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Hopes and Fears for Art by William Morris

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This etext was produced by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk,
from the 1919 Longmans, Green and Co. edition.


by William Morris


The Lesser Arts
The Art of the People
The Beauty of Life
Making the Best of It
The Prospects of Architecture in Civilisation


Hereafter I hope in another lecture to have the pleasure of laying
before you an historical survey of the lesser, or as they are called
the Decorative Arts, and I must confess it would have been
pleasanter to me to have begun my talk with you by entering at once
upon the subject of the history of this great industry; but, as I
have something to say in a third lecture about various matters
connected with the practice of Decoration among ourselves in these
days, I feel that I should be in a false position before you, and
one that might lead to confusion, or overmuch explanation, if I did
not let you know what I think on the nature and scope of these arts,
on their condition at the present time, and their outlook in times
to come. In doing this it is like enough that I shall say things
with which you will very much disagree; I must ask you therefore
from the outset to believe that whatever I may blame or whatever I
may praise, I neither, when I think of what history has been, am
inclined to lament the past, to despise the present, or despair of
the future; that I believe all the change and stir about us is a
sign of the world's life, and that it will lead--by ways, indeed, of
which we have no guess--to the bettering of all mankind.

Now as to the scope and nature of these Arts I have to say, that
though when I come more into the details of my subject I shall not
meddle much with the great art of Architecture, and less still with
the great arts commonly called Sculpture and Painting, yet I cannot
in my own mind quite sever them from those lesser so-called
Decorative Arts, which I have to speak about: it is only in latter
times, and under the most intricate conditions of life, that they
have fallen apart from one another; and I hold that, when they are
so parted, it is ill for the Arts altogether: the lesser ones
become trivial, mechanical, unintelligent, incapable of resisting
the changes pressed upon them by fashion or dishonesty; while the
greater, however they may be practised for a while by men of great
minds and wonder-working hands, unhelped by the lesser, unhelped by
each other, are sure to lose their dignity of popular arts, and
become nothing but dull adjuncts to unmeaning pomp, or ingenious
toys for a few rich and idle men.

However, I have not undertaken to talk to you of Architecture,
Sculpture, and Painting, in the narrower sense of those words,
since, most unhappily as I think, these master-arts, these arts more
specially of the intellect, are at the present day divorced from
decoration in its narrower sense. Our subject is that great body of
art, by means of which men have at all times more or less striven to
beautify the familiar matters of everyday life: a wide subject, a
great industry; both a great part of the history of the world, and a
most helpful instrument to the study of that history.

A very great industry indeed, comprising the crafts of house-
building, painting, joinery and carpentry, smiths' work, pottery and
glass-making, weaving, and many others: a body of art most
important to the public in general, but still more so to us
handicraftsmen; since there is scarce anything that they use, and
that we fashion, but it has always been thought to be unfinished
till it has had some touch or other of decoration about it. True it
is that in many or most cases we have got so used to this ornament,
that we look upon it as if it had grown of itself, and note it no
more than the mosses on the dry sticks with which we light our
fires. So much the worse! for there IS the decoration, or some
pretence of it, and it has, or ought to have, a use and a meaning.
For, and this is at the root of the whole matter, everything made by
man's hands has a form, which must be either beautiful or ugly;
beautiful if it is in accord with Nature, and helps her; ugly if it
is discordant with Nature, and thwarts her; it cannot be
indifferent: we, for our parts, are busy or sluggish, eager or
unhappy, and our eyes are apt to get dulled to this eventfulness of
form in those things which we are always looking at. Now it is one
of the chief uses of decoration, the chief part of its alliance with
nature, that it has to sharpen our dulled senses in this matter:
for this end are those wonders of intricate patterns interwoven,
those strange forms invented, which men have so long delighted in:
forms and intricacies that do not necessarily imitate nature, but in
which the hand of the craftsman is guided to work in the way that
she does, till the web, the cup, or the knife, look as natural, nay
as lovely, as the green field, the river bank, or the mountain

To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce USE, that
is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the
things they must perforce MAKE, that is the other use of it.

Does not our subject look important enough now? I say that without
these arts, our rest would be vacant and uninteresting, our labour
mere endurance, mere wearing away of body and mind.

As for that last use of these arts, the giving us pleasure in our
work, I scarcely know how to speak strongly enough of it; and yet if
I did not know the value of repeating a truth again and again, I
should have to excuse myself to you for saying any more about this,
when I remember how a great man now living has spoken of it: I mean
my friend Professor John Ruskin: if you read the chapter in the 2nd
vol. of his Stones of Venice entitled, 'On the Nature of Gothic, and
the Office of the Workman therein,' you will read at once the truest
and the most eloquent words that can possibly be said on the
subject. What I have to say upon it can scarcely be more than an
echo of his words, yet I repeat there is some use in reiterating a
truth, lest it be forgotten; so I will say this much further: we
all know what people have said about the curse of labour, and what
heavy and grievous nonsense are the more part of their words
thereupon; whereas indeed the real curses of craftsmen have been the
curse of stupidity, and the curse of injustice from within and from
without: no, I cannot suppose there is anybody here who would think
it either a good life, or an amusing one, to sit with one's hands
before one doing nothing--to live like a gentleman, as fools call

Nevertheless there IS dull work to be done, and a weary business it
is setting men about such work, and seeing them through it, and I
would rather do the work twice over with my own hands than have such
a job: but now only let the arts which we are talking of beautify
our labour, and be widely spread, intelligent, well understood both
by the maker and the user, let them grow in one word POPULAR, and
there will be pretty much an end of dull work and its wearing
slavery; and no man will any longer have an excuse for talking about
the curse of labour, no man will any longer have an excuse for
evading the blessing of labour. I believe there is nothing that
will aid the world's progress so much as the attainment of this; I
protest there is nothing in the world that I desire so much as this,
wrapped up, as I am sure it is, with changes political and social,
that in one way or another we all desire.

Now if the objection be made, that these arts have been the
handmaids of luxury, of tyranny, and of superstition, I must needs
say that it is true in a sense; they have been so used, as many
other excellent things have been. But it is also true that, among
some nations, their most vigorous and freest times have been the
very blossoming times of art: while at the same time, I must allow
that these decorative arts have flourished among oppressed peoples,
who have seemed to have no hope of freedom: yet I do not think that
we shall be wrong in thinking that at such times, among such
peoples, art, at least, was free; when it has not been, when it has
really been gripped by superstition, or by luxury, it has
straightway begun to sicken under that grip. Nor must you forget
that when men say popes, kings, and emperors built such and such
buildings, it is a mere way of speaking. You look in your history-
books to see who built Westminster Abbey, who built St. Sophia at
Constantinople, and they tell you Henry III., Justinian the Emperor.
Did they? or, rather, men like you and me, handicraftsmen, who have
left no names behind them, nothing but their work?

Now as these arts call people's attention and interest to the
matters of everyday life in the present, so also, and that I think
is no little matter, they call our attention at every step to that
history, of which, I said before, they are so great a part; for no
nation, no state of society, however rude, has been wholly without
them: nay, there are peoples not a few, of whom we know scarce
anything, save that they thought such and such forms beautiful. So
strong is the bond between history and decoration, that in the
practice of the latter we cannot, if we would, wholly shake off the
influence of past times over what we do at present. I do not think
it is too much to say that no man, however original he may be, can
sit down to-day and draw the ornament of a cloth, or the form of an
ordinary vessel or piece of furniture, that will be other than a
development or a degradation of forms used hundreds of years ago;
and these, too, very often, forms that once had a serious meaning,
though they are now become little more than a habit of the hand;
forms that were once perhaps the mysterious symbols of worships and
beliefs now little remembered or wholly forgotten. Those who have
diligently followed the delightful study of these arts are able as
if through windows to look upon the life of the past:- the very
first beginnings of thought among nations whom we cannot even name;
the terrible empires of the ancient East; the free vigour and glory
of Greece; the heavy weight, the firm grasp of Rome; the fall of her
temporal Empire which spread so wide about the world all that good
and evil which men can never forget, and never cease to feel; the
clashing of East and West, South and North, about her rich and
fruitful daughter Byzantium; the rise, the dissensions, and the
waning of Islam; the wanderings of Scandinavia; the Crusades; the
foundation of the States of modern Europe; the struggles of free
thought with ancient dying system--with all these events and their
meaning is the history of popular art interwoven; with all this, I
say, the careful student of decoration as an historical industry
must be familiar. When I think of this, and the usefulness of all
this knowledge, at a time when history has become so earnest a study
amongst us as to have given us, as it were, a new sense: at a time
when we so long to know the reality of all that has happened, and
are to be put off no longer with the dull records of the battles and
intrigues of kings and scoundrels,--I say when I think of all this,
I hardly know how to say that this interweaving of the Decorative
Arts with the history of the past is of less importance than their
dealings with the life of the present: for should not these
memories also be a part of our daily life?

And now let me recapitulate a little before I go further, before we
begin to look into the condition of the arts at the present day.
These arts, I have said, are part of a great system invented for the
expression of a man's delight in beauty: all peoples and times have
used them; they have been the joy of free nations, and the solace of
oppressed nations; religion has used and elevated them, has abused
and degraded them; they are connected with all history, and are
clear teachers of it; and, best of all, they are the sweeteners of
human labour, both to the handicraftsman, whose life is spent in
working in them, and to people in general who are influenced by the
sight of them at every turn of the day's work: they make our toil
happy, our rest fruitful.

And now if all I have said seems to you but mere open-mouthed praise
of these arts, I must say that it is not for nothing that what I
have hitherto put before you has taken that form.

It is because I must now ask you this question: All these good
things--will you have them? will you cast them from you?

Are you surprised at my question--you, most of whom, like myself,
are engaged in the actual practice of the arts that are, or ought to
be, popular?

In explanation, I must somewhat repeat what I have already said.
Time was when the mystery and wonder of handicrafts were well
acknowledged by the world, when imagination and fancy mingled with
all things made by man; and in those days all handicraftsmen were
ARTISTS, as we should now call them. But the thought of man became
more intricate, more difficult to express; art grew a heavier thing
to deal with, and its labour was more divided among great men,
lesser men, and little men; till that art, which was once scarce
more than a rest of body and soul, as the hand cast the shuttle or
swung the hammer, became to some men so serious labour, that their
working lives have been one long tragedy of hope and fear, joy and
trouble. This was the growth of art: like all growth, it was good
and fruitful for awhile; like all fruitful growth, it grew into
decay; like all decay of what was once fruitful, it will grow into
something new.

Into decay; for as the arts sundered into the greater and the
lesser, contempt on one side, carelessness on the other arose, both
begotten of ignorance of that PHILOSOPHY of the Decorative Arts, a
hint of which I have tried just now to put before you. The artist
came out from the handicraftsmen, and left them without hope of
elevation, while he himself was left without the help of
intelligent, industrious sympathy. Both have suffered; the artist
no less than the workman. It is with art as it fares with a company
of soldiers before a redoubt, when the captain runs forward full of
hope and energy, but looks not behind him to see if his men are
following, and they hang back, not knowing why they are brought
there to die. The captain's life is spent for nothing, and his men
are sullen prisoners in the redoubt of Unhappiness and Brutality.

I must in plain words say of the Decorative Arts, of all the arts,
that it is not so much that we are inferior in them to all who have
gone before us, but rather that they are in a state of anarchy and
disorganisation, which makes a sweeping change necessary and

So that again I ask my question, All that good fruit which the arts
should bear, will you have it? will you cast it from you? Shall
that sweeping change that must come, be the change of loss or of

We who believe in the continuous life of the world, surely we are
bound to hope that the change will bring us gain and not loss, and
to strive to bring that gain about.

Yet how the world may answer my question, who can say? A man in his
short life can see but a little way ahead, and even in mine
wonderful and unexpected things have come to pass. I must needs say
that therein lies my hope rather than in all I see going on round
about us. Without disputing that if the imaginative arts perish,
some new thing, at present unguessed of, MAY be put forward to
supply their loss in men's lives, I cannot feel happy in that
prospect, nor can I believe that mankind will endure such a loss for
ever: but in the meantime the present state of the arts and their
dealings with modern life and progress seem to me to point, in
appearance at least, to this immediate future; that the world, which
has for a long time busied itself about other matters than the arts,
and has carelessly let them sink lower and lower, till many not
uncultivated men, ignorant of what they once were, and hopeless of
what they might yet be, look upon them with mere contempt; that the
world, I say, thus busied and hurried, will one day wipe the slate,
and be clean rid in her impatience of the whole matter with all its
tangle and trouble.

And then--what then?

Even now amid the squalor of London it is hard to imagine what it
will be. Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, with the crowd of
lesser arts that belong to them, these, together with Music and
Poetry, will be dead and forgotten, will no longer excite or amuse
people in the least: for, once more, we must not deceive ourselves;
the death of one art means the death of all; the only difference in
their fate will be that the luckiest will be eaten the last--the
luckiest, or the unluckiest: in all that has to do with beauty the
invention and ingenuity of man will have come to a dead stop; and
all the while Nature will go on with her eternal recurrence of
lovely changes--spring, summer, autumn, and winter; sunshine, rain,
and snow; storm and fair weather; dawn, noon, and sunset; day and
night--ever bearing witness against man that he has deliberately
chosen ugliness instead of beauty, and to live where he is strongest
amidst squalor or blank emptiness.

You see, sirs, we cannot quite imagine it; any more, perhaps, than
our forefathers of ancient London, living in the pretty, carefully
whitened houses, with the famous church and its huge spire rising
above them,--than they, passing about the fair gardens running down
to the broad river, could have imagined a whole county or more
covered over with hideous hovels, big, middle-sized, and little,
which should one day be called London.

Sirs, I say that this dead blank of the arts that I more than dread
is difficult even now to imagine; yet I fear that I must say that if
it does not come about, it will be owing to some turn of events
which we cannot at present foresee: but I hold that if it does
happen, it will only last for a time, that it will be but a burning
up of the gathered weeds, so that the field may bear more
abundantly. I hold that men would wake up after a while, and look
round and find the dulness unbearable, and begin once more
inventing, imitating, and imagining, as in earlier days.

That faith comforts me, and I can say calmly if the blank space must
happen, it must, and amidst its darkness the new seed must sprout.
So it has been before: first comes birth, and hope scarcely
conscious of itself; then the flower and fruit of mastery, with hope
more than conscious enough, passing into insolence, as decay follows
ripeness; and then--the new birth again.

Meantime it is the plain duty of all who look seriously on the arts
to do their best to save the world from what at the best will be a
loss, the result of ignorance and unwisdom; to prevent, in fact,
that most discouraging of all changes, the supplying the place of an
extinct brutality by a new one; nay, even if those who really care
for the arts are so weak and few that they can do nothing else, it
may be their business to keep alive some tradition, some memory of
the past, so that the new life when it comes may not waste itself
more than enough in fashioning wholly new forms for its new spirit.

To what side then shall those turn for help, who really understand
the gain of a great art in the world, and the loss of peace and good
life that must follow from the lack of it? I think that they must
begin by acknowledging that the ancient art, the art of unconscious
intelligence, as one should call it, which began without a date, at
least so long ago as those strange and masterly scratchings on
mammoth-bones and the like found but the other day in the drift--
that this art of unconscious intelligence is all but dead; that what
little of it is left lingers among half-civilised nations, and is
growing coarser, feebler, less intelligent year by year; nay, it is
mostly at the mercy of some commercial accident, such as the arrival
of a few shiploads of European dye-stuffs or a few dozen orders from
European merchants: this they must recognise, and must hope to see
in time its place filled by a new art of conscious intelligence, the
birth of wiser, simpler, freer ways of life than the world leads
now, than the world has ever led.

I said, TO SEE this in time; I do not mean to say that our own eyes
will look upon it: it may be so far off, as indeed it seems to
some, that many would scarcely think it worth while thinking of:
but there are some of us who cannot turn our faces to the wall, or
sit deedless because our hope seems somewhat dim; and, indeed, I
think that while the signs of the last decay of the old art with all
the evils that must follow in its train are only too obvious about
us, so on the other hand there are not wanting signs of the new dawn
beyond that possible night of the arts, of which I have before
spoken; this sign chiefly, that there are some few at least who are
heartily discontented with things as they are, and crave for
something better, or at least some promise of it--this best of
signs: for I suppose that if some half-dozen men at any time
earnestly set their hearts on something coming about which is not
discordant with nature, it will come to pass one day or other;
because it is not by accident that an idea comes into the heads of a
few; rather they are pushed on, and forced to speak or act by
something stirring in the heart of the world which would otherwise
be left without expression.

By what means then shall those work who long for reform in the arts,
and who shall they seek to kindle into eager desire for possession
of beauty, and better still, for the development of the faculty that
creates beauty?

People say to me often enough: If you want to make your art succeed
and flourish, you must make it the fashion: a phrase which I
confess annoys me; for they mean by it that I should spend one day
over my work to two days in trying to convince rich, and supposed
influential people, that they care very much for what they really do
not care in the least, so that it may happen according to the
proverb: Bell-wether took the leap, and we all went over. Well,
such advisers are right if they are content with the thing lasting
but a little while; say till you can make a little money--if you
don't get pinched by the door shutting too quickly: otherwise they
are wrong: the people they are thinking of have too many strings to
their bow, and can turn their backs too easily on a thing that
fails, for it to be safe work trusting to their whims: it is not
their fault, they cannot help it, but they have no chance of
spending time enough over the arts to know anything practical of
them, and they must of necessity be in the hands of those who spend
their time in pushing fashion this way and that for their own

Sirs, there is no help to be got out of these latter, or those who
let themselves be led by them: the only real help for the
decorative arts must come from those who work in them; nor must they
be led, they must lead.

You whose hands make those things that should be works of art, you
must be all artists, and good artists too, before the public at
large can take real interest in such things; and when you have
become so, I promise you that you shall lead the fashion; fashion
shall follow your hands obediently enough.

That is the only way in which we can get a supply of intelligent
popular art: a few artists of the kind so-called now, what can they
do working in the teeth of difficulties thrown in their way by what
is called Commerce, but which should be called greed of money?
working helplessly among the crowd of those who are ridiculously
called manufacturers, i.e. handicraftsmen, though the more part of
them never did a stroke of hand-work in their lives, and are nothing
better than capitalists and salesmen. What can these grains of sand
do, I say, amidst the enormous mass of work turned out every year
which professes in some way to be decorative art, but the decoration
of which no one heeds except the salesmen who have to do with it,
and are hard put to it to supply the cravings of the public for
something new, not for something pretty?

The remedy, I repeat, is plain if it can be applied; the
handicraftsman, left behind by the artist when the arts sundered,
must come up with him, must work side by side with him: apart from
the difference between a great master and a scholar, apart from the
differences of the natural bent of men's minds, which would make one
man an imitative, and another an architectural or decorative artist,
there should be no difference between those employed on strictly
ornamental work; and the body of artists dealing with this should
quicken with their art all makers of things into artists also, in
proportion to the necessities and uses of the things they would

I know what stupendous difficulties, social and economical, there
are in the way of this; yet I think that they seem to be greater
than they are: and of one thing I am sure, that no real living
decorative art is possible if this is impossible.

It is not impossible, on the contrary it is certain to come about,
if you are at heart desirous to quicken the arts; if the world will,
for the sake of beauty and decency, sacrifice some of the things it
is so busy over (many of which I think are not very worthy of its
trouble), art will begin to grow again; as for those difficulties
above mentioned, some of them I know will in any case melt away
before the steady change of the relative conditions of men; the
rest, reason and resolute attention to the laws of nature, which are
also the laws of art, will dispose of little by little: once more,
the way will not be far to seek, if the will be with us.

Yet, granted the will, and though the way lies ready to us, we must
not be discouraged if the journey seem barren enough at first, nay,
not even if things seem to grow worse for a while: for it is
natural enough that the very evil which has forced on the beginning
of reform should look uglier, while on the one hand life and wisdom
are building up the new, and on the other folly and deadness are
hugging the old to them.

In this, as in all other matters, lapse of time will be needed
before things seem to straighten, and the courage and patience that
does not despise small things lying ready to be done; and care and
watchfulness, lest we begin to build the wall ere the footings are
well in; and always through all things much humility that is not
easily cast down by failure, that seeks to be taught, and is ready
to learn.

For your teachers, they must be Nature and History: as for the
first, that you must learn of it is so obvious that I need not dwell
upon that now: hereafter, when I have to speak more of matters of
detail, I may have to speak of the manner in which you must learn of
Nature. As to the second, I do not think that any man but one of
the highest genius, could do anything in these days without much
study of ancient art, and even he would be much hindered if he
lacked it. If you think that this contradicts what I said about the
death of that ancient art, and the necessity I implied for an art
that should be characteristic of the present day, I can only say
that, in these times of plenteous knowledge and meagre performance,
if we do not study the ancient work directly and learn to understand
it, we shall find ourselves influenced by the feeble work all round
us, and shall be copying the better work through the copyists and
WITHOUT understanding it, which will by no means bring about
intelligent art. Let us therefore study it wisely, be taught by it,
kindled by it; all the while determining not to imitate or repeat
it; to have either no art at all, or an art which we have made our

Yet I am almost brought to a stand-still when bidding you to study
nature and the history of art, by remembering that this is London,
and what it is like: how can I ask working-men passing up and down
these hideous streets day by day to care about beauty? If it were
politics, we must care about that; or science, you could wrap
yourselves up in the study of facts, no doubt, without much caring
what goes on about you--but beauty! do you not see what terrible
difficulties beset art, owing to a long neglect of art--and neglect
of reason, too, in this matter? It is such a heavy question by what
effort, by what dead-lift, you can thrust this difficulty from you,
that I must perforce set it aside for the present, and must at least
hope that the study of history and its monuments will help you
somewhat herein. If you can really fill your minds with memories of
great works of art, and great times of art, you will, I think, be
able to a certain extent to look through the aforesaid ugly
surroundings, and will be moved to discontent of what is careless
and brutal now, and will, I hope, at last be so much discontented
with what is bad, that you will determine to bear no longer that
short-sighted, reckless brutality of squalor that so disgraces our
intricate civilisation.

Well, at any rate, London is good for this, that it is well off for
museums,--which I heartily wish were to be got at seven days in the
week instead of six, or at least on the only day on which an
ordinarily busy man, one of the taxpayers who support them, can as a
rule see them quietly,--and certainly any of us who may have any
natural turn for art must get more help from frequenting them than
one can well say. It is true, however, that people need some
preliminary instruction before they can get all the good possible to
be got from the prodigious treasures of art possessed by the country
in that form: there also one sees things in a piecemeal way: nor
can I deny that there is something melancholy about a museum, such a
tale of violence, destruction, and carelessness, as its treasured
scraps tell us.

But moreover you may sometimes have an opportunity of studying
ancient art in a narrower but a more intimate, a more kindly form,
the monuments of our own land. Sometimes only, since we live in the
middle of this world of brick and mortar, and there is little else
left us amidst it, except the ghost of the great church at
Westminster, ruined as its exterior is by the stupidity of the
restoring architect, and insulted as its glorious interior is by the
pompous undertakers' lies, by the vainglory and ignorance of the
last two centuries and a half--little besides that and the matchless
Hall near it: but when we can get beyond that smoky world, there,
out in the country we may still see the works of our fathers yet
alive amidst the very nature they were wrought into, and of which
they are so completely a part: for there indeed if anywhere, in the
English country, in the days when people cared about such things,
was there a full sympathy between the works of man, and the land
they were made for:- the land is a little land; too much shut up
within the narrow seas, as it seems, to have much space for swelling
into hugeness: there are no great wastes overwhelming in their
dreariness, no great solitudes of forests, no terrible untrodden
mountain-walls: all is measured, mingled, varied, gliding easily
one thing into another: little rivers, little plains; swelling,
speedily-changing uplands, all beset with handsome orderly trees;
little hills, little mountains, netted over with the walls of sheep-
walks: all is little; yet not foolish and blank, but serious
rather, and abundant of meaning for such as choose to seek it: it
is neither prison nor palace, but a decent home.

All which I neither praise nor blame, but say that so it is: some
people praise this homeliness overmuch, as if the land were the very
axle-tree of the world; so do not I, nor any unblinded by pride in
themselves and all that belongs to them: others there are who scorn
it and the tameness of it: not I any the more: though it would
indeed be hard if there were nothing else in the world, no wonders,
no terrors, no unspeakable beauties: yet when we think what a small
part of the world's history, past, present, and to come, is this
land we live in, and how much smaller still in the history of the
arts, and yet how our forefathers clung to it, and with what care
and pains they adorned it, this unromantic, uneventful-looking land
of England, surely by this too our hearts may be touched, and our
hope quickened.

For as was the land, such was the art of it while folk yet troubled
themselves about such things; it strove little to impress people
either by pomp or ingenuity: not unseldom it fell into commonplace,
rarely it rose into majesty; yet was it never oppressive, never a
slave's nightmare nor an insolent boast: and at its best it had an
inventiveness, an individuality that grander styles have never
overpassed: its best too, and that was in its very heart, was given
as freely to the yeoman's house, and the humble village church, as
to the lord's palace or the mighty cathedral: never coarse, though
often rude enough, sweet, natural and unaffected, an art of peasants
rather than of merchant-princes or courtiers, it must be a hard
heart, I think, that does not love it: whether a man has been born
among it like ourselves, or has come wonderingly on its simplicity
from all the grandeur over-seas. A peasant art, I say, and it clung
fast to the life of the people, and still lived among the cottagers
and yeomen in many parts of the country while the big houses were
being built 'French and fine': still lived also in many a quaint
pattern of loom and printing-block, and embroiderer's needle, while
over-seas stupid pomp had extinguished all nature and freedom, and
art was become, in France especially, the mere expression of that
successful and exultant rascality, which in the flesh no long time
afterwards went down into the pit for ever.

Such was the English art, whose history is in a sense at your doors,
grown scarce indeed, and growing scarcer year by year, not only
through greedy destruction, of which there is certainly less than
there used to be, but also through the attacks of another foe,
called nowadays 'restoration.'

I must not make a long story about this, but also I cannot quite
pass it over, since I have pressed on you the study of these ancient
monuments. Thus the matter stands: these old buildings have been
altered and added to century after century, often beautifully,
always historically; their very value, a great part of it, lay in
that: they have suffered almost always from neglect also, often
from violence (that latter a piece of history often far from
uninteresting), but ordinary obvious mending would almost always
have kept them standing, pieces of nature and of history.

But of late years a great uprising of ecclesiastical zeal,
coinciding with a great increase of study, and consequently of
knowledge of mediaeval architecture, has driven people into spending
their money on these buildings, not merely with the purpose of
repairing them, of keeping them safe, clean, and wind and water-
tight, but also of 'restoring' them to some ideal state of
perfection; sweeping away if possible all signs of what has befallen
them at least since the Reformation, and often since dates much
earlier: this has sometimes been done with much disregard of art
and entirely from ecclesiastical zeal, but oftener it has been well
meant enough as regards art: yet you will not have listened to what
I have said to-night if you do not see that from my point of view
this restoration must be as impossible to bring about, as the
attempt at it is destructive to the buildings so dealt with: I
scarcely like to think what a great part of them have been made
nearly useless to students of art and history: unless you knew a
great deal about architecture you perhaps would scarce understand
what terrible damage has been done by that dangerous 'little
knowledge' in this matter: but at least it is easy to be
understood, that to deal recklessly with valuable (and national)
monuments which, when once gone, can never be replaced by any
splendour of modern art, is doing a very sorry service to the State.

You will see by all that I have said on this study of ancient art
that I mean by education herein something much wider than the
teaching of a definite art in schools of design, and that it must be
something that we must do more or less for ourselves: I mean by it
a systematic concentration of our thoughts on the matter, a studying
of it in all ways, careful and laborious practice of it, and a
determination to do nothing but what is known to be good in
workmanship and design.

Of course, however, both as an instrument of that study we have been
speaking of, as well as of the practice of the arts, all
handicraftsmen should be taught to draw very carefully; as indeed
all people should be taught drawing who are not physically incapable
of learning it: but the art of drawing so taught would not be the
art of designing, but only a means towards THIS end, GENERAL

For I wish specially to impress this upon you, that DESIGNING cannot
be taught at all in a school: continued practice will help a man
who is naturally a designer, continual notice of nature and of art:
no doubt those who have some faculty for designing are still
numerous, and they want from a school certain technical teaching,
just as they want tools: in these days also, when the best school,
the school of successful practice going on around you, is at such a
low ebb, they do undoubtedly want instruction in the history of the
arts: these two things schools of design can give: but the royal
road of a set of rules deduced from a sham science of design, that
is itself not a science but another set of rules, will lead
nowhere;--or, let us rather say, to beginning again.

As to the kind of drawing that should be taught to men engaged in
ornamental work, there is only ONE BEST way of teaching drawing, and
that is teaching the scholar to draw the human figure: both because
the lines of a man's body are much more subtle than anything else,
and because you can more surely be found out and set right if you go
wrong. I do think that such teaching as this, given to all people
who care for it, would help the revival of the arts very much: the
habit of discriminating between right and wrong, the sense of
pleasure in drawing a good line, would really, I think, be education
in the due sense of the word for all such people as had the germs of
invention in them; yet as aforesaid, in this age of the world it
would be mere affectation to pretend to shut one's eyes to the art
of past ages: that also we must study. If other circumstances,
social and economical, do not stand in our way, that is to say, if
the world is not too busy to allow us to have Decorative Arts at
all, these two are the DIRECT means by which we shall get them; that
is, general cultivation of the powers of the mind, general
cultivation of the powers of the eye and hand.

Perhaps that seems to you very commonplace advice and a very
roundabout road; nevertheless 'tis a certain one, if by any road you
desire to come to the new art, which is my subject to-night: if you
do not, and if those germs of invention, which, as I said just now,
are no doubt still common enough among men, are left neglected and
undeveloped, the laws of Nature will assert themselves in this as in
other matters, and the faculty of design itself will gradually fade
from the race of man. Sirs, shall we approach nearer to perfection
by casting away so large a part of that intelligence which makes us

And now before I make an end, I want to call your attention to
certain things, that, owing to our neglect of the arts for other
business, bar that good road to us and are such an hindrance, that,
till they are dealt with, it is hard even to make a beginning of our
endeavour. And if my talk should seem to grow too serious for our
subject, as indeed I think it cannot do, I beg you to remember what
I said earlier, of how the arts all hang together. Now there is one
art of which the old architect of Edward the Third's time was
thinking--he who founded New College at Oxford, I mean--when he took
this for his motto: 'Manners maketh man:' he meant by manners the
art of morals, the art of living worthily, and like a man. I must
needs claim this art also as dealing with my subject.

There is a great deal of sham work in the world, hurtful to the
buyer, more hurtful to the seller, if he only knew it, most hurtful
to the maker: how good a foundation it would be towards getting
good Decorative Art, that is ornamental workmanship, if we craftsmen
were to resolve to turn out nothing but excellent workmanship in all
things, instead of having, as we too often have now, a very low
average standard of work, which we often fall below.

I do not blame either one class or another in this matter, I blame
all: to set aside our own class of handicraftsmen, of whose
shortcomings you and I know so much that we need talk no more about
it, I know that the public in general are set on having things
cheap, being so ignorant that they do not know when they get them
nasty also; so ignorant that they neither know nor care whether they
give a man his due: I know that the manufacturers (so called) are
so set on carrying out competition to its utmost, competition of
cheapness, not of excellence, that they meet the bargain-hunters
half way, and cheerfully furnish them with nasty wares at the cheap
rate they are asked for, by means of what can be called by no
prettier name than fraud. England has of late been too much busied
with the counting-house and not enough with the workshop: with the
result that the counting-house at the present moment is rather
barren of orders.

I say all classes are to blame in this matter, but also I say that
the remedy lies with the handicraftsmen, who are not ignorant of
these things like the public, and who have no call to be greedy and
isolated like the manufacturers or middlemen; the duty and honour of
educating the public lies with them, and they have in them the seeds
of order and organisation which make that duty the easier.

When will they see to this and help to make men of us all by
insisting on this most weighty piece of manners; so that we may
adorn life with the pleasure of cheerfully BUYING goods at their due
price; with the pleasure of SELLING goods that we could be proud of
both for fair price and fair workmanship: with the pleasure of
working soundly and without haste at MAKING goods that we could be
proud of?--much the greatest pleasure of the three is that last,
such a pleasure as, I think, the world has none like it.

You must not say that this piece of manners lies out of my subject:
it is essentially a part of it and most important: for I am bidding
you learn to be artists, if art is not to come to an end amongst us:
and what is an artist but a workman who is determined that, whatever
else happens, his work shall be excellent? or, to put it in another
way: the decoration of workmanship, what is it but the expression
of man's pleasure in successful labour? But what pleasure can there
be in BAD work, in unsuccessful labour; why should we decorate THAT?
and how can we bear to be always unsuccessful in our labour?

As greed of unfair gain, wanting to be paid for what we have not
earned, cumbers our path with this tangle of bad work, of sham work,
so the heaped-up money which this greed has brought us (for greed
will have its way, like all other strong passions), this money, I
say, gathered into heaps little and big, with all the false
distinction which so unhappily it yet commands amongst us, has
raised up against the arts a barrier of the love of luxury and show,
which is of all obvious hindrances the worst to overpass: the
highest and most cultivated classes are not free from the vulgarity
of it, the lower are not free from its pretence. I beg you to
remember both as a remedy against this, and as explaining exactly
what I mean, that nothing can be a work of art which is not useful;
that is to say, which does not minister to the body when well under
command of the mind, or which does not amuse, soothe, or elevate the
mind in a healthy state. What tons upon tons of unutterable rubbish
pretending to be works of art in some degree would this maxim clear
out of our London houses, if it were understood and acted upon! To
my mind it is only here and there (out of the kitchen) that you can
find in a well-to-do house things that are of any use at all: as a
rule all the decoration (so called) that has got there is there for
the sake of show, not because anybody likes it. I repeat, this
stupidity goes through all classes of society: the silk curtains in
my Lord's drawing-room are no more a matter of art to him than the
powder in his footman's hair; the kitchen in a country farmhouse is
most commonly a pleasant and homelike place, the parlour dreary and

Simplicity of life, begetting simplicity of taste, that is, a love
for sweet and lofty things, is of all matters most necessary for the
birth of the new and better art we crave for; simplicity everywhere,
in the palace as well as in the cottage.

Still more is this necessary, cleanliness and decency everywhere, in
the cottage as well as in the palace: the lack of that is a serious
piece of MANNERS for us to correct: that lack and all the
inequalities of life, and the heaped-up thoughtlessness and disorder
of so many centuries that cause it: and as yet it is only a very
few men who have begun to think about a remedy for it in its widest
range: even in its narrower aspect, in the defacements of our big
towns by all that commerce brings with it, who heeds it? who tries
to control their squalor and hideousness? there is nothing but
thoughtlessness and recklessness in the matter: the helplessness of
people who don't live long enough to do a thing themselves, and have
not manliness and foresight enough to begin the work, and pass it on
to those that shall come after them.

Is money to be gathered? cut down the pleasant trees among the
houses, pull down ancient and venerable buildings for the money that
a few square yards of London dirt will fetch; blacken rivers, hide
the sun and poison the air with smoke and worse, and it's nobody's
business to see to it or mend it: that is all that modern commerce,
the counting-house forgetful of the workshop, will do for us herein.

And Science--we have loved her well, and followed her diligently,
what will she do? I fear she is so much in the pay of the counting-
house, the counting-house and the drill-sergeant, that she is too
busy, and will for the present do nothing. Yet there are matters
which I should have thought easy for her; say for example teaching
Manchester how to consume its own smoke, or Leeds how to get rid of
its superfluous black dye without turning it into the river, which
would be as much worth her attention as the production of the
heaviest of heavy black silks, or the biggest of useless guns.
Anyhow, however it be done, unless people care about carrying on
their business without making the world hideous, how can they care
about Art? I know it will cost much both of time and money to
better these things even a little; but I do not see how these can be
better spent than in making life cheerful and honourable for others
and for ourselves; and the gain of good life to the country at large
that would result from men seriously setting about the bettering of
the decency of our big towns would be priceless, even if nothing
specially good befell the arts in consequence: I do not know that
it would; but I should begin to think matters hopeful if men turned
their attention to such things, and I repeat that, unless they do
so, we can scarcely even begin with any hope our endeavours for the
bettering of the arts.

Unless something or other is done to give all men some pleasure for
the eyes and rest for the mind in the aspect of their own and their
neighbours' houses, until the contrast is less disgraceful between
the fields where beasts live and the streets where men live, I
suppose that the practice of the arts must be mainly kept in the
hands of a few highly cultivated men, who can go often to beautiful
places, whose education enables them, in the contemplation of the
past glories of the world, to shut out from their view the everyday
squalors that the most of men move in. Sirs, I believe that art has
such sympathy with cheerful freedom, open-heartedness and reality,
so much she sickens under selfishness and luxury, that she will not
live thus isolated and exclusive. I will go further than this and
say that on such terms I do not wish her to live. I protest that it
would be a shame to an honest artist to enjoy what he had huddled up
to himself of such art, as it would be for a rich man to sit and eat
dainty food amongst starving soldiers in a beleaguered fort.

I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few, or
freedom for a few.

No, rather than art should live this poor thin life among a few
exceptional men, despising those beneath them for an ignorance for
which they themselves are responsible, for a brutality that they
will not struggle with,--rather than this, I would that the world
should indeed sweep away all art for awhile, as I said before I
thought it possible she might do; rather than the wheat should rot
in the miser's granary, I would that the earth had it, that it might
yet have a chance to quicken in the dark.

I have a sort of faith, though, that this clearing way of all art
will not happen, that men will get wiser, as well as more learned;
that many of the intricacies of life, on which we now pride
ourselves more than enough, partly because they are new, partly
because they have come with the gain of better things, will be cast
aside as having played their part, and being useful no longer. I
hope that we shall have leisure from war,--war commercial, as well
as war of the bullet and the bayonet; leisure from the knowledge
that darkens counsel; leisure above all from the greed of money, and
the craving for that overwhelming distinction that money now brings:
I believe that as we have even now partly achieved LIBERTY, so we
shall one day achieve EQUALITY, which, and which only, means
FRATERNITY, and so have leisure from poverty and all its griping,
sordid cares.

Then having leisure from all these things, amidst renewed simplicity
of life we shall have leisure to think about our work, that faithful
daily companion, which no man any longer will venture to call the
Curse of labour: for surely then we shall be happy in it, each in
his place, no man grudging at another; no one bidden to be any man's
SERVANT, every one scorning to be any man's MASTER: men will then
assuredly be happy in their work, and that happiness will assuredly
bring forth decorative, noble, POPULAR art.

That art will make our streets as beautiful as the woods, as
elevating as the mountain-sides: it will be a pleasure and a rest,
and not a weight upon the spirits to come from the open country into
a town; every man's house will be fair and decent, soothing to his
mind and helpful to his work: all the works of man that we live
amongst and handle will be in harmony with nature, will be
reasonable and beautiful: yet all will be simple and inspiriting,
not childish nor enervating; for as nothing of beauty and splendour
that man's mind and hand may compass shall be wanting from our
public buildings, so in no private dwelling will there be any signs
of waste, pomp, or insolence, and every man will have his share of
the BEST.

It is a dream, you may say, of what has never been and never will
be; true, it has never been, and therefore, since the world is alive
and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be:
true, it is a dream; but dreams have before now come about of things
so good and necessary to us, that we scarcely think of them more
than of the daylight, though once people had to live without them,
without even the hope of them.

Anyhow, dream as it is, I pray you to pardon my setting it before
you, for it lies at the bottom of all my work in the Decorative
Arts, nor will it ever be out of my thoughts: and I am here with
you to-night to ask you to help me in realising this dream, this


'And the men of labour spent their strength in daily struggling for
bread to maintain the vital strength they labour with: so living in
a daily circulation of sorrow, living but to work, and working but
to live, as if daily bread were the only end of a wearisome life,
and a wearisome life the only occasion of daily bread.'--DANIEL

I know that a large proportion of those here present are either
already practising the Fine Arts, or are being specially educated to
that end, and I feel that I may be expected to address myself
specially to these. But since it is not to be doubted that we are
ALL met together because of the interest we take in what concerns
these arts, I would rather address myself to you ALL as representing
the public in general. Indeed, those of you who are specially
studying Art could learn little of me that would be useful to
yourselves only. You are already learning under competent masters--
most competent, I am glad to know--by means of a system which should
teach you all you need, if you have been right in making the first
step of devoting yourselves to Art; I mean if you are aiming at the
right thing, and in some way or another understand what Art means,
which you may well do without being able to express it, and if you
are resolute to follow on the path which that inborn knowledge has
shown to you; if it is otherwise with you than this, no system and
no teachers will help you to produce real art of any kind, be it
never so humble. Those of you who are real artists know well enough
all the special advice I can give you, and in how few words it may
be said--follow nature, study antiquity, make your own art, and do
not steal it, grudge no expense of trouble, patience, or courage, in
the striving to accomplish the hard thing you have set yourselves to
do. You have had all that said to you twenty times, I doubt not;
and twenty times twenty have said it to yourselves, and now I have
said it again to you, and done neither you nor me good nor harm
thereby. So true it all is, so well known, and so hard to follow.

But to me, and I hope to you, Art is a very serious thing, and
cannot by any means be dissociated from the weighty matters that
occupy the thoughts of men; and there are principles underlying the
practice of it, on which all serious-minded men, may--nay, must--
have their own thoughts. It is on some of these that I ask your
leave to speak, and to address myself, not only to those who are
consciously interested in the arts, but to all those also who have
considered what the progress of civilisation promises and threatens
to those who shall come after us: what there is to hope and fear
for the future of the arts, which were born with the birth of
civilisation and will only die with its death--what on this side of
things, the present time of strife and doubt and change is preparing
for the better time, when the change shall have come, the strife be
lulled, and the doubt cleared: this is a question, I say, which is
indeed weighty, and may well interest all thinking men.

Nay, so universally important is it, that I fear lest you should
think I am taking too much upon myself to speak to you on so weighty
a matter, nor should I have dared to do so, if I did not feel that I
am to-night only the mouthpiece of better men than myself; whose
hopes and fears I share; and that being so, I am the more emboldened
to speak out, if I can, my full mind on the subject, because I am in
a city where, if anywhere, men are not contented to live wholly for
themselves and the present, but have fully accepted the duty of
keeping their eyes open to whatever new is stirring, so that they
may help and be helped by any truth that there may be in it. Nor
can I forget, that, since you have done me the great honour of
choosing me for the President of your Society of Arts for the past
year, and of asking me to speak to you to-night, I should be doing
less than my duty if I did not, according to my lights, speak out
straightforwardly whatever seemed to me might be in a small degree
useful to you. Indeed, I think I am among friends, who may forgive
me if I speak rashly, but scarcely if I speak falsely.

The aim of your Society and School of Arts is, as I understand it,
to further those arts by education widely spread. A very great
object is that, and well worthy of the reputation of this great
city; but since Birmingham has also, I rejoice to know, a great
reputation for not allowing things to go about shamming life when
the brains are knocked out of them, I think you should know and see
clearly what it is you have undertaken to further by these
institutions, and whether you really care about it, or only
languidly acquiesce in it--whether, in short, you know it to the
heart, and are indeed part and parcel of it, with your own will, or
against it; or else have heard say that it is a good thing if any
one care to meddle with it.

If you are surprised at my putting that question for your
consideration, I will tell you why I do so. There are some of us
who love Art most, and I may say most faithfully, who see for
certain that such love is rare nowadays. We cannot help seeing,
that besides a vast number of people, who (poor souls!) are sordid
and brutal of mind and habits, and have had no chance or choice in
the matter, there are many high-minded, thoughtful, and cultivated
men who inwardly think the arts to be a foolish accident of
civilisation--nay, worse perhaps, a nuisance, a disease, a hindrance
to human progress. Some of these, doubtless, are very busy about
other sides of thought. They are, as I should put it, so
ARTISTICALLY engrossed by the study of science, politics, or what
not, that they have necessarily narrowed their minds by their hard
and praiseworthy labours. But since such men are few, this does not
account for a prevalent habit of thought that looks upon Art as at
best trifling.

What is wrong, then, with us or the arts, since what was once
accounted so glorious, is now deemed paltry?

The question is no light one; for, to put the matter in its clearest
light, I will say that the leaders of modern thought do for the most
part sincerely and single-mindedly hate and despise the arts; and
you know well that as the leaders are, so must the people be; and
that means that we who are met together here for the furthering of
Art by wide-spread education are either deceiving ourselves and
wasting our time, since we shall one day be of the same opinion as
the best men among us, or else we represent a small minority that is
right, as minorities sometimes are, while those upright men
aforesaid, and the great mass of civilised men, have been blinded by
untoward circumstances.

That we are of this mind--the minority that is right--is, I hope,
the case. I hope we know assuredly that the arts we have met
together to further are necessary to the life of man, if the
progress of civilisation is not to be as causeless as the turning of
a wheel that makes nothing.

How, then, shall we, the minority, carry out the duty which our
position thrusts upon us, of striving to grow into a majority?

If we could only explain to those thoughtful men, and the millions
of whom they are the flower, what the thing is that we love, which
is to us as the bread we eat, and the air we breathe, but about
which they know nothing and feel nothing, save a vague instinct of
repulsion, then the seed of victory might be sown. This is hard
indeed to do; yet if we ponder upon a chapter of ancient or
mediaeval history, it seems to me some glimmer of a chance of doing
so breaks in upon us. Take for example a century of the Byzantine
Empire, weary yourselves with reading the names of the pedants,
tyrants, and tax-gatherers to whom the terrible chain which long-
dead Rome once forged, still gave the power of cheating people into
thinking that they were necessary lords of the world. Turn then to
the lands they governed, and read and forget a long string of the
causeless murders of Northern and Saracen pirates and robbers. That
is pretty much the sum of what so-called history has left us of the
tale of those days--the stupid languor and the evil deeds of kings
and scoundrels. Must we turn away then, and say that all was evil?
How then did men live from day to day? How then did Europe grow
into intelligence and freedom? It seems there were others than
those of whom history (so called) has left us the names and the
deeds. These, the raw material for the treasury and the slave-
market, we now call 'the people,' and we know that they were working
all that while. Yes, and that their work was not merely slaves'
work, the meal-trough before them and the whip behind them; for
though history (so called) has forgotten them, yet their work has
not been forgotten, but has made another history--the history of
Art. There is not an ancient city in the East or the West that does
not bear some token of their grief, and joy, and hope. From Ispahan
to Northumberland, there is no building built between the seventh
and seventeenth centuries that does not show the influence of the
labour of that oppressed and neglected herd of men. No one of them,
indeed, rose high above his fellows. There was no Plato, or
Shakespeare, or Michael Angelo amongst them. Yet scattered as it
was among many men, how strong their thought was, how long it
abided, how far it travelled!

And so it was ever through all those days when Art was so vigorous
and progressive. Who can say how little we should know of many
periods, but for their art? History (so called) has remembered the
kings and warriors, because they destroyed; Art has remembered the
people, because they created.

I think, then, that this knowledge we have of the life of past times
gives us some token of the way we should take in meeting those
honest and single-hearted men who above all things desire the
world's progress, but whose minds are, as it were, sick on this
point of the arts. Surely you may say to them: When all is gained
that you (and we) so long for, what shall we do then? That great
change which we are working for, each in his own way, will come like
other changes, as a thief in the night, and will be with us before
we know it; but let us imagine that its consummation has come
suddenly and dramatically, acknowledged and hailed by all right-
minded people; and what shall we do then, lest we begin once more to
heap up fresh corruption for the woeful labour of ages once again?
I say, as we turn away from the flagstaff where the new banner has
been just run up; as we depart, our ears yet ringing with the blare
of the heralds' trumpets that have proclaimed the new order of
things, what shall we turn to then, what MUST we turn to then?

To what else, save to our work, our daily labour?

With what, then, shall we adorn it when we have become wholly free
and reasonable? It is necessary toil, but shall it be toil only?
Shall all we can do with it be to shorten the hours of that toil to
the utmost, that the hours of leisure may be long beyond what men
used to hope for? and what then shall we do with the leisure, if we
say that all toil is irksome? Shall we sleep it all away?--Yes, and
never wake up again, I should hope, in that case.

What shall we do then? what shall our necessary hours of labour
bring forth?

That will be a question for all men in that day when many wrongs are
righted, and when there will be no classes of degradation on whom
the dirty work of the world can be shovelled; and if men's minds are
still sick and loathe the arts, they will not be able to answer that

Once men sat under grinding tyrannies, amidst violence and fear so
great, that nowadays we wonder how they lived through twenty-four
hours of it, till we remember that then, as now, their daily labour
was the main part of their lives, and that that daily labour was
sweetened by the daily creation of Art; and shall we who are
delivered from the evils they bore, live drearier days than they
did? Shall men, who have come forth from so many tyrannies, bind
themselves to yet another one, and become the slaves of nature,
piling day upon day of hopeless, useless toil? Must this go on
worsening till it comes to this at last--that the world shall have
come into its inheritance, and with all foes conquered and nought to
bind it, shall choose to sit down and labour for ever amidst grim
ugliness? How, then, were all our hopes cheated, what a gulf of
despair should we tumble into then?

In truth, it cannot be; yet if that sickness of repulsion to the
arts were to go on hopelessly, nought else would be, and the
extinction of the love of beauty and imagination would prove to be
the extinction of civilisation. But that sickness the world will
one day throw off, yet will, I believe, pass through many pains in
so doing, some of which will look very like the death-throes of Art,
and some, perhaps, will be grievous enough to the poor people of the
world; since hard necessity, I doubt, works many of the world's
changes, rather than the purblind striving to see, which we call the
foresight of man.

Meanwhile, remember that I asked just now, what was amiss in Art or
in ourselves that this sickness was upon us. Nothing is wrong or
can be with Art in the abstract--that must always be good for
mankind, or we are all wrong together: but with Art, as we of these
latter days have known it, there is much wrong; nay, what are we
here for to-night if that is not so? were not the schools of art
founded all over the country some thirty years ago because we had
found out that popular art was fading--or perhaps had faded out from
amongst us?

As to the progress made since then in this country--and in this
country only, if at all--it is hard for me to speak without being
either ungracious or insincere, and yet speak I must. I say, then,
that an apparent external progress in some ways is obvious, but I do
not know how far that is hopeful, for time must try it, and prove
whether it be a passing fashion or the first token of a real stir
among the great mass of civilised men. To speak quite frankly, and
as one friend to another, I must needs say that even as I say those
words they seem too good to be true. And yet--who knows?--so wont
are we to frame history for the future as well as for the past, so
often are our eyes blind both when we look backward and when we look
forward, because we have been gazing so intently at our own days,
our own lines. May all be better than I think it!

At any rate let us count our gains, and set them against less
hopeful signs of the times. In England, then--and as far as I know,
in England only--painters of pictures have grown, I believe, more
numerous, and certainly more conscientious in their work, and in
some cases--and this more especially in England--have developed and
expressed a sense of beauty which the world has not seen for the
last three hundred years. This is certainly a very great gain,
which is not easy to over-estimate, both for those who make the
pictures and those who use them.

Furthermore, in England, and in England only, there has been a great
improvement in architecture and the arts that attend it--arts which
it was the special province of the afore-mentioned schools to revive
and foster. This, also, is a considerable gain to the users of the
works so made, but I fear a gain less important to most of those
concerned in making them.

Against these gains we must, I am very sorry to say, set the fact
not easy to be accounted for, that the rest of the civilised world
(so called) seems to have done little more than stand still in these
matters; and that among ourselves these improvements have concerned
comparatively few people, the mass of our population not being in
the least touched by them; so that the great bulk of our
architecture--the art which most depends on the taste of the people
at large--grows worse and worse every day. I must speak also of
another piece of discouragement before I go further. I daresay many
of you will remember how emphatically those who first had to do with
the movement of which the foundation of our art-schools was a part,
called the attention of our pattern-designers to the beautiful works
of the East. This was surely most well judged of them, for they
bade us look at an art at once beautiful, orderly, living in our own
day, and above all, popular. Now, it is a grievous result of the
sickness of civilisation that this art is fast disappearing before
the advance of western conquest and commerce--fast, and every day
faster. While we are met here in Birmingham to further the spread
of education in art, Englishmen in India are, in their short-
sightedness, actively destroying the very sources of that education-
-jewellery, metal-work, pottery, calico-printing, brocade-weaving,
carpet-making--all the famous and historical arts of the great
peninsula have been for long treated as matters of no importance, to
be thrust aside for the advantage of any paltry scrap of so-called
commerce; and matters are now speedily coming to an end there. I
daresay some of you saw the presents which the native Princes gave
to the Prince of Wales on the occasion of his progress through
India. I did myself, I will not say with great disappointment, for
I guessed what they would be like, but with great grief, since there
was scarce here and there a piece of goods among these costly gifts,
things given as great treasures, which faintly upheld the ancient
fame of the cradle of the industrial arts. Nay, in some cases, it
would have been laughable, if it had not been so sad, to see the
piteous simplicity with which the conquered race had copied the
blank vulgarity of their lords. And this deterioration we are now,
as I have said, actively engaged in forwarding. I have read a
little book, {3} a handbook to the Indian Court of last year's Paris
Exhibition, which takes the occasion of noting the state of
manufactures in India one by one. 'Art manufactures,' you would
call them; but, indeed, all manufactures are, or were, 'art
manufactures' in India. Dr. Birdwood, the author of this book, is
of great experience in Indian life, a man of science, and a lover of
the arts. His story, by no means a new one to me, or others
interested in the East and its labour, is a sad one indeed. The
conquered races in their hopelessness are everywhere giving up the
genuine practice of their own arts, which we know ourselves, as we
have indeed loudly proclaimed, are founded on the truest and most
natural principles. The often-praised perfection of these arts is
the blossom of many ages of labour and change, but the conquered
races are casting it aside as a thing of no value, so that they may
conform themselves to the inferior art, or rather the lack of art,
of their conquerors. In some parts of the country the genuine arts
are quite destroyed; in many others nearly so; in all they have more
or less begun to sicken. So much so is this the case, that now for
some time the Government has been furthering this deterioration. As
for example, no doubt with the best intentions, and certainly in
full sympathy with the general English public, both at home and in
India, the Government is now manufacturing cheap Indian carpets in
the Indian gaols. I do not say that it is a bad thing to turn out
real work, or works of art, in gaols; on the contrary, I think it
good if it be properly managed. But in this case, the Government,
being, as I said, in full sympathy with the English public, has
determined that it will make its wares cheap, whether it make them
nasty or not. Cheap and nasty they are, I assure you; but, though
they are the worst of their kind, they would not be made thus, if
everything did not tend the same way. And it is the same everywhere
and with all Indian manufactures, till it has come to this--that
these poor people have all but lost the one distinction, the one
glory that conquest had left them. Their famous wares, so praised
by those who thirty years ago began to attempt the restoration of
popular art amongst ourselves, are no longer to be bought at
reasonable prices in the common market, but must be sought for and
treasured as precious relics for the museums we have founded for our
art education. In short, their art is dead, and the commerce of
modern civilisation has slain it.

What is going on in India is also going on, more or less, all over
the East; but I have spoken of India chiefly because I cannot help
thinking that we ourselves are responsible for what is happening
there. Chance-hap has made us the lords of many millions out there;
surely, it behoves us to look to it, lest we give to the people whom
we have made helpless scorpions for fish and stones for bread.

But since neither on this side, nor on any other, can art be
amended, until the countries that lead civilisation are themselves
in a healthy state about it, let us return to the consideration of
its condition among ourselves. And again I say, that obvious as is
that surface improvement of the arts within the last few years, I
fear too much that there is something wrong about the root of the
plant to exult over the bursting of its February buds.

I have just shown you for one thing that lovers of Indian and
Eastern Art, including as they do the heads of our institutions for
art education, and I am sure many among what are called the
governing classes, are utterly powerless to stay its downward
course. The general tendency of civilisation is against them, and
is too strong for them.

Again, though many of us love architecture dearly, and believe that
it helps the healthiness both of body and soul to live among
beautiful things, we of the big towns are mostly compelled to live
in houses which have become a byword of contempt for their ugliness
and inconvenience. The stream of civilisation is against us, and we
cannot battle against it.

Once more those devoted men who have upheld the standard of truth
and beauty amongst us, and whose pictures, painted amidst
difficulties that none but a painter can know, show qualities of
mind unsurpassed in any age--these great men have but a narrow
circle that can understand their works, and are utterly unknown to
the great mass of the people: civilisation is so much against them,
that they cannot move the people.

Therefore, looking at all this, I cannot think that all is well with
the root of the tree we are cultivating. Indeed, I believe that if
other things were but to stand still in the world, this improvement
before mentioned would lead to a kind of art which, in that
impossible case, would be in a way stable, would perhaps stand still
also. This would be an art cultivated professedly by a few, and for
a few, who would consider it necessary--a duty, if they could admit
duties--to despise the common herd, to hold themselves aloof from
all that the world has been struggling for from the first, to guard
carefully every approach to their palace of art. It would be a pity
to waste many words on the prospect of such a school of art as this,
which does in a way, theoretically at least, exist at present, and
has for its watchword a piece of slang that does not mean the
harmless thing it seems to mean--art for art's sake. Its fore-
doomed end must be, that art at last will seem too delicate a thing
for even the hands of the initiated to touch; and the initiated must
at last sit still and do nothing--to the grief of no one.

Well, certainly, if I thought you were come here to further such an
art as this I could not have stood up and called you FRIENDS; though
such a feeble folk as I have told you of one could scarce care to
call foes.

Yet, as I say, such men exist, and I have troubled you with speaking
of them, because I know that those honest and intelligent people,
who are eager for human progress, and yet lack part of the human
senses, and are anti-artistic, suppose that such men are artists,
and that this is what art means, and what it does for people, and
that such a narrow, cowardly life is what we, fellow-handicraftsmen,
aim at. I see this taken for granted continually, even by many who,
to say truth, ought to know better, and I long to put the slur from
off us; to make people understand that we, least of all men, wish to
widen the gulf between the classes, nay, worse still, to make new
classes of elevation, and new classes of degradation--new lords and
new slaves; that we, least of all men, want to cultivate the 'plant
called man' in different ways--here stingily, there wastefully: I
wish people to understand that the art we are striving for is a good
thing which all can share, which will elevate all; in good sooth, if
all people do not soon share it there will soon be none to share; if
all are not elevated by it, mankind will lose the elevation it has
gained. Nor is such an art as we long for a vain dream; such an art
once was in times that were worse than these, when there was less
courage, kindness, and truth in the world than there is now; such an
art there will be hereafter, when there will be more courage,
kindness, and truth than there is now in the world.

Let us look backward in history once more for a short while, and
then steadily forward till my words are done: I began by saying
that part of the common and necessary advice given to Art students
was to study antiquity; and no doubt many of you, like me, have done
so; have wandered, for instance, through the galleries of the
admirable museum of South Kensington, and, like me, have been filled
with wonder and gratitude at the beauty which has been born from the
brain of man. Now, consider, I pray you, what these wonderful works
are, and how they were made; and indeed, it is neither in
extravagance nor without due meaning that I use the word 'wonderful'
in speaking of them. Well, these things are just the common
household goods of those past days, and that is one reason why they
are so few and so carefully treasured. They were common things in
their own day, used without fear of breaking or spoiling--no
rarities then--and yet we have called them 'wonderful.'

And how were they made? Did a great artist draw the designs for
them--a man of cultivation, highly paid, daintily fed, carefully
housed, wrapped up in cotton wool, in short, when he was not at
work? By no means. Wonderful as these works are, they were made by
'common fellows,' as the phrase goes, in the common course of their
daily labour. Such were the men we honour in honouring those works.
And their labour--do you think it was irksome to them? Those of you
who are artists know very well that it was not; that it could not
be. Many a grin of pleasure, I'll be bound--and you will not
contradict me--went to the carrying through of those mazes of
mysterious beauty, to the invention of those strange beasts and
birds and flowers that we ourselves have chuckled over at South
Kensington. While they were at work, at least, these men were not
unhappy, and I suppose they worked most days, and the most part of
the day, as we do.

Or those treasures of architecture that we study so carefully
nowadays--what are they? how were they made? There are great
minsters among them, indeed, and palaces of kings and lords, but not
many; and, noble and awe-inspiring as these may be, they differ only
in size from the little grey church that still so often makes the
commonplace English landscape beautiful, and the little grey house
that still, in some parts of the country at least, makes an English
village a thing apart, to be seen and pondered on by all who love
romance and beauty. These form the mass of our architectural
treasures, the houses that everyday people lived in, the unregarded
churches in which they worshipped.

And, once more, who was it that designed and ornamented them? The
great architect, carefully kept for the purpose, and guarded from
the common troubles of common men? By no means. Sometimes,
perhaps, it was the monk, the ploughman's brother; oftenest his
other brother, the village carpenter, smith, mason, what not--'a
common fellow,' whose common everyday labour fashioned works that
are to-day the wonder and despair of many a hard-working
'cultivated' architect. And did he loathe his work? No, it is
impossible. I have seen, as we most of us have, work done by such
men in some out-of-the-way hamlet--where to-day even few strangers
ever come, and whose people seldom go five miles from their own
doors; in such places, I say, I have seen work so delicate, so
careful, and so inventive, that nothing in its way could go further.
And I will assert, without fear of contradiction, that no human
ingenuity can produce work such as this without pleasure being a
third party to the brain that conceived and the hand that fashioned
it. Nor are such works rare. The throne of the great Plantagenet,
or the great Valois, was no more daintily carved than the seat of
the village mass-john, or the chest of the yeoman's good-wife.

So, you see, there was much going on to make life endurable in those
times. Not every day, you may be sure, was a day of slaughter and
tumult, though the histories read almost as if it were so; but every
day the hammer chinked on the anvil, and the chisel played about the
oak beam, and never without some beauty and invention being born of
it, and consequently some human happiness.

That last word brings me to the very kernel and heart of what I have
come here to say to you, and I pray you to think of it most
seriously--not as to my words, but as to a thought which is stirring
in the world, and will one day grow into something.

That thing which I understand by real art is the expression by man
of his pleasure in labour. I do not believe he can be happy in his
labour without expressing that happiness; and especially is this so
when he is at work at anything in which he specially excels. A most
kind gift is this of nature, since all men, nay, it seems all things
too, must labour; so that not only does the dog take pleasure in
hunting, and the horse in running, and the bird in flying, but so
natural does the idea seem to us, that we imagine to ourselves that
the earth and the very elements rejoice in doing their appointed
work; and the poets have told us of the spring meadows smiling, of
the exultation of the fire, of the countless laughter of the sea.

Nor until these latter days has man ever rejected this universal
gift, but always, when he has not been too much perplexed, too much
bound by disease or beaten down by trouble, has striven to make his
work at least happy. Pain he has too often found in his pleasure,
and weariness in his rest, to trust to these. What matter if his
happiness lie with what must be always with him--his work?

And, once more, shall we, who have gained so much, forego this gain,
the earliest, most natural gain of mankind? If we have to a great
extent done so, as I verily fear we have, what strange fog-lights
must have misled us; or rather let me say, how hard pressed we must
have been in the battle with the evils we have overcome, to have
forgotten the greatest of all evils. I cannot call it less than
that. If a man has work to do which he despises, which does not
satisfy his natural and rightful desire for pleasure, the greater
part of his life must pass unhappily and without self-respect.
Consider, I beg of you, what that means, and what ruin must come of
it in the end.

If I could only persuade you of this, that the chief duty of the
civilised world to-day is to set about making labour happy for all,
to do its utmost to minimise the amount of unhappy labour--nay, if I
could only persuade some two or three of you here present--I should
have made a good night's work of it.

Do not, at any rate, shelter yourselves from any misgiving you may
have behind the fallacy that the art-lacking labour of to-day is
happy work: for the most of men it is not so. It would take long,
perhaps, to show you, and make you fully understand that the would-
be art which it produces is joyless. But there is another token of
its being most unhappy work, which you cannot fail to understand at
once--a grievous thing that token is--and I beg of you to believe
that I feel the full shame of it, as I stand here speaking of it;
but if we do not admit that we are sick, how can we be healed? This
hapless token is, that the work done by the civilised world is
mostly dishonest work. Look now: I admit that civilisation does
make certain things well, things which it knows, consciously or
unconsciously, are necessary to its present unhealthy condition.
These things, to speak shortly, are chiefly machines for carrying on
the competition in buying and selling, called falsely commerce; and
machines for the violent destruction of life--that is to say,
materials for two kinds of war; of which kinds the last is no doubt
the worst, not so much in itself perhaps, but because on this point
the conscience of the world is beginning to be somewhat pricked.
But, on the other hand, matters for the carrying on of a dignified
daily life, that life of mutual trust, forbearance, and help, which
is the only real life of thinking men--these things the civilised
world makes ill, and even increasingly worse and worse.

If I am wrong in saying this, you know well I am only saying what is
widely thought, nay widely said too, for that matter. Let me give
an instance, familiar enough, of that wide-spread opinion. There is
a very clever book of pictures {4} now being sold at the railway
bookstalls, called 'The British Working Man, by one who does not
believe in him,'--a title and a book which make me both angry and
ashamed, because the two express much injustice, and not a little
truth in their quaint, and necessarily exaggerated way. It is quite
true, and very sad to say, that if any one nowadays wants a piece of
ordinary work done by gardener, carpenter, mason, dyer, weaver,
smith, what you will, he will be a lucky rarity if he get it well
done. He will, on the contrary, meet on every side with evasion of
plain duties, and disregard of other men's rights; yet I cannot see
how the 'British Working Man' is to be made to bear the whole burden
of this blame, or indeed the chief part of it. I doubt if it be
possible for a whole mass of men to do work to which they are
driven, and in which there is no hope and no pleasure, without
trying to shirk it--at any rate, shirked it has always been under
such circumstances. On the other hand, I know that there are some
men so right-minded, that they will, in despite of irksomeness and
hopelessness, drive right through their work. Such men are the salt
of the earth. But must there not be something wrong with a state of
society which drives these into that bitter heroism, and the most
part into shirking, into the depths often of half-conscious self-
contempt and degradation? Be sure that there is, that the blindness
and hurry of civilisation, as it now is, have to answer a heavy
charge as to that enormous amount of pleasureless work--work that
tries every muscle of the body and every atom of the brain, and
which is done without pleasure and without aim--work which everybody
who has to do with tries to shuffle off in the speediest way that
dread of starvation or ruin will allow him.

I am as sure of one thing as that I am living and breathing, and it
is this: that the dishonesty in the daily arts of life, complaints
of which are in all men's mouths, and which I can answer for it does
exist, is the natural and inevitable result of the world in the
hurry of the war of the counting-house, and the war of the
battlefield, having forgotten--of all men, I say, each for the
other, having forgotten, that pleasure in our daily labour, which
nature cries out for as its due.

Therefore, I say again, it is necessary to the further progress of
civilisation that men should turn their thoughts to some means of
limiting, and in the end of doing away with, degrading labour.

I do not think my words hitherto spoken have given you any occasion
to think that I mean by this either hard or rough labour; I do not
pity men much for their hardships, especially if they be accidental;
not necessarily attached to one class or one condition, I mean. Nor
do I think (I were crazy or dreaming else) that the work of the
world can be carried on without rough labour; but I have seen enough
of that to know that it need not be by any means degrading. To
plough the earth, to cast the net, to fold the flock--these, and
such as these, which are rough occupations enough, and which carry
with them many hardships, are good enough for the best of us,
certain conditions of leisure, freedom, and due wages being granted.
As to the bricklayer, the mason, and the like--these would be
artists, and doing not only necessary, but beautiful, and therefore
happy work, if art were anything like what it should be. No, it is
not such labour as this which we need to do away with, but the toil
which makes the thousand and one things which nobody wants, which
are used merely as the counters for the competitive buying and
selling, falsely called commerce, which I have spoken of before--I
know in my heart, and not merely by my reason, that this toil cries
out to be done away with. But, besides that, the labour which now
makes things good and necessary in themselves, merely as counters
for the commercial war aforesaid, needs regulating and reforming.
Nor can this reform be brought about save by art; and if we were
only come to our right minds, and could see the necessity for making
labour sweet to all men, as it is now to very few--the necessity, I
repeat; lest discontent, unrest, and despair should at last swallow
up all society--If we, then, with our eyes cleared, could but make
some sacrifice of things which do us no good, since we unjustly and
uneasily possess them, then indeed I believe we should sow the seeds
of a happiness which the world has not yet known, of a rest and
content which would make it what I cannot help thinking it was meant
to be: and with that seed would be sown also the seed of real art,
the expression of man's happiness in his labour,--an art made by the
people, and for the people, as a happiness to the maker and the

That is the only real art there is, the only art which will be an
instrument to the progress of the world, and not a hindrance. Nor
can I seriously doubt that in your hearts you know that it is so,
all of you, at any rate, who have in you an instinct for art. I
believe that you agree with me in this, though you may differ from
much else that I have said. I think assuredly that this is the art
whose welfare we have met together to further, and the necessary
instruction in which we have undertaken to spread as widely as may

Thus I have told you something of what I think is to be hoped and
feared for the future of art; and if you ask me what I expect as a
practical outcome of the admission of these opinions, I must say at
once that I know, even if we were all of one mind, and that what I
think the right mind on this subject, we should still have much work
and many hindrances before us; we should still have need of all the
prudence, foresight, and industry of the best among us; and, even
so, our path would sometimes seem blind enough. And, to-day, when
the opinions which we think right, and which one day will be
generally thought so, have to struggle sorely to make themselves
noticed at all, it is early days for us to try to see our exact and
clearly mapped road. I suppose you will think it too commonplace of
me to say that the general education that makes men think, will one
day make them think rightly upon art. Commonplace as it is, I
really believe it, and am indeed encouraged by it, when I remember
how obviously this age is one of transition from the old to the new,
and what a strange confusion, from out of which we shall one day
come, our ignorance and half-ignorance is like to make of the
exhausted rubbish of the old and the crude rubbish of the new, both
of which lie so ready to our hands.

But, if I must say, furthermore, any words that seem like words of
practical advice, I think my task is hard, and I fear I shall offend
some of you whatever I say; for this is indeed an affair of
morality, rather than of what people call art.

However, I cannot forget that, in my mind, it is not possible to
dissociate art from morality, politics, and religion. Truth in
these great matters of principle is of one, and it is only in formal
treatises that it can be split up diversely. I must also ask you to
remember how I have already said, that though my mouth alone speaks,
it speaks, however feebly and disjointedly, the thoughts of many men
better than myself. And further, though when things are tending to
the best, we shall still, as aforesaid, need our best men to lead us
quite right; yet even now surely, when it is far from that, the
least of us can do some yeoman's service to the cause, and live and
die not without honour.

So I will say that I believe there are two virtues much needed in
modern life, if it is ever to become sweet; and I am quite sure that
they are absolutely necessary in the sowing the seed of an ART WHICH
THE MAKER AND THE USER. These virtues are honesty, and simplicity
of life. To make my meaning clearer I will name the opposing vice
of the second of these--luxury to wit. Also I mean by honesty, the
careful and eager giving his due to every man, the determination not
to gain by any man's loss, which in my experience is not a common

But note how the practice of either of these virtues will make the
other easier to us. For if our wants are few, we shall have but
little chance of being driven by our wants into injustice; and if we
are fixed in the principle of giving every man his due, how can our
self-respect bear that we should give too much to ourselves?

And in art, and in that preparation for it without which no art that
is stable or worthy can be, the raising, namely, of those classes
which have heretofore been degraded, the practice of these virtues
would make a new world of it. For if you are rich, your simplicity
of life will both go towards smoothing over the dreadful contrast
between waste and want, which is the great horror of civilised
countries, and will also give an example and standard of dignified
life to those classes which you desire to raise, who, as it is
indeed, being like enough to rich people, are given both to envy and
to imitate the idleness and waste that the possession of much money

Nay, and apart from the morality of the matter, which I am forced to
speak to you of; let me tell you that though simplicity in art may
be costly as well as uncostly, at least it is not wasteful, and
nothing is more destructive to art than the want of it. I have
never been in any rich man's house which would not have looked the
better for having a bonfire made outside of it of nine-tenths of all
that it held. Indeed, our sacrifice on the side of luxury will, it
seems to me, be little or nothing: for, as far as I can make out,
what people usually mean by it, is either a gathering of possessions
which are sheer vexations to the owner, or a chain of pompous
circumstance, which checks and annoys the rich man at every step.
Yes, luxury cannot exist without slavery of some kind or other, and
its abolition will be blessed, like the abolition of other
slaveries, by the freeing both of the slaves and of their masters.

Lastly, if, besides attaining to simplicity of life, we attain also
to the love of justice, then will all things be ready for the new
springtime of the arts. For those of us that are employers of
labour, how can we bear to give any man less money than he can
decently live on, less leisure than his education and self-respect
demand? or those of us who are workmen, how can we bear to fail in
the contract we have undertaken, or to make it necessary for a
foreman to go up and down spying out our mean tricks and evasions?
or we the shopkeepers--can we endure to lie about our wares, that we
may shuffle off our losses on to some one else's shoulders? or we
the public--how can we bear to pay a price for a piece of goods
which will help to trouble one man, to ruin another, and starve a
third? Or, still more, I think, how can we bear to use, how can we
enjoy something which has been a pain and a grief for the maker to

And now, I think, I have said what I came to say. I confess that
there is nothing new in it, but you know the experience of the world
is that a thing must be said over and over again before any great
number of men can be got to listen to it. Let my words to-night,
therefore, pass for one of the necessary times that the thought in
them must be spoken out.

For the rest I believe that, however seriously these words may be
gainsayed, I have been speaking to an audience in whom any words
spoken from a sense of duty and in hearty goodwill, as mine have
been, will quicken thought and sow some good seed. At any rate, it
is good for a man who thinks seriously to face his fellows, and
speak out whatever really burns in him, so that men may seem less
strange to one another, and misunderstanding, the fruitful cause of
aimless strife, may be avoided.

But if to any of you I have seemed to speak hopelessly, my words
have been lacking in art; and you must remember that hopelessness
would have locked my mouth, not opened it. I am, indeed, hopeful,
but can I give a date to the accomplishment of my hope, and say that
it will happen in my life or yours?

But I will say at least, Courage! for things wonderful, unhoped-for,
glorious, have happened even in this short while I have been alive.

Yes, surely these times are wonderful and fruitful of change, which,
as it wears and gathers new life even in its wearing, will one day
bring better things for the toiling days of men, who, with freer
hearts and clearer eyes, will once more gain the sense of outward
beauty, and rejoice in it.

Meanwhile, if these hours be dark, as, indeed, in many ways they
are, at least do not let us sit deedless, like fools and fine
gentlemen, thinking the common toil not good enough for us, and
beaten by the muddle; but rather let us work like good fellows
trying by some dim candle-light to set our workshop ready against
to-morrow's daylight--that to-morrow, when the civilised world, no
longer greedy, strifeful, and destructive, shall have a new art, a
glorious art, made by the people and for the people, as a happiness
to the maker and the user.


'--propter vitam vivendi perdere causas.'--Juvenal.

I stand before you this evening weighted with a disadvantage that I
did not feel last year;--I have little fresh to tell you; I can
somewhat enlarge on what I said then; here and there I may make bold
to give you a practical suggestion, or I may put what I have to say
in a way which will be clearer to some of you perhaps; but my
message is really the same as it was when I first had the pleasure
of meeting you.

It is true that if all were going smoothly with art, or at all
events so smoothly that there were but a few malcontents in the
world, you might listen with some pleasure, and perhaps advantage,
to the talk of an old hand in the craft concerning ways of work, the
snares that beset success, and the shortest road to it, to a tale of
workshop receipts and the like: that would be a pleasant talk
surely between friends and fellow-workmen; but it seems to me as if
it were not for us as yet; nay, maybe we may live long and find no
time fit for such restful talk as the cheerful histories of the
hopes and fears of our workshops: anyhow to-night I cannot do it,
but must once again call the faithful of art to a battle wider and
more distracting than that kindly struggle with nature, to which all
true craftsmen are born; which is both the building-up and the
wearing-away of their lives.

As I look round on this assemblage, and think of all that it
represents, I cannot choose but be moved to the soul by the troubles
of the life of civilised man, and the hope that thrusts itself
through them; I cannot refrain from giving you once again the
message with which, as it seems, some chance-hap has charged me:
that message is, in short, to call on you to face the latest danger
which civilisation is threatened with, a danger of her own breeding:
that men in struggling towards the complete attainment of all the
luxuries of life for the strongest portion of their race should
deprive their whole race of all the beauty of life: a danger that
the strongest and wisest of mankind, in striving to attain to a
complete mastery over nature, should destroy her simplest and
widest-spread gifts, and thereby enslave simple people to them, and
themselves to themselves, and so at last drag the world into a
second barbarism more ignoble, and a thousandfold more hopeless,
than the first.

Now of you who are listening to me, there are some, I feel sure, who
have received this message, and taken it to heart, and are day by
day fighting the battle that it calls on you to fight: to you I can
say nothing but that if any word I speak discourage you, I shall
heartily wish I had never spoken at all: but to be shown the enemy,
and the castle we have got to storm, is not to be bidden to run from
him; nor am I telling you to sit down deedless in the desert because
between you and the promised land lies many a trouble, and death
itself maybe: the hope before you you know, and nothing that I can
say can take it away from you; but friend may with advantage cry out
to friend in the battle that a stroke is coming from this side or
that: take my hasty words in that sense, I beg of you.

But I think there will be others of you in whom vague discontent is
stirring: who are oppressed by the life that surrounds you;
confused and troubled by that oppression, and not knowing on which
side to seek a remedy, though you are fain to do so: well, we, who
have gone further into those troubles, believe that we can help you:
true we cannot at once take your trouble from you; nay, we may at
first rather add to it; but we can tell you what we think of the way
out of it; and then amidst the many things you will have to do to
set yourselves and others fairly on that way, you will many days,
nay most days, forget your trouble in thinking of the good that lies
beyond it, for which you are working.

But, again, there are others amongst you (and to speak plainly, I
daresay they are the majority), who are not by any means troubled by
doubt of the road the world is going, nor excited by any hope of its
bettering that road: to them the cause of civilisation is simple
and even commonplace: it wonder, hope, and fear no longer hang
about it; has become to us like the rising and setting of the sun;
it cannot err, and we have no call to meddle with it, either to
complain of its course, or to try to direct it.

There is a ground of reason and wisdom in that way of looking at the
matter: surely the world will go on its ways, thrust forward by
impulses which we cannot understand or sway: but as it grows in
strength for the journey, its necessary food is the life and
aspirations of ALL of us: and we discontented strugglers with what
at times seems the hurrying blindness of civilisation, no less than
those who see nothing but smooth, unvarying progress in it, are bred
of civilisation also, and shall be used up to further it in some way
or other, I doubt not: and it may be of some service to those who
think themselves the only loyal subjects of progress to hear of our
existence, since their not hearing of it would not make an end of
it: it may set them a-thinking not unprofitably to hear of burdens
that they do not help to bear, but which are nevertheless real and
weighty enough to some of their fellow-men, who are helping, even as
they are, to form the civilisation that is to be.

The danger that the present course of civilisation will destroy the
beauty of life--these are hard words, and I wish I could mend them,
but I cannot, while I speak what I believe to be the truth.

That the beauty of life is a thing of no moment, I suppose few
people would venture to assert, and yet most civilised people act as
if it were of none, and in so doing are wronging both themselves and
those that are to come after them; for that beauty, which is what is
meant by ART, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no
mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they
choose, but a positive necessity of life, if we are to live as
nature meant us to; that is, unless we are content to be less than

Now I ask you, as I have been asking myself this long while, what
proportion of the population in civilised countries has any share at
all in that necessity of life?

I say that the answer which must be made to that question justifies
my fear that modern civilisation is on the road to trample out all
the beauty of life, and to make us less than men.

Now if there should be any here who will say: It was always so;
there always was a mass of rough ignorance that knew and cared
nothing about art; I answer first, that if that be the case, then it
was always wrong, and we, as soon as we have become conscious of
that wrong, are bound to set it right if we can.

But moreover, strange to say, and in spite of all the suffering that
the world has wantonly made for itself, and has in all ages so
persistently clung to, as if it were a good and holy thing, this
wrong of the mass of men being regardless of art was NOT always so.

So much is now known of the periods of art that have left abundant
examples of their work behind them, that we can judge of the art of
all periods by comparing these with the remains of times of which
less has been left us; and we cannot fail to come to the conclusion
that down to very recent days everything that the hand of man
touched was more or less beautiful: so that in those days all
people who made anything shared in art, as well as all people who
used the things so made: that is, ALL people shared in art.

But some people may say: And was that to be wished for? would not
this universal spreading of art stop progress in other matters,
hinder the work of the world? Would it not make us unmanly? or if
not that, would it not be intrusive, and push out other things
necessary also for men to study?

Well, I have claimed a necessary place for art, a natural place, and
it would be in the very essence of it, that it would apply its own
rules of order and fitness to the general ways of life: it seems to
me, therefore, that people who are over-anxious of the outward
expression of beauty becoming too great a force among the other
forces of life, would, if they had had the making of the external
world, have been afraid of making an ear of wheat beautiful, lest it
should not have been good to eat.

But indeed there seems no chance of art becoming universal, unless
on the terms that it shall have little self-consciousness, and for
the most part be done with little effort; so that the rough work of
the world would be as little hindered by it, as the work of external
nature is by the beauty of all her forms and moods: this was the
case in the times that I have been speaking of: of art which was
made by conscious effort, the result of the individual striving
towards perfect expression of their thoughts by men very specially
gifted, there was perhaps no more than there is now, except in very
wonderful and short periods; though I believe that even for such men
the struggle to produce beauty was not so bitter as it now is. But
if there were not more great thinkers than there are now, there was
a countless multitude of happy workers whose work did express, and
could not choose but express, some original thought, and was
consequently both interesting and beautiful: now there is certainly
no chance of the more individual art becoming common, and either
wearying us by its over-abundance, or by noisy self-assertion
preventing highly cultivated men taking their due part in the other
work of the world; it is too difficult to do: it will be always but
the blossom of all the half-conscious work below it, the fulfilment
of the shortcomings of less complete minds: but it will waste much
of its power, and have much less influence on men's minds, unless it
be surrounded by abundance of that commoner work, in which all men
once shared, and which, I say, will, when art has really awakened,
be done so easily and constantly, that it will stand in no man's way
to hinder him from doing what he will, good or evil. And as, on the
one hand, I believe that art made by the people and for the people
as a joy both to the maker and the user would further progress in
other matters rather than hinder it, so also I firmly believe that
that higher art produced only by great brains and miraculously
gifted hands cannot exist without it: I believe that the present
state of things in which it does exist, while popular art is, let us
say, asleep or sick, is a transitional state, which must end at last
either in utter defeat or utter victory for the arts.

For whereas all works of craftsmanship were once beautiful,
unwittingly or not, they are now divided into two kinds, works of
art and non-works of art: now nothing made by man's hand can be
indifferent: it must be either beautiful and elevating, or ugly and
degrading; and those things that are without art are so
aggressively; they wound it by their existence, and they are now so
much in the majority that the works of art we are obliged to set
ourselves to seek for, whereas the other things are the ordinary
companions of our everyday life; so that if those who cultivate art
intellectually were inclined never so much to wrap themselves in
their special gifts and their high cultivation, and so live happily,
apart from other men, and despising them, they could not do so:
they are as it were living in an enemy's country; at every turn
there is something lying in wait to offend and vex their nicer sense
and educated eyes: they must share in the general discomfort--and I
am glad of it.

So the matter stands: from the first dawn of history till quite
modern times, art, which nature meant to solace all, fulfilled its
purpose; all men shared in it; that was what made life romantic, as
people call it, in those days; that and not robber-barons and
inaccessible kings with their hierarchy of serving-nobles and other
such rubbish: but art grew and grew, saw empires sicken and
sickened with them; grew hale again, and haler, and grew so great at
last, that she seemed in good truth to have conquered everything,
and laid the material world under foot. Then came a change at a
period of the greatest life and hope in many ways that Europe had
known till then: a time of so much and such varied hope that people
call it the time of the New Birth: as far as the arts are concerned
I deny it that title; rather it seems to me that the great men who
lived and glorified the practice of art in those days, were the
fruit of the old, not the seed of the new order of things: but a
stirring and hopeful time it was, and many things were newborn then
which have since brought forth fruit enough: and it is strange and
perplexing that from those days forward the lapse of time, which,
through plenteous confusion and failure, has on the whole been
steadily destroying privilege and exclusiveness in other matters,
has delivered up art to be the exclusive privilege of a few, and has
taken from the people their birthright; while both wronged and
wrongers have been wholly unconscious of what they were doing.

Wholly unconscious--yes, but we are no longer so: there lies the
sting of it, and there also the hope.

When the brightness of the so-called Renaissance faded, and it faded
very suddenly, a deadly chill fell upon the arts: that New-birth
mostly meant looking back to past times, wherein the men of those
days thought they saw a perfection of art, which to their minds was
different in kind, and not in degree only, from the ruder suggestive
art of their own fathers: this perfection they were ambitious to
imitate, this alone seemed to be art to them, the rest was
childishness: so wonderful was their energy, their success so
great, that no doubt to commonplace minds among them, though surely
not to the great masters, that perfection seemed to be gained: and,
perfection being gained, what are you to do?--you can go no further,
you must aim at standing still--which you cannot do.

Art by no means stood still in those latter days of the Renaissance,
but took the downward road with terrible swiftness, and tumbled down
at the bottom of the hill, where as if bewitched it lay long in
great content, believing itself to be the art of Michael Angelo,
while it was the art of men whom nobody remembers but those who want
to sell their pictures.

Thus it fared with the more individual forms of art. As to the art
of the people; in countries and places where the greater art had
flourished most, it went step by step on the downward path with
that: in more out-of-the-way places, England for instance, it still
felt the influence of the life of its earlier and happy days, and in
a way lived on a while; but its life was so feeble, and, so to say,
illogical, that it could not resist any change in external
circumstances, still less could it give birth to anything new; and
before this century began, its last flicker had died out. Still,
while it was living, in whatever dotage, it did imply something
going on in those matters of daily use that we have been thinking
of, and doubtless satisfied some cravings for beauty: and when it
was dead, for a long time people did not know it, or what had taken
its place, crept so to say into its dead body--that pretence of art,
to wit, which is done with machines, though sometimes the machines
are called men, and doubtless are so out of working hours:
nevertheless long before it was quite dead it had fallen so low that
the whole subject was usually treated with the utmost contempt by
every one who had any pretence of being a sensible man, and in short
the whole civilised world had forgotten that there had ever been an

But now it seems to me that the very suddenness of the change ought

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