Happy Wedding Anniversary William and Jane Morris!

May Morris standing at the gate on the grounds outside Kelmscott Manor

William and Jane Morris were married on April 26, 1859, at St.Michael’s Church, Oxford. They traveled on honeymoon to France and Belgium. 

In reading through, ‘The Collected Letters of Jane Morris’ I was constantly taking notes of Jane Morris’s references while scouring the bibliography with a fine tooth comb. For someone like myself who has not read ‘everything’ Pre-Raphaelite, I was delighted to come upon two references from friend’s of The Morris’ themselves, a Mr. John Bruce Glasier and Charles Rowley who both wrote books and newspaper articles describing in great detail their meetings with The Morris’.  

Since it is the wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Morris, I thought by sharing some of these ‘reminiscences’ it would shed some light on who they were as a couple. 

 ‘On my arrival at Kelmscott House, Morris immediately came from his study on the ground floor, and after welcoming me cordially, took me up to my bedroom on one of the upper floors, and leaving me there for a few moments returned to introduce me to the ‘inhabitants.’ ‘Here is our Scotchman, but he hasn’t come  in kilts nor brought bagpipes with him,’ said he to Mrs. Morris, who was seated on the famous settle which stood out from the fireplace, doing some embroidery work. She rose and greeted me. I had, of course, heard of her great beauty, and had seen her portrait in some of the reproductions of Rossetti’s pictures, but I confess I felt rather awed as she stood up tall before me, draped in one simple white gown which fell from her shoulders down to her feet. She looked a veritable Astarte-a being, as I thought, who did not quite belong to our common mortal mould. After greeting me she resumed her embroidery and listened with amusement to Morris’ playful chaff.

It’s lucky for us,’ continued Morris, ‘that Glasier is not a stickler for the ancient customs of his country; for in my young days we were told that Scotchmen ate nothing but porridge, drank nothing but whisky, and sang one another to sleep with the Psalms of David.’

He pursued this playful vein for a little, giving Mrs. Morris an exaggerated account of some of his experiences in Scotland of the ‘wild ways of the Picts.’ Mrs. Morris glanced at me occasionally, as if to assure me that she was not being taken in by his stories. ‘He is quite naughty sometimes,’ was her only remark. He then showed us an old book he had just bought, containing a diary, cooking receipts, and domestic accounts of some Squire’s lady of the sixteenth century, and read with amusing comments some of the items. 

While listening to him I was scanning with great interest the furnishings of the room. I had observed on entering its large size, its five windows looking over the Thames, and the simplicity and beauty of its furnishings. I experienced, as every visitor I am sure must have done, a delightful sense of garden-like freshness and bloom in the room. Noticing my interest in the things about me, Morris briefly described some of them. The handsome  canopied settle on which Mrs. Morris was sitting was, he said, one of the earliest productions of the firm of Morris & Company, and the highly decorated wardrobe at the end of the room with painted figures was painted by Burne-Jones, and was his wedding gift to Morris. 

 Jane Morris's settle 1890s

 Jenny, the eldest daughter, now came in, and we were served with a cup of tea, after which Morris took me downstairs to the library to have a smoke and talk about League business before supper.

May Morris now arrived. I was greatly interested to meet her; I had heard so much about her beauty and her activities in the movement. She resembled her mother, I thought, more than her father in face, and was strikingly handsome. Her manner was quiet, and she was, I observed, inclined rather to ask questions or listen than to offer opinions of her own. She worked at a piece of embroidery as she sat with us. 

Then came friends, including Emery Walker, the well-known engraver, an intimate friend and secretary of the Hammersmith Branch of the League, Philip Webb, the architect, and Tarleton, a leading member of the branch, and we went into the dining-room for supper.

The dining-room (the ceiling two floors high) lit up with large candles on brass or copper candlesticks (Morris used candles only in the house-he detested gaslight) was magnificently grand in its glow of colour derived from the Morris Acanthus wallpaper, and a great gorgeous Persian carpet hung up like a canopy on one side of the room. Opposite, over the fireplace, was Rossetti’s noble portrait of Mrs. Morris, and on one side of the large window crayon drawings by Rossetti of Jenny and May Morris. There were one or two other Rossetti crayon drawings on the wall. These,  I think, were the only pictures on the walls, so far as I observed, anywhere in the house, other than the Durer and a few other engraving sand sketches in the entrance and library, for Morris did not ‘believe in’ making houses look like art galleries. The decorations of a room should be part of their needful architectural furnishings only.

So we seated ourselves on either side of the huge grey oaken dinging-table, with Morris at the head, who saw to it that we partook liberally of the feast, while he enticed us into his happy mood with amusing chat and stories, addressing one or other of us in turn, so as to share the conversation round. Mrs. Morris rarely spoke, but Morris constantly referred his remarks to her with gentle courtesy and affection. ‘

Morris and the rest of our male selves sat up till midnight in the library, chatting over the events of the day and considering how to improve the propaganda work of the League. When the others had gone, Morris proposed that he should accompany me to my bedroom and read a bit of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ to me before going to sleep. ‘It will get the nasty taste of to-day’s squabbling out of our minds,’ he said. Needless to say I welcomed the proposal gladly, not dreaming what a tempestuous experience it was going to bring upon me.

Closing the bedroom door, and seating himself by the large candle on the dressing=table, Morris began turning over the leaves of the book in order to select a chapter to begin with. Having fixed upon a page, he was about to start off reading when he said abruptly: ‘By the way, I forgot to ask you about your visit to the New Gallery Exhibition yesterday afternoon. What did you think of the Burne-Jones’ pictures?

Then the heavens burst open, and lightning and thunder fell upon me. Hardly had I completed my sentence than Morris was on his feet, storming words upon me that shook the room. His eyes flamed as with actual fire, his shaggy mane rose like a burning crest, his whiskers and moustache bristled out like pine needles.

I was seated on the edge of the bed, and was too astounded at first to comprehend what he said, or what had aroused his extraordinary passion. He poured forth an amazing torrent of invective against the whole age. ‘Art forsooth!’ he cried, ‘where the hell is it? Where the hell are the people who know or care a damn about it? This infernal civilization has no capacity to understand either nature or art. People have no eyes to see, no ears to hear. The only thing they understand I show to enslave their fellows or be enslaved by them grubbing a life lower than that of the brutes. 

In this strain he continued for I don’t know how long, flashing his wrath in my face, and moving round the room like a caged lion. For a time I felt as though I had in some way merited his terrible outburst, but I remember recovering my wits and sitting back in the bed. But I believe he was for the time being oblivious of me except that I was one of mankind. I was not the object of it. Eventually there was a tap at the bedroom door, and it was opened slightly from the outside, and a voice expostulated: ‘Really, the whole house is awakened. What is the matter? Do speak more quietly and let us get to sleep.’

This interruption acted as an exorcism. Morris quieted down as suddenly as he flared up. He lifted ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ which he had tossed on the bed in the course of his fulmination, and making a turn round the room, he offered me his hand in a most friendly manner, remarking simply: ‘I have been going it a bit loudly-don’t you think? I hope I have not upset you I didn’t mean to do that and that you will have a sound sleep. Good night and good luck.’

Next morning he came again to waken me at seven o’clock, and was as cheery and charming as man could be. Later on in the drawing room I prostrated myself before Mrs. Morris, pleading: ‘Forgive him I was really not the culprit, though it seems most unchivalrous on my part to say so.’ 

‘Oh, I know it was not your fault, you don’t need to tell me,’ she said, and added half-reproachfully, looking at her husband: ‘I knew when I heard him boasting last night of his good behavior at the Conference that somebody would have to pay for it.’ Morris looked a bit shamefaced, but affected not to acknowledge his delinquency, and appealed to me that we were merely having ‘a little chat over art matters.’ His daughter Jenny said, ‘Oh, you wicked, good father,’ and put her arms round his neck.’ (William Morris and the early days of the socialist movement by John Bruce Glasier, Longmans, Green, and Co.,London, 1921,Chapter VI 'First Visit to Kelmscott House,' pgs, 45-53)

This final brief little reminiscent excerpt was included in ‘The Collected Letters of Jane Morris’ but originally written as an article in Manchester Evening Chronicle (1912) by Charles Rowley. It describes the tenderness and unspoken understanding between William and Jane Morris. I’d like to end with this lovely observation from a friend, 

‘Once at Kelmscott, a number of us had been lounging and larking in the orchard. After a while Morris slipped off, and soon afterwards we saw him in a summer bower bowed in his wife’s lap having his head cropped. What a subject for a picture flashed upon me-such a man and such a woman.’  (The Collected Letters of Jane Morris edited by Frank C. Sharp and Jan Marsh, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK, 2012, pg. 12)

For further reading, here is the link to one of the sources I quoted extensively from above, William Morris and the early days of the socialist movement by John B. Glasier,  

 William Morris and the early days of the socialist movement by John Bruce Glasier, Longmans, Green, and Co.,London, 1921,Chapter VI 'First Visit to Kelmscott House,' pgs, 45-53.

 The Collected Letters of Jane Morris edited by Frank C. Sharp and Jan Marsh, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK, 2012, pg. 12.

Charles Rowley, 'A great Poet and Artist: Mr. Charles Rowley on the Gifts of William Morris'. Manchester Evening Chronicle. 9 April 1912.
 Feel free to leave comments,


Jeanne Treat said…
What an interesting window into their lives!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Jeanne,
I agree! I just loved reading about them on such a personal level. Thank goodness these books have been archived and are available. I appreciate you taking the time to read and leave a comment, as well.
Kevin Marsh said…
How interesting, I must admit that I don't know much about Jane and William Morris, but this is an interesting snapshot into their lives.
Thank you for sharing.

Kind regards

Kevin Marsh
Kimberly Eve said…
Absolutely, my pleasure, Kevin. I just love sources such as these written by friends that really give us a rare glimpse into an important nineteenth-century couple. Thanks for stopping by!
WoofWoof said…
Thanks for a fascinating piece about the Morrises life together. Do you know, was this quite late on eg 1890s (i.e. after the affair with Rossetti had been and gone but probably while the affairs with other people were still going on)? BTW, the reference to the Thames and Hammersmith suggests this was at Kelmscott House which overlooked the Thames in London at Hammersmith and which Morris named after the bigger, more well known Manor out in the Cotswolds. I have to say the family don't look at all happy in their photographs.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi WoofWoof,
I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It does say in the post above that the location is Kelmscott House and the year is Whitsuntide of 1888. You can read it for yourself if you'd like.Thanks so much for leaving a comment and asking.
I added the link to the source in the post and you can find it here, http://archive.org/stream/williammorrisand00glasuoft#page/42/mode/2up

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