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Who is William Morris?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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William Morris was born 24 March, 1834 in North East London in a town called Walthamstow. He is known for his art and writing as well as his political socialist activism. William Morris was pivotal in creating both the arts and crafts movement and the Socialist League in Britain.

William Morris attended the Wiltshire boarding school, Marlborough College, as well as Oxford University's Exeter College. Along with Dante Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Webb and Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris founded the arts and crafts movement in Britain and he designed textiles and wallpaper that was hand-crafted and artistic. Together, the five men were the Brotherhood, or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The artistic philosophy behind the Brotherhood is that home furnishings and architectural items should be hand-made at affordable prices rather than cheaply manufactured industrially. The Brotherhood also founded a literary magazine, but William Morris also had some of his writings published outside the magazine. His first poem published outside of his magazine, The Defence of Guenevere, in 1858 was not very highly acclaimed at the time, but his The Haystack in the Floods was well-received and is well-remembered to this day.

However, it was William Morris' large collection of poetry, called The Earthly Paradise, that turned out to be his literary crowning glory and made him a well-known name in literary circles. When Alfred Lord Tennyson died in 1892, William Morris was chosen to receive the Poet Laureateship, but Morris decided against accepting it. William Morris is also known for writing several fantasy novels and one called The House of the Wolfings inspired fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien.

William Morris married Jane Burden who was an artist's model for Dante Rossetti. Jane and Rossetti had a long affair. William Morris and Jane Burden had two daughters, Jane and Mary, who were known as Jenny and May. At one point the Brotherhood became known as Morris and Company. Morris and Company produced hand-made decorative products such as stained glass windows and tapestry fabrics. William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones created a beautifully detailed stained glass window in 1882, David’s Charge to Solomon, that became a part of the Trinity Church in Boston.

In 1883, William Morris became a member of the Socialist Democratic Federation. He founded the Socialist League on his own in Britain in 1884. William Morris, who died 3 October, 1896, was one of Britain’s earliest socialists.

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