Saturday, 17 January 2009

Morris's Favourite Phrases

Every Morris fan will have his or her own mental list of the phrases which, according to contemporaries and biographers, were constantly on Morris’s lips. I offer my own haphazard gleanings from the field (with a brief indication of their sources) and hope that readers of this blog may add to them, so that we shall eventually between us compose a full chrestomathy of William Morris’s recurrent phrases:

‘“When I was a little chap” was a phrase constantly in his mouth …’ (J.W. Mackail)

‘So much as I seem to have to do! – the words were in one form or another habitually on his lips … ‘ (Mackail)

‘… the work of Wren and his successors down to Wyatt, the architects of “the ignorance”, to use that Arabian phrase which Morris was so fond of quoting …’ (Mackail)

Phrases which Morris used from Dickens: ‘Morning, morning!’ (Boffin in Our Mutual Friend); ‘Wot larks!’ (Joe Gargery in Great Expectations); ‘Bring him forard, and I’ll chuck him out o’winder’ (Mr F’s aunt in Little Dorrit). Mackail is again the source.

‘… a phrase that was constantly on Morris’s lips was that, according to the French proverb, “Better is the enemy of the good”’ (F.S. Ellis)

When F.S. Furnivall objected to the colours of a cabinet Morris was painting in Red House ‘the only reply was “Don’t be a
d[amned] fool”. Morris generally set you down in that way if you did not agree with him’ (F.S. Ellis)

‘A favourite expression of his in starting one of his tirades was: “The fact of the matter is – “’ (Arthur Compton-Rickett).

'The ipse dixit of Morris was usually preceded by the phrase "in point of fact" which became one of the Society's catchwords' (James Alfred Wilkes)

3 comments:

linda said...

'What is the next job to be?' was his 'refrain', according to May Morris (Introductions II p 400)

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for spotting that usage, Linda, it certainly sounds exactly right for WM! Another one I've subsequently come across is from J.M.S. Tompkins, who in her book on Morris's poetry cites Mackail as saying that Morris 'used, again and again ... the words of Christ to his disciples: "He that endures to the end shall be saved"' (p.254).

Tony Pinkney said...

In his 1975 Morris biography, Jack Lindsay notes that '"We of the middle class" were words often upon his lips' (p.133).