A blog about the famous Victorian poet, designer, and Socialist, William Morris.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Happy Belated 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens!

Morning, Morning!

It was Morris's occasional habit to offer belated birthday greetings like this one: "Dearest Mother I havn't forgotten your birthday & the date of it, & would have written earlier in the week, but I was not keeping count of the days of the month . . . " So with this excuse, today I say happy birthday to Dickens.

Dickens was one of Morris's favorite authors, up there with Sir Walter Scott, Daniel Defoe, and Victor Hugo. When he was asked to write a list of recommended books for readers of the Pall Mall Gazette in 1886, he drew up a list of the best books he knew. In the “modern fiction” category, Dickens is one among only seven, and Morris added the note: “ . . . to my mind of the novelists of our generation Dickens is immeasurably ahead.”

Morris was a truly devoted fan. He adopted sayings from the books – "Morning, morning!" from Our Mutual Friend became a favorite greeting of his, and “what larx!” from Great Expectations dotted his letters and conversation. When he was unhappy with someone, he'd drawl out: "Bring him forard, and I'll chuck him out o'winder", after Mr F.'s aunt in Little Dorrit. When he was stuck for a way to describe a situation, he often referred back to Dickens's books and characters for archetypes. He even wooed his wife by reading aloud to her from Barnaby Rudge.

But clearly, Morris was no mere fan-boy; he was also Dickens's colleague. He and Dickens were in some sense part of the same movement: they both railed against the ugly effects of industrialism on workers. That they did so in very different ways doesn't lessen their kinship. As Arthur Compton-Rickett puts it in his 1913 book, William Morris: a study in personality, "Both men were animated by a similar spirit; each man had the same object in view....what each held dear in his inmost heart is found condensed in the pregnant words of John Ball: 'Fellowship is Heaven; lack of Fellowship is Hell.' ” 

He also points out, most profoundly I feel, that Morris and Dickens both looked a little like sea-captains.

Illustration of Mr. Boffin and Mr. Wegg scanned by Philip V. Allingham to The Victorian Web. 

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