William Morris (1834-1896) was an English artist, author, social activist, teacher, designer, craftsman, printer, bibliophile, preservationist, translator, and literary scholar. He is best known for his association with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as a central figure of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, and as the founder of the Kelmscott Press.
Morris rose to popularity as the author of the epic poem The Earthly Paradise (1868-1870). Morris's other well known works encompassed several genres and styles, including narrative poetry, fantasy and utopian novels, translations of Icelandic and other early works, essays, and short stories. Some of his notable works include The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), A Dream of John Ball (1888), News from Nowhere (1890), and The Wood Beyond the World (1894).
Morris founded the popular design firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. in 1861, which was restructured as Morris & Company in 1875. Morris was also influential in the emergence of socialism in England in the nineteenth century, having founded the Socialist League in 1884. In 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, with the goal of producing beautiful books that imitated the craftsmanship of the Medieval era. The press produced 53 titles during its 7-years in operation. His 1896 edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, referred to as the Kelmscott Chaucer, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful printed books in existence.
The collection includes correspondence from Sydney Cockerell, Jane Morris, and William Morris, a manuscript by Stopford Augustus Brooke, as well as books printed at the Kelmscott press, books from Morris' personal library, and ephemera.
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2.85 Linear Feet (1 half-Hollinger box and 2 boxes)
187 Items : Books
The papers of William Morris contain correspondence and manuscript materials, including drafts, fragments, notes, notebooks, diaries, and translations spanning all periods of Morris literary career. The collection also contains books from Morris' personal library, his printing press, the Kelmscott press, and others. The material spans the period from 1751 to 1976.
William Morris was born at Elm House, Walthamstow in Northeast London on March 24, 1834. In 1853, Morris left for Oxford where he began his studies at Exeter College where he met Edward Burne-Jones. During his three years in Oxford, Morris edited and financed the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine. He also apprenticed in the offices of architect G.E. Street where he met Philip Webb.
In 1856, Morris left for London where he was introduced to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Under the influence of Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Morris began to briefly pursue painting. However, by 1858 Morris had moved on to publish his first volume of poetry, The Defense of Guenevere (1858). He continued to write throughout his lifetime. Morris received wide acclaim for his epic poem Earthly Paradise, which was published in four volumes between 1868 and 1870. William Morris began publishing translations of the Icelandic sagas in 1869. In addition to the numerous Icelandic tales, Morris translated medieval French tales and other early works including Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and Beowulf. He went on to write the socialist utopian novel News from Nowhere (1890). He wrote a number of fantasy and medieval inspired historical romances, including A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and all the Kindreds of the Mark (1889), The Wood Beyond the World (1894), Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair (1895), and the posthumously published The Sundering Flood (1897).
On April 26, 1859, Morris was married to Pre-Raphaelite muse and embroiderer Jane Burden. In 1861, Morris' first daughter Jane Alice (Jenny) was born and shortly his second daughter Mary (May) was born in 1862.
In the years that followed, Morris continued writing alongside other business ventures. In 1861, he formed the decorative art firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co along with Ford Maddox Brown, Gabriel Rosetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, Charles Faulkner, and others. In 1875, Morris restructured the business with himself as the sole proprietor. Morris & Co. became popular for their furniture, textile, and wallpaper designs. The firm produced objects that emphasized traditional craftsmanship and the beauty of natural materials. Morris envisioned elevating crafts to a level of artistic importance he believed existed in the Middle Ages. He also hoped to provide quality goods for the masses at an affordable price. The prospectus of the firm stated that "good decoration, involving rather the luxury of taste than the luxury of costliness, will be found to be much less expensive than is generally supposed."
Throughout the 1880s, Morris became increasingly involved in socialist politics. He was deeply disturbed by the inequities and income disparities he observed in Victorian society. Like many early English socialists, Morris struggled to define his vision amid the many competing views on the ideal organization of society. He advocated radical revolution and change through government reform at different times in his life. He joined the Democratic Foundation in 1883, left the group to form the Socialist League in 1885, and then left the Socialist League to form the Hammersmith Socialist Society in 1890 .Morris's enduring contribution to the cause of social equality was largely educational. He financed, edited, and wrote for the Socialist League's monthly publication, Commonweal, and was a popular speaker at party meetings and on street corners where he explained the merits of socialism. Even after resigning his Socialist League membership, Morris continued to champion socialist ideals in his writings and endeavors.
William Morris founded the Kelmscott Press in January 1891 near his home in Hammersmith, London. The name came from his much-loved Kelmscott Manor house in the Cotswolds. During its seven years in operation, the Kelmscott Press produced 53 works (comprising 66 volumes) in limited press runs averaging 300 copies each. Morris oversaw every detail including designing three types for use in printing, finding a source for custom handmade paper, and designing ornamental initials and borders for the books. Although Morris was in poor health and nearing the end of his life, the Kelmscott Press would be his crowning achievement. The Press became the grand summation of his vision for life as expressed in a beautiful book. The Kelmscott Press was William Morris's brainchild, but it was also a collaborative effort involving printers, engravers, editors, craftsmen, and illustrators, as well as those handling the business side of the press. The Press is widely associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement and attributed with the revival of fine press printing.
Morris died at the Kelmscott House on October 3, 1896.
This collection is arranged in three series:
The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the William Morris papers from collector John J. Walsdorf in 1985.
The William Morris Papers were purchased by the University of Maryland Libraries in 1985. At that time, the correspondence was placed in acid-free folders and housed in an acid-free box. In 2015, the collection was arranged into two series and described in a preliminary finding aid. The books and ephemera series were added to the finding aid in 2021.