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William Morris papers

 Collection 0092-LIT

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.


  • 1751-1976

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections Reading Room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the special collections reading room staff.


2.85 Linear Feet (1 half-Hollinger box and 2 boxes)

187 Items : Books

Scope and Contents

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.

Biographical / Historical

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:

Series 1
Series 2
Series 3

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the William Morris papers from collector John J. Walsdorf in 1985.

Existence and Location of Copies

Select materials from this collection have been digitized and are available in either Digital Collections or the Internet Archive.

Related Materials

A published collection of Morris' correspondence spanning 1848 to 1896 titled The Collected Letters of William Morris is available to request from the Libraries catalog.

Microfilm containing drafts, fragments, notes, notebooks, translations, diaries, prose, lectures, and addresses spanning the entirety of Morris' writing life held by the British Library is also available to request from the Libraries catalog: William Morris literary manuscripts in the British Library, London. These manuscripts are among those used by May Morris, his younger daughter, when preparing her Collected Works of William Morris, 24 vols., 1910-1915, and the supplementary William Morris, Artist, Writer, Socialist, 2 vols., 1936, in which many of those unpublished in Morris's lifetime were printed and described for the first time. The reels are arranged by manuscript genre. More information can be found by searching the manuscript reference codes in the British Library's online catalogue.

Libraries staff created an online exhibition, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, which highlights Morris' written works, political activism, and artistic endeavors.

Processing Information

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.

Guide to the William Morris papers
Processed by Caitlin Rizzo.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2010-02-23: EAD markup checked and verified using Oxygen software by Jennie Levine Knies.
  • 2017-05-16: Finding aid title, finding aid date, finding aid status and related materials note revised and finding aid filing title, related accessions added by Maya Riser-Kositsky.
  • 2017-08-30: Processing information added by Caitlin Rizzo.
  • 2017-11-07: Finding aid reviewed and minor updates made by Caitlin Rizzo.
  • 2021-09-17: Marcella Stranieri and Liz Caringola created Series 2: Books and Series 3: Ephemera; added item-level information to Series 1: Correspondence; and added links to digitized items in August and September 2021.
  • 2022-08-03: Victoria Vera inventoried the ephemera; Liz Caringola added item-level information for Series 3: Ephemera to the finding aid.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742