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Big pictures and little men

Hausarbeit 2005 17 Seiten

Anglistik - Kultur und Landeskunde



1. Introduction
1.1. Socialism, Biography and the Work of William Morris
1.2. Theses and Subject

2. Definitions and historical Circumstances
2.1. Definitions of Art and the Change of Art
2.2. The Change of Labour in the 19th Century
2.3. The Situation of the Workers at that Time

3. Big pictures and little men
3.1. Morris and his View through rose-coloured Glasses…
3.2. William Morris the Visionary, doomed to Failure?

4. Appendix
4.1. Bibliography

1.1. Socialism, Biography and the Work of William Morris

An attempt to define the term socialism in a possibly precise and short way, as well as excerpts from the biographical background of William Morris, who is considered to be one of the first British socialists, will serve as an introduction to this work’s subject. Different writings, and especially an article contributed by Morris in 1885 which he named "The Worker´s Share of Art"[1] will be the main reference before other, selected prospects, and ideas are taken into consideration. The introduction of socialism will only focus on those aspects that are necessary for further understanding and which re-emerge in the arguments and formulations of William Morris who only became a socialist in his mid fourties. Generally, socialism is "an ideology with the core belief that a society should exist in which popular collectives control the means of power, and therefore the means of production."[2] One of the main objectives of socialism is a classless society, which can either be created by revolution, or social revolution. The problem of the extended, and more detailed description of socialism as a concrete model for a society is its history. Indeed, meanwhile socialism is often misunderstood and due to the fact that history has shown some misinterpretations of the term, namely the National Socialists in Germany for instance, it has become very difficult to point out what socialism really means today. According to that, the opportunity which lasts to characterize socialism anyway, is to look at it at a certain time, and to leave out its historical development in general, but only to include those changes and processes which are of great importance for the period in question. Furthermore, there are other useful criteria to divide socialism as for instance the distinction between "Socialism from above", and "Socialism from beneath" as Hal Draper presents in his work "The Two Souls of Socialism"[3] in which he also refers to Morris. A central formulation appears at the end of his text where he states: "To choose the way of the Socialism from beneath, is to accept the beginning of a new world".[4] And this is exactly what Morris strove for, a change in society by changing the view people had towards their surroundings, and in consequence to change their surroundings and their relation to it themselves. Instead of preferring the model of "Socialism from above" according to the ideas of Sidney Webb as a popular advocate, he followed his vision of a model, which favoured self-determination, and at the same time assumed that people were aware of the responsibility, but also the possibilities such a direction would offer. Unlike a lot of other theorists, Morris is above all known for his continuing and successful attempt to practically realize his ideas. Born in Walthamstow, on March 24th in the year 1834, another continuity, dating from early childhood, was his love of nature evidence of which may be found in his written works which range from poetry to a large number of translations of medieval and classical works. Besides that, he had several other spheres of activity like creating furniture, from the level of design to its completion by the help of elaborate carving. To Morris, who seemingly possessed a never-ending source of creativity and energy, poetry was just another craft, so it was no surprise that he came to the following conclusion: "If you cannot weave a piece of garn, and at the same time be capable of writing a sonnet, you are not a real man".[5] What might be confusing about this quotation is the fact that due to a conventional wisdom, people usually separate crafts and arts, but Morris did not. In 1861 he founded his own company "Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co"[6] together with some of his friends,[7] trying to bridge the gap. It was a desperate, but at the same time resolute fight against the shadow of the industrial revolution which made beauty, at least the way Morris defined it,[8] fade away from the daily life within the big cities, and: "Men living amidst such ugliness cannot conceive of beauty, and, therefore, cannot express it".[9] The destruction of nature meant the destruction of the source, the origin of all beauty.[10] The life of William Morris was so dedicated that, when he died in 1896, one of his physicians declared that the disease was: "simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men".[11] What he has left behind, besides some really useful ideas and working techniques,[12] is above all an ideological heritage. A considerable, suitable condensation of these ideas, may be found in the headline of an essay by David Bruce Hegeman which says: "William Morris-The Man Who (Re)Discovered Art with a Little "a"".[13] By broadcasting his ideas far and wide through his fiction, his published essays, and the numerous lectures he gave throughout Britain, he hoped that factory workers and tradesmen would follow his ideal, and be moved to join craft collectives which would transform society on a grassroots, voluntary basis. Quite apart from the fact that both, arts and crafts, have changed incredibly over the last 100 years, it is evident that almost nothing of the idealistic visions of "News from Nowhere"[14] or "A Dream of John Ball"[15] has become reality. Nevertheless, Morris is considered to be one of the great theorists of his time so that there remains the question: why was his plan bound to fail? To possibly find answers, or at least to present different, revealing perspectives, will be the main subject of this work. For that purpose, two theses are introduced in the following.


[1] William Morris, The Worker’s Share of Art, in: Commonweal, Vol. I, No. 3, 1885, pp. 18-19

[2] from:

[3] Hal Draper, The Two Souls of Socialism, in: New Politics 5, No. 1, pp. 57-84, Michigan, 1966

[4] Hal Draper, The Two Souls of Socialism, p. 28

[5] Hans-Christian-Kirschner, William Morris - Ein Mann gegen die Zeit: Dichter, Künstler, Designer, Sozialreformer, p. 10, Köln, 1996

[6] from:

[7] Namely these where: Gabriel Rossetti, Burne Jones, Madox Brown, and Philip

Webb. The name of the company often changed names, the most popular one was

"Morris and Company". Morris has worked for this company all his life since

its foundation, and what was really new about the company, was that the artist

himself should be involved into the whole process of production. Therefore

the range of products which the company manufactured was even more remark-

able: from wallpapers and furniture to jewelry, glass-staining and metal-

working. Almost all of the items were painstakingly handmade.

[8] To Morris, the only real beauty was nature, and therefore everything that was developed by men, could only be beautiful, as long it was somehow close to nature.

[9] W. Morris, The Worker´s Share of Art, p. 18

[10] Hans-Christian-Kirschner, William Morris, p. 15

[11] Morris died at the age of 62 at Kelmscott house

[12] Some of his designs are still sold today under licences given to Sanderson and

Sons and Liberty of London. Furthermore he influenced a lot of private presses

since his own, the Kelmscott Press had become the most famous one at the

time. He designed special typefaces, and the selection of special ink, and

paper, as well as the overall decoration on the page was outstanding.

[13] David-Bruce-Hegeman, William Morris: The Man Who (Re)Discovered Art with

a little "a", A Christian Perspective on a 19th Century Artist who elevated the

Status of Crafts to that of Art, in: Work Research Foundation Comment, 2004

[14] William Morris, News from Nowhere, 1890

[15] William Morris, A Dream of John Ball, 1886


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
471 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – Institut für Anglistik
Concepts Culture William Morris Socialism Industrial Revolution Arts and Crafts Dante Gabriel Rossetti News from Nowhere



Titel: Big pictures and little men