Responsibility is, then, attributed to the electorate (which he in no way acknowledges as still extremely restricted: householders in the boroughs enfranchised, but only the £12 ratepayers in the counties, and exclusively male), an electorate that in 1874 had had the audacity to oust ‘a great statesman’ (p. 74): Gladstone. Our Country Right or Wrong is effusively, embarrassingly Gladstonian. This is surely the principal reason why neither Morris himself nor Eugene LeMire chose to publish it and his daughter no more than selected passages. The future anti-parliamentarian is revealed in 1880 as a gullible worshipper of a politician. It was going to take the inglorious record of Gladstone’s government of 1880-85 – with the occupation of Egypt; coercion in Ireland and the imprisonment of Parnell; articipation in the partition of west Africa - to move Morris on to socialism.
Still there are excellent things in the lecture (as I trust my quotations indicate) and it certainly needed to be printed in its entirety. On the other hand, I regret to say, Florence Boos is an inappropriate editor. She has produced (unlike May Morris) a fussy, literary scholar’s text, not the reader-friendly edition that is called for; and struggles with the fearsome convolutions of the Eastern Question, but is no more at home with general British or European history and politics. For example, Britain did not ‘stay’ from 1882 till 1956 (save in the Suez Canal Zone) in Egypt, which became independent in 1922 (p. 42). It is oxymoronic to say (twice!) that MacMahon was the President of France during the Second Empire (it was the Third Republic) (pp. 61, 91). She predictably puts her boot into Salisbury in an endnote: ‘During three subsequent terms of office as Conservative prime minister, Salisbury’s advocacy of Disraelian “peace with honour” led him to block Irish Home Rule, co-broker the partition of Africa, and preside…over British entrance into the Boer War’ (p. 92). But it was Salisbury, combining the premiership and Foreign Secretaryship, who extricated Britain in 1897 from her traditional support of the Ottomans (Germany moving rapidly to take over from her). (The old Chartist and lifelong friend of Engels, George Julian Harney - born in 1817 - judged Salisbury’s administration of 1886-92, with its innovative social policy, as the best within his memory.) And readers baffled by the note on ‘the New Road’ (p. 91) – occasioned by Morris’s ‘Say 3 men shot stone dead: no great harm to them perhaps: but how would your hearts have been frozen with horror if you had seen that done in the New Road this afternoon…’ (p. 64) – may like to know that was how the modern Euston and Marylebone Roads were known for much of the nineteenth century.
That Boos is agonized by contemporary US foreign policy and particularly the occupation of Iraq breaks through several times into her introduction. She introduces A.J.P. Taylor’s essential distinction, popularized by Martin Ceadel, between ‘pacificism’ - ‘the assumption that war, though sometimes necessary, is always an irrational and inhumane way to solve disputes, and that its prevention should always be an over-riding political priority’ - and ‘pacifism’ - ‘the belief that all war is always wrong and should never be resorted to, whatever the consequences of abstaining from fighting’ (Pacifism in Britain, 1914-1945: The Defining of a Faith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 3); yet immediately declares, without explanation, that she proposes to speak of, not pacificists, but ‘anti-bellicists’ (p. 16). Her programme is to enlist Morris, not merely as the pacificist, or ‘anti-bellicist’, he clearly was, but as a pacifist. This seems implausible given his general character and long-term admiration for the valour of the warrior north. She is able, however, to trump Morris’s pacificist ‘acts of violence…are still acts of violence, and therefore degrading to humanity, as all war is’ (p. 31 – and Morris’s emphasis), with a pacifist statement a year later in 1893 that suggests a significantly new attitude: ‘I will say once for all, what I have often wanted to say of late, to wit, that the idea of taking any human life for any reason whatsoever is horrible and abhorrent to me’ (p. 32). She continues this with a section on ‘Violence in Morris’s Literary Writings’ (pp. 33-38), at last analyzing literary texts and commanding my respect.