Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Socialist Reading Room

In Morris’s Socialist years a reading room and newsroom were provided at Kelmscott House; they were under May Morris’s supervision and opened from 10.30am to 1.00pm on Sundays. Fiona MacCarthy informs us that ‘Walter Crane had suggested a reading list for young Socialists and Morris presented a number of volumes, including a copy of Shelley’s Poems’ (p.520).

Does Crane’s reading list survive anywhere, I wonder, or can we reconstruct what it might have contained by educated guesswork? Was Shelley on it or not, or was that an additional graceful thought of Morris’s own? If we can speculatively put a list of titles together, what was it about these books that made them pedagogically suitable for young socialists specifically?

And Walter Crane’s 1880s reading list might inspire us to draw up one of our own. What would a suggested course of reading for young socialists look like today, in the 2010s? I’d certainly be inclined to have G.A. Cohen’s delightfully produced little book, Why Not Socialism? (2009), with its audacious ‘camping-trip’ metaphor, high on the list. We, in the postmodern, have lost sight of the question of socialist pedagogy for the young; and if the more buoyant and innocent movement of the 1880s and 90s can reactivate that question for us, it will have done us a great service.


D.Plemic said...

Given all the tents and camping in News from Nowhere, not to mention Morris's two Iceland holidays under canvas in 1871 and 1873, I imagine he would heartily approve of Cohen's 'camping trip' model of socialism!

ianmac55 said...


For a good start to reading about socialism, what about the titles which Tom Sawyer had bound by craftsmen (and on which he has spoken so eloquently to the Society)?

They were:

Robert Blatchford "Merrie England"

Sidney & Beatrice Webb "The History of Trades Unionism"

William Morris & E Belfort Bax "Socialism its growth and outcome"

William Morris "News from Nowhere"

William Morris "A Dream of John Ball"

John Ruskin "Unto This Last"

Robert Owen "The Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race"

G D H Cole "Chartist Portraits"

William Cobbett "Rural Rides"

Mary Woolstonecraft "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman"

Thomas Paine "Rights of Man"

John Bunyan "The Pilgrim's Progress"

Jack Emery (ed) "The Putney Debates"

Sir Thomas More "Utopia"

May Morris "William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist"

Tony Pinkney said...

Great list, Mac. I missed Tom Sawyer's talk to the WM Society, alas. Sounds as though you were there? Lucky you!

ianmac55 said...

Hi Tony,

Tom Sawyer spoke twice to the Society about his collection of socialist books with designer bindings - first at the House of Lords in October or November 2008and then again at Kelmscott House during the 175th Birthday Weekend in September 2009. Sue and I heard him on the second occasion. He brought several volumes of his collection to this meeting and passed them around the members present. I remember particularly the "News From Nowhere" volume whose binder, Lester Capon, used the trip up the Thames as the theme. It was bound in vellum which was cut to reveal blue stained hand-made paper for the Thames.

Tom Sawyer produced a catalogue of the books for the exhibition he organised in the House of Lords. He gave all the members present at the weekend copies of the catalogue. It may be that there is a copy (or indeed several copies) in the Society Library.

It may seem odd to have an exbibition of these books in the House of Lords - but then again I have heard Tristram Hunt give an illustrated lecture on his biography in Engels in one of the stately rooms of Althorp House!