In his 1996 essay ‘The Morris Who Reads Us’ (which is certainly a neat title), Norman Kelvin remarks that ‘As for the late audiences for socialism, they heard him [Morris] at the Hammersmith Socialist Society (his last, smallest and most congenial socialist group). They were composed for the most part of loyal friends and employees of Morris and Co. (for several of whom attendance might have been prudence only)’ (p.347). That’s a rather peculiar final comment, surely, which potentially undermines the authenticity of Morris’s socialist meetings. It’s the kind of remark that you might expect from an avowed political opponent, from some snide Tory hack on Rupert Murdoch’s The Times newspaper, rather than from one of our best Morris scholars (who gave us the marvellous Collected Letters, after all).
So I think we have to insist that in this matter Professor Kelvin should either put up or shut up. He needs to produce documentary evidence that some of Morris’s workmen attended meetings purely for ‘prudential’ reasons – i.e. under real or perceived threat of reprisal from their employer if they didn’t - or he should withdraw this claim. And his speculative ‘might have been’ formulation here suggests to me that there is no such evidence. Morris gives us a graphic portrayal of an employer victimising an employee for his political views in section VI of The Pilgrims of Hope, so he hardly seems likely to have indulged in the same practice.