In an earlier post on this blog I totted up a list of Morris’s recurrent phrases as noted by family members, friends and biographers (17 January 2009). In a comment to that post Linda noted that ‘What is the next job to be?’ was Morris’s ‘refrain’, according to his daughter May (Introductions, vol II, p.400); and since then I’ve come across a few additional ones myself. In her book on Morris’s poetry, J.M.S. Tompkins 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); and in his 1975 biography, Jack Lindsay remarks that ‘”We of the middle-class” were words often upon his lips’ (p.133). We should also note that Morris himself knew exactly how irritating recurrent phrases could be, as with the relentless ‘You like that, do you?’ of the Old Grumbler in News from Nowhere.
More recently, I think I’ve spotted yet another Morrisian locution. In her biography Fiona MacCarthy writes that he ‘liked to describe a peach as “pinch-ripe”’ (p.7); and in May Morris’s letters to John Quinn she at one point remarks that after a long and draining day she is ‘what my Father would have called “bed-ripe”’ (26 March 1912). Are these the faint archaeological traces of another favourite Morris formulation, then? Could we even extend its usage, so that the England of 1950 in News from Nowhere is presumably ‘revolution-ripe’, or Birdalone in The Water of the Wondrous Isles, as she quivers with desire, might be described as ‘sex-ripe’? I suspect that the list of Morrisian turns of phrase will continue slowly to grow, though we may have to become more ingenious, or just more lucky, as to how we happen across them.