Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Morris from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

William Morris 1834–1896 Eng. poet, artist, & socialist


Summary Article: Morris, William from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

English designer, socialist, and writer. A founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, he condemned 19th-century mechanization and sought a revival of traditional crafts, such as furnituremaking, book illustration, fabric design, and so on. He linked this to a renewal of society based on Socialist principles.

Morris was born in London and educated at Oxford, where he formed a lasting friendship with the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones and was influenced by the art critic John Ruskin and the painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He abandoned his first profession, architecture, to study painting, but had a considerable influence on such architects as William Lethaby and Philip Webb. In 1861 he cofounded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company (‘the Firm’) which designed and produced stained glass, furniture, fabric, carpets, and decorative wallpapers; many of the designs, inspired by medieval, classical, and oriental sources, are still produced today.

Morris's first book of verse was The Defence of Guenevere (1858). He published several verse romances, notably The Life and Death of Jason (1867) and The Earthly Paradise (1868–70). A visit to Iceland in 1871 inspired the epic poem Sigurd the Volsung (1876) and general interest in the sagas. His Kelmscott Press, set up in 1890 to print beautifully designed books, influenced printing and book design.

A leading Socialist, his prose romances A Dream of John Ball (1888) and utopian News from Nowhere (1891) reflected his socialist ideology. He joined the Social Democratic Federation in 1883, but left in 1884 because he found it too moderate, and set up the Socialist League. To this period belong the critical and sociological studies Signs of Change (1888) and Hopes and Fears for Art (1892). He also lectured on socialism.

Design work After being articled as an architect he was for some years a painter, before jointly founding the ‘the Firm’, in which Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and other artists were partners. Famous designs include his ‘Daisy’ (1864) and ‘Vine’ (1873) wallpapers; the ‘Woodpecker’ tapestry (1880s); and his ‘Honeysuckle’ chintz (1876). He also designed windows for Middleton Cheney Parish Church in 1864, and centralized his weaving and dyeing works at Merton Abbey in 1880, where William de Morgan joined him to produce tiles and ruby-lustre ware. As a founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Morris did much to raise British craft standards.

Verse and prose He was one of the originators of the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, to which he contributed poems, tales, and essays. Following The Defence of Guenevere and other Poems, he published The Life and Death of Jason (1867), The Earthly Paradise, and Love is Enough (1875), in which year he also made a translation in verse of Virgil's Aeneid. Three Northern Love Stories was inspired by his travels in Iceland. His translation of the Odyssey in verse appeared in 1887. A series of prose romances include the House of Wolfings (1889), and The Well at the World's End (1896). The most notable product of the Kelmscott Press was the Kelmscott Chaucer.

Morris was born at Walthamstow, and educated at Marlborough and at Exeter College, Oxford.

quotations

Morris, William

essays

Arts and Crafts Style

A Design for Life

Urban Design in the 20th Century

weblinks

Selected Poetry of William Morris (1834–1896)

William Morris Designs

images

Morris, William

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Morris, William
Dictionary of British History

(1834-96) Artist, designer, craftsman, poet, and socialist propagandist, who deeply influenced developments in the decorative arts. Morris...

Full text Article Morris, William
Philip's Encyclopedia

1834-96 English artist, craftsman, writer, social reformer, and printer. Associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) , he founded...

Full text Article William Morris
Miller's Antiques Encyclopedia

Architect, designer, painter, printer, socialist, and poet, Morris was strongly influenced by the ideas of both Ruskin, the art and social...

See more from Credo