Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Morris and Philology

Working my way through Jack Lindsay’s still impressive Morris biography, I stop with a Wordsworthian ‘gentle shock of mild surprise’ on page 235, where we read that ‘this year [1879] he was also one of the scholars who met regularly at the Philological Society’.  Did he indeed?  I don’t remember that detail in Mackail or MacCarthy or Nick Salmon’s Morris Chronology or Norman Kelvin’s edition of the Collected Letters.  Lindsay’s source for his claim is Alois Brandl’s statement in 1911 that ‘when I first made [F.S.] Furnivall’s acquaintance, he was one of a circle of scholars who regularly met at the Philological Society: Ellis, Morris, Murray, Sweet’ (p.10).

It would after all make good sense if Morris did attend the Philological Society’s meetings.  There was an early plan to review R.C. Trench’s History of English Words for the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine.  Morris praised ‘the great philologers of the eighteenth century’ in his lecture on ‘The Gothic Revival’, pronounced that ‘philology can be taught, but “English Literature” cannot’ in a letter of November 1886, and demonstrated in his late romances a highly developed sense of linguistic history and experiment (to the point, indeed, where one feels he is close to developing a private literary code or idolect along the lines of later modernist writers).

We have had excellent studies by Dennis Taylor and Cary Plotkin of Victorian philology in relation to the poetic idioms of Thomas Hardy and Gerard Manley Hopkins.  High time we had the fullscale tome we so certainly need on philology and Morris.

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