The Churches of North France

William Morris

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Boos, “Structure of Morris’s Tales”.

◦ Georgiana Burne–Jones, Memorials.

◦ Kelvin, The Collected Letters of William Morris, vol. I.

◦ Mackail, J. W. Life of William Morris .

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


This essay, intended to be the first in a series, is based on Morris’s own visits to the cathedral at Amiens. He first visited Amiens in 1853 (Mackail 48), and returned two years later with Burne-Jones and Fulford. The three men embarked on a walking tour of France in July of 1855, and the Amiens was one of their first stops. According to Fulford, Morris reacted to the cathedral with “calm joy” (quoted in Memorials 113). At the time, however, the most salient event at Amiens was Morris’s falling lame, as a result of his uncomfortable boots. He purchased a pair of slippers and walked the eighteen miles to Beauvais, but from there the walking tour ended, and the trio traveled mostly by train (Memorials 113, Mackail 71).

Morris begins by imagining the builders of the cathedral, “still surely living, still real men, and capable of receiving love” (100). This opening recalls “The Story of the Unknown Church”, published in January and narrated by Walter, a long-dead master-mason. For the rest of the essay, Morris describes the cathedral and the artwork inside. The detailed descriptions, with minimal commentary, anticipate Morris’s essay on Alfred Rethel’s engravings in the August issue of the magazine.

On Janurary 11th, 1856, Morris wrote of this article, “it is very poor and inadequate, I cannot help it; it has cost me more trouble than anything I have written yet” (Kelvin 26). For a discussion of Ruskin’s influence on this essay, and on “The Story of the Unknown Church”, see Florence Boos’s article in Victorian Periodicals Review.

Textual History: Composition

Morris wrote this essay in early January, 1856.

Printing History

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: Morris003.raw.xml