Adapted from a letter from Örn Gíslason
My wife and I joined a William Morris Society excursion to Kelmscott Manor around May 2008, where we learned that, like her father, May Morris had visited Iceland, traveling there in 1922, 1924 and 1929. The Manor contained several mementos and gifts acquired on these trips, among them a decorative box dating from 1844 which held needles for making nets; a casket carved by Ríkharður Jónsson and given to May in 1924; and a food bowl, dated 1874, probably acquired on her 1924 visit. On my return home I learned that the National Archive of Iceland contains the private papers of Guðbrandur Magnússon (E52), which include two letters from May to Guðbrandur dated 1925 and 1930. These read as follows:
26th February 1925
Dear Mr Guðbrandur Magnússon,
Miss Lobb and I are never tired of talking of our Iceland travels, and specially of the happy rides on your fine horses and all that wonderful journey you planned for us so successfully. I gave a little lecture with lantern-slide illustrations in our village lately, and am going to give it again later on, in the early summer. We find that people are much interested about Iceland travel, and are very pleased to see the pictures of the strange and beautiful places we visited.
It was only on our last day before leaving Reykjavík that I discovered that a parcel left for us at the British Consulate was a handsome “rúm-teppi” of Mrs Magnússon’s weaving! It was sent from the ladies at the Bazaar without any message. We were sorry that we could not take it as we had no more room in our luggage.
I venture to send a little gift to you and Mrs Magnússon—a greeting from England in the shape of some English knives, which I hope she will find useful. They are addressed to you, in the care of Mr Ásgeir Sigurðsson at the British Consulate, and I have asked him to be good enough to let you know when the parcel comes, that you may get it when you come to Reykjavík. Please remember us kindly to Gunnar Vigfússon.
I hope you and the family are all in good health. With kindest regards, and best wishes,
A second letter dated 23rd September 1930, reads:
Dear Mr Magnússon,
It was so pleasant to receive your friendly letter which came to me where Miss Lobb and I were camping our tent in Barra [the Outer Hebrides].
I send the second of my two articles on Iceland, which I missed seeing, being away.
Yes indeed, I was much touched by the honour conferred on me by the Icelandic Government [the Order of the Falcon], which I have done so little to deserve—beyond my love for your country and your people. I am very proud indeed of the Order.
What beautiful children! And what pictures of health they are! The seven month old child, whose name you don’t give, is surely wonderfully fine for her age.
With warm regards from us both to yourself and Mrs Magnússon.
On the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of our ancient parliament, the “AlÞingi,” in June 1930, May Morris was awarded the Icelandic Order of the Falcon, in tribute to her and her father’s friendship toward Iceland and her role in publicizing the anniversary in English newspapers. During her visits she made many Icelandic friends, some of whom later visited her at Kelmscott Manor, and among her generous gifts was a donation of 400 books to the library at Húsavik. Her three visits were widely publicized in the Icelandic language press, both in Iceland and in Manitoba. I have located more than 43 of these articles published between 1924 and 2002; the following list summarizes the contents of those published during the 1920s and 30s.
24 June 1924 Lögrjetta: praises WM highly and welcomes MM, noting that she had long desired to visit Iceland.
28 August 1924 Vísir (Reykjavík): describes MM’s June-August visit, bids her farewell and hopes she will return. Other papers in succeeding days carry similar sentiments.
2 September 1924 Lögrjetta: bids a warm farewell to MM.
24 September 1924 Lögberg-Heimskringla (Winnipeg, Manitoba): describes MM’s visit and reproduces the farewell sentiments of the Vísir editor.
September 1924: Icelandic papers record MM’s contributions to hospital fund.
November and December 1925: papers in Manitoba and Iceland record her gift of apples.
17 July 1926 Dagur (Akureyri): mentions the visit of MM and Miss Lobb to their city after having traveled in the south.
22 May 1930 Lögberg-Heimskringla (Winnipeg, Manitoba): notes that MM had published an article on Iceland in the travel magazine Wanderlust, in which she had praised Iceland and mentioned the upcoming anniversary of the Althing.
28 July 1930 Vísir (Reykjavík): reports on the publicizing of the 1000 year anniversary in foreign newspapers; mentions MM, her travels to Iceland, and her recent informative and praiseful article in the Manchester Guardian.
26 August 1930 Morganblaðið: announces the award of the Order of the Falcon to MM.
1934 The magazine Eimreiðin reported that MM had been following in her father’s footsteps in Iceland through her visits and familiarity with Old Icelandic manuscripts.
24 March 1934 Morganblaðið: reports on the 100 year anniversary of WM’s birth, suggests that readers listen to commemorative radio broadcasts on his life and work; and expresses gratitude to MM, as similar to her father in her Icelandic interests. It notes that the Icelandic prime minister plans to visit her during an upcoming trip to London to convey the nation’s thanks.
26 March 1934 Tíminn: celebrates the 100th anniversary of WM’s birth and his ties to Iceland; notes that MM had visited Iceland and hosted Icelandic friends at her home at Kelmscott Manor, where she preserved mementos of Iceland.
1934 Fálkinn, no. 13: discusses at length WM’s associations with Iceland; mentions MM as having also visited and shared her father’s love of the country.
25 April 1934 Lögberg-Heimskringla (Winnipeg, Manitoba): adulatory article expressing gratitude to WM and MM for their love of Iceland.
28 July 1936 Morganblaðið: records MM’s donation of 400 books to the library in Húsavik, northern Iceland; WM had visited the librarian there, and MM and Miss Lobb had also visited some years previously.
29 July 1936 Alþýðublaðið: similarly discusses MM and her gift of books.
29 July 1936 Vísir (Reykjavík): describes in detail MM and her donation of books.
29 July 1936 Nýja Dagblaðið: describes MM’s gift.
6 August 1936 Nýja Dagblaðið:mentions a gift by MM and Miss Lobb to an Icelandic church.
27 August 1936 Lögberg-Heimskringla (Winnipeg, Manitoba): announces the book donation and reprints the Morganblaðið article of 28 July.
1937 Aegir, no. 7: reports that MM had published an article about Pike Ward, a Canadian who had introduced better methods of preserving fish into Iceland.
1937 Íslendingur (Akureyri), no. 33: similarly mentions Pike Ward, with whom May Morris had discussed Icelandic matters during a visit to Canada two years before his death.
17 October 1938 Lögberg-Heimskringla (Winnipeg, Manitoba): obituary and discussion of MM’s life and great friendship toward Iceland.
18 October 1938 Vísir (Reykjavik): announcement of MM’s death.
19 October 1938 Morganblaðið: extended obituary on MM’s great abilities, her father, and her love of Iceland.
18 October 1938 Þjóðvíljinn: obituary of MM, with mention of WM’s socialism and MM’s generosity to Icelanders in times of need.
20 October 1938 Alþýdublaðið: obituary of MM which discusses her life, her lecture tours in Britain and the United States, and her ability to speak Icelandic.
20 October 1938 Tíminn: obituary with mention of MM’s generosity to Icelanders.
1939 Dvöl, no. 1: periodical article on MM’s friendship with Iceland; her life at Kelmscott Manor and the Icelandic items she had collected.
1939 Íslendingur, no. 17: announcement of death of Miss Lobb, who had recently sent books to Iceland; mentions May Morris’s many book donations and her receipt of the Order of the Falcon.
4 November 1950 Morgunblaðið: interview with Dr. Jón Stefánsson, who had met WM, MM, Bernard Shaw, and Ramsey McDonald. Though the article emphasizes Shaw, Jón reports that he had often been a guest of William Morris and had taught MM Icelandic.
19 June 1954 Morgunblaðið: memorial article on Sigurjón Sumarliðason, former postman and farmer in Ásláksstaðir, who had served as a guide to foreign travelers and become a close friend of MM.
23 June 1954 Morgunblaðið: memorial article on Sigurjón Sumarliðason, with a similar mention of his relationship with May.
1965 Eimreiðin, 1st edition: an article on Sveinn Sigurðsson, who had sent a poem and other writings about William Morris by Matthías Jochumson to May Morris, who had been very appreciative. Shortly thereafter he met MM and Miss Lobb in Akureyri and found an apartment for them to stay in when they were not traveling elsewhere in Iceland. He reported MM's fondness for Icelandic landscapes, histor, land literature, especially the older manuscripts. Sigurðsson also mentioned the Icelandic objects which had been brought to Kelmscott Manor.
23 December 1968 Morgunblaðið (Lesbók): extensive article about May Morri by Vignir Guðmundsson, the fosterson of Sigurjón and his wife Guðrún, discussing the friendship of his parents with May Morris and Vivian Lobb, whom Vignirhad also met. His parents had received several books from May, most of which had been sent to the library in Akureyri. They had also been guests in Kelmscott Manor.
24 December 1980 (Christmastide 1968) Morgunblaðið, Lesbók: article on Dr. Jón Stefánsson which mentions MM, as in the prior 1950 article. Here it is clarifed that MM had invited Jón to Kelmscott Manor for one month to teach her Icelandic.
29 April 1984 Morgunblaðið: long article on WM's life and ideas. May Morris is mentioned as the editor of his books.
13 August 1988 Tíminn: article about Dr. Jón Stefánsson and Shaw, with mention of WM and MM.
26 April 1996 Morgunblaðið: article by Hallfríður Guðbrandsdóttir (Schneider), daughter of the previously mentioned Guðbrandur Magnússon, who remembered MM as a guest who had ridden her father's horses. She discusses WM and Fiona MacCarthy's recent biography, William Morris: A Life for Our Time, and agrees with MacCarthy (p. 679) that MM travelled twice to Iceland, in 1924 and 1931.
24 January 1997 Alþýðublaðið: article on Dr. Jón Stefánsson and Bernard Shaw, with mention of WM and MM.
15 October 1999 Lögberg-Heimskringla (Winnipeg, Manitoba): article by Kirsten Wolf, professor in Icelandic, in which she quotes Helen Swinburne Loyd:
Her daughter Eleanor Oltean tells her story
"One very lovely piece of work
which I recall my mother having completed
was an illumination of her poem 'The Cloth of Gold.' This illumination was
done for Miss May Morris and mailed
off to Scotland [sic]. Miss May Morris was a
friend of my grandmother's and the
daughter of the well known Scottish artist and author William Morris."
20 October 2002 Morgunblaðið: In an interview with Tom Skippey about Tolkien, Skippey mentions that in the 1930s MM had arranged for a young woman to visit Tolkein, and he had talked with her in Icelandic.
The preceding material is adapted from a 10 September 2013 letter to Gary Aho from Örn Gíslason, an Icelandic member of the William Morris Society. More information on May Morris’s Icelandic journeys may be found in Gudrun Jónsdóttir, “May Morris and Miss Lobb in Iceland,” Journal of William Morris Studies 7.1 (Summer 1981). – Florence Boos