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"Sigurd the Volsung" is superb. But the genius of the poet is still more evident in the convincingly right conception of all the characters and of the tragic import of their relations one to another, perhaps more than all in the unflinching truth to the savage primeval conception of the incestuous Signy. The real Signy stands in splendid and immortal contrast with her debased counterpart Sieglinde in Wagner's great poem "Der Ring des Nibelungen." The crime of Sieglinde is self-seeking, and that of her brother Siegmund conscious; the crime of the real Signy is swallowed up in the tremendous self-renunciation of which it is a part, and the crime of the real Sigmund is unconscious. It is to the unerring
rectitude and absolute sanity of Morris's genius that we owe the good hap of this strict adherence to the original mythos in these particulars.
In dealing as none but a modern could have dealt with the greatest myth of our Northern race, Morris, perhaps unconsciously, celebrated what has been called above his spiritual birth into his own century. "Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time," was never a wholly true description; but, from the time of Sigurd's "coming into the tale” of the poet's life, his renunciation of the attempt to * "set the crooked straight" became specifically inapt. Commencing with an art-propaganda which aimed at the reform of the decorative arts, he gradually slid into social questions of the deepest concern to all men, learned and unlearned. He found the cause of artistic degradation in the rotten commercial foundations of our whole social scheme; and from that time forth his efforts have tended towards root and branch social reform.
It is needless to criticize a series of social and political tracts and articles of which many would be ephemeral but for their authorship; but it may usefully be recorded that, in the years 1878 to 1887, Morris issued "The Decorative Arts-their Relation to Modern Life and Progress-an Address (February 1878), a presidential address to the Birmingham Society of Arts (February 1879), "Labour and Pleasure versus Labour and Sorrow" (a second presidential address-February 1880), a reprint of these three, with two other lectures, under the general title "Hopes and Fears for Art" (1882), "Art and Socialism, a Lecture" (1884), an introduction to Sketchley's "Review of European Society" (1884), “A Summary of the Principles of Socialism written for the Democratic Federation " (conjointly with H. M. Hyndman, 1884), "Chants for Socialists" (1885), the Manifesto of the Socialist League (1885), "For Whom shall we Vote?" (1885), "Useful Work versus Useless Toil" (1885), "The Labour Question from the Socialist Standpoint" (1886), “A Short Account of the Commune of Paris" (conjointly with E. Belfort Bax and Victor Dave, 1886), "Socialism, a Lecture" (broadside of eight columns, 1886), "The Tables Turned; or, Nupkins Awakened: a Socialist Interlude, as for the First Time Played at the Hall of the Socialist League on Saturday, October 15th, 1887," "The Aims of Art" (1887), and "A Death Song" (for Alfred Linnell, killed in Trafalgar Square, November 20, 1887). This record of bare facts for the years in question would be incomplete without a mention of The Commonweal, the organ of the Socialist League, established under Morris's editorship and with his financial support at
the beginning of 1885, as a monthly sheet, but carried on as a weekly newspaper from May-day 1886 until after he gave up the editorship in 1890. The pages of this print teem with Morris's manly and outspoken attacks on commercialism,-attacks delivered in a cause from the success of which he has personally all to lose and nothing to gain. There are also in The Commonweal many productions of his pen that are anything but ephemeral. From the list of pamphlets must be taken as of special and independent literary interest, apart from the Socialist propaganda, "Chants for Socialists," "The Tables Turned," and the "Death Song"; but a far higher effort than these is the poem of modern life called "The Pilgrims of Hope," which lies buried in the first two volumes of The Commonweal. That poem,
written in the great manner of "Sigurd the Volsung," and mainly in the same metre, is ostensibly a complete treatment of a modern Socialist subject, and runs to over 1,300 lines. The poet has kept it by him instead of reprinting it, doubtless to render it more perfect in form; but whether he does so or not, the poem will eventually rank among his leading works, and is likely to remain, for another generation of English readers, the most remarkable thing in the literature of the Socialist movement among us.
"The Odyssey of Homer done into English Verse," put forth in 1887, was something of an astonishment for those who knew of the various claims on the poet's time and energy. It is as literal as his version of the Eneid, and even finer in metric qualities, the verse being once more the anapæstic couplet of Sigurd the Volsung," which Morris has made
peculiarly his own. It may be doubted whether these renderings of Virgil and Homer do not stand alone as being at once faithful to the sense of the originals, and poetic literature of the first class. In the following year (1888) he issued a further Socialist pamphlet, "True and False Society," and accomplished a very novel piece of purely literary propagandism under the title "A Dream of John Ball" the poet in a dream sees something of Jack Straw's rebellion, and discusses at large with the revolutionary ecclesiastic of that period, John Ball, the future of labour in England, culminating in the effacement of genuine handicraft by machinery under the commercial system. This fine prose work, which first appeared from week to week in The Commonweal, was reprinted as a book, with a story of kindred interest called "A King's Lesson," in 1888. In the same year the poet took an active part in the establishment of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, in whose catalogues there are technical essays from his pen; and he published, under the general title "Signs of Change," a collection of his social and artistic lectures, old and new.
The year 1889 had a fresh surprise in store, to wit a wholly new thing in English prose fiction. "A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and all the Kindreds of the Mark, written in prose and in verse by William Morris," is a story of the tribal period of the Goths. The Mark is the name given to a series of clearings in a vast forest, peopled by certain tribes of Goths. Neither period nor place is specified. Perhaps it will be safe to regard the dealings of the Goths and Romans here depicted as proper to the fourth century, the historical event of which a re
flexion in small may be detected being the overthrow of the Romans under Valens by the Goths; and, as Mirkwood water, the river running through the Mark, flows northward, it may perhaps be regarded as some feeder of the Danube. In dealing with this early period, it is fitting that myth should mingle with matter-of-fact. The secret union of the hero Thiodolf, the head of the House of the Wolfings, with a daughter of Odin, a Chooser of the Slain, by name the Wood-Sun, is treated with great dignity; and their daughter the Hall-Sun, the virgin guardian of the sacred lamp of that name, that hangs in the Wolfing Hall, is a character of heroic mould. The material part of the story is an attempt of a large body of Romans to possess themselves of the Mark, and their overthrow and annihilation by the Markmen: the romantic motive running through the book is a hauberk myth nobler in conception even than the hauberk myth of "the golden Sigurd," who so often for reasons good in his dealings with the varied evils that infested the earth
"did on the Helm of Aweing, and the Hauberk all of gold,
Whose like is not in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told."
The hauberk bestowed by the Wood-Sun upon Thiodolf, with a lying assurance that no "evil weird" hung to it, was got by fraud from a dwarf, whose curse it bore, together with its own unchangeable virtue. That curse was that, though the shirt of mail should save the wearer, it should wreck his folk; and it is Thiodolf's great renunciation of the hauberk, and with it of the Wood-Sun and life, that gives to his death in his people's victory the quality of a sorrow swal