Friday, June 7th, 2013...9:30 am

You’ve Got Mail: Eight Further Unpublished Letters by William Morris

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William Morris, ALS to Laurence Hodson, June 17, 1895.On 4 April 2013 books, manuscripts, and art work from the collection of Laurence W. Hodson (1864-1933) were auctioned at Bloomsbury Auctions in London. Hodson also sold books and manuscripts from his library in 1906, but this most recent auction will allow scholars to evaluate more effectively Hodson’s role as an important art collector; as founder, with C. R. Ashbee, of the Essex House Press; and as patron of William Morris. Houghton Library acquired a number of lots at the auction, including extensive correspondence with Sydney Cockerell, F. J. Furnivall and Emery Walker and other members of the Kelmscott Press circle, and eight hitherto unrecorded and unpublished letters from Morris to Hodson. A correspondence between Morris and Hodson had been hypothesized since Morris and Co. were engaged to refurbish the interior of Hodson’s residence, Compton Hall, near Wolverhampton, and the last wallpaper designed by the company was produced for the house and bears its name, “Compton.”

Morris’s letters to Hodson are dated or datable between 24 November 1893 and 20 June 1895. There is little in them that will be new to Morris scholars, but they do document his working relationship with Hodson and corroborate details of episodes in Morris’s life. For example, in a letter dated 17 June 1895 and in response to an invitation to visit him, Morris wrote to Hodson:

I am very sorry, but much as I should like such a pleasant excursion I cannot come, as I always go to Burne-Jones on Sunday when we are in London both: and on Saturday I am engaged elsewhere. ¶ I spent a day examining the forest in company (amongst others) one of its local defenders about a month ago. My verdict on the work done there is that they have not done a great deal of harm as yet, but they have done nothing but harm; and that the tendency is to do harm. ¶ You know, I think, that I was born in Clay Street Walthamstow, and that I lived for the greater part of my boyhood at Woodford Hall. I hope you will manage to come & see me before you go back.

The reference is to Epping Forest which Morris visited on 7 May 1895 and about which he wrote letters to the Editor of the Daily Chronicle on 22 and 27 April and 8 May 1895.

In another letter, datable to 2 August 1894, Morris responded to an earlier invitation from Hodson:

I must make abject apologies to you for not answering your letter as I thought I had. The fact is I was kept dancing attendance on a lawyer who had got me as witness in a case, and I was hung up between heaven & earth, and so bothered that I did not know what I had done. I hear from Mr. Smith that you will be away for a month; when you come back I shall be happy to come on any day you may appoint; though I should be obliged if you could give me two or three days’ notice. ¶ Asking your pardon again for my apparent rudeness.

William Morris, ALS to Laurence Hodson, August 2, 1894.

Morris was called as a character witness in the trial of Thomas Edward Cantwell, the compositor of the socialist newsletter, Commonweal. Cantwell and Charles Thomas Quinn were charged with incitement to murder of members of the Royal family. The Times, 1 August 1894, reported (p. 3) that: “Called as a character witness, Morris said he had known Cantwell when they were both members of the Socialist League, and his impression was that he was a good-natured man, perhaps rather rash—‘boyish’ was the word the witness would use.” The jury found Cantwell and Quinn guilty and they were sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labor.

The William Morris letters and the Laurence W. Hodson papers were acquired the Louis J. Appell, Jr. Fund for British Civilzation.

This post is part of a feature on the Houghton Library blog, “You’ve Got Mail,” based on letters in Houghton Library. A Houghton staff member selects a letter from the diverse collections in the Library and puts that letter into context. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the You’veGotMail tag.

[Thanks to William Stoneman, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library, for contributing this post.]

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