William Morris (1834-1896), designer, author and visionary socialist, was born in London as part of a wealthy family. After attending the Anglo-Catholic Marlborough College, he entered Exeter College at Oxford University in 1853. At Oxford, he began a lifelong friendship Ned Jones (later Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the distinguished painter), who was also at that time planning to take holy orders. Increasingly associated with circles of artists and poets, Morris began to devote attention to writing verse while developing a broader interest in social and artistic issues, driven especially by reading the work of John Ruskin. He began training as an architect and, following Ruskin, this developed into the broader interest in craft techniques that he would sustain and develop throughout his life.
Following a move to Red Lion Square, Morris began to pursue furniture design and interior decoration. He became closely associated with the "Pre-Raphaelite" movement, and received encouragement from the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whom he assisted with the decoration of the Oxford Union. Morris continued to write, helping to launch the "Oxford and Cambridge Magazine" and publishing his own volume "The Defence of Guinevere, and Other Poems" in 1858. In 1859 he married Jane Burden. The decoration company that would eventually be known simply as Morris & Co. was founded in 1861: it was to become legendary for its stained glass, furniture, embroidery among many other things (including, of course, its wallpaper).
In the 1860s Morris's poetic career picked up again; his eventual prominence as a poet lead to him being offered the Poet Laureateship at the death of Tennyson in 1892, but he declined. "The Earthly Paradise", a narrative sequence of mythic poems published between 1866-1870, brought him particular recognition. Morris undertook two voyages to Iceland, in 1871 and 1873; translations, including Icelandic sagas, were to play an important part in his body of writings. It was also during this period that Morris purchased the home at Kelmscott which was to occupy a key role in his life, providing the source for designs, and taking on special significance in his 1893 novel "News from Nowhere".
The 1880s saw the beginning of Morris's involvement with Socialism, with inflammatory speeches and polemical pamphleteering establishing him as a controversial figure. He became leader of the Socialist League, writing their manifesto among other populist writings and journalism. He remained closely involved with Morris & Co., whose reputation had continued to expand (particularly for its tapestries and windows), and took up an interest in the Arts and Crafts movements he had helped to launch. In 1891 the Kelmscott Press was set up, with Morris closely supervising all aspects of production; the celebrated Kelmscott "Chaucer", showcasing typescripts designed by Morris alongside engravings by Burne-Jones, was completed shortly before his death in 1896. (Source: DNB).
The Museum collection includes a substantial set of Morris's poetry manuscripts, including drafts for sections of 'The Earthly Paradise', other poetic tales and sagas including 'The Story of Grettir the Strong' and the 'The Lovers of Gudrun', and several collections of prose and verse fragments, all bound in leather volumes. Also in the collection is a fair copy of Morris's journal of travel in Iceland, made for the author for Georgiana Burne-Jones. The manuscript draft of Morris's preface to 'The Nature of Gothic' by John Ruskin is accompanied in the collection by proofs and other important documents associated with the Kelmscott Press edition of that work.