Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Morris Dictum (via Yeats)

W.B. Yeats wrote a good deal about William Morris in his autobiographical writings and also has that fine essay on him, ‘The Happiest of the Poets’, but I do not offhand recall in all that material this particular Morris saying, which is relayed at secondhand by L.A.G. Strong, a student at Wadham College who knew the Irish poet during the years in which he lived in Broad Street, Oxford (from 1919).  In his own autobiography, Green Memories, Strong writes: ‘One night, an undergraduate was present who professed a very fastidious taste in literature, and looked pained when he was advised to read a certain popular author.  Yeats was always extremely tolerant of young men’s opinions, unless they affected superiority.  Then he could flatten them as well as anyone.  He turned on the young man, telling him that if a thing was good the setting did not matter.  “William Morris used to say, to the people who claimed they could only read Shakespeare, ‘Rubbish.  Flame is flame wherever you find it’”.