summer Dawn"), and the Prince's Song in "Rapunzel," here printed separately under the title of "Hands." The fifth was omitted from that volume for some forgotten reason, perhaps because it was thought too like the famous "Riding Together." But to that poem it forms so perfect a pendant, and it is in itself of such strong and delicate beauty, that it claims rescue from oblivion.
We rode together
In the winter weather
To the broad mead under the hill;
Though the skies did shiver
With the cold, the river
Ran, and was never still.
No cloud did darken
The night; we did hearken
The hound's bark far away.
It was solemn midnight
In that dread, dread night,
In the years that have pass'd for aye.
Two rode beside me,
My banner did hide me,
As it drooped adown from my lance;
With its deep blue trapping,
The mail over-lapping,
My gallant horse did prance.
So ever together
In the sparkling weather
Moved my banner and lance;
And its laurel trapping,
The steel over-lapping,
The stars saw quiver and dance.
We met together
In the winter weather
By the town-walls under the hill;
His mail-rings came clinking,
They broke on my thinking,
For the night was hush'd and still.
Two rode beside him,
His banner did hide him,
As it drooped down strait from his lance;
With its blood-red trapping,
The mail over-lapping,
His mighty horse did prance.
And ever together
In the solemn weather
Moved his banner and lance;
And the holly trapping,
The steel over-lapping,
Did shimmer and shiver, and dance.
Back reined the squires
Till they saw the spires
Over the city wall;
Ten fathoms between us,
No dames could have seen us
Tilt from the city wall.
There we sat upright
Till the full midnight
Should be told from the city chimes;
Sharp from the towers
Leapt forth the showers
Of the many clanging rhymes.
'Twas the midnight hour,
Deep from the tower
Boom'd the following bell;
Down go our lances,
Shout for the lances!
The last toll was his knell.
There he lay, dying;
He had, for his lying,
A spear in his traitorous mouth;
A false tale made he
Of my true, true lady;
But the spear went through his mouth.
In the winter weather
We rode back together
From the broad mead under the hill;
And the cock sung his warning
As it grew toward morning,
But the far-off hound was still.
Black grew his tower
As we rode down lower,
Black from the barren hill;
And our horses strode
Up the winding road
To the gateway dim and still.
At the gate of his tower,
In the quiet hour,
We laid his body there;
But his helmet broken,
We took as a token;
Shout for my lady fair!
We rode back together
In the winter weather
From the broad mead under the hill;
No cloud did darken
The night; we did hearken
How the hound bay'd from the hill.
In the article on Amiens Cathedral, which appeared in the February number, the intense love and wonderful knowledge Morris had of the Middle Ages, and of those glorious French Gothic churches which were always to him the crown and flower of the whole world's architecture, expressed themselves in what is perhaps even yet the noblest and most loving tribute ever paid to the great Cathedral. It was not written without violent struggles. "I am to have a grind about Amiens Cathedral this time," he writes from home on the 11th of January, "it is very poor and inadequate, I cannot help it; it has cost me more trouble than anything I have written yet; I ground at it the other night from nine o'clock till half-past four a.m., when the lamp went out, and I had to creep upstairs to bed through the great dark house like a thief." The praise of Amiens has been written by many different pens; but no one has ever written on it with such white heat of enthusiasm and such wealth of detailed insight. Every word of what he writes comes straight from his heart. "I thought," he says, with simple and unashamed modesty, "that even if I could say nothing else about these grand churches, I could at least tell men how I loved them. For I will say here that I think these same churches of North France the grandest, the most beautiful, the kindest and most loving of all the buildings that the earth has ever borne."
This article is headed "The Churches of North France. No. 1." It would seem that Morris had meant to write a series of articles on these churches, but there is no trace of his having begun a second. Indeed, after the first few months, his contributions to the magazine appear to be mainly poems and tales written during the previous year; his work at Street's office, together with all the rest of his activities, preventing him from giving the laborious days and nights to writing which would have been necessary. For the essay on Amiens has neither the fluent grace nor the uncertain touch of the tales; it is wrought as if with chisel strokes, precise and yet passionate. The prose tales, on the other hand, were written very swiftly, poured out, as it were, from a brain overloaded and saturated with its pent-up stores of imagination. The only one which bears internal traces of labour or effort is the one entitled "Frank's Sealed Letter," in which for once, and with very faint success, he tried to write a story of modern life. In common with the unfinished and unpublished modern novel which he wrote many years afterwards, it gives the curious impression of some one writing about a kind of life which he only knows from books, with a strange sort of inverted antiquarianism. Put him in the thirteenth century and he is completely and conspicuously at his ease; the pictures rise, the narrative flows, as though he had seen and heard all he describes. But once in the nineteenth, his imagination is clogged and half crippled. On the imaginative side he was far behind, and far before, his own time: he belongs partly to the earlier Middle Ages, and partly to an age still far in the future. The stories of "The Unknown Church" and "Lindenborg Pool" have what may be called a semi-historical setting; they are placed, that is, in a definite European country and in a more or less definite epoch. But in the other five tales, the flower of Morris's early work, the world is one of pure romance. Mediæval customs, mediæval buildings, the mediæval Catholic religion, the general social framework of the thirteenth or fourteenth century, are assumed throughout, but it would be idle to attempt to place them in any known age or country. The world of fantasy in which they are set is like and yet unlike that of the second cycle of prose tales which began more than thirty years later, when he abandoned the semi-historical setting of "John Ball" and "The House of the Wolfings" and returned to a world of pure romance in the story of "The Roots of the Mountains" and the series of stories which followed it. Both worlds are vaguely mediæval, but the men and women who move in these earlier tales are less strong and more passionate; and the world itself is more opulent, more Southern, reminding one often of Provence or Italy rather than of the rich but temperate Northern lands dwelt in by the men of Burgdale or Upmeads or Utterhay. The Muse of the North had not yet become to him what it was in later years, "Mother, and Love, and Sister all in one," as he calls it in a poem written about ten years after this. The tale of "Lindenborg Pool" is indeed suggested by a story in Thorpe's "Northern Mythology," and "The Hollow Land" is headed by a few lines from the Niebelungenlied; but the atmosphere is throughout that of the French romances, not that of the Scandinavian epic. Another likeness between the two cycles of stories is the skilful interweaving of prose and verse, afterwards adopted by him as a conscious literary method in "The House of the Wolfings" and "The Well at the World's End." Among these early romances are several exquisite lyrical fragments. One of these, the song sung by Margaret in "The Hollow Land," has passed from mouth to mouth among many lovers of poetry who never read the romance itself:
Christ keep the Hollow Land
All the summer-tide;
Still we cannot understand
Where the waters glide;
Only dimly seeing them
Coldly slipping through
Many green-lipp'd cavern mouths,
Where the hills are blue.
The first verse of another fragment in the same story, a Christmas carol heard sung in the snow by a sentinel of Queen Swanhilda's, was perpetually repeated among his friends; nor is it easy to forget after a single hearing:
Queen Mary's crown was gold,
King Joseph's crown was red,
But Jesus' crown was diamond
That lit up all the bed
Ships sail through the Heaven
With red banners dress'd,
Carrying the planets seven
To see the white breast
These romances have never been reprinted. Their author in later years thought, or seemed to think, lightly of them, calling them crude (as they are) and very young (as they are). But they are nevertheless comparable in quality to Keats's "Endymion": as rich in imagination, as irregularly gorgeous in language, as full in every vein and fibre of the sweet juices and ferment of the spring.
Towards the end of the Christmas Vacation of 1855–6, when the first number of the magazine had just been launched on the world, Burne-Jones went for a few days to London; and there an event took place which had momentous consequences in the year which ensued on his own life and that of Morris. The story shall be given in his own words.
"Just after Christmas, I went to London, to visit my aunt. I was two and twenty, and had never met, or even seen, a painter in my life. I knew no one who had ever seen one, or had been in a studio, and of all men who lived on earth, the one that I wanted to see was Rossetti. I had no dream of ever knowing him, but I wanted to look at him, and as I had heard that he taught at the Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street, a little University set up by Denison Maurice, where men skilled in science or history gave lectures and their services of evenings, I went to the college one day to find out how it would be possible that I should set eyes upon him. I was told that there was to be a monthly meeting that very evening, in a room in Great Titchfield Street, and that, by paying threepence, any one could get admittance, including tea, and hear the addresses on the condition of the college, and the advance of studies, which were delivered by the different professors; so without fail I was there, and sat at a table and had thick bread and butter, but knowing no one. But good fellowship was the rule there, that was clear; and a man sitting opposite to me spoke at once to me, introducing himself by the name of Furnivall, and I gave my name and college, and my reason for coming. He reached across the table to a kindly-looking man, whom he introduced to me as Vernon Lushington, to whom I repeated my reason for coming, and begged him to tell me when Rossetti entered the room. It seemed that it was doubtful if he would appear at all, that he was constant in his work of teaching drawing at the College, but had no great taste for the nights of addresses and speeches, and as I must have looked downcast at this, Lushington, with a kindness never to be forgotten by me, invited me to go to his rooms in Doctors' Commons a few nights afterwards, where Rossetti had promised to come. So I waited a good hour or two, listening to speeches about the progress of the College, and Maurice, who was President, spoke of Macaulay's new volume, just out, blaming much the attack on George Fox in a true Carlylese spirit which was very pleasing, and then Lushington whispered to me that Rossetti had come in, and so I saw him for the first time, his face satisfying all my worship, and I listened to addresses no more, but had my fill of looking; only I would not be introduced to him. You may be sure I sent a long letter about all this to Morris at Walthamstow, and on the night appointed, about ten o'clock, I went to Lushington's rooms, where was a company of men, some of whom have been friends ever since. I remember Saffi was there, and a brother of Rossetti's. And by-and-bye Rossetti came and I was taken up to him and had my first fearful talk with him. Browning's 'Men and Women' had just been published a few days before, and some one speaking disrespectfully of that book was rent in pieces at once for his pains and was dumb for the rest of the evening, so that I saw my hero could be a tyrant, and I thought it sat finely upon him. Also, another unwary man professed an interest in metaphysics; he also was dealt with firmly; so that our host was impelled to ask if Rossetti would have all men painters, and if there should be no other occupation for mankind. Rossetti said stoutly that it was so. But before I left that night, Rossetti bade me come to his studio next day. It was at the top of the last house by Blackfriars Bridge, at the north-west corner of the bridge, long ago pulled down to make way for the Embankment; and I found him painting at a water-colour of a monk copying a mouse in an illumination. The picture was called 'Fra Pace' afterwards, and belongs now to Mrs. Jekyll. He received me very courteously, and asked much about Morris, one or two of whose poems he knew already, and I think that was our principal subject of talk, for he seemed much interested about him. He showed me many designs for pictures; they tossed about everywhere in the room: the floor at one end was covered with them and with books. No books were on shelves, and I remember long afterwards he once said that books were no use to a painter except to prop up models upon in difficult positions, and that then they might be very useful. No one seemed to be in attendance upon him. I stayed long and watched him at work, not knowing till many a day afterwards that this was a thing he greatly hated, and when, for shame, I could stay no longer, I went away, having carefully concealed from him the desire I had to be a painter."
After this vacation, Burne-Jones returned to Oxford, more confirmed than ever in his resolution of becoming a painter at once. During the Lent term he continued to read for the Final Schools; but at Easter he went up to London permanently, and left college without taking a degree. Meanwhile Morris had, on the 21 st of January, signed his articles with Street and begun work in Street's office in Beaumont Street, living himself in lodgings in St. Giles's, in a house opposite St. John's. Street's senior clerk was then Philip Webb, a man a few years older than Morris. Between them there arose a close and lifelong friendship. When Webb left Street's office in 1859 his place was taken by Norman Shaw. It is hardly too much to say that the work of these three men has, in the course of a generation, revolutionized domestic architecture throughout England.
Morris plunged with his usual ardour and thoroughness into his new profession. His single holiday for several months was on the day when he took his Bachelor's degree. The evenings during term were, as before, spent with the old set, who were still in residence, with the exception of Fulford, now installed in London as editor of the magazine and literary man. "Edward says," writes Miss Price in February, "that Fulford has become very serious." Browning's "Bishop Blougram," published in the previous year, was one of the poems which were eagerly discussed by the set about this time. Emigration to Australia or New Zealand was then greatly in the air as a sort of gospel. Madox Brown's picture, "The Last of England," painted between the years 1852 and 1855, marks the culmination of the movement. It already appears strongly marked in the conclusion of Clough's "Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich," published in 1848. Woolner had actually gone to Australia in 1852, and Tennyson had had serious thoughts of accompanying him. The arousal caused by the Crimean War united with other causes to check the impulse; and work for the elevation and sweetening of life in England took the place in the ideals of younger men that had for a few years been occupied by the somewhat fantastic dreams of an Antipodean Golden World.
In his spare time, besides the poems and stories which he went on pouring forth, Morris was beginning to practise more than one handicraft—clay-modelling, carving in wood and stone, and illuminating. A page of his illumination is extant, done in this year. It shows great certainty and mastery in colour, but not the complete grasp of the art which he had acquired a year later; the drawing is uncertain, and the writing not good. His eye for colour was always perfect, and his knowledge with regard to it amazing. There is a singular instance of this in a passage in "The Hollow Land." "As the years went on," says the Son of the House of the Lilies, "and we grew old, we painted purple pictures and green ones instead of the scarlet and yellow, so that the walls looked altered." That this is what actually happens from the yellowing of the crystalline lens of the eye in advanced life was only discovered by specialists many years later. How did Morris know, or divine it?
From the day he put on his Bachelor's gown, he ceased the practice, then still enforced on all undergraduates, of shaving the moustache. From that time forward he never touched a razor; and now also he began, partly as a symbol of his profession, partly from mere disinclination to take unnecessary trouble, to wear his hair long, as was then the fashion among artists. His hair remained through life of extraordinary beauty, very thick, fine and strong, with a beautiful curl that made it look like exquisitely wrought metal, and with no parting. It was so strong that he afterwards used to amuse his children by letting them take hold of it and lifting them by it off the ground. His general appearance at this time—the massive head, the slightly knitted brow, the narrow eyeslits and heavy underlids, the delicately beautiful mouth and chin only half veiled by the slight beard—are given with great fidelity in a photograph of about this period which is reproduced here, and which also shows the characteristic hands—broad, fleshy, and rather short, with a look about them of clumsiness and ineffectiveness which was absolutely the reverse of the truth. It was a perpetual amazement to see those hands executing the most delicately minute work with a swiftness and precision that no one else could equal. Another portrait of him at this time of his life exists which many people have seen without knowing it. In Rossetti's drawing of Lancelot leaning over the barge of the Lady of Shalott, in the illustrated Tennyson published in 1857 by Moxon and often since reprinted, Lancelot's head was drawn from Morris and was an admirable likeness. In spite of the imperfection of the woodcutting, which in this, as in the other illustrations that Rossetti contributed to the volume, drove him almost to despair, in spite, too, of the cap which almost conceals the forehead and hair, this head remains, by the account of his early friends, an exact portrait of the man they knew.
After Burne-Jones went to London at Easter, and began painting under the friendly guidance of Rossetti, Morris used to go up almost every week to spend the Sunday with him at his lodgings in Chelsea. He used to arrive on Saturday in time to see pictures at the Academy or elsewhere, and go to a play with Burne-Jones and Rossetti in the evening. After the play—if Rossetti's imperious impatience of bad acting or bad plays allowed them to sit it out—they would go with him to his rooms on the Embankment overlooking Blackfriars Bridge, and sit there till three or four in the morning, talking. All Sunday the talking, varied by reading of the "Morte d'Arthur," went on in the Chelsea lodging, Rossetti often looking in upon the other two in the afternoon. On the Monday morning, Morris took the first train down to Oxford to be at Street's again when the office opened. During these months Rossetti's influence over him grew stronger and stronger. His doctrine that everybody should be a painter, enforced with all the weight of his immense personality and an eloquence and plausibility in talk which all who knew him in those years describe as unparalleled in their experience, carried Morris for a time off his feet. Much, no doubt, of the daily work in an architect's office was in itself uninteresting, or even distasteful to him; and if the statement in Street's "Life," that, while his headquarters were at Oxford, he "restored most of the Oxford churches," be taken in anything like a literal sense, the work must sometimes have been such as Morris, with his clear views on the subject of restorations, could not assist in with any comfort, or look forward to without an alarm almost amounting to disgust as the future business of his own life. He became an ardent pupil, as he was already a keen admirer, of the Pre-Raphaelite school. Rossetti introduced him to Madox Brown and Holman Hunt, and painting rose for a time almost, if not quite, to the first place in his interest. On one of his visits to London he fell in love with, and bought, Mr. Arthur Hughes's beautiful "April Love," which was exhibited at the Royal Academy that year, together with Hunt's "Scapegoat," Millais's "Autumn Leaves," and Wallis's "Death of Chatterton."
At the end of this summer, Street removed his headquarters from Oxford to London, and Morris came up with him. In August he and Burne-Jones took rooms together in Upper Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, a neighbourhood convenient to both as being close both to Street's office in Montague Place and to the various drawing schools known under the generic name of Gandish's in the neighbourhood of Fitzroy Square. Some extracts from a letter written from Oxford in July may show the ferment working in his brain.
"I have seen Rossetti twice since I saw the last of you; spent almost a whole day with him the last time, last Monday, that was. Hunt came in while we were there, a tallish, slim man with a beautiful red beard, somewhat of a turn-up nose, and deep-set dark eyes: a beautiful man.... Rossetti says I ought to paint, he says I shall be able; now as he is a very great man, and speaks with authority and not as the scribes, I must try. I don't hope much, I must say, yet will try my best—he gave me practical advice on the subject.... So I am going to try, not giving up the architecture, but trying if it is possible to get six hours a day for drawing besides office work. One won't get much enjoyment out of life at this rate, I know well, but that don't matter: I have no right to ask for it at all events—love and work, these two things only.... I can't enter into politico-social subjects with any interest, for on the whole I see that things are in a muddle, and I have no power or vocation to set them right in ever so little a degree. My work is the embodiment of dreams in one form or another....
"Yet I shall have enough to do, if I actually master this art of painting: I dare scarcely think failure possible at times, and yet I know in my mind that my chances are slender; I am glad that I am compelled to try anyhow; I was slipping off into a kind of small (very small) Palace of Art.... Ned and I are going to live together. I go to London early in August."
The double life which he proposes to himself in this letter was actually carried on for some time, Morris working at Street's office in the day and going with Burne-Jones to a life school in Newman Street at night. But it of course proved to be impossible as a continuance. A visit to the Low Countries which he made during the autumn with Street brought him back fired with new enthusiasm for painting; and before the end of the year he finally quitted the office. It was after this visit that he adopted, or modified, for his own use, the motto "Als ich kanne" of John Van Eyck.
"Topsy and I live together," writes Burne-Jones in August, "in the quaintest room in all London, hung with brasses of old knights and drawings of Albert Dürer. We know Rossetti now as a daily friend, and we know Browning too, who is the greatest poet alive, and we know Arthur Hughes, and Woolner, and Madox Brown—Madox Brown is a lark! I asked him the other day if I wasn't very old to begin painting, and he said, 'Oh, no! there was a man I knew who began older; by the bye, he cut his throat the other day,' so I ask no more about men who begin late. Topsy will be a painter, he works hard, is prepared to wait twenty years, loves art more and more every day. He has written several poems, exceedingly dramatic—the Brownings, I hear, have spoken very highly of one that was read to them; Rossetti thinks one called 'Rapunzel' is equal to Tennyson: he is now illuminating 'Guendolen' for Georgie.... The Mag. is going to smash—let it go! the world is not converted and never will be. It has had stupid things in it lately. I shall not write again for it, no more will Topsy—we cannot do more than one thing at a time, and our hours are too valuable to spend so."