SPEC COL R.B. PR S083.A43 1872
Transcribed letter from William Morris to Aglaia Ionides Coronio, dated October 24th, 1872.
Oct: 24th. 1872
William Morris wrote this letter when he was thirty-eight years old, in 1872. He had recently published The Earthly Paradise, the work for which he would gain the greatest fame during his lifetime. Morris was also collaborating with Eirikr Magnusson on translations of Icelandic legends at this time (Salmon). Morris is writing to Aglaia Coronio in Athens, Greece. It is not clear if he sent the letter to Greece, or merely expected it to be waiting for her upon her return.
Aglaia Coronio lived from 1834 to 1906. She was married to Theodore John Coronio, and was on close personal terms with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his circle. Aglaia was a friend and model Rossetti and maintained a close friendship with Morris for twenty years (Mrs. Coronio). Morris gave her lessons in Chaucer and bookbinding, and Marianne Tidcombe mentioned her as the first woman to take up bookbinding in the 19th century (Atkins).
She was a daughter of the Greek merchant and art collector Alexander Constantine Ionides. Ionides was the director of the Crystal Palace Company, which built the famous glass structure in London for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (Atkins). It was there that Morris observed the ornamental, poor quality products that the industrial revolution had birthed. What he saw disgusted him and spurred him to start his own firm in 1861. In 1862 they exhibited their wares at the London International Exhibition to great commercial success and acclaim (Salmon).
Morris wrote to Aglaia frequently, at home, and on his travels. This letter is the second he wrote to her in the month of October (Kelvin, 163-168). He visited her periodically. They lost touch as Morris became a socialist, but they seemed to have later reconciled, and she visited before his death (Atkins). This close personal relationship has led some to speculate that Morris was in love with Aglaia, or at least turned to her to ease his distress over Jane’s affair with Rossetti (Le Bourgeois).There is tenderness to the way Morris addresses Aglaia, and a feeling of comfortable emotional intimacy; “When are you coming back again? You know how much I miss you so there is no need of talking of that anymore” (Letter, Oct. 24th, 1872).
This letter was written during the height of Jane and Rossetti’s affair, but Morris betrays little of the delicacy or discomfort of the situation. Even though Aglaia is a close friend and confidant, Morris is extremely taciturn about his situation. He claims he is having a “fit of low spirits” but does not attribute this to his wife’s affair or the presence of Rossetti at Kelmscott. Instead, he claims, it’s for “no particular reason” (Letter, Oct. 24th, 1872). Algaia was also close with Jane Morris, perhaps Morris didn’t want to expose himself in this way, or put Aglaia in an uncomfortable situation (Atkins).
This was the most active, or at least most public point in the affair. Two years before this letter was written, in 1870, Rossetti and Jane had spent a month together at a cottage in Scalands, Sussex. This started rumors of scandal and made the pre-Raphaelite love triangle increasingly public. This seemed to have embarrassed Morris greatly. On October 23, 1871 Jane had skipped her husbands dinner party to dine with Rossetti (Salmon).
Much of Morris’s writing from this time revolves around the theme of two brothers or friends in love with the same woman (Thompson, 200). Many believe this was an expression of Morris’s reality, as he faced losing his wife to Rossetti, his former friend and collaborator.
Morris and Rossetti had rented Kelmscott together as a summer retreat, but it became instead a refuge for Jane and Rossetti’s continuing affair. It seems that this may have been Morris’s intention, if only subconsciously; Thompson states in William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary: “ there is no doubt that Morris hoped it would provide a home where Janey could share Rossetti’s company during his own absence” (200). Rossetti had become seriously ill in May of 1872 and had not fully recovered by the time of the writing of this letter. In June of 1872 his condition worsened and he started to hear things that weren’t there and eventually attempted suicide by laudanum. When Jane heard from William Bell Scott that Rossetti was in a coma at the house of Dr. Gordon Hake she left Morris at Kelmscott to be with Rossetti. On September 25th 1872 Rossetti arrived at Kelmscott, he wrote, “here all is happiness again, and I feel completely myself ” (Salmon).
On October 8th, Morris wrote to Aglaia and told her he hoped that Love is Enough would be published in November. On the 19th Morris went to Kelmscott to visit Jane who he hadn’t seen in three weeks, remarking the next day “lord how dull the evenings are!” (Salmon). This letter was written after Morris had returned to London from Kelmscott. Jane doesn’t come to join Morris in London until the 23rd of November, choosing instead to stay with Rossetti and the children at Kelmscott (Salmon).
Morris wrote to Aglaia again on November 25th and said “Rossetti has set himself down at Kelmscott as if he never meant to go way; and not only does that keep me away from that harbour of refuge, (because it is really a farce our meeting when we can help it) but also he has all sorts of ways so unsympathetic with the sweet simple old place, that I feel his presence there as a kind of a slur on it”. Rossetti continued to live at Kelmscott until 1874 (Salmon).
All of Morris’s letters from this time suggest that he has been avoiding being anywhere near Rossetti and Jane, as it is too uncomfortable a situation. He returns to London frequently, goes shopping for houses, fishes the nearby rivers and ponds and makes a second trip to Iceland in 1873, all in an attempt to escape the scandal and discomfort of his embarrassing predicament (Salmon).
Morris was looking for a new house to rent in London at the time of this letter: “We are looking after a house in the west of London still; but a tolerable one after my wishes seems hard to find.” Morris is picky, but still eager to set up a new home for his family after the sanctity of Kelmscott was marred by Rossetti’s presence. Morris seems to feel a wistful regret when remarking: “The place looks as beautiful as ever though somewhat melancholy in its flowerless autumn garden. I shall not be here much now I suppose” (Letter, Oct.24th, 1872). In 1873, Morris moved his family to Horrington House in Chiswick (Bromer’s).
There are many theories as to how Morris actually felt about Jane and Rossetti’s relationship. Oswald Doughty, who wrote an biography of Rossetti, suggests that Rossetti was enamored of Jane from the start and pushed Morris to marry her only because he himself could not (due to his obligations to Lizzie Siddal). Doughty argues that Rossetti’s return to writing love poetry in the late 1860s coincides with his increased contact with Jane (Le Bourgeois, 127-128).
Edward Thompson said Morris had fallen in love with an image; “Morris, confronted in marriage not with the high romantic ideal of The Defense of Guenevere, but with a real human being, should have to strive to create a new and truer relationship – one of mutual confidence, companionship and intellectual equality. And it was in this attempt, in the passing from romantic illusion to human intimacy, that he met with failure” (197). This suggests that the marriage failed almost entirely due to Jane Morris’s inadequacy, or inability to fulfill Morris’s extremely high expectations.
Phil Henderson argued that Morris was deeply in love with his wife and was devastated by her relationship with Rossetti (Le Bourgeois, 129).
This letter provides a view into this time in Morris’s life and one of the very intimate friendships, which characterized his life and career.
Atkins, Julia. Morris and Aglaia Coronio. https://www.morrissociety.org/newsltrs/newsltr-april90.html (accessed October 26th, 2009)
Bromer’s Booksellers. Morris, William. Autograph Letters, Signed. 1873, 1878. https://www.bromer.com/onlinecat8_morrisals.html (accessed November 15th, 2009)
Le Bourgeois, John. Art and Forbidden Fruit: Hidden Passion in the Life of William Morris. Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2006. (For this holding please consult Kevin Grace)
Morris, W. (1872). [Letter, 1872, October 24 to Aglaia Ionides Coronio] ARB RB PR5083. A43 1872
Mrs. Coronio. https://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/s310.raw.html (accessed October 26th, 2009)
Salmon, Nick. The William Morris Internet Archive: Chronology. Marxists Internet Archive. https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/chrono.htm (accessed October 26th, 2009)
Tallis, John. History and description of the Crystal Palace: and the Exhibition of the worlds industry in 1851. London: The London Printing and Publishing Company, 1852. ARB RB T690. B1 T2 (v.1 – 3)
Thompson, P. R. (1977). The Work of William Morris (Rev. ed.). London: Quartet Books. ARB Ref PR5083 .T63 1977
Kelvin, Norman Ed.. The Collected Letters of William Morris: Volume I, 1848 – 1880. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. SW PR 5083. A4 1984 V.1