English Literature Of The 19th Century:
John Richard Green
Alexander William Kinglake
Poets Of The Later Victorian Period
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Sir Edwin Arnold
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Although at first a product of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, William Morris developed a true originality of poetic idea and expression. Well trained in the Greek classics, and ever retaining warm affection for them, he yet gave the wealth of his genius to the wild sagas of the Norsemen, until he himself became an inventor of sagas undistinguishable from the originals. But Morris's energy was not confined to the poetic field. Entering into business as a designer of household decoration, he forced that department of art on the public attention until he revolutionized the interiors of all buildings of any pretentions. Similarly, he revived the quaint art of the early printers of books. But more than this, though a wealthy man, he was active in propagating Socialism as the panacea for human woes.
William Morris (1834-1896) was born near London, and was educated at Exeter College, Oxford. He studied painting before he turned to literature and house decoration. His first poem was "The Defence of Guinevere" (1858), showing that he had been attracted by the Arthurian Legend, as was Tennyson, whose "Idylls of the King" began to appear in the same year. His next was the "Life and Death of Jason" (1867) in which the Greek myth was told at great length in romantic style. Then came his distinctive work, "The Earthly Paradise" (1868), which is a cycle of twenty-four narrative poems of different lengths, all in rhyme, but in various meters. Mariners of Norway seeking Paradise but baffled in their quest, happen upon a land occupied by descendants of the ancient Greeks, and a year is spent in alternate tales from Greek and Norse mythology. Here are recited by one party the stories of Atalanta, Cupid and Psyche, Pygmalion and Galatea; while the others tell of Ogier the Dane, Gudrun, and Tannhäuser. They are picturesque and full of a subtle musical charm, the classical spirit still predominating. Morris went on to "The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblurigs" (1876), in which he tells in his own inimitable way the famous German epic of the "Nibelungenlied." This work he regarded as his best, but readers generally prefer the earlier poems. Translations of three great epics, Virgil's " AEneid" (1876), Homer's "Odyssey" (1887) and the Saxon "Beowulf" (1895), testified his devotion to former poets. Yet the translator used his opportunity freely, seeking to render these masterpieces into poems of his own style. From the Icelandic several prose translations were made, Professor Magnus-son assisting in the "Saga Library," of which five volumes were issued, including the "Heimskringla." But besides these translations Morris published other things of his own, as "Hopes and Fears for Art" (1881) and "Aims of Art" (1887) and Socialist treatises and hymns. Finally came his own romances in the form of old sagas, "The House of the Wolfings" (1889), "The Story of the Glittering Plain" (1891), "The Wood Beyond the World" (1894), and "The Well at the World's End" (1896). These prose poems go back to the primitive age of the Teutonic race, telling of noble warriors and their heroic deeds, of lovely women and splendid feasts. This ever-increasing devotion to dreams of a world which has long passed away, if it ever actually existed, prevents Morris from obtaining the wide recognition which is necessary to true fame. Subjects totally out of our knowledge cannot satisfy the desire of the mind for intellectual gratification.
There is another Morris, a poet somewhat popular, but by no means of the fame of William. This is Lewis Morris, who was born at Carmarthen, in Wales, in 1834. He was educated at Oxford and was called to the bar in Lon-don. In 188o he was made Justice of the Peace for his native county, and went to reside there. His "Songs of Two Worlds" appeared in three series (1871-75) ; "The Epic of Hades" (1877) is poetical drama, describing the punishment and purgation of spirits. Though censured by the critics, it enjoys favor with the masses. Among his latter works are "Songs Unsung" (1883) and "Songs of Britain" (1887).