Mackail, J. W. Life of William Morris .
This essay is by Cormell Price (1835-1902). Price was the youngest member of
the brotherhood, a year behind Morris and Burne-Jones at Oxford. He remained
close friends with both throughout his life, and was the head of the United
Services College while Burne-Jones’s nephew, Rudyard Kipling, was a student
Price was supposed to accompany Morris and Burne-Jones on their trip to the
continent in the summer of 1855, but he canceled at the last minute
(Mackail 68). Morris wrote often to Price during this trip, giving his
impressions of the PRB paintings he saw in Paris, and several times alluding
to the Magazine (69-71).
In this essay, Price uses George Steevens’s dismissal of some of
Shakespeare’s sonnets as a launching point to discuss the general treatment
of lesser-known works of famous writers. He is
particularly interested in how Shakespeare’s minor poems can be read in a
biographical context. He spends the majority of the essay on Shakespeare’s
sonnets, investigating the identity of the “W. H.” to whom the sonnets are
addressed, and attempting in general to ascertain the dates the sonnets were
composed, and their proper order. The biographical focus recalls Heeley’s
essay on Sidney.
Also significant in this essay is Price’s discussion of originality. He
defends Shakespeare’s use of history and legend as a sources for his works,
claiming “The invention of our ancestors in legend and incident
is our heir-loom; we may vary it in detail, and engraft our own addition,
but its depth will be according to the measure of that man’s power who
handles it, and breathes into it his own spirit” (118). Price favors
originality of form and treatment over that of theme, and he applies this
idea to painting and architecture, as well as to poetry.
treatment of Shakespeare bears several similarities to Fulford’s
Tennyson. Like Fulford, Price links poetry to music, praising the musical
meter of “Venus and Adonis”. Writing on Tennyson,
Fulford compares poetry to “painting in words”, and
Price also sees written and material arts as interwoven; he
extends his discussions of poetry into musings on painting and architecture.
Such similarities demonstrate the extent to which the Morris brotherhood
read and commented on each other’s work. Accounts of their time at Oxford
tell of continual meetings to read and discuss poetry, and through the
essays in the Magazine one sees their theories applied to a remarkable
variety of works, historical and contemporary.
First printed in
The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine
, February, 1856.