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    Chapter 11

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    Chapter 11
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    Soon after I began to attend the lectures, a French class was
    started in the old coach-house for certain young socialists who
    planned a tour in France, and I joined it and was for a time a
    model student constantly encouraged by the compliments of the old
    French mistress. I told my father of the class, and he asked me to
    get my sisters admitted. I made difficulties and put off speaking
    of the matter, for I knew that the new and admirable self I was
    making would turn, under family eyes, into plain rag doll. How
    could I pretend to be industrious, and even carry dramatization to
    the point of learning my lessons, when my sisters were there and
    knew that I was nothing of the kind? But I had no argument I could
    use and my sisters were admitted. They said nothing unkind, so far
    as I can remember, but in a week or two I was my old procrastinating
    idle self and had soon left the class altogether. My elder sister
    stayed on and became an embroideress under Miss May Morris,
    and the hangings round Morris's big bed at Kelmscott House,
    Oxfordshire, with their verses about lying happily in bed when
    'all birds sing in the town of the tree,' were from her needle
    though not from her design. She worked for the first few months
    at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, and in my imagination I cannot
    always separate what I saw and heard from her report, or indeed
    from the report of that tribe or guild who looked up to Morris
    as to some worshipped mediaeval king. He had no need for other
    people. I doubt if their marriage or death made him sad or glad,
    and yet no man I have known was so well loved; you saw him
    producing everywhere organisation and beauty, seeming, almost in
    the same instant, helpless and triumphant; and people loved him as
    children are loved. People much in his neighbourhood became
    gradually occupied with him, or about his affairs, and without any
    wish on his part, as simple people become occupied with children.
    I remember a man who was proud and pleased because he had
    distracted Morris' thoughts from an attack of gout by leading the
    conversation delicately to the hated name of Milton. He began at
    Swinburne. 'Oh, Swinburne,' said Morris, 'is a rhetorician; my
    masters have been Keats and Chaucer for they make pictures.' 'Does
    not Milton make pictures?' asked my informant. 'No,' was the
    answer, 'Dante makes pictures, but Milton, though he had a great
    earnest mind, expressed himself as a rhetorician.' 'Great earnest
    mind,' sounded strange to me and I doubt not that were his
    questioner not a simple man, Morris had been more violent. Another
    day the same man started by praising Chaucer, but the gout was

    worse and Morris cursed Chaucer for destroying the English
    language with foreign words.

    He had few detachable phrases and I can remember little of his
    speech, which many thought the best of all good talk, except that
    it matched his burly body and seemed within definite boundaries
    inexhaustible in fact and expression. He alone of all the men I
    have known seemed guided by some beast-like instinct and never ate
    strange meat. 'Balzac! Balzac!' he said to me once, 'Oh, that was
    the man the French bourgeoisie read so much a few years ago.' I
    can remember him at supper praising wine: 'Why do people say it is
    prosaic to be inspired by wine? Has it not been made by the
    sunlight and the sap?' and his dispraising houses decorated by
    himself: 'Do you suppose I like that kind of house? I would like a
    house like a big barn, where one ate in one corner, cooked in
    another corner, slept in the third corner & in the fourth received
    one's friends'; and his complaining of Ruskin's objection to the
    underground railway: 'If you must have a railway the best thing
    you can do with it is to put it in a tube with a cork at each
    end.' I remember too that when I asked what led up to his
    movement, he replied, 'Oh, Ruskin and Carlyle, but somebody should
    have been beside Carlyle and punched his head every five minutes.'
    Though I remember little, I do not doubt that, had I continued
    going there on Sunday evenings, I should have caught fire from his
    words and turned my hand to some mediaeval work or other. Just
    before I had ceased to go there I had sent my 'Wanderings of
    Usheen' to his daughter, hoping of course that it might meet his
    eyes, & soon after sending it I came upon him by chance in
    Holborn. 'You write my sort of poetry,' he said and began to
    praise me and to promise to send his praise to 'The Commonwealth,'
    the League organ, and he would have said more of a certainty had
    he not caught sight of a new ornamental cast-iron lamp-post and
    got very heated upon that subject.

    I did not read economics, having turned socialist because of
    Morris's lectures and pamphlets, and I think it unlikely that Morris
    himself could read economics. That old dogma of mine seemed germane
    to the matter. If the men and women imagined by the poets were the
    norm, and if Morris had, in, let us say, 'News from Nowhere,' then
    running through 'The Commonwealth,' described such men and women
    living under their natural conditions or as they would desire to
    live, then those conditions themselves must be the norm, and could
    we but get rid of certain institutions the world would turn from
    eccentricity. Perhaps Morris himself justified himself in his own
    heart by as simple an argument, and was, as the socialist D... said
    to me one night walking home after some lecture, 'an anarchist
    without knowing it.' Certainly I and all about me, including D...
    himself, were for chopping up the old king for Medea's pot. Morris
    had told us to have nothing to do with the parliamentary socialists,
    represented for men in general by the Fabian Society and Hyndman's
    Socialist Democratic Federation and for us in particular by D...
    During the period of transition mistakes must be made, and the
    discredit of these mistakes must be left to 'the bourgeoisie;' and
    besides, when you begin to talk of this measure or that other you
    lose sight of the goal and see, to reverse Swinburne's description
    of Tiresias, 'light on the way but darkness on the goal.' By
    mistakes Morris meant vexatious restrictions and compromises--'If
    any man puts me into a labour squad, I will lie on my back and
    kick.' That phrase very much expresses our idea of revolutionary
    tactics: we all intended to lie upon our back and kick. D..., pale
    and sedentary, did not dislike labour squads and we all hated him
    with the left side of our heads, while admiring him immensely with
    the right. He alone was invited to entertain Mrs. Morris, having
    many tales of his Irish uncles, more especially of one particular
    uncle who had tried to commit suicide by shutting his head into a
    carpet bag. At that time he was an obscure man, known only for a
    witty speaker at street corners and in Park demonstrations. He had,
    with an assumed truculence and fury, cold logic, an universal
    gentleness, an unruffled courtesy, and yet could never close a
    speech without being denounced by a journeyman hatter with an
    Italian name. Converted to socialism by D..., and to anarchism by
    himself, with swinging arm and uplifted voice this man perhaps
    exaggerated our scruple about parliament. 'I lack,' said D..., 'the
    bump of reverence;' whereon the wild man shouted 'You 'ave a 'ole.'
    There are moments when looking back I somewhat confuse my own figure
    with that of the hatter, image of our hysteria, for I too became
    violent with the violent solemnity of a religious devotee. I can
    even remember sitting behind D... and saying some rude thing or
    other over his shoulder. I don't remember why I gave it up but I did
    quite suddenly; and I think the push may have come from a young
    workman who was educating himself between Morris and Karl Marx. He
    had planned a history of the navy and when I had spoken of the
    battleship of Nelson's day, had said: 'Oh, that was the decadence of
    the battleship,' but if his naval interests were mediaeval, his
    ideas about religion were pure Karl Marx, and we were soon in
    perpetual argument. Then gradually the attitude towards religion of
    almost everybody but Morris, who avoided the subject altogether, got
    upon my nerves, for I broke out after some lecture or other with all
    the arrogance of raging youth. They attacked religion, I said, or
    some such words, and yet there must be a change of heart and only
    religion could make it. What was the use of talking about some near
    revolution putting all things right, when the change must come, if
    come it did, with astronomical slowness, like the cooling of the sun
    or, it may have been, like the drying of the moon? Morris rang his
    chairman's bell, but I was too angry to listen, and he had to ring
    it a second time before I sat down. He said that night at supper:
    'Of course I know there must be a change of heart, but it will not
    come as slowly as all that. I rang my bell because you were not
    being understood.' He did not show any vexation, but I never
    returned after that night; and yet I did not always believe what I
    had said and only gradually gave up thinking of and planning for
    some near sudden change for the better.
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