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Welsh outlook


Vol. 1, No. 9 Sept. 1914

William Morris ; his work and influence. Book review.

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William Morris His Work and Influence."
By A. Clutton-Brock. Home University Library.
I/- net. Williams & Norgate, London, 1914.
This is a book of absorbing interest treating not so
much of the outward events of Morris's life as of the
meaning of his work and thought to his own time and
to ours. Mr. Clutton-Brock has something to tell
us of Morris's childhood and youth, of his association
with Rosetti, of the revival of arts and crafts which he
effected, of his work as a poet and a master of prose,
and finally the story of his share in the socialistic
movement, but the value of the book lies in the clear
exposition which it contains of the connection which
exists between Morris and the social and political
movements of our own day.
The message of William Morris has a special
significance for industrial Wales at this time of
revival in national art and literature. For him art
and labour were never divorced. He saw in the art
of a people the expression of its moral values and
social ideals, and it was because he found himself in
a world where ugliness reigned supreme, where the
craftsman was entirely cut off from the artist by the
interposition of the capitalist with his machinery,
and men toiled in joyless labour to produce things
which carried with them no single joy-giving element
to the consumer, that he passed from aesthetic dis-
content to a deep discontent with the whole social
fabric of a world in which such things could be
accepted as inevitable.
The ugliness of most modern things made by men
represented to him joyless work, and that meant a
waste of energy and life. Being himself both a crafts-
man and an artist, he knew to the full what joy in
work was, and being a man of quick social sympathies,
he was not content with knowing it himself, he desired
to impart it to all men. His socialism sprang from
a desire to rouse men into a discontent which should
lead on to a complete readjustment of the relative
positions of worker and artist, in which the worker,
in direct touch with the artist, would produce things
of good workmanship and rational design which
would be serviceable and gladdening to those who
used them.
As Ruskin turned from criticism of works of art
to the criticism of society, so William Morris turned
from the making of works of art to the effort to remake
society he devoted the whole of his
extraordinary powers towards no less an object than
the reconstitution of the civilised life of mankind,"
and thus it was that the ugliness of houses, tables,
chairs, clothes, cups and saucers, in fact, everything
that man made," led him on to his work as a social
reformer, because he saw that beauty was a symbol
of happy work, and ugliness of unhappy, and so he
became aware that our society was troubled by a new
kind of unhappiness which it expressed in the
ugliness of all it made."
It was this union of the visionary and the man of
action which made Morris one of the greatest men
of the Nineteenth Century, and, with Tolstoy, the
most lonely and distinct of them all." He worked
at many branches of art, and in all achieved what he
set out to do, to produce with pleasure work that
should be serviceable and gladdening to mankind.
Whether as architect or weaver, dyer or painter, poet
or printer, wall-paper designer or carver, metal
worker or decorator, it was always with the same end
in view that he worked. He taught us to associate
the arts with our common needs and habits, and to
believe that by the proper training the ordinary
workman of to-day, could, like the workman of the
Middle Ages, supply our demand. Morris was essen-
tially a man of forward-looking mind. Consider
this passage from a letter of his, written in 1874.
Suppose people lived in little communities among
gardens and green fields, so that they could be in the
country in five minutes walk, and had few wants,
almost no furniture, for instance, and no servants,
and studied the (difficult) art of enjoying life, and
finding out what they really wanted; then, I think
we might hope civilisation had really begun."
Is not this the very inspiration underlying the
Garden City movement ? And what a different
picture it evokes for those who see the Welsh house-
wife tied like a slave to her cumbrous and ugly
furniture and "ornaments," submerged beneath her
piles of dust-harbouring labour-consuming household
gods I
Space does not permit of any detailed account of
the art or the poetry of William Morris, but Mr.
Clutton-Brock's book will fire the reader with a
desire to know more of the man, and will send him
on to the Life by Mackail (now published in a
cheap edition), one of the most delightful of modern
Why we believe Christ rose from the dead."
By Griffith Roberts, M.A.. Dean of Bangor. S.P.C.K.
The class into which this volume falls is one which
should become increasingly popular. The problems
connected with our Christian faith have too long
been studied by a very few, and it would be exceed-
ingly helpful to the whole church if more such books
were written with the purpose of examining, as the
author puts it, the foundations on which the
Christian belief rests, with the help afforded by the
established results of modern criticism and research.
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