William Morris Archive


The Story of the Flower is a metrical romance, as was the early form of Child Christopher. I am giving some extracts and an account of the tale as far as it goes to show the quality of it. There is some interest in the fact that the title “The Story of the Flower” was in his mind in the youngest days, and that in the late romance-writing time he noted down the plot of another tale with the same title, but quite different in idea from this fragment. It has, as you will see, a familiar Eastern dénouement:

“There was a family each head of which was warned of death by finding on the altar on his birthday a red rose and a white; and they would take them up and sit in a stall of the choir and die there, but a young man at last takes up the white rose only, and sits in the stall, and Venus come to him and takes him away to a far country where he is made the king; and he lives there. His betrothed asks the monks to help her, and they can’t; but one of them tells her of an enchantour who can. She goes to him and he sets her on the way. She comes as a poor woman to the King’s town; but finds him gone in search of her: she has been told to stay there. So she does, sets up a business and buys a horse and garden. King comes wandering back there and asks her to employ him as a gardener – recognition – happy ever after.”

I have also the sketch of a tale which promised more complication than the writer usually allowed himself: it is of days of contention between good men and wizards, when a girl was designedly born of wizard-father and human-mother to be a snare to the son of a noble and good lord. She was brought up in evil wiles, “but she grew up part good from her mother part evil from her father,” and so on.

In another sketch of a tale the scene is laid in the Desert overseas, whither a certain knight, who has done an ill-deed for love’s sake, has betaken himself. His lady and the man she married go overseas and meet the first man in the desert. He, who is not known to them, does them a service, and when the husband dies, all is well. The quite new setting in an Eastern desert forms again matter for regret that the plot was not carried out.

That title, The Story of the Flower, first found in a note-book of the sixties, and here in the ‘nineties, made the subject of two different plots, once more sets one thinking about this imaginative writing, the first and the last: thinking about the recurrence of the early mood in later years: truly the romance-writer has kept much of the magic, the adventure, the zest of youth, though its crudeness has vanished; and one can but rejoice that it is so: for that exuberance, that zest of life is as a barrier of defence, a shield against the host of troubles that must needs beset him on the way…