Tradition

bard

But, in the 1870s, Morris was coming to regard his writing as (in the words of Henry James), a sub-trade—a form of pleasurable recreation and relaxation from other work—rather than his central place of encounter with his age. He was coming to adopt an attitude towards his writing (drawn in part from his own version of Ruskin’s doctrine of pleasurable labour) which was incompatible with the fullest concentration of his intellectual and moral energies.

“I did manage to screw out my tales of verses, to the tune of some 250 I think”, he wrote to his wife in 1876 while working on Sigurd the Volsung. “That talk of inspiration is sheer nonsense”, he is quoted as saying in later years. “I may tell you that flat. There is no such thing: it is a mere matter of craftsmanship.” And again: “If a chap can’t compose an epic poem while he’s weaving tapestry he had better shut up; he’ll never do any good at all.”

Morris adopted this attitude partly in antagonism to the excessive airs of the romantically “inspired” and in part he was influenced by his earlier picture of the folk-poet, the scald, the bard who in earlier societies  could entertain the company in the hall or around the fire almost impromptu with an epic tale. But these poets, with every incident, every image and turn of phrase, every description of hero or heroine, were drawing on collected traditions of past singers, were evoking memories, associations and accepted judgements of a people.

E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (2011), p.188-9

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