William Morris Archive

An early version of "Prologue: The Wanderers" from The Earthly Paradise

David Latham


Four of the first Prologue’s five manuscripts described by May Morris have been lost. The remaining manuscript (a1) appears to be the earliest of the five and is incomplete. Its lines correspond with lines 1081-2458 of the 2610-lined Prologue edited by May Morris in The Collected Works of William Morris with which a1 is collated. The 68 paper folios of a1 are in an oblong notebook four inches long and six inches wide. Some of the folios are partially watermarked “nders” and “1859.” The folios are unpaginated, unlined, and written in pencil on verso and recto.

The notebook begins with a folio of notes on Ovid’s fables and four folios on a Medieval calendar manuscript in the British Library (Harl. 2936). Then follow 66 folios of stanzas for the Prologue. These are followed by 25 folios of “The Story of Cupid and Psyche,” followed by three folios containing the argument and notes for the Prologue. The notebook ends with notes and sketches for stained glass and a list of twenty illustrations for “Cupid and Psyche.”

The manuscript is located in the British Library, London, from the May Morris Bequest, Add. MS. 45305. The lost manuscripts are discussed in the textual introduction. Titles considered for the first Prologue were “The Fools’ Paradise,” “The Wanderers,” and “The Terrestrial Paradise.”

The source for the first Prologue is the voyage from the Life of St. Brendan in The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine (1230-98), Archbishop of Genoa, of which a translation by William Caxton (1484) was printed for the Kelmscott Press in 1892. Morris had eight early printed editions of The Golden Legend in Latin (Legenda Aurea) in his library when he died, as well as one in German and one in Caxton’s English (printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1527).

The copy-text for this edition is a1. The missing lines are reproduced from May Morris’s edition (CW) and are appended before and after the collated text. Variants of a song from the Prologue are included from the two manuscripts of “Scenes from the Fall of Troy” (SFT1, watermarked “1856,” and SFT2) and A Book of Verse (BV, 1870) and from the published tale of “Ogier the Dane” in volume 1 of The Earthly Paradise (Ellis edition, 1868; collated with the Kelmscott edition, 1896).  Another version of the song is printed in Mackail’s Life of William Morris, 1:169, but its variants are not included because no source has been located for it.

The manuscript May Morris used for her copy-text was a complete draft listed for sale by Maggs Bros. in 1929: English Verse & Dramatic Poetry. From Chaucer to the Present Day, Catalogue no. 517 (London: Maggs Bros, 1929), 373.  The Maggs brothers kindly permitted me to search their massive collection of receipts stored in the coach house behind their shop on Berkeley Square to discover the purchaser of the manuscript.  I searched through their carefully wrapped-and-tied weekly packages of receipts for seven days, leaving the dusty coach-house each evening looking like a chimney sweeper, but I failed to find a receipt for this substantial 2610-lined manuscript.


a1           First Prologue, earliest extant manuscript, British Library: BL ADD. MS. 45305
OD          “Ogier the Dane” tale from The Earthly Paradise, volume 1(Ellis, 1868).
OD1896   “Ogier the Dane” tale from The Earthly Paradise (Kelmscott, 1896).
BV            Song from “A Book of Verse,” Morris’s 1870 calligraphic book, Victoria and Albert      Museum.
SFT1       Song from “Helen’s Chamber,” a draft for “Scenes from the Fall of Troy,” BL Add. MS. 45308
SFT2       Song from “Helen’s Chamber,” a second draft for “Scenes from the Fall of Troy,” BL. Add. MS. 45308
CW       May Morris’s edition of the manuscripts printed in volume 24 of The Collected Works of William Morris London: Longmans, Green, 1915.

<     >     deletion
\      /      insertion
#            illegible letter
####      illegible four-letter word