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William Morris
by [?]

A year at architecture, with odd hours filled in at poetry and art, and news came from Burne-Jones that he had painted a picture, and sold it for ten pounds.

Now Morris had all the money he needed. His father’s prosperity was at flood, and he had but to hint for funds and they came; yet to make things with your own hands and sell them was the true test of success.

He had written “Gertha’s Lovers,” “The Tale of the Hollow Land,” and various poems and essays for the college magazine; and his book, “The Defense of Guinevere,” had been issued at his own expense, and the edition was on his hands–a weary weight.

Thoreau wrote to his friends, when the house burned and destroyed all copies of his first book, “The edition is exhausted,” but no such happiness came to Morris. And so when glad tidings of an artistic success came from Burne-Jones, he resolved to follow the lead and abandon architecture for “pure art.”

Arriving in London he placed himself under the tutorship of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet, dreamer and artist, six years his senior, whom he had known for some time, and who had also instructed Burne-Jones.

While taking lessons in painting at the rather shabby house of Rossetti in Portland Street, he was introduced to Rossetti’s favorite model–a young woman of rare grace and beauty. Rossetti had painted her picture as “The Blessed Damozel,” leaning over the bar of Heaven, while the stars in her hair were seven. Morris, the impressionable, fell in love with the canvas and then with the woman.

When they were married, tradition has it that Rossetti withheld his blessing and sought to drown his sorrow in fomentation’s, with dark, dank hints in baritone to the effect that the Thames only could appreciate his grief.

But grief is transient; and for many years Dante Rossetti and Burne-Jones pictured the tall, willowy figure of Mrs. Morris as the dream-woman, on tapestry and canvas; and as the “Blessed Virgin,” her beautiful face and form are shown in many sacred places.

Truth need not be distorted in a frantic attempt to make this an ideal marriage–only a woman with the intellect of Minerva could have filled the restless heart of William Morris. But the wife of Morris believed in her lord, and never sought to hamper him; and if she failed at times to comprehend his genius, it was only because she was human.

Whistler once remarked that without Mrs. Morris to supply stained-glass attitudes and the lissome beauty of an angel, the Preraphaelites would have long since gone down to dust and forgetfulness.

* * * * *

The year which William Morris spent at architecture, he considered as nearly a waste of time, but it was not so in fact. As a draftsman he had developed a marvelous skill, and the grace and sureness of his lines were a delight to Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown and others of the little artistic circle in which he found himself.

Youth lays great plans; youth is always in revolt against the present order; youth groups itself in bands and swears eternal fealty; and life, which is change, dissipates the plans, subdues the revolt into conformity, and the sworn friendships fade away into dull indifference. Always? Well, no, not exactly.

In this instance the plans and dreams found form; the revolt was a revolution that succeeded; and the brotherhood existed for near fifty years, and then was severed only by death.

Without going into a history of the Preraphaelite Brotherhood, it will be noted that the band of enthusiasts in art, literature and architecture had been swung by the arguments and personality of William Morris into the strong current of his own belief, and this was that Art and Life in the Middle Ages were much lovelier things than they are now.