Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The gout sticks to me: two previously unknown letters by William Morris

Back in 2011, I did a blog about one of my most treasured possessions:  three volumes of the eighth, four-volume edition of William Morris’s The Earthly Paradise (Ellis and White , 1880). Apart from being a volume short, they are quite ordinary books and they’re not in particularly good condition. The reason I treasure them is that glued inside them are two hand-written letters by one of my heroes, William Morris. 

In that earlier blog, I wondered who had gone to the trouble of pasting in the letters, as well as a newspaper cutting and a slip of paper presenting the books to a Mr Faunthorpe. “Clearly Morris meant something to our scrap collector. Were [Morris’s letters] addressed to him? Why else would he be in possession of them? But then how did he know Morris?”  

Last year I took the books into the William Morris Society and they were so interested in these previously unknown Morris letters they suggested that I write an article about them for the Society’s Newsletter. So I decided to see what I could find out about our cutting-and-pasting Mr Faunthorpe. The results of my researches were published in the Newsletter in Autumn 2013. Part of the article is reproduced below, and the second part will be published here next week.  

First, though, a recap of the Morris letters. The first letter written by Morris, pasted into Volume 1, reads:-  

“March 3rd 83 

Dear Sir

Thanks for your note; the gout sticks to me so that I am still unable to make any appointment, but I will come on the very first opportunity. Yours faithfully William Morris.


The second letter, dated March 20 (written as 30th and corrected to 20th) 1883, is in Volume II and reads:-  

“March 320th .83 

Dear Sir

I have just received your note as I am setting off for the country till Easter is over: I have sent it on to our works & will see on my return that the sketch is done and all estimates duly made. I am Dear Sir Yours Faithfully William Morris”  

Both letters are on letter paper with the printed address “Kelmscott House, Upper Mall, Hammersmith” in the top right hand corner. They have been awkwardly folded and badly trimmed to make them fit inside the books, and some of the lettering in the note of March 20 1883 has been cut off. 

A newspaper biography of William Morris, who “lives, with his wife and two daughters, in a pleasant house near the Thames at Hammersmith”,  has also been glued into the front of Book I. The article goes on to reassure the reader that, “The socialism of his later days has scarcely alienated any of his older friends”. It is signed The Prompter and – more careless work from our gluer – the date of the cutting and the title of the publication have been removed by the scissors. I have been unable to find out what publication the piece came from.

Morris’s letters are inconsequential notes, dashed off by a man in a hurry and relating merely to business matters. They give no clues to the identity of the recipient, nor the circumstances in which they were written. Nothing connects the letters to the note on the slip of paper except that they were written in the same year, 1883. What and where was Whitelands College? Who were Mr Faunthorpe, Kate Stanley and Harriet A Martin? And does anything link them to William Morris? 

Dictatorial and ungracious: Mr Faunthorpe 

The puzzle of Whitelands College was easily solved by a quick search on the internet. Now part of the University of Roehampton, the College was founded by the Church of England’s National Society for the Promotion of Education of the Poor in the Principle of the Established Church in 1841 as a teacher training college for women. Whitelands had a number of illustrious benefactors, one of whom was John Ruskin (1819–1900). It was Ruskin who established, in 1881, the May Day festival during which the students elected what he called “the likeablest and the loveablest” of their colleagues as May Queen. Ruskin presented the Queens with a cross designed by Edward Burne Jones (1833–1898), as well as books to give to their hand maidens. The May Day ceremony continues to this day, although now a May Queen or King may be chosen.  

The Reverend John Pincher Faunthorpe MA, FRGS (1839–1924) was the principal of Whitelands College. After serving as a pupil teacher at St George’s School in Ramsgate, between 1858 and 1859 he studied at St John’s College in Battersea, the first ever teacher training college (now part of the University of St Mark and St John, Plymouth). He taught at Chester Training College in 1860, and returned to St John’s  as a geography lecturer

in 1861. In 1867 he was appointed vice-principal at St John’s. He was selected as Principal for Whitelands in 1874 from over two hundred applicants, and remained in post until 1907. After his retirement he maintained his connection with Whitelands by acting as College Chaplain.   

Faunthorpe is rather unfortunately characterised in Malcolm Cole’s Whitelands College: The History as “dictatorial” and “ungracious”. Whether or not these judgements are fair, he was certainly determined to enhance Whitelands both academically – by introducing new subjects including French, Latin and botany – and architecturally, by establishing and embellishing the College Chapel of Saint Ursula. He turned to John Ruskin for advice about the Chapel.  

On 2 February 1883 Ruskin wrote to Burne Jones asking him to design twelve stained glass windows depicting female saints, and stipulating that the glass should be brilliant. Burne Jones consulted William Morris as to how they would achieve the desired effect. Morris wrote to Rev Faunthorpe on 26 February 1883: “My friend Mr Burne-Jones tells me that you wish me to see the chapel at Whitelands College and to consult me on the subject of stained glass windows for them”. (1) Several letters passed before a mutually convenient date for a meeting could be fixed upon. As we see from Morris’s letter of 3 March 1883, one reason for the delay was that Morris was suffering from gout.  

Morris also wrote to his daughter May on 3 March 1883 and told her that he had been “leg-fast with gout, which is not at all bad, only obstinate and laming” for four days. (2) He was worried that he would be unable to deliver his lecture in Manchester on 6 March. In the event, the lecture – “Art, Wealth, and Riches” – did go ahead at the Manchester Royal Institution. (3)  

Unfortunately, Rev Faunthorpe had to put up with further delay in spite of Ruskin’s reassurance in a letter to him on 14 March 1883 that “Mr Morris’s gout need not hinder him thinking” about the project. (4) As the letter of 20 March 1883 shows, Morris was unable to deal personally with the Whitelands commission as he was about to join his family in the country (which he did on 24 March). By this point Ruskin was growing impatient and wrote to Morris chiding him for the delay: “You bad boy, why haven’t I any bit of glass yet?” Morris responded by sending Ruskin some patterns and a description of the production process on 15 April 1883. (5)  

Faunthorpe did eventually get his windows, which were designed by Burne Jones and executed by Morris at a cost of £70 each. The funds were raised by subscriptions from College students. Morris later designed a reredos for the chapel.  

In 1931 the College moved from Chelsea to larger premises in Putney designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The Morris windows and reredos were incorporated into the new site. Subsequently, in 2005, the stained glass and reredos were re-sited in Parkstead House (formerly Manresa House), the present home of Whitelands College at the University of Roehampton’s fourteen acre site overlooking Richmond Park. 

As to how William Morris’s letters and the other documents came to be pasted into The Earthly Paradise, it was a habit with Faunthorpe to glue newspaper cuttings and notes into his books.  

Next week: A grim sense of humour: Kate Stanley and Harriet Martin

1. Letter in collection of Whitelands College Archive, University of Roehampton.

2. Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol II, Part 1, p. 165.

3. Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol II, Part 1, p. 150.

4. Letters From John Ruskin to Revd. J P Faunthorpe M.A., letter dated 14 March 1883, Internet Archive.

5. Collected Letters of William Morris, Vol II, Part 1, p. 184.
Find out more about William Morris at the William Morris Society website. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dismal Trash: The Time-Honoured Art of the Bad Review

Every writer knows they run the risk of receiving a bad review. Often the temptation to answer back is strong. The accepted advice is “don’t”, and I think this is wise counsel. Of course it’s hard when reviews seem harsh or unfair, but perhaps there’s some comfort in the realisation that it was ever thus. Spare a thought for the eighteenth and nineteenth-century writers who elicited the following responses from the critics.  

The third number of the Edinburgh Review wrote of Madame de Stael’s 1802 novel Delphine, “this dismal trash has nearly dislocated the jaws of every critic amongst us with dull as it could have been...The incidents are vulgar; the characters vulgar too.”  

Thomas Holcroft’s play The Man of Ten Thousand was described as “miserable trash” in the True Briton on 3 February 1793. The Sun (no, not that one) on 27 January 1796 said it was “too low for comedy...gross and indecorous”, and reported that the audience reacted to the news that there would be a repeat performance with “symptoms of disgust”.  

The accusation that a play or book was “low” was levelled at many writers. In She Stoops to Conquer, Goldsmith mocked the prim critics. In a decidedly low tavern scene complete with tobacco, punch and “several shabby fellows”, Tony Lumpkin has just sung an ode to the alehouse and his drinking friends comment:-  

“Second Fellow: I love to hear him sing, bekeays he never gives us nothing that’s low.   

Third Fellow: Oh damn anything that’s low, I cannot bear it.”  

Oliver Goldsmith endured his fair share of critical venom, much of it from reviewer and satirist William Kenrick whose cruel epithet on Goldsmith describes him as a “A blundering artless suicide”. (Goldsmith died in 1774 after contracting a kidney infection, but rumours circulated about an alleged suicide.) You get the feeling that Kenrick would have loved the anonymity of the internet as many of his “reviews” consist of personal attacks on more successful authors which include accusations of plagiarism, dishonesty and lewdness. His envious remarks were prompted by “brandy, malice, pertness and conceit” according to poet Cuthbert Shaw. 
A long forgotten “operatical absurdity called...Egyptian Festival” provoked from The Times on 15 March 1800 a tirade against “that class and species of writers...that...corrupt and degrade the British Theatre”. The reviewer continued, “Were half this encouragement bestowed on real talents, and half this expense awarded to legitimate compositions, we should at least have candidates for Dramatic Fame, amongst men of genius and education, who (with very few exceptions) seem to have abandoned this career of literature in despair, or from the shame of contending with the ridiculous pathos and deplorable buffoonery of the modern stage!”  

Some inventive critics put their comments in verse form. Here’s an extract from “To the Author of The Monk”, a 1796 gothic novel by Matthew Lewis. The verses were published in the Morning Post and Fashionable World on 4 April 1797:-

“A Novel, now, says Will, is nothing more
Than an old castle, – and a creaking door –
A distant hovel –
Clanking of chains – a gallery – a light –
Old armour – and a phantom all in white –
And there’s a novel.”     

A subsequent verse suggests that young ladies caught reading such novels should be flogged, and the whole ends by characterising gothic novels as “weak farrago” and “Mere trash – and very childish stuff”.  

The “most popular novelist of the day”, Charles Dickens, was accused by the Derby Mercury on 27 October 1858 of “a breach of good taste” for reading a story of “stereotyped vulgarity of ‘boots’ and chambermaids” at the Derby Lecture Hall. Another story about three nurses also got the thumbs down: it was coarse and should not have been read before an audience of “both sexes”. The reviewer was of the opinion that “no cultivated unmarried woman” would read the story in private “without disgust”.  

All in all, I think we can agree that harsh critics have always been with us. Many writers have survived the critical mauling and are still in print today – Dickens, of course; Lewis’s The Monk; and She Stoops to Conquer, which has appeared in 300 editions since 1773 and played in the West End once every three years. Some didn’t make it though. What became of Egyptian Festival and The Man of Ten Thousand? Perhaps they were as weak as the critics said! 

In December 2013 I took part in a blog hop organised by writer Helen Hollick. Helen wrote a piece on Bad Reviews in which she quoted some hilarious present-day examples, amongst them the never-to-be-forgotten one star review, “I bought this book but didn’t have time to read it.” You can read some more of Helen’s examples at her blog, Let us Talk of Many Things.

Spotlight On...Ellen W Pitman (c1857 - ?)

At midnight on Friday 8 October 1909, Nurse Ellen Pitman of Southleigh Road (also known as Leigh Road South), Clifton boarded the train from Bristol to Newcastle. She was on her way to take part in protests against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, who was due to speak in Newcastle the next day.  

Nurse Pitman may have been sporting a bruise on her face. She had spent the evening protesting about Bristol North MP Augustine Birrell's visit to the city to speak in St James Parish Hall. Nurse Pitman and the other suffragettes had struggled unsuccessfully against the police barricade to get into the meeting, and as Birrell was leaving she ran towards his car to remind him of women’s demand for the vote. Someone in the car opened the door, which struck her in the face.  

The event, however, is shrouded in obscurity. A rumour started that the intention had been to throw corrosives at Mr Birrell, and Lillian Dove-Willcox of the Bristol WSPU had to write a letter of denial to the Bristol press. A few days later Sir Herbert Ashman, one of the occupants of the car, declared that the incident had never taken place: “No woman approached us, and it is therefore ridiculous to talk of a woman being struck”. 

In Newcastle the next afternoon Nurse Pitman and other women once again faced barricaded streets and police cordons around the Palace Theatre. It was left to male supporters to interrupt Lloyd George’s speech and to suffer violent ejection from the building. Later that day Nurse Pitman and seven other women were arrested for window-breaking. They wrote a letter to The Times from the Central Police Station announcing their intention to hunger strike. They sent a similar letter to WSPU headquarters adding how proud they were to serve “their adored leader” and asking for the “prayers of our Comrades”. Nurse Pitman, who had broken a window at Barras Bridge Post Office, was sentenced to 14 days in prison with hard labour. In court she said that “the blow was against the Government, and that it would not be the last”.  

Nurse Ellen Wines Pitman was then aged 52 – although this too is hard to be certain about as Lady Constance Lytton, who was in prison with her in Newcastle and who said she knew her well, put her age at close to sixty. Nurse Pitman was one of the women whose treatment in Newcastle prison prompted Lady Constance to disguise herself as a working woman to expose the class bias of the prison system. Nurse Pitman and Kathleen Brown were forcibly fed and kept in prison 24 hours longer than Lady Constance and Jane Brailsford, the wife of journalist H N Brailsford. The only reason Lady Constance could see for this differential treatment “was that our names were known, theirs were not!” Disguised as working class Jane Warton, however, Lady Constance was forcibly fed in Walton Gaol, Liverpool. 

Nurse Pitman was so dedicated to the cause that she risked her health and livelihood to serve it. When she was released from Newcastle prison her official welcome was delayed while she was nursed back to health. In October 1909 Votes for Women published a notice stating that the “false report” that she had given up her job for paid work for the WSPU was false, but it “had much damaged her professional career” and added that she had even gone without “the necessaries of life”. When Ellen Pitman volunteered to take part in another protest, Bristol organiser Annie Kenney asked for other women to take her place as she “has already done more than her share”.  

Nurse Pitman was determined to do more and she was arrested on 12 November 1909 when she broke the windows at Small Street Post Office during protests against Winston Churchill’s visit to Bristol. It was said she was cheered by men in the street as she was arrested. In court she said, “a few broken windows were much less to be regretted than thousands of broken hearts”. She  was imprisoned for two months with hard labour in Horfield Gaol and once again went on hunger strike. She was released on 22 November 1909 because of poor health.  

And then – Nurse Pitman disappears from view and I have been unable to find out what happened to her. Did she recover from her hunger strike? Did she take part in any further suffrage protests? Or was her health so irreparably undermined that she did not live to see women get the vote? I would love to be able to finish Nurse Pitman’s story, and if I do discover more about her I will share it here.
You can read previous entries in the Spotlight On Archive at