Currents of Hope': connecting the socialist literature of William Morris with the radical works of William Cobbett, Robert Owen and Ernest Jones
The aim of this thesis is to articulate both the nature and the importance of the connection between the socialist writing of William Morris and the work of three specific figures associated with early-to-mid nineteenth-century radicalism: William Cobbett, Robert Owen and Ernest Jones. Critics have noted both the existence and the interest of each connection in a variety of cases, and some have even sought to explore one or more of them to a limited degree. Ultimately, however, any comprehensive and focussed enquiry into the form and meaning of Morris’s relation to the figures specified above has yet to be undertaken. This is in spite of the fact that such an enquiry has positive ramifications for the study of Morris himself, as well as of the trajectory of nineteenth-century radical thought in a broader sense. Cobbett, Owen and Jones all represent particular modes of political writing within an early nineteenth-century context which Morris, writing some five decades later, takes on and adapts in his own political work. The recognition of such continuities facilitates new perspectives on certain important themes in Morris’s work, themes such as place and the political, radical conceptions of history, proletarian autonomy in the creation of utopia and the role of the poet within a working-class movement. In each of these cases, Morris exhibits the distinct and illuminating influence – whether conscious or unconscious – of either Cobbett, Owen or Jones, while at the same time differing from the example of the earlier radical writer in question in certain vital ways. The identification of such connections between Morris and his radical predecessors not only allows a more comprehensive view of Morris, it also contributes towards a fuller understanding of the ways in which radical thought in the nineteenth century as a whole is subject to both continuity and change. As well as original analyses of Morris, this thesis contains new arguments about Cobbett, Owen and Jones, and in every chapter each earlier radical writer is considered at the same length and in the same depth as Morris. In this way, this thesis attempts to map the fates of certain cultural and intellectual strands which begin with early nineteenth-century radicalism and continue into late nineteenth-century socialism.