Arthurian and Grail Poetry
William Morris (1834-96)
William Morris was born in Walthamstow, Essex, on 24 March 1834. He enjoyed a
comfortable childhood and as the son of a wealthy businessman, he was able to attend Marlborough
and Exeter College, Oxford with an intention to enter the holy orders.
As with many young men of his time, his life at Oxford drew him toward the
radicalism of the period and towards the arts. After leaving Oxford, Morris briefly worked
under G. E. Street, the Gothic Revival architect. For a period afterwards, he tried his hand
as a painter. Morris's only surviving painting Guenevere shows the influence of Dante
Gabriel Rossetti who also influenced Swinburne. In the 1860s, Morris decided that his future
lay in the field of the decorative arts.
He formed Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861. Morris & Co., as it
was later reorganized, was particularly well-known for its stained glass, examples of which
can be seen in churches throughout Britain. Morris produced over 150 designs which are generally
characterised by their artful foliage patterns. His greatest achievement came as a designer in
the field of textiles and wallpapers, patterns that were influenced by the medieval works held
at the South Kensington Museum.
These works may have also influenced his writing. His first volume of poetry,
The Defence of Guenevere, received mixed reviews, but his reputation grew as a poet
with the publication of The Earthly Paradise (1868-70). Among his many other works are
the classical translations of Sigurd the Volsung, The Pilgrims of Hope, and a
series of prose romances which included A Dream of John Ball, News from Nowhere,
and The Well at the World's End.
In 1876 and on through the 80s, Morris was drawn to radical organizations, the
Eastern Question Association, the National Liberal League and the Radical Union. In 1883, he
joined the socialist Democratic Federation. Disillusioned with all of the groups, he formed
the Socialist League and later the Hammersmith Socialist Society. During the period, he was
probably the most active propagandist for the socialist cause, giving hundreds of lectures
and speeches throughout the country.
In 1890, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press near his last home at Kelmscott House
in Hammersmith (now the headquarters of the William Morris Society). During the last years of
his life, sixty-six volumes were printed by the Kelmscott Press. The most impressive is
magnificent edition of Chaucer which was published in 1896 the year of his death. Morris
died at Kelmscott House on 3 October, 1896.
The Chapel In Lyoness
The Defence Of Guenevere
A Good Knight In Prison
In Arthur's House
King Arthur's Tomb
Sir Galahad, A Christmas Mystery
St. Agnes' Convent
in the Arthurian Art Section