I’m around a hundred pages in on E.P. Thompson’s massive study of William Morris, and so far I’m really impressed.
It cites his letters and minor publications profusely, and though it’s obvious that it has the major goal of establishing Morris as an important communist/socialist, so far it’s hitting right at the heart of what I’m looking for in Morris.
I’m really looking for his attitudes toward craft and labor. Though I’m really not that interested in politics, I am interested in the things that constrain our lives. Morris was too, as indicated by this excerpt from one of Morris’s letters (1883):
“In spite of all the success I have had I have not failed to be conscious that the art I have been helping to produce would fall with the death of a few of us who really care about it, that a reform in art which is founded on individualism must perish with the individuals who have set it going. Both my historical studies and my practical conflict with the philistinism of modern society have forced on me the conviction that art cannot have real life and growth under the present system of commercialism and profit-mongering.” (98)
Thompson observes that what drove Morris into his political views was actually the success, not the failure, of his commercial ventures. It’s easy to look at a rich man like Morris, making niche products for rich people, as someone detached from social problems. His fortune came from coal mining, initially. Something that Thompson spends much time establishing the background for, as well as his escapist tendencies. But when it comes to craft, Morris seems grounded and well informed. It isn’t clear if this bit comes from the same letter (I need to locate the volume of letters to check) but I appears as if it is:
“It would be well if all of us were good handcraftsman in some kind, and the dishonour of labor done away with altogether . . In each several profession, no master should be too proud to do its hardest work.” (99)
There will be a lot more to say about this tome, at 800+ pages it’s going to take a while to sort through.