‘How We Might Live’ features ‘Good King Wenceslas’

Good King Wenceslas Title Page

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

Visit the Maryland Room Gallery in Hornbake Library in December to view  Good King Wenceslas, published in 1895 with  illustrations by Arthur J. Gaskin. William Morris wrote a short introduction for this classic Christmas carol.  He wrote of the importance of medieval history, but also spoke of a personal connection to the carol:

 “The legend itself is pleasing and a genuine one, and the Christmaslike quality of it, recalling the times of my boyhood, appeals to me at least as a happy memory of past days”.

Morris also praised Gaskin’s illustrations.  Gaskin was a influential artist in the Arts & Crafts movement and close friend of William Morris.  He created several woodcut illustrations for Morris’s Kelmscott Press books.  December flies by on campus, so come to the Maryland Room Gallery in Hornbake Library to view Good King Wenceslas before it is too late.

William Morris as Poet Laureate?

William Morris

William Morris

With the publication of Earthly Paradise in 1870, William Morris became an acclaimed poet throughout England. After the death of Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1892, Morris was reportedly in contention for the post of Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. The works of Poet Laureates are recognized as having national significance, an honor bestowed by the monarch at the recommendation of the prime minister. There was just one problem. By the 1890s, Morris had become an avid and well-known socialist and political agitator. He was particularly critical of British imperialism and the violent suppression of free speech by government authorities.  And he was not shy about his expressing his opinions.  In 1887, Morris was arrested for his participation in the Bloody Sunday protests in Trafalgar Square.  Morris reportedly declined to even be considered as a candidate for Poet Laureate.

In fact, claims of Morris’s potential Poet Laureateship remain questionable.  Morris made no mention of an official offer, but alluded to the laureateship in several letters.   In an 1892 letter to James Bryce, he remarked “I could not accept a post which would give me even the appearance of serving a court for compliance sake.”  However, rumors continued to spread that Morris was a viable contender, much to Morris’s agitation.  In 1892, Morris wrote to the the Daily Chronicle, “Will you kindly contradict the report that I have been offered the Laureateship, as it is not true.” Alfred Austin was eventually offered the post and became the Poet Laureate in 1896.

Read an excerpt from Morris’s “Earthly Paradise”:
Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing,
I cannot ease the burden of your fears,
Or make quick-coming death a little thing,
Or bring again the pleasure of past years,
Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears,
Or hope again for aught that I can say,
The idle singer of an empty day

But rather, when aweary of your mirth,
From full hearts still unsatisfied ye sigh,
And, feeling kindly unto all the earth,
Grudge every minute as it passes by,
Made the more mindful that the sweet days die—
Remember me a little then I pray,
The idle singer of an empty day.

Now read Austin’s “A Dream of England”
I had a dream of England. Wild and weird,
The billows ravened round her, and the wrack,
Darkening and dwindling, blotted out the track,
Then flashed on her a bolt that scorched and seared.
She, writhing in her ruin, rolled, and reared,
Then headlonged unto doom, that drove her back
To welter on the waters, blind and black,
A homeless hulk, a derelict unsteered.
Wailing I woke, and through the dawn descried,
Throned on the waves that threatened to o’erwhelm,
The England of my dream resplendent ride,
And armoured Wisdom, sovran at the helm,
Through foaming furrows of the future guide
To wider empire a majestic Realm.

How does Morris’s work compare to Austin’s? Do you think Morris’s political views have been compromised if he accepted the Poet Laureateship? Visit the Maryland Room Gallery and evaluate Morris’s poetry and prose featured in the exhibit How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris.

‘How We Might Live’ features a Binding by Morris

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

In November, visit the exhibit to view two volumes of William Morris’ Earthly Paradise.  Both feature an intricate flower and leaf motif on the binding designed by Morris in 1890.  The red and green bindings are the great way to kick off the holiday season in true Morris fashion. So which version do you prefer, the red or the green?

Earthly Paradise binding designed by William Morris

Earthly Paradise binding designed by William Morris

Earthly Paradise binding designed by William Morris

Stunning! Morris & Co.

Red House

Morris’ first home with wife Jane, Red House

William Morris began designing furniture when he and bff, Edward Burne-Jones, moved into their first flat together in London (1856). They disliked the furnishings that they found so they painted them, not a solid color but with scenes from their favorite medieval tales. When Morris and his bride Jane Burden (1859) moved into their new home, Red House, Morris was once again faced with finding suitable furnishings. He called on his friends and fellow pre-Raphaelites to help him design and decorate the home. This undertaking is considered the impetus for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. (eventually Morris & Co.).

Edward Burne-Jones cartoon of Morris demonstrating weaving

Edward Burne-Jones cartoon of Morris demonstrating weaving

Morris & Co. produced stained glass windows, tiles, fabric, wallpapers, carpets, and embroidery among their many wares. Morris would teach himself as much as he could find about each of the goods created by Morris & Co. prior to beginning production of the item. In the case of embroidery, fabric dying, and carpet tying Morris even undertook several sample projects prior to teaching his staff the techniques necessary.

Morris & Co Embroidered Coverlet

Morris & Co Embroidered Coverlet

The act of creating an object was important to Morris and a significant principle of the Arts and Crafts movement. Yes a person should live surrounded by beautiful objects! But those objects should be of the highest affordable quality and created by a skilled worker rather than a factory drone. Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement did not mean to belittle the factory worker by their ideology but instead wanted to provide more meaningful labor for the majority of people living in industrialized society.

Learn more about Morris & Co. and the Arts and Crafts movement by checking out How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris exhibit and William Morris Guide created by Special Collections Staff.

‘How We Might Live’ features a Eulogy for Morris

Kelmscott Press employees sitting w/ William Morris

Kelmscott Press employees sitting w/ William Morris

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

During the month of October, visit the exhibit to view a memorial poem written and printed by workers at the Kelmscott Press shortly after the death of William Morris on October 3, 1896.

Read an excerpt of the heart-filled poem:

Cast on an age of change, and stress, and strife
Thy aim was still, through manhood up from youth,
To beautify the meanest things of life
With that rich light that flows from Art and Truth.

William Morris: A Rebel of His Time

Sitting at the welcome desk in Hornbake Library puts me right in front of our exquisitely designed William Morris exhibit, which opened at the beginning of September. Aesthetic quality aside, I did not have the slightest clue as to who William Morris actually was. So I decided that the only reasonable decision would be to find out exactly who this guy was and how he contributed to society. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that William Morris was a rebel of his generation and in simpler terms, a pretty cool dude.

Morris was born in England in 1834 and raised in a wealthy family. He was a child who was incredibly spoiled by his parents who lavished him with extravagant gifts. Around the age of nine, he became the lucky recipient of a pony and a suit of armor. Morris, in addition to his fiscal wealth, was also very intelligent. He was reading novels at the age of four and attended Oxford at the age of nineteen. When he was seventeen, Morris began to receive a generous allowance of 900 £ a year from his family fortune, which equates to $114,000.00 in today’s money. To me and probably a lot of other people, it sounds like Morris was living the dream.

However, Morris was a remarkably independently principled individual who rejected the values of the Victorian class system. Growing up in the Victorian Era, Morris was a part of the upper class that was born into money. One could not acquire wealth through individual strengths such as intelligence, hardwork, and perseverance. A family legacy of wealth and success dating years and years back was the only route to a life of the utmost privilege. In an impressive demonstration of autonomy, Morris became an advocate for socialism, a far cry from the principles he had been exposed to throughout his youth. Morris wrote various books about socialism and was the founder of the Socialist League, which dealt with equality, workers’ rights, and anti-war movements. He also fraternized with other famous socialists who joined the Socialist League, such as Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx’s daughter. Without much success, Morris often tried to persuade his rich friends to join the socialist movement. Morris also participated in protests for the freedom to publish pro-socialism texts and was actually arrested on more than one occasion.

Morris often felt that he belonged in another time period, much like many young people of today wish they were born in the 1960s. He was fascinated with the medieval way of life. The art, labor, and writings of the Middle Ages influenced much of his fantasy literature. Morris is considered the father of the fantasy literary genre, and has been cited as a major influence upon fellow authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. So next time you crack open a Game of Thrones novel or decide to sit down for a Harry Potter marathon, thank William Morris.

If you need someone interesting to focus on for a class project (Morris was active in politics, literature, and architecture), come visit the William Morris exhibit! Hornbake Library also has poetry and books written by Morris. Or, if you have an awkward gap between classes and want something better to do than wander through cyberspace, come visit our exhibit. You won’t be disappointed.

For more information on William Morris, visit:

For more information on Hornbake Library’s William Morris exhibit, visit:

Tracey G.

Why William Morris?

William Morris

William Morris

The Special Collections curators spent the last year hard at work preparing the current exhibit How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris. We  felt Morris was deserving of this exhibit because of the breadth of resources concerning Morris in Special Collections and because he was such a remarkable person. The curators realized that we had a rich collection of Morris’ writings, translations, and Kelmscott Press publications (and ephemera from Kelmscott Press). The University of Maryland Libraries had also recently purchased a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer and felt an exhibit the perfect opportunity to show off this gorgeous book.

In addition to showing off the excellent William Morris collection here in Special Collections, the curators were inspired by William Morris’ take on life. He was a man who always strove to improve the world around him. He wrote stories because he wanted to entertain and inspire people. Morris began a home decorating business, Morris & Co., because he wanted people to have beautiful and affordable decorations in their homes. He was a founding member of the historic preservation movement in Britain as well as the socialist movement. He cared about providing workers with meaningful work and making sure that the efforts of workers from previous eras was maintained. What do you find admirable about William Morris?

‘How We Might Live’ features Morris’s The Roots of the Mountain

Morris's <i>The Roots of the Mountain</i> bound in Morris's Honeysuckle fabric

Morris’s The Roots of the Mountain bound in Morris’s Honeysuckle fabric

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

Visit the exhibit in September to view a unique copy of Morris’s historical novel, The Roots of the Mountains. Published by Reeves and Turner in 1889, this special first edition on Whatman paper was limited to 250 copies, printed by Charels Whittingham and Co. The binding is printed “Honeysuckle” tapestry designed by Morris and made especially for this edition. According to Sydney Cockerell, Morris considered this volume “the best-looking book issued since the 17th Century”. Do you agree?

How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris – Now Open!

How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris has arrived at the Maryland Room Gallery in Hornbake Library. This exhibit showcases the breadth and depth of the University of Maryland Libraries’s William Morris collection while inspiring visitors to pursue a full and fulfilling life. Over the course of the coming academic year, this blog will support How We Might Liveby featuring specific items from the William Morris collection as well as highlighting Morris’s vision of a life well lived. We (the curators) hope to meet and engage with devoted Morris enthusiasts as well as initiates into the fold, though differing opinions (thoughtfully and constructively) stated are welcome as well. Please return, or subscribe, and join with us as we explore the vision of William Morris. You can check out the digital exhibit here.