Friday, 9 February 2018

Anger at Morris

In his William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, E.P. Thompson gives a powerful evocation of the shock and grief of the wider socialist movement at the news of Morris’s death on 3 October 1896.  ‘Hundreds and thousands of workers, comrades known and unknown to Morris, sorrowed at the news’, he writes; and he ends his account by quoting a moving tribute from the Lancashire branch of the Social-Democratic Federation: ‘Comrade Morris is not dead there is not a Socialist living whould belive him dead for he Lives in the heart of all true men and women still and will do so to the end of time’.

However, James Leatham suggests that there was a second, and quite different, phase of socialist response to Morris’s death.  Born in 1865, Leatham had been apprenticed to a printer in Aberdeen at the age of thirteen, and met Morris on the latter’s first visit to that city in March 1888.  The following year he started his own printing house and published four Morris pamphlets from 1891 onwards; such was his ardent devotion that he named his eldest daughter May Morris Leatham!

So Leatham writes with some authority as a late-Victorian working-class socialist, and in his William Morris: Master of Many Crafts (1899) informs us, rather unsettlingly, that ‘When, shortly after Morris’s death in 1896, his will was proved, the fact that he left a large fortune to his relatives, but made no bequest to the funds of the Socialist organizations, excited much hostile comment’.  I don’t think I’ve come across that claim before.  Has it been mentioned in recent scholarship and, more importantly, has it ever been thoroughly looked into?  What exactly were the sources of the ‘hostile comment’ that Leatham is evoking here?


Tony Pinkney said...

I note that Martin Crick, in his splendid 'History of the Social-Democratic Federation'(1994), describes Leatham as "the principal standard-bearer of Socialism in his native city and ... indeed, one of the leading Socialist pioneers in Scotland during the late 1880s and early 1890s" (p.311). That account presumably further strengthens one's sense of the authority with which he pronounces upon socialist responses to Morris's death in 1896.

Kotick said...

There’s a marked contrast between Morris and the Hyndmans here, Tony. Rosalind Hyndman killed herself seventeen months after her husband’s death in November 1921, and, according to Chushichi Tsuzuki, "By her will all her possessions were to go to such causes as would keep alive the memory of her husband’s work, except for £600 in cash, to be divided among needy members of the S.D.F. [Social-Democratic Federation]. All pecuniary benefits from his or her literary works were to finance a “Hyndman Literary Trust” … and the remainder of her property was to support the general work of the S.D.F.” (p.269). So quite considerable benefits to the socialist movement from their will, unlike Morris’s.

Tony Pinkney said...

The Hyndmans didn't have children, of course, let alone an invalid one like Jenny Morris who would need a lifetime of care, so they were much freer in the way they disposed of their collective assets. Jan Marsh has some pertinent thoughts here: 'In William Morris's will his estate, valued at £55,000, was left in trust for his wife and daughters. The "Daily News" remarked unkindly that this bequest by a socialist agitator "shows the highest appreciation of the rights of property ... the 'comrades' are cut off without a shilling". But Morris had never made the mistake of supposing that the Cause was furthered by charitable donations'. See her 'Jane and May Morris: A Biographical Story, 1839-1938', first edition, p.238.

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