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William Morris Society in the United States
Newsletter April 1989


From Florence Boos comes a report on the Morris session at the 1 April meeting of the Northeast Modern Language Association in Wilmington, DE:

Three speakers offered talks in a session on William Morris moderated by Carolyn Collette, professor of English at Mount Holyoke College. In "Victorian Historicism and A Dream of John Ball" Florence Boos (University of Iowa) examined the participatory narrative structure of Morris's treatment of the Peasant Uprising as a partial realization of some tenets of nineteenth century historicism expressed by the hermeneutic philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey, and briefly considered the range and limitations of Victorian historicism as a whole. In "William Morris's `The Haystack in the Floods': An Uncharacteristic Pre-Raphaelite Poem,' Veronica M. S. Kennedy (St. John's University) studied the poem's stylistic and thematic nuances, and found in it and other examples of Morris's early poetry anticipations of Eliot's "The Waste Land" and other twentieth century poetic portrayals of physical and psychological desolation. Rowland Elzea (Delaware Art Museum) then provided an introduction to the Museum's Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft collection (which includes, among many art works, Holman Hunt's 1867 Isabella and the Pot of Basil, Marie Spartali Stillman's Beatrice, and D. G. Rossetti's Found and La Bella Mano), and observed that Bancroft's unpublished personal letters and documents have not been fully mined for information about nineteenth century art collections in the United States. Twenty minutes of questions followed the talks: several inquired about the Museum's holdings; and others asked Florence Boos to explain a remark made in her paper, that "Victorian women were less ardent medievalizers" than their male counterparts. Marjorie Stone (Dalhousie University) suggested that Barrett Browning's 1844 ballads provide at least a partial counterexample.

Richard Currie (College of Staten Island, New York 14260) will chair next year's NEMLA Morris session, and the session's secretary will be Veronica Kennedy. Essays and proposals should consider some aspect of Morris's socialism, and should be sent to Professor Currie by 1 September 1989.

Carolyn Collette kindly arranged for a tour of the Delaware Art Museum and visit to the Bancroft collections the next afternoon, and two busloads of NEMLA members made the trip. The careful symbolism of Rossetti's backgrounds seemed more discernible on canvas than in reproductions, and lesser-known works by Hughes, Sandys, and Stillman bore scrutiny well. Among the museum's decorative artwork of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are glazed bowls and tiles, jeweled silver necklaces and vases, book illustrations and embroidered book covers.

A second group travelled to Winterthur, site of the largest collection of hand-crafted American furniture in the United States, bought by Henry Du Pont and preserved by his heirs. Only 19 of the museum's 800 display rooms were open without advance reservations, but this North American counterpart of the Victoria and Albert's furniture galleries provided a useful cross-section of furniture from upper and upper-middle class homes of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Among other things, visitors remarked on on a mid-eighteenth-century fashion for Oriental designs, a fondness for on-site domestic murals done by itinerant artists, and a shift to somewhat lighter, graceful styles which seemed to follow the American revolution.


Visitors this year to a number of American museums have the opportunity of seeing a number of unusual and seldom exhibited Pre-Raphaelite drawings. At the National Gallery of Art (to 21 May) in Washington, Master Drawings from the National Gallery of Canada contains William Holman Hunt's 1876 chalk portrait of his second wife Edith, an ink and wash version of Millais's The Return of the Dove to the Ark, and Frederic Sandys Proud Maisie (1902). The star of the show is undoubtedly Mrs. Morris, depicted in Rossetti's crayon study The Roseleaf, last exhibited in the United States in 1964. Rossetti must be much in favor at the National Gallery at the moment, since the concurrent hodgepodge, Treasures from the Fitzwilliam (19 March-18 June 1989) includes, as its only Pre-Raphaelite representation (there are some Blakes worth noting) an exquisite drawing of Elizabeth Siddal dating from about 1854. Miss Siddal can be seen in other parts of the country, as the Fitzwilliam show moves to Forth Worth (Kimball Art Museum, 15 July-8 October 1989), New York (National Academy of Design, 5 November 1989-28 January 1989), Atlanta (High Museum, 20 February-6 May 1990), and Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum, 21 June-8 September 1990).


Some might say that there is a touch of irony in what may well be the Morris event of the year. On 19 May, Christie's will sell the final portion of the Estelle Laurence Doheny Library, 135 or so lots all devoted to "William Morris and his Circle. These items, showing Morris as writer, calligrapher, printer, agnostic and Socialist, were collected by a Papal countess, the wife of a multimillionaire oil "robber baron" involved with the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s. And, given the "track record" of the previous Doheny sales and the booming market in rare books and manuscripts, most everything will be bought by similar private collectors, many of whom are buying for investment, not for love of Morris.

The highlight of the sale is the breathtakingly beautiful calligraphic manuscript of The Aeneid of Virgil. Illuminated by Morris's friend Charles Fairfax Murray, the manuscript was left unfinished at Morris's death; it was later "completed" by Graily Hewitt. The manuscript has never been reproduced in its entirety but a book about it, A Pre-Raphaelite Aeneid of Virgil, was privately issued by Mrs. Doheny in the 1930s. For those interested in making a bid, the pre-sale estimate hovers in the range of a quarter of a million dollars. Another calligraphic manuscript by Morris, The Story of Frijthiof the Bold, carries a somewhat less lofty price tag.

In addition there are two "straight" autograph manuscripts of significance, Morris's A Note on his Aims on Founding the Kelmscott Press and News from Nowhere. A large number of Kelmscott Press titles accompany these, including the Chaucer, one of the 13 copies printed on vellum. The rare Oxford and Cambridge Magazine (1856)-the undergraduate publication sponsored by Morris and containing his first published work- is present and there are a number of volumes inscribed by Morris to his friends. A particularly interesting association item is Morris's copy of Marx's Le Capital (1867), one of the earliest books bound by Thomas J. Cobden-Sanderson.


Later this year the American branch of the Society will issue The Widow's House by the Great Water. One of Morris's few remaining unpublished prose tales, the text will be introduced and edited by Helen Timo. It is expected that the publication will be in booklet form and printed in an edition of 200 copies. Further details will be found in the next Newsletter.


The Victorians Institute 1989 meeting will be held on 20-31 October at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, VA. The major topic will be 'Victorian Mixed Media' and the session on 20 October will commemorate the Browning centenary. For information contact: David Latane, Department of English, Virginia Commonwealth University, Box 2005, Richmond, VA 23284.

Another conference, Robert Browning and Nineteenth Century Culture, will be held on 20-22 September 1989 at Baylor University. This event will coincide with the major exhibition of Browningiana organized by the Armstrong Browning Library (the show will also come to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York). For information write to : Roger L. Brooks, Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76798.

The Center for British Studies at the University of Colorado was started in September 1988. In addition to research materials in British history, literature, and the arts, the Center houses the university's collection of British government documents and primary and secondary materials, including microfilms of rare books and manuscripts. The Center also plans to sponsor seminars and conferences dealing with various aspects of British studies. The executive director K. McIntosh, who teaches history at Colorado. Please contact the Center for British Studies, CB 184, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309.

A panel on News from Nowhere will be one of the features of the 1990 College English Association conference, to be held in Buffalo, NY. Florence Boos and Carole Silver are expected to be among the speakers. For more information contact: James R. Bennett, Department of English, University of Arkansas, 333 Kimpel Hall, Fayetteville, AK 72701.


John Roy, professor of psychiatry at McMaster University, is working on Lena Wardle (Madeline Smith), wife of Morris's socialist associate George Wardle. He is especially interested in the whereabouts of her letters and of a purported diary kept by George Wardle. Readers are asked to write to him at McMaster University, Department of Psychiatry, 1200 Main Street, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8N 3Z5.

Terry L. Meyers is working on a supplementary volume (no. 7) to Cecil Y. Lang's edition of The Swinburne Letters. Readers with knowledge of unpublished or unlocated letters from (or to) the author of Atalanta in Calydon are invited to contact him at the Department of English, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA.

A new authorized bibliography of the work of Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) is being compiled by Mark Samuels Lasner (for address see end of this Newsletter), to be published by Oxford University Press in their "Soho" series. The bibliography will cover Max's writings and caricatures, and will include sections devoted to his broadcasts, exhibition catalogues, and translations, among other things. The compiler has been known to take time off from his duties as Newsletter editor (Morris Society), American representative (Tennyson Society), and President (of his apartment building) to respond to information-no matter how seemingly trivial- provided by other Maximilians. Of particular interest are details of Max's ephemeral publications, periodical appearances, dealings with publishers, and unpublished or unlocated caricature drawings.


The life and art of Barbara Bodichon, née Leigh Smith, feminist, artist, and author, is the subject of research by John Crabbe (303 Whitehorse Lane, South Norwood, London SE25 England). Morrisians will remember that it was Bodichon who lent her country house, Scalands, in Sussex, to Rossetti (coiner of the quoted description), first in 1854, during Elizabeth Siddal's illness, and again in 1870, at the time of the publication of his Poems. Mr. Crabbe is particularly eager to hear from anyone who knows the whereabouts of several of Bodichon's paintings said to be in this country and to have have been sold from the 1857 American travelling exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art.



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