Manuscript Essays by Morris on Socialism, Architecture, and the Environment

Our Representatives," Private Collection, Imaage Courtesy of Greg Vigers.

pdf of manuscript


[1]Our Representatives

The past week of parliamentary and party strife has been sufficiently barren of interest to the ordinary observer; no one has expected any thing new to be said about the Home Rule Bill, and no one has been disappointed; the disarming bill was carried as everyone knew it would be, and the votes pro and con were very much what was expected: Accordingly the thing which usually happens in a dull interval of an exciting period has happened now. People having few additional facts to go on have been turning guesses into facts and disputing about them as vigorously as if they had really happened.

As an addition to this amusement a violet sham quarrel about nothing at all has been got up by the Pall Mall Gazette against Mr. Chamberlain. That journal is almost entirely on Mr. Chamberlains side in the Home Rule matter, it has been one of the most unsparing opponents of the bill, and might have seen if it did not in Mr. Chamberlain a thick and thin supporter of its favourite fad of Imperial Federation and the deification of the Central Parliament of the Empire. But all this is not enough, and an attack must be made on him on grounds difficult enough for a simple person to see. Mr. Chamberlain’s conduct in the Irish business is attackable enough from various sides: but that the most spiteful attack should come on him from a friend or at least an ally is quaint indeed. If it means anything more than a newspaper sensation it must point out to the utter want of faith in the Liberal-Radical part, whose leaders in the press & Parliament are hitting out wildly in the hopes of attracting some applause somewhere from some section or other of that once respectable drilled phalanx.

Nor can Mr. Chamberlain be congratulated on any success in keeping his temper: his attack on the meeting [2] of the Liberal and Radical Council seems to show that their hint of censure has been taken as a deep cause of offense: tho perhaps like the servant-maid in Dickens he has only been ‘showing them what kind of a temper he keeps’, a mode of striving for his own way familiar enough to the Ex-master of the Caucus. For the rest his appeal in his letter for political gratitude for past services and to shield him from censure on present blunders would be feeble argument indeed, if the rank of file of politics had not got so used to leadership — by the nose.

Quarrelling among once allies has been diversified by a good deal of watering down of wrong utterances against enemies when the latter have raised too much of a storm around the speech-makers. Lord Salisbury having to put forward some alternative to Home Rule found no difficulty in proclaiming the necessary Tory scheme of Coercion carried on if necessary to extermination of the rebellious race. But frightened at the sound of his own words he has tried to explain all that away into paternal government for Ireland and the attainment for it of all the blessings “which in this Island we have for a long time been privileged to enjoy.” We? Landlords and Fundlords it must be supposed, who indeed have had no bad time of it in Ireland either.

Of course there is nothing in this vague nonsense; but that his Lordship thinks it necessary to explain away his talk talk does mean something: he is looking towards the Whigs and Whigizing & radicals: it is but part of the same operation as the quarrelling of the old allies, namely the tendency for all reaction to run together into the Moderate Party. Sheer Toryism can now only work through other hypocrisy, that is Whiggery, alias dying Constitutionalism confronted with young revolution. [3]

Even the bold Major Sanderson was anxious to ‘explain’, much as if a man using the word ‘damned’ with reference to an adversary, were to point out that he did not intend a theological assertion. Lord R. Churchill however stood to his guns and assured the constitutionalism of rebellion in the teeth of the ‘sacro-sanctity of assemblies’ ingeniously enough, whatever may be said about his ingenuousness. Poor Constitutionalism! that has to be supplemented by Revolution?

The respectabilities that followed Lord R Churchill Gladstonite and other including Mr. Gladstone himself did not accept this view of Constitutionalism; their respectability rang hollow enough since they were driven into using warlike metaphors in the usual unreal and meaningless manner: in spite of which all that was said made clear once more that brute force is the real cement of all sham-society, and that it will breed force as a solvent of its tyranny. It is a pity indeed that such a discussion should have had no better occasion than the carrying on on one side of the old habit of refusing the Irish the rights of citizenship, and on the other an attempt to put the Irish landlords in the right whatever means they may try for the upholding of their monstrous oppression.

The ‘negociations’ for patching up that broken jug the Liberal party, and all the lies, half-lies, contradictions, evasions, & the rest of the brood of party tactics may be passed over in unrespectful silence. Thus the game of ‘representation’ goes on, and outside it the people live and die — live miserably and die before their time, and the veil of words, and sham intentions, and half intentions, and the self-interest of the rich now grown mild and fatherly — in words dulls the sound of that:

——“lamentation and an ancient take of wrong
Like a tale of little meaning though the words are strong;
[4]Chanted from an ill used race of men that cleave the soil
Sow the seed and reap the harvest with enduring toil.” [note: Tennyson's "The Lotus-

How long will it last? ‘Our time’ think our Representatives. Well some of them are old men, but some scarcely middle-aged, and ‘he who lives will see.'

William Morris

(to T. Binning) This can be a leader leader you don’t get another: other wise let it be notes on passing events. I have marked the pars:)

For the information of Comrades I have to state that besides the lecture at Baskerville Hall at Birmingham noticed in last weeks Commonweal: I lectured there in the Evening of the same day on Socialism and had a full audience, many, or most of whom, as usual, seemed to agree with the indictment against our sham society; the questioning was of the usual kind. On the Monday Evening (17th) I lectured on the political outlook at the Exchange buildings under the auspices of our Branch: although it was a wretchedly wet night, and there was a counter attraction in the building in the form of the Performing Fleas, the attendance was good. Mr. Walker the leading land-nationalizer in Birmingham was in the chair and opened with a liberal-minded and sympathetic speech. The audience was very attentive and a large part of it again appeared to agree with me, though I found it impossible to avoid the chance of shocking some sensibilities on the subject of the immediate crisis. Birmingham is a difficult place to deal with: open air speaking is not allowed in the borough, though the Boards schools can always be had for a meeting at the moderate rate: and therein much intolerance of advanced thought outside of the cut and dried party. Still one must suppose that there are intelligent men there not drilled into nonentity by the party Caucus, and our comrades have only to go on and attack vigorously and persistently in order to gain these.


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