the close of that period of struggle for the rights of political independence on the part of the people which began with the period of the French Revolution and went on through the Napoleonic Wars. Alive at the time when Morris was born were a number of persons who had made a hard struggle for the free press, for the Rights of the People to understand politics: persons who had suffered years in prison for blasphemy and sedition under absurd Acts of Parliament. William Morris was not born into an atmosphere or environment that was likely to make him interested in this struggle at first. He was born in an atmosphere of middle-class respectability, one of religion and conventional Charlatanism. its prevailing idea was not that which works with the people, but that which goes against the people in their struggle.
In his early years, the only thing that he secured in the way of knowledge and culture which influenced his Socialism, was his love of heraldry, and a tendency to worship things which seemed entirely out of date with the commercial period in which he lived - a tendency to plunge into Gothic architecture. This lasted throughout his life, and influenced his later ideas.
Down to the "fifties" there was nothing great in William Morris's life. in that year he went to Oxford, where he took up with the High Church Party against the Low Church Party: an act which afterwards influenced his Socialism.
Morris, in his love for Gothic Architecture, was expressing not the old Pagan tendency of ancient and Imperial Rome, but still a Pagan tendency: the Pagan tendency of the ancient barbarians, of the Goths, and of the people who believed, not in parasitic art or in effeminate art as the Greeks believed, but who believed in art which represented joy of life. Throughout his life, Morris consistently cherished his sympathy for Gothic Architecture on this account ; because it represented life's barbarian earnestness against mock society's cultured sham, and expressed the rich joy of Labour as opposed to the misery of mere toil.
This barbarian tendency came out in his love of medievalism and found expression in his association with the High Church Party. The Low church Party in England has much in common with the Non-Conformist Party, and is almost identical with the latter in its prejudices against sacerdotalism and joy in worship. Like the Nonconformist Party, the Low Church faction believed in worshipping God in the simplest form possible. Often, this meant the ugliest and most severe. This view reflected the piety of the time of Oliver Cromwell, the period when the joys of King Charles' merry court and profligate pleasure code were abolished in favour of stern, rigorous, discipline. In many ways, his virtuous outlook was quite good, but it was completely joyless. That very joylessness condemned it to collapse, because it is not natural for a man to want to spend all his life in penitentiary. Yet that is what the evangelical and nonconformist outlook amounts to.