William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement.
He was the son of a successful businessman, was born in Walthamstow, a quiet village east of London. After successfully investing in a copper mine, William’s father was able to purchase Woodford Hall, a large estate on the edge of Epping Forest, in 1840.
Morris was educated at Marborough and Exeter College. At Oxford University Morris met Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three men were all artists and formed a group called the Brotherhood. Soon the group included more members such as the architect Philip Webb and Ford Madox Brown. Morris, Marshall, Faulkener & Co and specialized in producing stained glass, carving, furniture, wallpaper, carpets and tapestries. During this period their work was inspired by the history, ritual and architecture of the Medieval period. Morris and Burne-Jones were committed Anglicans and for a time they talked of taking part in a “crusade and holy warfare” against the art and culture of their own time. Their commissions included the Red House in Upton (1859), the Armoury and Tapestry Room in St. James’s Palace (1866) and the Dining Room in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1867). In 1875 the partnership came to an end and Morris formed a new business called Morris & Company.
Morris wrote and published poetry, fiction, and translations of ancient and medieval texts throughout his life. His best-known works include The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870), A Dream of John Ball (1888) and the utopian News from Nowhere (1890). As an author, illustrator and medievalist, he helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, and was a direct influence on postwar authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien. He was also a major contributor to reviving traditional textile arts and methods of production, and one of the founders of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, now a statutory element in the preservation of historic buildings in the UK.
He was an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884, but breaking with that organization over goals and methods by the end of the decade. He devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in 1891. The 1896 Kelmscott edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered a masterpiece of book design.
A quote from William Morris: ‘I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on…’