Unpublished Tales for The Earthly Paradise


Edited by David Latham



This critical edition of the unpublished first Prologue and four tales initially written for The Earthly Paradise makes the longest poem in the English language still longer.1 But that is not the purpose of the edition. Rather, the purpose is to prove how seriously Morris practised his craft. It provides the data for studying Morris’s manner of composition, and thereby correcting the false impression that this busy man’s prodigious output of work suggests much haste and little thought. The impression arose from taking the modest poet at his word. Slighting his own achievement with the embarrassed shrug – “Well if this is poetry, it is very easy to write” (Mackail 1:52) – Morris somehow fed the incredible notion that he did not really know what he was doing. But, consistent with every other line of work he undertook, the revisions in his manuscripts reveal the serious craftsman’s careful attention to detail.

The last extant manuscript serves as copy-text for each of these five omitted parts of the poem, even when Morris oversaw the publication of a few fragments from the manuscripts. The edition is not meant to establish the final authorial intention, but to provide a record of all the emendations and variants that enable the study of Morris’s craftsmanship. These variants and emendations discredit the assumption that Morris revised his poetry by discarding whole stanzas to avoid the fussy work of polishing lines. Moreover, a reconstruction of the stages of his revision suggests that the manuscripts considered to be his first drafts are actually transcriptions of trial notes.

Since Morris routinely introduced revisions as he was copying his drafts, the term “fair copy” may appear as a misnomer for what technically are last drafts. But so active a man as Morris could not be expected to sit for hours transcribing word for word with no second thoughts. When he decided to add a new couplet, the revision may be heavy, as he appears to be composing rather than transcribing (see, for examples, lines 953-54 of “The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice,” lines 109-12 of “The Wooing of Swanhild,” and lines 303-05 of “The Story of Aristomenes”). What I and May Morris call “fair copies” are those manuscripts which Morris began as fair copies but inevitably could not resist the need to polish. In tales as long as these of the longest poem in English, it would be unfair to expect the poet to ever arrive upon a draft which he is content to copy without reconsidering an image, phrase, or line.


We know that the faculty for speed in his  writing allowed Morris to indulge to the full his practice of re-writing, casting aside beginnings that did not work out to his liking. Here is evidence of it in concrete form, in the mass of Earthly Paradise MS.– a collection so important, so unique as showing a poet at work at his craft that one can that but hope that, unluckily scattered as it now is, it will find its way in time to the British Museum for the benefit of students. (William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist 1:402)

So hoped May Morris in 1936, but the manuscripts of this massive poem remain scattered around the world. Having tracked down this scattered mass, I wish here to focus on those sections which William Morris chose to omit from The Earthly Paradise, thus focussing on the care he took with the least finished parts of his work. First, I attempt to establish the chronology of their composition according to watermarks, numbered notebooks, advertisements for forthcoming tales, and contemporary correspondence. Second, I discuss examples of revisions that demonstrate his careftsmanship. Third, I conclude that the poem is a demonstration of those aesthetic principles practised by Morris to define the purpose of art and its relations to society.

Between 1860 and 1870, William Morris considered at least twelve tales for The Earthly Paradise in addition to the twenty-four that he eventually published. Three important lists of the tales exist that help determine the chronology in which the tales were written and the order in which Morris intended to present them. The first list is one printed by May Morris from the notebooks numbered by her father:            

1. The Prologue.
2. Prologue, continued.
3. Cupid and Psyche. Cupid and Psyche, concluded.
The Lady of the Land.
The Palace East of the Sun.
The Story of Adrastus.
The Doom of Acrisius.
4. The Doom of Acrisius, continued.
The Proud King.
5. The Proud King, concluded.
The Watching of the Falcon.
The Hill of Venus.
6. Hill of Venus, concluded.
Writing on the Image.
The Story of Dorothea.
The Deeds of Jason. (Collected Works 3:xv)

All but the second and fifth notebooks have been lost or perhaps fragmented. The second notebook, containing much of the rejected Prologue, is in the British Library and is on paper watermarked with an 1859 date (Add. MS 45305*). The fifth notebook, also in the British Library, is an account book on unwatermarked paper (Add. MS. 45306*). May Morris correctly identifies its date as 1861: “The first draft of ‘The Watching of the Falcon’ is written in a little kind of note-book of work for the Firm, which begins with the date January 1861. ‘The Proud King’ is also here” (Artist, Writer, Socialist 1:392).

Two tales from this list were not included in The Earthly Paradise. They are “The Story of Dorothea” and “The Deeds of Jason.” (“The Story of Adrastus” was renamed “The Son of Croesus” in The Earthly Paradise.) Of the two known copies of “The Story of Dorothea,” one is an amanuensis’s copy (in the British Library) of the other. This other is a draft which K.L. Goodwin describes as “a lightly corrected holograph in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, obviously posterior to a lost draft” (95). This draft may be the copy from the sixth notebook or it may be a transcription of it. If the former, then it has been separated from “The Deeds of Jason” and the other tales in the notebook. The draft ends with the note: “Death of Sidero by.” As Charles Fairfax Murray (who had owned this manuscript) notes: “On the last leaf the mention of ‘The Death of Sidero’ shows that this story was followed in the Ms. book by ‘The Deed [sic] of Jason.”2  This note suggests indeed that the Fitzwilliam draft was removed from the sixth notebook.

But the draft for “Dorothea” could not have been written before the watermarked date on the paper, “Joyson 1864.” While such watermarks can only determine the earliest date for which a manuscript was composed, those on Morris’s manuscripts may be more useful. In virtually all of his holographs for which the date of composition is known, the date of the watermark is within one year of the composition date. “The Man Who Never Laughed Again,” a tale written after “Dorothea,” is written on paper watermarked “W Stradling 1863” (BL Add. MS. 45303); hence, it was probably written in 1863 or 1864. An exception to this pattern is The Sundering Flood, which Morris was writing on his sickbed in 1896 but which is on paper watermarked “Cansell 1890” and “Cansell 1891” (45326). While it cannot be denied that other exceptions may be among the unverifiable manuscripts, it is unlikely that the sixth notebook would be composed in 1864 or later, at least three years after the date recorded in the fifth notebook: “Jan: 1861.” More likely, the 1864 watermarked draft of “Dorothea” is a transcription of an earlier draft in the sixth notebook. “The Deeds of Jason,” which ended the sixth notebook, is the tale that grew so disproportionately longer than the other tales that Morris published it separately as The Life and Death of Jason (1867).

During the three-year period between the publication of The Life and Death of Jason and the final volume of The Earthly Paradise, Morris included in his announcements of forthcoming contents of The Earthly Paradise nine tales that he never published. The first list of tales was announced in 1867 at the end of Jason, while the second list was announced in 1868 at the end of the first volume of The Earthly Paradise. The 1867 list reveals little about the intended order for the tales, since it curiously cites the twelve Classical tales first, followed by the twelve Gothic tales. I have numbered the tales which were never included in the poem:            

Prologue. The Wanderers; or the Search for Eternal Youth.
1. The Story of Theseus.
The Son of Croesus.
The Story of Cupid and Psyche.
2. The King’s Treasure-House.
3. The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The Story of Pygmalion.
Atalanta’s Race.
The Doom of King Acrisius.
The Story of Rhodope.
4. The Dolphins and the Lovers.
5. The Fortunes of Gyges.
The Story of Bellerophon.
The Watching of the Falcon.
The Lady of the Land.
The Hill of Venus.
6. The Seven Sleepers.
The Man who never Laughed again.
The Palace East of the Sun.
7. The Queen of the North.
8. The Story of Dorothea.
The Writing on the Image.
The Proud King.
The Ring given to Venus.
The Man Born to be King.

The 1868 list does suggest the order Morris was considering for the tales since it alternates the twelve remaining tales in pairs, each Classical tale followed by a Gothic one. A ninth tale that never was published is added to the list:      

The Story of Theseus.
The Hill of Venus.
The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The Story of Dorothea.
The Fortunes of Gyges.
The Palace East of the Sun.
The Dolphins & the Lovers.
The Man who never Laughed again.
The Story of Rodope.
9. Amys and Amillion.
The Story of Bellerophon.
The Ring given to Venus.
The Epilogue to the Earthly Paradise.

May Morris quotes Edmund Gosse remembering Morris reading “in his full, slightly monotonous voice a long story of Amis and Amyllion (I think those were the names) which has never, to my knowledge, appeared in print” (Collected Works 3:xiii). If Gosse was not thinking of Morris’s prose translation of “The Friendship of Amis and Amile” published in his Old French Romances (29-61), then this tale along with three of the following five listed by May have been lost: “For one reason or another quite a number of [these titles] were discarded, though five of them were written. These are ‘The King’s Treasure-House,’ ‘The Story of Orpheus,’ ‘The Dolphins and the Lovers,’ ‘The Fortunes of Gyges,  ‘The Story of Dorothea’” (Collected Works 3:xiii). While May Morris had only Gosse’s word that “Amis and Amyllion” was ever written, we have only May’s and J.W. Mackail’s that “The King’s Treasure-House,” “The Dolphins and the Lovers,” and “The Fortunes of Gyges” were.3 She speculates that the draft and fair copy of the fragment “In Arthur’s House” may be the tale first entitled “The Queen of the North”: “The fragment beginning ‘In Arthur’s house whileome was I,’ though the subject suggests the earlier conceived Arthurian poems, is of a rather later period, and may be one of the projected stories for The Earthly Paradise. I please myself by imagining that it is the beginning of that tale on the list which is called ‘The Queen of the North,’ but this we shall never know” (Collected Works 24:xxxi). The draft of the poem, however, is written on paper watermarked “E. Towgood 1872” (45308). Thus, the poem was not written until at least two years after the publication of the final volume of The Earthly Paradise.

Two additional tales that were written for The Earthly Paradise are “The Wooing of Swanhild” and “The Story of Aristomenes.” Neither was completed, but the manuscripts for both are in the British Library (BL Add. MS. 45308; BL Ashley 4902). This brings the total number of titles considered for the longest poem in the English language to thirty-six. Of the twelve that were not included in the poem, four are known to have existing manuscripts: “The Story of Dorothea,” “The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice,” “The Wooing of Swanhild,” and “The Story of Aristomenes.” To these four tales should be added the original Prologue whose title, May Morris says, was emended from “The Fools’ Paradise,” to “The Wanderers,” and finally to “The Terrestrial Paradise” (Collected Works 3:xiii).

May Morris identified four versions of the rejected Prologue, all of which are now lost. One is a complete draft in quatrains entitled <The Fool’s Paradise> \The Wanderers/. Then she mentions “a few verses of two other beginnings in the same measure.” The fourth version is the beginning of a fair copy: “In the ten pages of the fair copy the title is ‘The Terrestrial Paradise.’”4 When she edited the rejected Prologue for the last volume of the Collected Works, she chose the complete draft for her copy-text, which includes Morris’s marginal notes to Burne-Jones: “An added charm to the manuscript itself moreover are the little side-notes every here and there of the drawings he wanted Burne-Jones to make for the story” (Collected Works 24:xxix). In her introduction to the Prologue she includes quotations from the ten pages of the fair copy of “The Terrestrial Paradise” that reveal variants with the text of the rejected “Wanderers” (Collected Works 3:13). These variants occur in the Argument, in the designated speakers (The People of the City and the People of the Ship), and in the punctuation.   

May Morris curiously neglects to mention a fifth manuscript of the rejected Prologue, the one included in the first and second notebooks of her list. The only manuscript known now to be extant appears to be this second notebook, beginning more than a third of the way into the poem and ending with stanzas from “Cupid and Psyche.”5 But this manuscript has no “side-notes” for illustrations and has many variants from the complete draft that May edited. Her complete draft is listed in a bookseller’s catalogue issued in 1929 by Maggs Bros.6  The draft is described as “The Original Manuscript of the First Prologue entirely in the Autograph of the Poet, and written on 135 pp.” Unfortunately, this manuscript remains lost. From the collection of Charles Fairfax Murray, it included Murray’s note on the fly-leaf: “This MS., the first draft of the ‘Prologue,’ is referred to in Mackails [sic] Life of Wm. Morris, Vol. I., p. 188. It is entirely unpublished & was written two years earlier than the poem which replaced it.” If Murray and Mackail are accurate, then this version of the Prologue was written in 1865, since “in the summer of 1867 he is reading the new Prologue to his friends by the side of one of the beautiful reaches of the river above Oxford” (Collected Works 3:xv). But the earlier draft, the only one now known to be extant is watermarked “1859” and was probably written between 1860 and 1861, not long before he began the other four notebooks that occupied him in 1861.

The First Prologue and “The Story of Dorothea” belong to the same early period of composition, the Prologue being written off and on from 1860 to 1865 and “Dorothea” from 1861 to 1864 or ’65. K.L. Goodwin notes that Burne-Jones designed a cartoon for an embroidery of Saints Cecilia and Dorothea in 1861. The figure of Dorothea is modelled after Jane Morris and the ground is decorated with a pattern of flower trios similar to Morris’s first wallpaper, Daisy, designed in 1862 (Goodwin 92).

The other three tales – “The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice,” “The Wooing of Swanhild,” and “The Story of Aristomenes” – belong together, but to a later period. Mackail mistakenly states that the Orpheus and Aristomenes tales “were written in 1866” (1:182). “The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice” could not have been written before 1869. Its four drafts are written on a mixture of folios watermarked “E Towgood 1868” or “J. Allen & Sons Superfine 1869” (45307, 45308). As the 1869 watermark is on some of the six folios of a draft which he abandoned as a false beginning, no drafts of the poem in its present form were even considered before 1869. “The Story of Aristomenes” was written in the Spring and Summer of 1870. Most of its folios are watermarked “J. Allen & Sons Superfine 1870.” The untitled first folio of the earliest draft in the British Library is dated by Morris in the top right corner: “Begun June 25th” (45308). The watermark proves it was written no earlier than 25 June 1870, and a letter dated 8 September 1870 from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to William Bell Scott proves that Morris had abandoned the poem by September:

Morris wrote a long poem about Aristomenes and the Revolution of the Messenians against Sparta, but it got longer and longer till at last he couldn’t get it into the EP at all & had to give it up. He had already made a mull after much work (or he thought it one) of the Orpheus story: & now in despair has written a rather short one about Hercules to fill the last empty classical gap. I haven’t heard the Hercules yet. The Aristomenes was very fine especially in the fighting parts. (Correspondence of D.G. Rossetti )

The earliest surviving draft (now in Texas7) is on six folios from an oblong notebook which includes a draft of “A Prologue in Verse” for Morris’s prose translation of The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs. As this Volsunga prologue was written after mid-March when the translation was completed,8 and the whole work was published in May 1870 (Mackail 1:208), the Aristomenes fragments were probably written in early Spring.

The earliest surviving draft of “The Wooing of Swanhild” is on paper watermarked “E Towgood 1868,” while the fair copy is on unwatermarked paper (45308). As the tale is “taken from the last chapters of the Volsunga Saga,” it may have been composed in the Spring of 1870. But I believe the incomplete tale was written before the Volsunga translation for the following reason. Morris began studying and translating the Icelandic sagas with Eirikr Magnusson in the Autumn of 1868. By January 1869 the two men had published The Saga of Gunnlaug WormTongue in the Fortnightly Review. By June 1869 the two had published The Story oj Grettir the Strong (Artist, Writer, Socialist 2:633). Mackail states that Morris began “The Lovers of Gudrun,” the first Icelandic tale for The Earthly Paradise, in April after the Grettir Saga was completed and that he had finished “Gudrun” by June.9 Another Icelandic tale, “The Fostering of Aslaug,” written on paper watermarked “J. Allen & Sons Superfine 1869,” belongs to this same period. “The Wooing of Swanhild” appears to be the third tale from these Icelandic sagas featuring Gudrun and Sigurd. While the source for the completed “Fostering of Aslaug” is second-hand, through Thorpe’s Northern Mythology, Morris went directly to the Volsunga Saga for the source of the unfinished “Wooing of Swanhild.” But his dissatisfaction with his own version may have led him back to translating the Icelandic source to ingrain himself with the spirit of the original saga. If this supposition is correct, then “The Wooing of Swanhild” was composed towards the end of 1869. Morris would appear to have practised his translating from Autumn 1868 to the Spring 1869, turned to composing three of his own versions for The Earthly Paradise through the remainder of 1869, and then returned to translating in 1870.

We can now attempt to establish the chronology of these five extant texts. While Rossetti’s letter to Scott indicates that “Orpheus” was written before “Aristomenes,” there is no conclusive evidence to prove that “Orpheus” was written before “Swanhild.” But the advertisements for forthcoming tales indicate that “Orpheus” was considered for The Earthly Paradise as early as 1867. Thus, the chronology follows this order, one which reverses the published poem’s Classical/ Gothic pairings to Gothic/Classical pairings:

The First Prologue                              1860-65
The Story of Dorothea                       1861-65
The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice   1869-70
The Wooing of Swanhild                   1869-70
The Story of Aristomenes                 1870            

May Morris identifies the manuscripts for The Earthly Paradise as “a collection so important, so unique as showing a poet at work at his craft” (Artist, Writer, Socialist 1:402). Entitled “William Morris as a Writer,” her discussion remains the most important study of Morris’s creative process.10 After searching to determine the method of his revisions, she concludes that he followed no consistent system. To illustrate her conclusion, she draws on two of the earliest tales, both written in his “rough ‘minstrel-lay’ manner”: “The Proud King” and “The Watching of the Falcon.” Speaking of the first tale, she observes:

The method of revision is simplicity itself; the idea is to retain the original rhymed endings, but to alter not only single words, but whole passages, whole verses.... Then we turn to “The Watching of the Falcon,” another of the earliest tales, and we naturally look for the same system of revision. Not a bit of it: the poet is in a different writing mood: for a larger part of the tale, the easy rhymed couplets which come next to “The Proud King” in the little notebook..., stand unaltered in the published version, revision mostly consisting of insertions of fresh matter, while one or two passages are cut out and written anew. So much for the “system.” (Artist, Writer, Socialist 1:406)

Still, as May notes, some generalizations can be made as the manuscripts reveal “the poet forming his style. The young diction changes, he is careful that nothing that might strike readers as affectation, even in this romantic atmosphere, should remain.” She regrets that Morris occasionally loses in his revisions for the finished work “a touch here and there of freshness – ... the careless simplicity of the wandering singer.” She quotes examples from “The Story of Rhodope”:            

The goods she had been cheapening at her back
is altered to
The wares she had just dealt for at her back.

And again
By these glittering tamers of the sea
And by these glittering folk overseas

(Artist, Writer, Socialist 1:423)

In her discussion of the manuscripts for “The Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” she adds that “here and there the drafts show that in revision Morris has cut out a phrase that seemed to him too emphatically to lift the picture out of the far-off atmosphere to that of more recent days of romance-somewhat to our regret: though one must allow the artist to know his business” (1:413).

The generalization that Morris’s revisions show his impatience with youthful diction, obtrusive affectation, and jarring images that dispel the atmosphere of the distant dreamworld is consistent with his shift away from the awkward cadence and vivid, grotesque imagery associated with his “rough ‘minstrel-lay’” Defence of Guenevere period towards the even cadence and muted imagery associated with The Earthly Paradise. But when each example is examined in its context, the motive for the revision appears more complicated. Here is a sample revision from “The Wooing of Swanhild” that supports the above generalization, but shows as well that the artist fully knew his business:

<Then on a while silence oer all did die
Yet for those twain no rest for heart or eye>
\Then in the gathering light oer all did lie
Deep silence but no rest of heart or eye./ (45308: lines 1089-90 )

In the first version “silence” is awkwardly personified as dying over the men, rendering them quiet but restless – as might well be expected of anyone over whom a shroud is drawn. In the revision, little is lost while much is gained. The revision turns the striking image into an equally striking paradox, as the gathering light of dawn does not awaken hope but merely marks the loss of another day passed without love. The revision not only improves the rhythm but unifies the two lines by exploiting alliteration, assonance, consonance, and enjambment (“light oer all did lie / Deep silence”) to momentarily create the tension of a heroic couplet, until the thought spills over into the next two lines.

Another sample revision from “The Wooing of Swanhild” initially reveals a slight shift from the concrete to the abstract:

<Of the grey dove, that now in the black shade
Of summer or
Of moon blessed woods in the high aspen swayed>
\Of the brown thrush hushed by the mysteries
the dove, that in the shade
Of moon blessed woods now on the high tree swayed/. (999-1001)

The motivation for the shift from “the black shade” to “the mysteries,” from “high aspen” to “high tree,” is clouded by Morris’s realization that he has forgotten a line in this stanza. Moreover, the revision shows that Morris is thinking already in abstract terms. The interchangeable grey and brown colours of interchangeable birds suggest grounds for Douglas Bush’s complaint about The Earthly Paradise: “All eyes are grey, all hair is golden, all bosoms are hidden or half-bare, all legs are limbs, all feet are dainty” (320).

But a study of the total effect of the revision reveals that, again, the artist knew his business. The focus of the revision is not on the reduction of the concrete “black shade” to the abstract “mysteries,” but on the intensification of the drama through sound and sense. The “grey dove that now in” becomes the “brown thrush hushed by,” wherein the subject and verb are joined in an internal rhyme bracketed by the alliterative “brown” and “by.” The visual focus changes from the dark shade to the awesome moonlight, an image which again (as in lines 1089-90) pictures the silencing effect of light entering upon a dark landscape.

Swinburne was the first to voice the common complaint against the immensely popular Earthly Paradise. In a letter to D.G. Rossetti (10 December 1869), Swinburne praised “The Lovers of Gudrun” as “excellently told ... and of keen interest” and the monthly lyrics as “exquisite”:

but I find generally no change in the trailing style of work: his Muse is like Homer’s Trojan women ἑλΚεὀ ίπλονϛ – drags her robes as she walks; I really think a Muse (when she ineither resting nor flying) ought to tighten her girdle, tuck up her skirts, and step out.... Top’s is spontaneous and slow; and especially my ear hungers for more force and variety of sound in the verse. It looks as if he purposely avoided all strenuous emotion or strength of music in thought and word. (Swinburne Letters 2:68).

Rossetti responded to Swinburne’s criticism with a defence of Morris (12 December 1869): “So excellent a poet must after all be allowed his own style in forms of poetry where deliberateness and delay are not absolutely inadmissable” (Correspondence of D.G. Rossetti (  ).

The revisions in Morris’s manuscripts reveal the subtleties of a mature artist at work. They reveal a shift away from the intense, emotional style of the lyric towards the more controlled pace of the narrative romance. Thus youthful diction, obtrusive affectation, awkward syntax, and jarring imagery are replaced by mature restraint, subtle sophistication, rhythmic pace, and dramatic paradox.

The common assumption that Morris paid little attention to punctuation is disproved by his revisions. Each subsequent draft for a tale shows an increase in care with punctuation, as he appears to ignore punctuation in his first drafts, is careless with it in his transcriptions, but is then careful to add or correct the punctuation for his fair copies. Thus in line 794 of “The Story of Aristomenes” (where he writes that “one voice sent out a mighty cry, – ” ), the punctuation evolves from “cry” in one draft to “cry<;>, – ” in the next, meaning that he had no punctuation in one draft, used a semi-colon in the next draft, which he then crossed out in favour of a comma and a dash. In line 2211 of “Aristomenes,” he shows a rare concern for correcting the punctuation in an early draft: “Thereon in the cold moonlight<,> \ – /<dashed> \groaned/the heavy key.” Here he deletes the comma after moonlight and inserts a dash.

For the most part, Morris’s penmanship shows the care of an artist who wants to be understood. While he often signifies a dash with a dot in his hastily written drafts, he places the dot in the middle of a line, as opposed to his periods which rest at the bottom. However, his upper and lower-case K’s are virtually indistinguishable, making it difficult to determine whether he has capitalized the “k” in “king” or in “knight.” He normally distinguishes upper- and lower-case C’s, S’s, and W’s by their size, but their size is sometimes inconsistent. The similarity of his n’s and v’s makes it difficult to distinguish such words as “loveliness” and “loneliness.” The context does not always eliminate the confusion. Perhaps in no other poem as in Morris’s elegiac Earthly Paradise are the root-words “love” and “lone” so often interchangeable.


A biographer might want to pursue these manuscripts to step further backwards to discover the personality behind the artist’s craftsmanship and inspiration. One might note with interest where Morris pauses after a word or a line to draw or merely doodle. In a draft for “The Wooing of Swanhild,” Morris writes of the reaction of the wooing Randver to the King’s warning: “And all the tumult of his spirit sank,” line 521). One might argue that Morris suddenly identifies with his character’s spirit, as Morris pauses to underline the letters of “spirit sank” sixteen times. J.W. Mackail believes that The Earthly Paradise reveals much about its author:

Shy and reserved in life, as to many matters that lay near his heart, he had all the instinct of the born man of letters for laying himself open in his books, and having no concealments from the widest circle of all. In the verses that frame the stories of “The Earthly Paradise” there is an autobiography so delicate and so outspoken that it must be left to speak for itself. (1:210)

To regard the poem’s concern with the loss of love and fear of death as Morris’s personal obsession is to oversimplify the scope of The Earthly Paradise. Morris is writing about the fragmentation of nineteenth-century society and identity, of unity and paradise, of self-expression and tradition. The poem presents a logical progression from the decaying world of Camelot (in The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems) to the dying world of Troy about to be levelled after a decade of siege (in “Scenes from the Fall of Troy”). The imminent collapse of the dying Troy anticipates the dead society of Morris’s London, those six dehumanized counties of smoke and assembly lines:

Forget six counties overhung with smoke.
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke.
Forget the spreading of the hideous town. (The Earthly Paradise, revised Prologue)

The subject of all three works is the loss of paradise. Only the third poem concerns its rediscovery. The gathering of Nordic sailors and Greek settlers results in a mutual exchange of tales from Classical and Gothic mythology that provides a framework for Morris to explore the relation between personal vision and cultural tradition. The tales reveal the difference between a culture that has maintained its heritage and one that has lost it. The Greek settlers tell of accomplished quests while the discontented Nordic wanderers tell of failed quests. In the nuptial month of June, for example, the Greek tells of the consummation of an unselfish love in his tale of “The Love of Alcestis,” while the wanderer tells of the failure and death of a mariner in the quest for the love of a damsel in “The Lady of the Land.” The contrast serves to demonstrate that an earthly paradise must be based on the renewal of traditions through the songs and stories developed from cultural roots. The Greek settlers represent a society in touch with its ancient culture despite its isolation in order to demonstrate that paradise is not a geographical location but a state of mind.

The way to reach that state of mind is to replace the Victorian modernist’s ideal (based on technological progress towards leisure) with a Gothic ideal (based on the craftsman’s unified sensibility). The Gothic ideal rejects the “division of labour” for that which demonstrates the “growth and unity of mankind.”11 The wanderers finally reject personal immortality for the higher realm of the Gothic spirit, a spirit which “depended not on individual genius but on the collective genius or tradition.”12 It can be achieved through the universality of art, which depends upon the original expression of traditional sources:

Every real poet can do something which no other poet can do.... This is what is meant by the much abused word “originality” which by no means signifies that the idea expressed is the sole property of the author...; but that the author has been able to express it in his own way, and become the voice through which the poetry of mankind speaks so far. (Letters, 19 October 1885)   


1.  Some tireless readers may argue that revised editions of Festus, the Spasmodic poem by Philip James Bailey, is the longest, but Bailey’s work is less an integral poem than an on-going collection, as he added to Festus many verses he originally had published as other poems. He offers his rationale in a line from Festus: “Work thou all things into thy work.”
2.  Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge University. 25F. Inside flyleaf.
3.  J.W. Mackail states that a number of the tales “were destroyed by their author. Of ‘The Fortunes of Gyges’ only two pages have been preserved by some accident” (1:208).
4.  May Morris (Collected Works 3: xlii). In addition. the manuscript for the revised Prologue published in The Earthly Paradise is in the British Library. Add. MS. 37499.
5.  May Morris mentions this manuscript in a footnote to her introduction in volume 4: “Search in a family treasure-chest brings to light also an oblong clasped note-book containing most of the First Prologue and a considerable portion of “Cupid and Psyche” (Collected Works 4:ix). She then describes its contents in her Artist, Writer, Socialist, but wrongly adds that it was “composed two years before the published Prologue’” (1:400-01).
6.  English Verse & Dramatic Poetry. From Chaucer to the Present Day. no. 517. London: Maggs Bros.,1929. 373. I spent six full day-lit days in the back stable of Maggs Bros, unwrapping and re-wrapping the weekly sales receipts string-tied in brown-paper packages, in search of a receipt that would identify the purchaser of this now lost manuscript of the First Prologue. I sorted through receipts for purchases by kings and princesses, by prime ministers and librarians, from 1929 throughout the money-tight 1930s and into the war-torn ’40s, but each day I returned from Berkeley Square to my flat in Mechlenburg Square, looking like a chimney sweeper smeared with the sixty years of soot that covered the weekly wrapped packages stacked in the cold, dark, but well-organized stable. I thank Clifford Maggs for his kind encouragement of my research and his amused sympathy for my inattentive attempts to wash my face as well as my hands before I walked home at the end of each day.
7.  Humanities Research Center. University of Texas. ms. file (Morris. Wl. Works B).
8.  Mackail quotes a letter to Janey dated 14 March 1870: “I have been hard at work ... but have not done much except the translations, as they are rather pressing now, and I want to get all my Volsung work done this week’” (1:209). “A Prologue in Verse” is appended to the manuscript (Oxford University, Bodl. MS. Eng. misc. d. 268).
9.  Mackail states that Morris began the tale after the Grettir Saga was published in April, but he should have said that Morris began the tale after he had finished translating the saga (1:201).
10.  For a later study, see my article “A Matter of Craftsmanship: Morris’s Method of Composition.” What are alleged to be Morris’s first drafts, I argue, are really transcriptions of the lines he would write on scraps of paper.
11.  Morris, “The Gothic Revival,” Unpublished Lectures of William Morris 82. John Ruskin recognized that the term “division of labour” was a misnomer: “It is not, truly speaking, the labour that is divided. but the men: Divided into mere segments of men – broken into small fragments and crumbs of life” (Works of Ruskin 10:196).
12.  “The Gothic Revival” 67. Thus, the term “Gothic” is used for folk tales from Medieval, Eastern, and Northern sources.


Bush, Douglas. Mythology and the Romantic Tradition in English Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1937.
Goodwin, K.L. “An Unpublished Tale from The Earthly Paradise.” Victorian Poetry, 13 (Fall-Winter 1975): 91-102.
Latham, David. “A Matter of Craftsmanship: Morris’s Method of Composition.” The Journal of the William Morris Society, 6 (Summer 1985): 2-11.
Mackail, J.W. The Life of William Morris. 2 vols. London: Longmans, 1899.
Morris, William. Collected Letters of William Morris. Ed. Norman Kelvin. 3 vols. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1984-96.
----. Collected Works of William Morris. Ed. May Morris. 24 vols. London: Longmans. 1910-15.
----. The Earthly Paradise: A Poem. 3 vols. London: Ellis, 1868-70.
----. Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge University. 25F.
----. “The Gothic Revival.” In The Unpublished Lectures of William Morris. Ed. Eugene LeMire.309 Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1969. 
----. The Life and Death of Jason: A Poem. London: Bell and Daldy, 1867.
----. May Morris Bequest. British Library. Add. MS. 45303-45309; 45326.
----. Old French Romances. Trans. William Morris. London: George Allen. 1896.
----. William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist. Ed. May Morris. 2 vols. Oxford: Blackwell, 1936.
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 9 vols. Ed. William E. Fredeman et al. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2002-10.
Ruskin, John. The Works of Ruskin. Ed. Cook and Wedderburn. Vol. 10. London: George Allen, 1904.
Swinburne, A.C. The Swinburne Letters. Ed. Cecil Lang. 6 vols. New Haven: Yale UP, 1959-62.


<      >  deletion

\      /    insertion  

#         illegible letter

####    illegible four-letter word

ms.      manuscript

BL       British Library, London.

a1        First Prologue, earliest extant ms. BL Add. MS.  45305.

b1        “The Story of Dorothea,” earliest extant ms. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 25F.

b2        amanuensis’s fair copy of b1. BL Add. MS. 45309.

c1        “The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice,” earliest extant ms. BL. Add. MS. 45308.

c2        fair copy of c1.  BL. Add. MS. 45308.

c3        earliest complete ms.  BL. Add. MS. 45307.

c4        fair copy of c3.  BL. Add. MS. 45308.

d1        “The Wooing of Swanhild,” earliest extant ms.  BL. Add. MS. 45308.

d2        fair copy of d1.  BL. Add. MS. 45308.

e1        “The Story of Aristomenes,” earliest extant ms.  Humanities Research Center, Austin, Texas. Ms. file (Morris, W.) Works B.

e2        earliest complete ms.  BL. Add. MS. 45308.

e3        fair copy of e2.  BL Ashley 4902.

e4        “The First Foray of Aristomenes,” an episode published in The Athenaeum, 13 May 1876: 663-64.

BV       song from “A Book of Verse” (1870). Victoria and Albert Museum.

KP       song from Poems by the Way, Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, October 1891.

RT       song from Poems by the Way, London: Reeves and Turner, December 1891.

SFT     song from “Scenes from the Fall of Troy.”  BL. Add. MS. 45308.

CW      May Morris’s edition of ms. printed in The Collected Works of William Morris, London: Longmans, 1910-15.