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WILLIAM MORRIS (1834-1896)

After a youth of wide reading and varied schooling, Morris reached Exeter College, Oxford, in 1853, with broad information and strongly developed intellectual tendencies. Aside from a notable achievement in general reading, the most important result of his Oxford residence was a close friendship with Edward Burne-Jones, with whom he continued to live in the closest intimacy. A propensity toward Romanism, and then toward Anglicanism, resolved itself ultimately into an enthusiam for art, for social reform, and for the utterances of Carlyle, Ruskin, and Kingsley. Travels in northern France, in 1854 and 1855, together with his permanent love for French Gothic art, led to his decision to become an architect. After he had studied architecture sincerely for a year or so, Rossetti persuaded him to take a studio and devote himself to painting. Morris found his true vocation, however, when, in 1861, with Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and others, he established a firm in London for designing and manufacturing artistic furniture and household decorations. The scope of the enterprise was eventually enlarged to include the manufacture of textiles, dyeing, book-illumination, and printing. In 1890, Morris founded the famous Kelmscott Press, at Hammersmith. In advancing the minor arts and in sustaining the principle that every object and utensil should be beautiful, Morris did more than any other man of his time. In 1885, he became an active socialist, lecturing freely to workingmen, and contributing to The Commonweal, the organ of the Socialistic League.

Except during certain periods of interruption, Morris wrote voluminously throughout his life. The Defence of Guinevere (1858), his earliest considerable publication, is among his best. From the Arthurian themes of this work, he turned with facility to the Greek, Old French, and Norse stories seen in Life and Death of Jason (1867), The Earthly Paradise (1868-70), and Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs (1876). Aside from these original poetical writings, Morris's chief works are his romances, in prose, or in prose and verse, of which the most important are A Tale of the House of the Wolfings (1889), The Roots of the Mountains (1890), The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891) and The Well at the World's End (1896). Of his translations the most notable are the Grettis Saga (1869) and the Völsunga Saga (1870). Morris stands preeminent in the literature of the nineteenth century as a charming story-teller. In his stories we find neither humor nor a dramatic grasp of situations, but rather, dreamy narrative idealizations of an alluring past.

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