our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a


How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris

Hornbake Library Exhibition Features Rare William Morris Books and DesignsThe 19th-century author and designer William Morris is featured in an exhibition at the Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland.

The exhibition, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, opens on September 4, 2012, and runs through July 2013.

Morris (1834 – 1896) was a British poet, designer, artist-craftsman, typographer, preservationist, early environmentalist, socialist and business owner. ...


a few notes on Morris from my archive (this from negative capability):

The implicit message of the fairy romances then is plain: heroism is not dead; the earth calls to each man and woman in her hour of need; she will be saved and revitalized by those strong of heart who heed the call; and those are blessed indeed who give their all to destiny. Morris once described himself as 'careless of metaphysics and religion, as well as of scientific analysis, but with a deep love of the earth and life on it, and a passion for the history of the past of mankind". On another occasion he remarked, "In religion, I am a pagan." That is to say, Morris's concern first and foremost was for the life of this earth, and the romances would be anomalous if they did not evidence the same abiding concern.


An important influence on Tolkien: William Morris. Morris, who said human work and creation is 'beautiful if it is in accord with Nature, and helps her; ugly if it is discordant with Nature, and thwarts her.' It always struck me, and I'm glad to see John Garth bring it out in his book Tolkien and the Great War :

For all his interest in science and scientific stringency, and in keeping with his irrepressibly 'romantic' sensitivities, Tolkien was not satisfied by materialist views of reality. To him, the world resounded to the echoes of the past. In one Stapeldon Society debate he proposed 'That this house believes in ghosts', but his idiosyncratic personal belief, nearer to mysticism than to superstition, is better expressed in a poem published in Exeter College's Stapeldon Magazine in December 1913:

From the many-willow'd margin of the immemorial Thames,
Standing in a vale outcarven in a world-forgotten day,
There is dimly seen uprising through the greenly veiled stems,
Many-mansion'd, tower-crowned in its dreamy robe of grey,
All the city by the fording: aged in the lives of men,
Proudly wrapt in mystic mem'ry overpassing human ken.
In its rather grandiloquent fashion (with a long line probably inspired by William Morris) this suggests that the enduring character of Oxford predated the arrival of its inhabitants, as if the university were meant to emerge in this valley. Here is an early glimpse of the spirit of place that pervades much of Tolkien's work: human variety is partly shaped by geography, the work of the divine hand. Studying the literature of the Old North in Oxford, Tolkien's imaginative faculties began to strain after the forgotten outlines of 'mystic mem'ry' which he believed had made the world what it is. (p 35)

In the paragraph just before, Garth tells us Tolkien bought books about medieval Welsh -- and Morris's The House of Wolfings, The Life and Death of Jason, and his translation of the Icelandic Volsunga Saga with his Skeat Prize money in 1914.
It was The Earthly Paradise that Tolkien carried with him into the war:
"Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small, and white, and clean."

Bartleby's description of The Earthly Paradise:
...a series of twentyfour tales in verse, two for each month of the year, published in three volumes between 1868 and 1870. They are bound together, in imitation of Chaucer, by a connecting link which forms the subject of the prologue. A company of wanderers, driven from their Scandinavian home by the great pestilence which overspread Europe in the middle of the fourteenth century, after long journeyings in search of the fabled earthly paradise, come, “shrivelled, bent, and grey,” to “a nameless city in a distant sea,” where Hellenic civilization and culture have been preserved. Here, they find rest and hospitality, and twice a month they and their hosts meet at a solemn feast, at which a story is related. An ingenious medley of romance is thus provided. Twelve of the stories, told by the elders of the city, come from classical sources; the other twelve, told by the wanderers, are derived chiefly from medieval Latin, French and Icelandic originals, with gleanings from Mandeville and The Arabian Nights. The metrical forms employed throughout are Chaucerian, with those inevitable modifications which the progress of literary form had brought to pass.

That 'Mystic Mem'ry' Tolkien writes of we keep forgetting and remembering. It's the heart of LOTR, and modern works like the movie ( http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/adaptation/index.html ) Adaptation... those bees that look like the orchids they make love to: all they do is follow their heart... all they do is what Nature made them to do, and they do it without any knowledge but love. Nature is wise, wiser, wiser than any of us. The great scheme unfolds when we follow the heart. Do that, is all. It's why you were born. All the rest -- a flash in the pan.

Symbiosis is the principle of what endures.

When you've studied biology, macro and micro, you find you fall in love with such things. Everyday, steeped in soulful colloids sleeping on the brink of life: impregnate them with -cides and -stats, and they become battlegrounds of the chosen stillborn, poppy fields of abjuration...

Romantics, all, deep in the blood agar agar. :)


Amidst the storm he won a prisoner's rest;
But in the cloudy dawn the sun arisen
Brings us our day of work to win the best.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.
~William Morris