William Morris caught the enthusiasm of the High Church Party and the Paganism behind it. The consequence is that we find him obtaining a rich understanding of the symbolism of art.
After some time, Morris discarded the idea of becoming a priest and going into the servitude of the Church. He determined to become an architect ; and we have a record of him studying architecture for some time. But coming under the influence of Rossetti, he abandoned the idea in favour of becoming a painter. Meantime, he had been studying architecture. Through this abandonment of love he gained a great practical knowledge of architecture and the pursuit of art - art worked out for itself and not pursued with leisured ease in a mere parasitical study. he was a man who could embody for himself the almost forgotten and misunderstood tendency of the Pagan Goths.
This man came into conflict with a world full of sham, a world Christian and evangelical in the worst sense of those much abused terms; nor Christian in the robust, primitive sense of good works or righteousness, but Christian in the later political established sense of that miserable contemptible Pagan compromise of Church and Constantine; Christian in the sense of the corruption of the fourth and fifth centuries.
In 1870, Morris began to get interested in politics. Previously, he had kept aside from politics because he felt if he had to give his energy to politics, it would be necessary to cast aside all his art and literature and love of painting, and love of studying this and that phrase of ancient heraldry. It meant throwing away the very rich life and charm of medievalism which belonged to him.
Morris was impelled by this intense reverence for the past to challenge the great restoration movement which swept over the land in the "seventies." This was a movement to "restore" ancient churches, against which Morris protested, on the ground that the "restoration" of ancient churches meant their abolition. Accordingly he formed a society to prevent this "restoration", except where it signified only the keeping out of wind and rain.
I confess that, personally, I am not a great deal interested in medievalism. I think that the future will be a great deal more inspiring than the past, and that the present is the material out of which to construct that future. But Morris was expression to the full his own personality. That is the great lesson of his life, and that should be the great aim of every one of us present here tonight. We should be ourselves, and not clothes-props, elegantly or shabbily arrayed, according to circumstances, in suits composed of other men's thoughts and dogmas.
We have to remember that no man can belong, truly, to any party or sect. Each one of us should, and must, belong to ourselves. The individual is greater than the nation. If each individual will