An Interview With William Morris, September, 1885: His Arrest and Freedome of Speech
[This article was originally published in The Victorians Institute Journal, Volume 19 (1991).]
Until recently, it had been presumed that after William Morris was arrested on September 21, 1885, in a melée at the Thames Police Court, he made no public comment on the incident (Thompson 398). Norman Kelvin's edition of Morris's letters, however, includes a letter about the incident to the Daily News published on September 23, 1885 (Morris 456-57). To this letter may now be added the following interview with Morris printed in the Pall Mall Gazette, also on September 23, 1885, p. 4.
The interview was granted within a day of when Morris found himself arrested for disorderly conduct at the trial of Lewis Lyons, a tailor, and others who had been charged with resisting arrest at a mass meeting of Socialists on Sunday, September 20, 1885. That meeting was one of a series that had attracted the attention of the government--in the form of police prosecution on the grounds of "obstruction"--and that raised important questions concerning freedom of speech in England. E. P. Thompson makes the point that the meetings which were held at Dod Street in Limehouse took place on "a long-established open-air site of Radical and religious bodies" (Thompson 394-95).
A summary of the trial of Lewis Lyons and those charged along with him appears in The Times, September 22, 1885, p. 4f. Lyons was sentenced by the magistrate, Thomas Williams Saunders, to two months hard labor. Among the crowd that protested the harshness of his sentence were Eleanor Aveling, the daughter of Karl Marx, and her husband, Edward.
In the end, after identifying himself ("'I am an artist, and a literary man, pretty well known, I think, throughout Europe'" [Thompson 397]), Morris was discharged without penalty.