The Earthly Paradise: Supplementary Materials

Contemporary Victorian Reviews

Westminster Review, Unsigned Notice

April 1871, xcv, 581.

[A notice of Part 4, approving of Morris's frequently criticized diction. P. F.]

The quick appearance of the second edition of the fourth volume of Mr. Morris's Earthly Paradise proves that there is a public which welcomes genuine poetry. Mr. Morris's popularity has, however, something remarkable about it. He is, we have noticed, appreciated by those, who as a rule, do not care to read any poetry. To our personal knowledge, political economists and scientific men to whom Shelley is a mystery and Tennyson a vexation of spirit, read the Earthly Paradise with admiration. We do not pretend fully to explain this phenomenon. One of the causes, however, obviously is the excessively easy flow and simple construction of Mr. Morris's verse. The rhyme, too, is never forced. It seems to fall into its place in the most natural way possible. Then again, those wonderfully simple photographic touches of Mr. Morris's reveal, without any trouble on the reader's part, the whole scene in a moment bright and vivid. It is this direct painting, which in a great measure has made Mr. Morris such a favourite with that highly cultivated class of readers and thinkers, who shun anything like vagueness and thinness of treatment. We must remark, too, in noticing the second edition, the way in which Mr. Morris, like Mr. Rossetti, has enriched our language by drawing upon the stores of our old and forgotten words. Reading his poem is like reading a fresh and more vigorous style of English than that to which we are daily accustomed. We have probably the richest language in the world, and yet we do not know how to use it effectively. Mr. Morris has evidently made our older authors his especial study. If we look at merely the first tale in the volume--'Golden Apples'--we shall see how many noble words he has rescued. First there comes in the third line, that fine old word 'rack,' for cloud, used by Shakspeare and his contemporaries, and which has never gone out of use probably in any part of England, certainly in none with which we are acquainted, among the peasantry. Then immediately after follows 'foredone,' destroyed, another Shakspearian word, but which, like 'forespent,' has long been forgotten. And these words, like all the others which follow, 'fell' for skin, 'worm' for dragon, 'ness' for headland, still locally retained in Devonshire, are never forced upon us, but fall naturally, and almost we would say, lovingly into their places. Lastly, we would especially call attention to the beauty and freshness with which all natural objects are described. As long as there are fields and flowers, and sea and sky, Mr. Morris's Earthly Paradise will be read for the beauty and truth with which he has described them all.