In the posthumous essay collection What I Came to Say (1989), Raymond Williams remarks in the course of an essay on nineteenth-century cultural developments: ‘The lecture is worth a special note, because it is so often overlooked or treated as an extreme minority form. It is significant how much of the important social thought of the century was in lecture form: from Coleridge through Carlyle and Ruskin to Morris. We know far too little about the audiences at these lectures, but in cases where research has been done – as on Ruskin’s lectures at Bradford – it is clear that quite large and general lecture audiences were a significant feature of nineteenth-century urban culture’ (p.125).
I’m quite sure that far too little research has been done on the audiences of Morris’s artistic and political lectures. We have a few well-known and colourful anecdotes, as when hostile students let off a stinkbomb at the back of the Holywell Music Room during one of Morris’s talks in Oxford; but sustained research into the social composition of his audiences, and the effects of his thought and rhetoric upon them, remains to be done. So here, one would think, is a worthy PhD project for a student in search of a topic.