William Morris and W. B. Yeats

William Morris and W. B. Yeats

William Morris and W. B. Yeats

William Morris and W. B. Yeats

Excerpt

The final political and social attitudes of William Morris and W. B. Yeats are in the strongest contrast. Morris, a Marxian Socialist, looked forward to the classless 'society of equals' which he described in News from Nowhere in 1890. At the end of that story the narrator is told to return to the world of economic conflict which he has left, and show the way forward:

'Go back again, now you have seen us, and your outward eyes have learned that in spite of all the infallible maxims of your day, there is yet a time of rest in store for the world, when mastery has changed into fellowship -- but not before. . . . Go on living while you may, striving with whatsoever pain and labour needs must be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest, and happiness.'

Yeats regarded such optimism about society as unjustifiable. When he wrote When I was Four-and-Twenty in 1919, he argued that all social thought deriving from Rousseau, including that of Wordsworth, Shelley, Ruskin, Morris and Shaw, was inadequate because of its failure to recognise the fact of 'original sin.' Of Morris and Shaw he wrote:

'It has been the lot of both men, the one a great many- sided man, the other a logician without rancor, and both lovers of the best, to delight the Garden City mind.'

Such an emphasis on 'the best' leads logically to an aristocratic social ideal, so that the point of view Yeats put forward in On the Boiler in 1938, at the end of his life, was a logical if extreme development. Then Yeats wrote that a civil war was probably necessary in all European countries so that the educated classes' could fulfil their duty of making the 'uneducatable masses' submit to their rule:--

'The danger is that there will be no war, that the skilled will attempt nothing.'

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