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Chapter 10

I cannot remember who first brought me to the old stable beside
Kelmscott House, William Morris' house at Hammersmith, & to the
debates held there upon Sunday evenings by the socialist League. I
was soon of the little group who had supper with Morris
afterwards. I met at these suppers very constantly Walter Crane,
Emery Walker presently, in association with Cobden Sanderson, the
printer of many fine books, and less constantly Bernard Shaw and
Cockerell, now of the museum of Cambridge, and perhaps but once or
twice Hyndman the socialist and the anarchist Prince Krapotkin.
There too one always met certain more or less educated workmen,
rough of speech and manner, with a conviction to meet every turn.
I was told by one of them, on a night when I had done perhaps more
than my share of the talking, that I had talked more nonsense in
one evening than he had heard in the whole course of his past
life. I had merely preferred Parnell, then at the height of his
career, to Michael Davitt who had wrecked his Irish influence by
international politics. We sat round a long unpolished and
unpainted trestle table of new wood in a room where hung
Rossetti's 'Pomegranate,' a portrait of Mrs. Morris, and where one
wall and part of the ceiling were covered by a great Persian
carpet. Morris had said somewhere or other that carpets were meant
for people who took their shoes off when they entered a house, and
were most in place upon a tent floor. I was a little disappointed
in the house, for Morris was an old man content at last to gather
beautiful things rather than to arrange a beautiful house. I saw
the drawing-room once or twice and there alone all my sense of
decoration, founded upon the background of Rossetti's pictures,
was satisfied by a big cupboard painted with a scene from Chaucer
by Burne Jones, but even there were objects, perhaps a chair or a
little table, that seemed accidental, bought hurriedly perhaps,
and with little thought, to make wife or daughter comfortable. I
had read as a boy in books belonging to my father, the third
volume of 'The Earthly Paradise' and 'The Defence of Guinevere,'
which pleased me less, but had not opened either for a long time.
'The man who never laughed again' had seemed the most wonderful of
tales till my father had accused me of preferring Morris to Keats,
got angry about it and put me altogether out of countenance. He
had spoiled my pleasure, for now I questioned while I read and at
last ceased to read; nor had Morris written as yet those prose
romances that became, after his death, so great a joy that they
were the only books I was ever to read slowly that I might not
come too quickly to the end. It was now Morris himself that
stirred my interest, and I took to him first because of some
little tricks of speech and body that reminded me of my old
grandfather in Sligo, but soon discovered his spontaneity and joy
and made him my chief of men. To-day I do not set his poetry very
high, but for an odd altogether wonderful line, or thought; and
yet, if some angel offered me the choice, I would choose to live
his life, poetry and all, rather than my own or any other man's. A
reproduction of his portrait by Watts hangs over my mantlepiece
with Henley's, and those of other friends. Its grave wide-open
eyes, like the eyes of some dreaming beast, remind me of the open
eyes of Titian's' Ariosto,' while the broad vigorous body suggests
a mind that has no need of the intellect to remain sane, though it
give itself to every phantasy, the dreamer of the middle ages. It
is 'the fool of fairy ... wide and wild as a hill,' the resolute
European image that yet half remembers Buddha's motionless
meditation, and has no trait in common with the wavering, lean
image of hungry speculation, that cannot but fill the mind's eye
because of certain famous Hamlets of our stage. Shakespeare
himself foreshadowed a symbolic change, that shows a change in the
whole temperament of the world, for though he called his Hamlet
'fat, and scant of breath,' he thrust between his fingers agile
rapier and dagger.

The dream world of Morris was as much the antithesis of daily life
as with other men of genius, but he was never conscious of the
antithesis and so knew nothing of intellectual suffering. His
intellect, unexhausted by speculation or casuistry, was wholly at
the service of hand and eye, and whatever he pleased he did with
an unheard of ease and simplicity, and if style and vocabulary
were at times monotonous, he could not have made them otherwise
without ceasing to be himself. Instead of the language of Chaucer
and Shakespeare, its warp fresh from field and market, if the woof
were learned, his age offered him a speech, exhausted from
abstraction, that only returned to its full vitality when written
learnedly and slowly. The roots of his antithetical dream were
visible enough: a never idle man of great physical strength and
extremely irascible--did he not fling a badly baked plum pudding
through the window upon Xmas Day?--a man more joyous than any
intellectual man of our world, called himself 'the idle singer of
an empty day' created new forms of melancholy, and faint persons,
like the knights & ladies of Burne Jones, who are never, no, not
once in forty volumes, put out of temper. A blunderer, who had
said to the only unconverted man at a socialist picnic in Dublin,
to prove that equality came easy, 'I was brought up a gentleman
and now, as you can see, associate with all sorts,' and left
wounds thereby that rankled after twenty years, a man of whom I
have heard it said 'He is always afraid that he is doing something
wrong, and generally is,' wrote long stories with apparently no
other object than that his persons might show one another, through
situations of poignant difficulty, the most exquisite tact.

He did not project, like Henley or like Wilde, an image of
himself, because, having all his imagination set on making and
doing, he had little self-knowledge. He imagined instead new
conditions of making and doing; and, in the teeth of those
scientific generalisations that cowed my boyhood, I can see some
like imagining in every great change, believing that the first
flying fish leaped, not because it sought 'adaptation' to the air,
but out of horror of the sea.

William Butler Yeats

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