Uncollected Morris Essay
Transcribed from Images courtesy of the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection
[The signature page reads:]
Town & Country [^ are] generally put in a kind of contrast, [but always indissolubly connected]: but we will see what kind of contrast there has been in[?] and may be between them or how far that contrast is accessa desirable or necessary whether it may not be possible in the long run to make the Town a part of the Country and the Country a part of the Towns But before I go further I think I may assume that [^ on the one hand] there is nobody here so abnormally made as not to take a pleasure in green fields and trees & rivers & mountains the beings human & otherwise that in haling[?] those scenes & in a word the general beauty and incident of nature: and that on the other that we allx of us find human intercourse necessary to us, and even the excitement of that those forms of it which can only be had where large bodies of men live together.
As to what has been. Let us begin with the times of the ancient civilizations, passing by the period when those the ancient classical peoples were only passing out of their tribal conditions: in the Roman period times of the Empire, when the lands were cultivated almost wholly by well organized slave labour with its necessary concomitant of brigandage and piracy in out of the way places I can’t think that the Country-sides were very pleasant places to live in; whereas the Roman City with its handsome buildings and gardens, its public baths and other institutions of almost complete ‘municipal socialism’ must have been very pleasant to well to do people, and perhaps under the Empire at least, not quite intolerable to the proletarian whose form of pauper relief did not include the prison system of the modern workhouse. In those days the Town decidedly ‘scores’, all the more as manu- facture was as its name implies wholly a matter of handicraft. But the Roman City-System was pretty much swept away by the barbarism
of th which took the place of the Empire; and in this Country at and wherever the people were not completely Romanized the Town was almost allways merely the developsment of the agricultural district, it was the aggregation of the cultivations of the soil, and its freemen were always landowners though mostly collective ones. In fact for a long time after the Teutonic invasion which made this Country England there were no Towns at all: the English clans lived in scattered homesteads along the side of the sea or some river or in clearings of the wild-wood as their Anglish, Jutish, or Saxon forefathers had done, and when they took a Romans-British Town they had nothing better to do with it than to burn it & let it be. Though when they got more civilized, the long extinct glories of Rome took some revenge for this destruction, by the impression which they made on the descendants of the destroyers. [^ Eg] An Anglo Saxon poet of about the time of Athelstone wrote a poem on the ruins of an old Roman City which is as pathetic and beautiful as an lyric extant in any language, and if you [^ may if you] please to to look on it b as a forecast of the glories of the Cities that were yet to come.
Gradually as civilization grew among our forefathers the population [of the ‘gaul’[?] or tribal district] thickened in certain places where the xxx protection of the feudal lord, baron, bishop or Abott made a market possible, and in short the growth of such places made our mediaeval towns; though as was like to be where an old Roman town like York or London was still in existence it was used as such a centre. But doubtless our mediaeval Towns were very small, smaller than our imagination of them pictures them to us, while on the other hand the country villages were in many cases much larger than they are
now: in fact in those days it was not so much the houses that made the Town as the constitution, the Freemen [^ &] the guilds, which gradually grew into the Corporation. My familiarity with Oxford makes it easy to me to see a mediaeval Town of the more im- portant kind: a place of some extent, within its ancient walls, but the houses much broken by gardens and open spaces within the walls, and without them, a small estate it may be called the communal property of the freemen[, which still exists under the name of Porte Meadow and is of 650 acres. Again that people were not very thick on the ground may be gathered from the fact of the present City of Norwich spreading little beyond its ancient walls; though its present pop: of 70 000 or more must be enormously in excess of that of its mediaeval period.] On the whole then it seems that the Towns of the Middle-Ages in this country at least were a part of the Country Sides where they stood. In the post media[^ val]-per[^ iod]: before that of the xx Indu[^ strial Revolution] the Towns grew no doubt very much more than the villages did; still in the outward form though their real constitution as administrative policies had, say in the beginning of the 18 c. entirely changed from the Med. Times, the outward form of them was little changed. [The great [^ A] difference that had [^ indeed] taken place in the spirited conditions of London indeed.] In the Middle Ages it [^ when London] was no more of a centre than Bristol or York, or indeed other places now become almost extinct. [Nay amongst that congeries of Towns on the Lower Thames the real centre was not London, but Westminster, which was the seat of the King & his Court, and was, as you know, a quite distinct City.] But in the 18 cent: London was become very decisively the centre of England, and now the distinction was not between the towns and the Country-Sides, but between London and the rest
of the Country – Towns and all. And here properly be- gins the opposition of Town to Country. The only further development of this was the work of the Great industries which created the big manufacturing Town, a thing so entirely modern that even London with all its enormity has more relation to one of the Cities of the past than these manufacturing Towns have. [London performs other functions than the merely commercial one. The British Museum alone differentiates it from any other big Town in the country, and is indeed, apart from its practical daily uses, the symbol and sign of the intellectual centrality of London.]
In considering further the contrast between Town & Country we must be careful not to forget this special quality in London. For now we see that we have 3 things to deal with. [London on the intellectual and political centre, The Manufac. Towns, the Commercial Centres; and the Country [^ What is its [?]] In early times as we have seen the Towns were but incidents of the Country we could not consider it separately; later on London was one thing its Towns another, we could not consider the Country Sides apart from the Towns which fed them. Now we have 3 things;] London the external beastliness & sordidness of which is in some degree compensated by its intellectual life; the Commercial Centres which have no such com- pensation, and even in externals are far more horrible than London – and the Country. Which x instead of being the due fellow & help mate of the Towns & the Town, is a troublesome appendage, an awkward incident of Town life which, commercial or intellectual, is the real life of the epoch.
The result of all this is the usual make-shift jumble which oppresses all our life in this epoch of strange and rapid change, when we have fallen into such grievous want of reasonable organizing action. Even London
far better than the Commercial Towns, is sordidly vulgar in its rich quarters, noisome & squalid beyond word in its poor quarters: its amusements [^ both for rich & poor xxx] are little better than [^ various] symptoms of of disease [of mental aberration as ‘tis called. Its intellectuality seems more & more to drift into the direction of newspaper twaddle and scrofulous inquisitiveness into the weaknesses of those citizens whose good or evil fortune has made them conspicuous. The utterances of its public men are always taken by sensible persons with due deduction made for the shear lying which they contain. Its newspaper press to pass by other matters in it – does anybody ever see any statement in a newspaper relative to an art or occupation which he understands which is not so stuffed with ignorance and inaccuracy as not to be wholy misleading and useless? [^ furthermore those who try to better matters are met by the fact that the business of the Towns makes them [^ un]manageable] Need I go on with the in- dictment? What should come of a centre of intelligence where the useful people are outcasts from Society? –]. And the Country – at this end of May I am not going to say that it is not beautiful – beautiful every where more [^ or] less where there are not many [^ Modern] houses in sight. But I know the Country well: and even for a rich man, a well to do one at least it shares in the make- shift stupidity of the epoch. Amongst all the superondant[?] beauty of leaf and flower, all the wealth of meadow & acre & hillside, it is Stingy O So Stingy. In an ordinary way not an hour’s work will be spent in taking away an ugly dead tree, in mending a shattered wall, setting a tottering vane straight (even if it be pulling down the roofbeam it is fastened to) in short in mending any defacement caused by wind and weather. Not a moments consideration will be given as to whether the slightly some what more expensive material shall be used if the unsightly more one be a fraction cheaper for the time being. You can scarce have milk unless you keep a cow: You can’t have vegetables unless you grow them yourself
I say this is the ordinary rule: it is true that when there is a rich squire that he does sometimes take some pains in beautifying his cottages, restoring his church and so forth – with the result in all cases that the village he has so dealt with has become xx vulgar as Bayswater. [(Henderson) (Steward) (tremors)] I am speaking of the outward aspect of the Earth in the Country Nor can I leave this subject of the outward aspect of the Country without reminding you that I have had [^ through] 40 years of my life I have diligently and affectionately noticed the Country Life in its smallest detail, and that the change for the worse in its aspect has been steady, and especially within the last 20 years startlingly rapid. Indeed sometimes I feel selfishly glad to think that I shall not live to see the worst of it – Now you may well say that all this suffering to men who are in the habit of taking in impressions through the eyes is a due reward for our living on other people’s earnings; for our suffering the human live-stock of the Country beauty to live such, a wretched scanty existence as they do. True and over true; but then why should we of the 19th Century be so extra punished, when our forefathers were involved in the same sin?
I take it that after all this is the case, that we feel it because it can not last is at last tending to change – that we at last can do something to alter it. Because [^ For] this is what I want done in this matter of Town & Country. I want neither the Towns to be amendments[?] to [^ apendages of] the Country, nor the Country of the Town: I want the Town to be impregnated with the beauty of the Country, and the Country with the intelligence and vivid life of the Town. I want every homestead to be clean orderly & tidy; a lovely house surrounded by acres & acres of garden.
On the other hand I want the Town to be clean orderly and tidy, in short a beautiful garden with beautiful houses in it. Clearly if I don’t wish this I must be a fool or a dullard; but I do more I claim it as the due heritage of the latter ages of the world which have subdued nature, & can have for the asking.
[Some of you may say this is but an impossible x ideal. But that is a mistake it is impossible to a [^ a] poor community but not to a wealthy one. But are we not a wealthy community? far from it. We have [^ have] xxx rich men amongst us but they are enemies of the Community, & keep everything from it that they can; and as they are its masters they can keep most things from the Community & make it poor. Working men, as you have often been told make at presently their labour chiefly two kinds of wares, make-shift x rubbish [^ necessities] for the poor, xxx slave-wares in short, and make shift luxuries for the rich. The workers have no real customers for genuine useful wares. Change all that by realizing true Society, and we shall be [^ wealthy &] able to have what we want; and as all sane men desire the beauty of the Country & the brisk vivid life of the Town, we shall get these to interpenetrate and all will be won.]
Transcribed by Matthew Runkle, 2015