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   Chapter 2 OXFORD LIFE.

William Morris By Elizabeth Luther Cary Characters: 37498

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Like the majority of the students who went up to Oxford in the fifties, Morris matriculated with the definite intention of taking holy orders. Unlike the majority, he was impelled not only by the sensuous beauty of ritualistic worship, to which, however, no one could have been more keenly alive than he, but by a genuine enthusiasm for a life devoted to high purposes. A fine buoyant desire to better existing conditions and sweep as much evil as possible off the face of the earth early inspired him. His mind turned toward the conventual life as that which combined the medi?val suggestions always alluring to him with the moral beauty of holiness. He planned a "Crusade and Holy Warfare against the Age," sang plain song at daily morning service, read masses of medi?val chronicles and ecclesiastical Latin poetry, and hovered just this side of the Roman Communion. Had the ecclesiology of the University been supported at that time by an inward and spiritual grace sufficient to hold the heart of youth to a sustained allegiance, there is little doubt that Morris would have thrown himself ardently into the religious path. But Oxford had become an indolent and indifferent mother to her children. The storm of feeling aroused by the Tractarian movement had died down and the reaction from it was evident. At Balliol Jowett's energy had made its mark, but at Exeter, where Morris was, the educational system deserved (and received) the contempt of an ambitious boy with an unusually large supply of stored-up intellectual force seeking outlet and guidance. Nor was the social life more stimulating to moral activity. The abuses recorded in 1852 by the University Commission were in essence so shameful that in the light of that famous report "the sweet city with her dreaming spires" seems to have only the beauty of the daughter of Helios, under whose enchantments men were turned to swine for loving her. The clean mind and honest nature of Morris revolted from the excesses that went on about him. He wrote to his mother two years after his matriculation, defending the proposition that his Oxford education had not been thrown away: "If 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?" It is proof of his purity of taste and strength of will that, despite his ample means, the wanton extravagance of the typical undergraduate had for him no allurement. It is certain that he was never seen at those dinners which were pronounced by an official censor "a curse and a disgrace to a place of Christian education," and as certainly he played no part in the mad carnivals at which novices were initiated into a curriculum of vice. Yet he could not indeed say with any truth what Gibbon had said a hundred years before, that the time he spent at Oxford was the most idle and unprofitable of his whole life. If he felt, as Gibbon did, that his formal studies were "equally devoid of profit and pleasure," and if he found nothing ridiculous in Ruskin's bitter complaint that Oxford taught him all the Latin and Greek that he would learn, but did not teach him that fritillaries grew in Iffley meadow, he did find a little band of helpful associates. With these he realised the priceless advantages which Mr. Bagehot says cannot be got outside a college and which he sums up as found "in the books that all read because all like; in what all talk of because all are interested; in the argumentative walk or disputatious lounge; in the impact of fresh thought on fresh thought, of hot thought on hot thought; in mirth and refutation, in ridicule and laughter." The first of the few strong personal attachments in the life of Morris dates from his first day at Oxford. At the end of January, 1853, he went up for his matriculation, and beside him at the examination in the Hall sat Burne-Jones, who within a week of their formal entrance to the college became his intimate. The friendship thus spontaneously formed on the verge of manhood lasted until Morris died. In their studies, in their truant reading, in their later aims and work, the two, diametrically as they differed in aspect and in temperament and in quality of mind, were sympathetic and dear companions. Together they joined a group of other happily gifted men-Fulford, Faulkner, Dixon, Cormell Price, and Macdonald-who met in one another's rooms for the disputatious lounge over the exuberant ideals by which they were in common inspired. Tennyson, Keats, and Shelley, Shakespeare, Ruskin, Carlyle, Kingsley, Thackeray, Dickens, and Miss Yonge were the gods and half gods of their young and passionate enthusiasm. The last, curiously enough, was an influence as potent as any. The hero of her novel of 1853, The Heir of Redclyffe, was the pattern chosen by Morris, according to Mr. Mackail's account, to build himself upon. Singular as it seems to-day that any marked impression should have been made upon an even fairly well-trained mind by a writer of such slight literary quality, it is true that the author of The Daisy Chain counted among her devoted readers men of brilliant and dominant intellectual power. She had the lucky touch to kindle in young minds that fire of sympathy with which they greet whatever shows them their own world, their age, themselves as they best like to see them. To Morris in particular the young heir of Redclyffe made the appeal of a congenial temperament in a position similar to his own. Like Morris, he was headstrong and passionate, given to excessive bursts of rage and to repentances not less excessive; like Morris, he united to his natural pride an unnatural and slightly obtrusive humility; like Morris, he was rich and beautiful, generous and lovable. It was no great wonder that Morris, poring with his characteristic absorption over the pleasant pages on which Guy Morville's chivalrous life is portrayed, said as Dromio to Dromio, "Methinks you are my glass and not my brother; I see by you I am a sweet-faced youth."

Mr. Mackail notes with an accent of surprise that Kingsley was much more widely read than Newman, thinking the choice a curious one in the case of passionate Anglo-Catholics. So far as Morris was concerned, however, there was little enough to relish in Newman's subtle theology and relentless logic. The man to whom religion as a mere sentiment was "a dream and a mockery" could hardly appeal to one to whom all life was a sentiment. Kingsley, on the other hand, although he was anti-Catholic in temper, and disposed to overthrow the illusions by which such romanticists as Scott, such dreamers as Fouqué, had surrounded the Middle Ages, picturing their coarse and barbarous side with harsh realism, was happy in rendering the charms of outdoor life and bold adventure, and the songs of the Crusaders in his Saint's Tragedy must have gone farther toward winning Morris than pages of Newman's reasoning devotion.

Gradually the monastic ideal faded before the brightness of art and literature and the life of the world as these became more and more impressed upon Morris's consciousness. To live in the spirit and in the region of purely intellectual interests could not have been his choice after the passing of the first fanatic impulse of youth to dedicate itself to what is difficult, ignorant of the joy of choosing. Many influences united to determine the precise form into which he should shape the future that for all practical purposes was under his control. His interest in pictorial art was stimulated by Burne-Jones, who was already making fantastic little drawings, and studies of flowers and foliage. Of great art he knew nothing until he spent the Long Vacation of 1854 in travelling through Belgium and Northern France, where he saw Van Eyck and Memling, who at once became to him, as they were to Rossetti, masters of incontestable supremacy. On this trip he saw also the beautiful churches of Amiens, Beauvais, and Chartres, which in his unbridled expansiveness of phrase he called "the grandest, the most beautiful, the kindest, and most loving of all the buildings that the earth has ever borne." The following year he repeated the experience, with Burne-Jones and Fulford for companions. This time the journey was to have been made on foot from motives of economy, as Burne-Jones was poor and Morris embraced the habits of poverty when in his company with unaffected delicacy of feeling. At Amiens, however, Morris went lame, and, "after filling the streets with imprecations on all boot-makers," bought a pair of gay carpet slippers in which to continue the trip. These proved not to serve the purpose, and the travellers were obliged to reach Chartres by the usual methods of conveyance, Morris arguing with fury and futility in favour of skirting Paris, "even by two days' journey, so as not to see the streets of it." They had with them one book, Keats, and their minds were filled with the poetic ideas of art as the expression of man's pleasure in his toil, and of beauty as the natural and necessary accompaniment of productive labour, which Ruskin had been preaching in The Stones of Venice and in the Edinburgh lectures. By this time they had become acquainted with the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, and Burne-Jones had announced that of all men who lived on earth the one he wanted to see was Rossetti. Morris had used his spare time, of which we may imagine he had a considerable amount, in the study of medi?val design as the splendid manuscripts in the Bodleian Library illustrate it. An architectural newspaper also formed part of his regular reading outside of his studies. Thus primed for definite action, on this holiday filled with stimulating interests and the delicious freedom of roaming quite at will with the best of companions through the sweet fertile country of Northern France, Morris put quite aside all aims that had not directly to do with art. He and Burne-Jones, walking late one night on the quays of Havre, discussed their plans. Both gave up once and for all the idea of taking orders; both decided to leave Oxford as quickly as they could; both were to be artists, Burne-Jones a painter and Morris an architect.

Although Morris was never to become a practising architect, this choice of a profession at the beginning of his career is both characteristic and significant. Buildings, as we have seen, had interested him from his childhood. His favourite excursions, long and short, had been to the region of churches. In the art of building he saw the means of elevating all the tastes of man. Architecture meant to him "the art of creating a building with all the appliances fit for carrying on a dignified and happy life." It seemed to him even at the outset, before the word "socialism" had come into his vocabulary, incredible that people living in pleasant homes and engaged in making and using these appliances of which he speaks, should lead lives other than dignified and happy. It was much more in accordance with his ideal of a vocation, a ministry to man, that he should contribute to the daily material comfort and pleasure of the world, that he should make places good for the body to live in and fair for the eye to rest upon, and therefore soothing to the soul, than that he should construct abstract spiritual mansions of which he could at best form but a vague conception. It was, then, with a certain sense of dedication, an exchange of method without a change of spirit, that he gave up the thought of holy orders and turned to the thought of furthering the good of mankind by working toward the beauty and order of the visible world.

From the point of view of his later interests as a decorator of houses, he was showing the utmost wisdom in beginning with the framework, which must exist before any decoration can be applied. "I have spoken of the popular arts," he says himself, in one of his lectures, "but they might all be summed up in that one word Architecture; they are all parts of that great whole, and the art of house-building begins it all. If we did not know how to dye or to weave; if we had neither gold nor silver nor silk, and no pigments to paint with but half a dozen ochres and umbers, we might yet frame a worthy art that would lead to everything, if we had but timber, stone and lime, and a few cutting tools to make these common things not only shelter us from wind and weather but also express the thoughts and aspirations that stir in us. Architecture would lead us to all the arts, as it did with the earlier men; but if we despise it and take no note of how we are housed, the other arts will have a hard time of it indeed."

And again: "A true architectural work," he says, "is a building duly provided with all the necessary furniture, decorated with all due ornament, according to the use, quality, and dignity of the building, from mere mouldings or abstract lines to the great epical works of sculpture and painting, which except as decorations of the nobler form of such buildings cannot be produced at all. So looked upon, a work of architecture is a harmonious, co-operative work of art, inclusive of all the serious arts-those which are not engaged in the production of mere toys or ephemeral prettinesses."

Morris communicated his momentous decision to his family as soon as it was made, and they received it with amazement and distress. While their origin was not especially aristocratic, their tastes ran toward the symbols of aristocracy. When Morris was nine years old, his father obtained a grant of arms from the Heralds' College, and the son had no small liking for the bearings assigned-bearings which included a horse's head erased argent between three horseshoes. The horse's head he introduced on the tiles and glass of the house he built for himself in later years, and he was in the habit of making a yearly pilgrimage to the famous White Horse of the Berkshire Downs, connecting it in some obscure way with his ancestry. In England, during the fifties, nothing was less calculated to appeal to an aristocratic tendency than any form of art considered as a profession. In The Newcomes Mr. Honeyman remarks with bland dignity to his aspiring young relative; "My dear Clive, there are degrees in society which we must respect. You surely cannot think of being a professional artist." In much this spirit, apparently, Mrs. Morris received her son's announcement, conveyed in a long and affectionate letter stating in detail the motives that had led him to his resolution. After defending his chosen profession at some length, calling it with characteristic avoidance of pompous phraseology, "a useful trade," he dwells upon the moderation of his hopes and expectations. He does not hope "to be great at all in anything," but thinks he may look forward to reasonable happiness in his work. It will be grievous to his pride and self-will, he says, to have to do just as he is told for three long years, but "good for it, too," and he looks forward with little delight to the drudgery of learning a new trade, but is pretty confident of success, and is happy in being able to pay "the premium and all that" without laying any fresh burden of expense upon his mother. Finally he proposes taking as his master George Edmund Street, who was living in Oxford as architect of the diocese, and whose enthusiasm for the thirteenth century could hardly have failed to claim the sympathy of Morris. Certainly it seemed precisely the fitting opportunity that offered. There could have been no better moment for him to follow the advice he so frequently gave to others-to turn his back upon an ugly age, choose the epoch that suited him best, and identify himself with that. Gothic to the core, he had come to Oxford, not, as Mr. Day has suggested, to catch the infection of medi?valism abroad there, but to assimilate and thrive upon all the influences to which his independently medi?val spirit was acutely susceptible. Scott, Pugin, Shaw, Viollet-le-Duc, had broken the way through popular prejudice, and Street was engaged at the time Morris went to him in the work of restoring ancient churches and designing Gothic buildings. "Restoration" had not then so evil a sound to Morris as it later came to have. Some thirty years after, he was to say: "No man or no body of men, however learned they may be in ancient art, whatever skill in design or love of beauty they may have, can persuade, or bribe, or force our workmen of to-day to do their work in the same way as the workmen of King Edward I. did theirs. Wake up Theodoric the Goth from his sleep of centuries and place him on the throne of Italy, turn our modern House of Commons into the Witenagemote (or Meeting of the Wise Men) of King Alfred the Great!-no less a feat is the restoration of an ancient building." In 1855, however, he had not fully arrived at this conviction. It was then the period of "fresh hope and partial insight" which, regarding it retrospectively, he says, "produced many interesting buildings and other works of art, and afforded a pleasant time indeed to the hopeful but very small minority engaged in it, in spite of all vexations and disappointments." There seemed no reason to suppose that, helped as he was by his predilections and by his environment, he could not become the master-builder of the house beautiful that constantly haunted his imagination.


He was not to begin at once, however. In deference to his mother's wish he went through his final term, passed in the Final Schools without difficulty, and, together with his companions-The Brotherhood as they now called themselves,-gave distinction to his last year at the University, where despite all drawbacks he had been aboundingly happy, by founding the since famous little Oxford and Cambridge Magazine.

Like the Pre-Raphaelite Germ, this periodical aimed at an unusually high standard. It was printed at the Chiswick Press with some pretensions to typographical beauty. Each number had upon its title-page an ornamental heading designed by one of Charles Whittingham's daughters and engraved by Mary Byfield. On the green wrappers the name of the magazine was printed in the old-fashioned type which the Chiswick Press was the first to revive, and although, unlike The Germ, it was not illustrated, photographs of Woolner's medallions of Carlyle and Tennyson were mounted to bind with it and sold at a shilling apiece to subscribers. The price of each number was also a shilling, and twelve monthly numbers appeared, making it thrice as long lived as its prototype, The Germ. The financial responsibility, says Mr. Mackail, was undertak

en wholly by Morris, and he at first attempted the general control. This he was soon glad to relinquish, paying a salary of a hundred pounds a year to his editor. The title, which in full read The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, Conducted by Members of the Two Universities, indicates rather more co-operation than existed, the magazine being conducted entirely by Oxford men and fully two-thirds written by them. The tone of the contributions was to be impeccable. "It is unanimously agreed," wrote Price, "that there is to be no shewing off, no quips, no sneers, no lampooning in our Magazine." Politics were to be almost eschewed, "Tales, Poetry, friendly Critiques, and social articles" making up the body of the text.

First among the contributors in quantity and regularity of supply was Morris. During his second year at the University he had discovered that he could write poetry, and had communicated the fact to his companions without loss of time. Canon Dixon, recalling the very thrilling occasion of his reading his first poem to the group gathered in the old Exeter rooms occupied by Burne-Jones, affirms that he reached his perfection at once, that nothing could have been altered for the better, and also quotes him as saying, "Well, if this is poetry, it is very easy to write." He was not one to let a capability fust in him unused. Poetry and prose, equally easy to him, poured after this from his pen, giving expression with some confusion and incoherence to his boyish raptures over the things he best loved and most thought about. During the twelve months of the magazine's life he contributed to it five poems, eight prose tales, a review of Browning's Men and Women, and two special articles, one on a couple of engravings by Alfred Bethel and one on the Cathedral at Amiens. In all this early work, filled with superabundant imagery, self-conscious, sensuous, unsubstantial, pictorial, we have Morris the writer as he was at the beginning and much as he was again at the end. His first strange little romances pass before the eyes as his late ones do, like strips of beautiful fabric, deeply dyed with colours both dim and rich, and printed with faintly outlined figures in postures illustrating the dreamy events of dreamy lives. Many of the pages echo with the sound of trumpets and the clash of arms, but the echo is from so far away that the heart of the reader declines to leap. Passionate emotions are portrayed in passionate language. Men and women love and die with wild adventure. Splendid sacrifices are made, and dark revenges taken. But the effect is of marionettes, admirably costumed and ingeniously managed yet inevitably suggesting artifice and failing to suggest life. Nevertheless Morris wrote in the fashion commonly supposed to impart vitality if nothing else to composition. He sat up late of nights, after the manner of young writers, and let his words stand as they fell hot and unpremeditated on the page. The labour of learning the art, as his favourite, Keats, learned it, by indefatigable practice in finding the perfect word, the one exquisite phrase, was quite outside his method. As long as he lived, he preferred rewriting to revising a manuscript. The austerity of mind that leads to impatience of superfluous colour or tone, and that dreads as the plague superfluous sentiment, was foreign to him, nor did he ever acquire it as even the Epicurean temperament may do by ardent self-restraint. In most of the romances and poems the scene is laid somewhat vaguely but unmistakably in the Middle Ages. We rarely surprise the young writer in a date, but the atmosphere is that of the thirteenth century though with many thirteenth-century characteristics left out. The incidents appeal to what Bagehot calls "that kind of boyish fancy which idolises medi?val society as the 'fighting time.'" The distinction lies in the fertility and beauty of the descriptions. On nearly every page is some passage that has the quality of a picture. In The Hollow Land, in Gertha's Lovers, in Svend and his Brethren, and especially in the article on the Amiens Cathedral, are exquisite landscapes and backgrounds against which the personages group themselves with perfect fittingness. "I must paint Gertha before I die," said Burne-Jones, after Morris himself was dead, recalling the charm of this story which was written in his company, under the willows by the riverside. "The opening and the closing sentences always invited me in an indescribable way, but the motive par excellence was that of Gertha after death, in the chapter entitled 'What Edith the Handmaiden Saw from the War Saddle,' where the beautiful queen lies on the battle-field with the blue speedwell about her pale face, while a soft wind rustles the sunset-lit aspens overhead."

Portrait of Rossetti

By Watts

To his genius for evoking a scene from memory or imagination with a grace and delicacy missing in the designs he was later to make with tools more rebellious than words, Morris added a singular ability to convey to his readers the most significant quality of what he admired, to impress them with the feature that had most impressed him. The fancy for gold, inspired perhaps by study of medi?val illumination, runs like a glittering thread through the story of Svend and his Brethren. Cissela's gold hair, her crown of gold, the golden ring she breaks with her lover, the gold cloth over which she walks across the trampled battle-field, the samite of purple wrought with gold stars, the golden letters on the sword-blade,-all these recur like so many bright accents from which the attention cannot escape. Again, in the description of Amiens Cathedral, we get from simple verbal repetition the effect of massive modelling, the sense of weight in the design as Morris felt it in one of the sculptured figures of the niches: "A stately figure with a king's crown on his head, and hair falling in three waves over his shoulders; a very kingly face looking straight onward; a great jewelled collar falling heavily to his elbows: his right hand holding a heavy sceptre formed of many budding flowers, and his left just touching in front the folds of his raiment that falls heavily, very heavily to the ground over his feet. Saul, King of Israel." In another passage describing with minute detail the figures of the Virgin and Child, a similar emphasis is laid on the quality of restfulness. "The two figures are very full of rest; everything about them expresses it from the broad forehead of the Virgin, to the resting of the feet of the Child (who is almost self-balanced) in the fold of the robe that she holds gently, to the falling of the quiet lines of her robe over her feet, to the resting of its folds between them." And if the effect to be rendered is one of colour, a touch of finer eloquence is added to this somewhat crude method. The final passage of the account of the great Cathedral is a genuine triumph of poetic observation, carrying the fancy of the reader lightly over the silvery loveliness of the picture as it lay before the boy enraptured by it: "And now, farewell to the church that I love, to the carved temple-mountain that rises so high above the water-meadows of the Somme, above the grey roofs of the good town. Farewell to the sweep of the arches, up from the bronze bishops lying at the west end, up to the belt of solemn windows, where, through the painted glass, the light comes solemnly. Farewell to the cavernous porches of the west front, so grey under the fading August sun, grey with the wind-storms, grey with the rain-storms, grey with the beat of many days' sun, from sunrise to sunset; showing white sometimes, too, when the sun strikes it strongly; snowy-white, sometimes, when the moon is on it, and the shadows growing blacker; but grey now, fretted into deeper grey, fretted into black by the mitres of the bishops, by the solemn covered heads of the prophets, by the company of the risen, and the long robes of the judgment-angels by hell-mouth and its flames gaping there, and the devils that feed it; by the saved souls and the crowning angels; by the presence of the Judge, and by the roses growing above them all forever."

The review of Browning's Men and Women, then recently published, is more valuable as testifying to the impression produced by Browning upon his young contemporary, than for any especial illumination it throws upon the poems themselves. Browning was popular with the students of Oxford long before he gained his wider audience, and although Morris did not follow him far in his investigation of the human soul and came heartily to dislike "his constant dwelling on sin and probing of the secrets of the heart," he placed him at the time of writing his criticism "high among the poets of all time" and he "hardly knew whether first or second in our own," and his defence of him, bristling with ejaculations, and couched in boyish phrases, shows in part a more than boyish divination. "It does not help poems much to solve them," he says, after what, in truth, is a somewhat disastrous attempt to interpret the meaning of Women and Roses, "because there are in poems so many exquisitely small and delicate turns of thought running through their music, and along with it, that cannot be done into prose, any more than the infinite variety of form, and shadow, and colour in a great picture can be rendered by a coloured woodcut." It was "a bitter thing" to him to see the way in which the poet had been received by "almost everybody," and he assured his little world that what the critics called obscurity in Browning's poems resulted from depth of thought and greatness of subject on the poet's part, and on his readers' part, "from their shallower brains and more bounded knowledge," if not indeed from "mere wanton ignorance and idleness," and to this kind of obscurity one had little right to object. It was the first tilt in the lists, the beginning of the long combat against the Philistines upon which Morris entered with high resolve and firm conviction, which he lustily enjoyed, and in which despite many a broken lance he bore himself as a bold and skilful knight.

In the little tale called The Hollow Land, written for the magazine just before it "went to smash," to use Burne-Jones's expressive phrase, an amusingly significant sentence occurs: "Then I tried to learn painting," says the hero, "till I thought I should die, but at last learned through very much pain and grief." Here it is not difficult to recognise an autobiographic touch. Painting was already beginning to beckon Morris away from the profession he had so recently chosen. At the end of 1855, during the Christmas vacation, and just before Morris entered Street's office, Burne-Jones had made a visit to London, where at a monthly meeting at the Working Men's College he for the first time saw Rossetti, and later heard him rend in pieces the opinions of those who differed with him, and stoutly support his infrangible theory that all men should be painters. How ready Burne-Jones was to yield himself to this potent influence, how promptly Rossetti's vivid and original temperament acted upon his admirer, is clear from the latter's description, written many years after, of the first encounter-the young undergraduate sitting half-frightened, embarrassed and worshipping, among strangers, eating thick bread and butter, and listening to speeches about the progress of the college, until the entrance of his idol, whose sensitive, gentle, indolent face, with its flickering of humour and the fire of genius, entirely satisfied his poetic imagination. The great qualities of Rossetti in those days revealed themselves in his face, and his imperious will and keen intellect were no less obvious in his talk. Burne-Jones returned to Oxford with the idea of dedicating himself to art more than ever firmly fixed in his mind. Rossetti had approved the drawings which he had brought to him for consideration, and had pronounced the seven months still to elapse before he could take his degree time too valuable to waste outside of art, counselling him to fling the University and all its works behind him and begin painting at once. With mingled delight and terror Burne-Jones, in spite of small means and weak health, followed his leader, who, however rash to advise, was not one to neglect his charge, and who worked loyally to bring him through with triumph, criticising, teaching, approving, encouraging without stint, and presently, after his own inimitable fashion, bringing patrons to him, bidding them buy, which obediently they did.

It was inevitable that Morris should be stirred to emulation by this step on the part of his friend. After Burne-Jones went to London to begin painting under Rossetti's direction, Morris spent nearly all his Sundays with him at his lodgings in Chelsea. These holidays were full of excitement. It was a glorious little world that opened out under Rossetti's enthusiastic, dogmatic, and continuous talk and argument. Morris was deeply impressed by his notion that everyone should be a painter, and after Street moved his office to London and Morris and Burne-Jones took lodgings together, the former tried the characteristic experiment of combining painting with architecture, attempting to get six hours a day at his drawing in addition to his office work. It is interesting to find him writing at this juncture that he cannot enter into politico-social subjects with any interest, that things are in a muddle and that he has no power to set them right in the smallest degree, that his work is the embodiment of dreams in one form or another. What Rossetti thought of his two disciples is seen in a letter written by him to William Allingham in December, 1856, when Morris had been nearly a year with Street. He found both "wonders after their kind." "Jones is doing designs which quite put one to shame," he wrote, "so full are they of everything-Aurora Leighs of art. He will take the lead in no time." Morris he deemed "one of the finest little fellows alive-with a touch of the incoherent, but a real man," and "in all illumination and work of that kind" he considered him quite unrivalled by anything modern that he knew. With a guide thus confident and inspiring, it is not strange that Morris presently yielded to the spell, and renounced architecture to pursue painting as an end and aim in itself, although, like the hero of his romance, he learned with much pain and grief.




Rossetti's service to Morris is difficult to estimate. For a brief period his influence over him was supreme. Perhaps in the work and temper of this Italian, Morris saw more deeply into the heart of the medi?val world than all his churches and illuminated manuscripts could help him to see. At all events, he was for the time close to genius and dominated by it. His devotion to his master partook of the violence inseparable from his temperament. He was soon ready to say, when Burne-Jones complained that he worked better in Rossetti's manner than in his own: "I have got beyond that; I want to imitate Gabriel as much as I can." But he was never to be for very long under any personal influence. Nor could he be persuaded by the most brilliant eloquence in the world that good could be got out of doing what he did not enjoy; and he never enjoyed any labour that required long patience and persistent concentration of effort. Without being fickle, his mind was so restless as to produce the effect of fickleness and to preclude the possibility of his doing really great work. While he was trying, under Rossetti's stimulating but peremptory rule, to master a painter's methods he became gloomy and despondent. "How long Rossetti's daily influence might have kept him labouring at what he could not do," writes Mr. Mackail with a tinge of bitterness, "when there was work all round that he could do, on the whole, better than any man living, it is needless to inquire." But that Rossetti did manage to keep him for a couple of years at the study of painting cannot be counted a misfortune. Probably that experience, together with his brief term under Street, did as much as anything to save his design from mediocrity and imitativeness. He did not make himself an architect, and he never learned to draw anything that remotely resembled the actual structure of the human form, but he must have gained through his study some knowledge of the inviolable laws of art that he could not have gained by passive observation however keen, or by sympathy however ardent. Rossetti can hardly have been the best master for him. His own nature was too undisciplined, and he had as few of the academic virtues as any man on record of the same technical ability. But his was the supreme faculty of rousing enthusiasm. It may be doubted whether any other painter in England could have kept Morris at the appointed and impossible task for so long a time. It is easy to imagine how the impatient spirit of the latter rebelled against the slow process of learning to draw the human figure in its complicated and subtle beauty of construction and surface. The fact that he stopped so far short of satisfactory accomplishment seems to account for many of the defects to be found in his later designs, which at their best were never to be entirely beautiful, though full of zest and freedom. His tendency to drop any branch of his work as soon as it became tedious to him, to turn to something else, kept his creative impulse continually fresh and effective; but kept him also from achieving the penetrating distinction of artistic self-possession. Whatever helped him in any degree toward this self-possession, whatever he got in the way of discipline of mind and hand, should be acknowledged by his admirers with gratitude, and it is but just to recognise in Rossetti the one man who seems to have kept the prodigious impetuosity of Morris down without promptly losing hold upon his interest. Add to this the clear vision of a romantic ideal which all who worked with Rossetti were privileged to share, and the constant inspiration of the drama of sentiment and emotion rendered in his colour and line and in his exotic treatment of form, and we must own that nowhere else could Morris have found such food for an imagination already quickened by influences reaching it from a remote time and an alien world. Nowhere else could he have come so close to the concealed mysteries of the human soul, despite the disillusionment he was bound to feel in daily contact with a character as contradictory as it was compelling.

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