Friday, August 29, 2008

Boys Will Be Boys, The End

Unfortunately I am far less professional with writing down the sources for all of the snippets of information I get than I should be. Working at a library means I have access to a huge amount of Pre-Raphaelite literature, and I should be better about writing resources.

Today I will post the last two of my "Boys Will Be Boys" examples. Sadly, though I could probably go on talking about the mischief of the Pre-Raphaelites for a long time to come, I should probably move on to other topics. These are two of my favorite examples, but sadly I don't have a reference for either. Both are about Topsy, and both take advantage of his tendency to react in such an overblown (and, to his friends, hilarious) way when a practical joke was played on him.

-In a mischievous plot, at one point, a friend of William Morris decided to send him a package to his workshop at Morris & Co. The contents: Nothing but packaging. Apparently the look on Topsy's face as he pulled more and more packaging from the package was priceless.

-My favorite practical joke I've heard, of all the ones I've read about from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhoood.....This was in a published book I read, so take its credibility from that.
Apparently during the raucous early years of decorating Red House, a jokester decided to paint over the motto on a set of scrolls. Topsy's famous personal motto was "Si Je Puis" which means "If I can." The latin inscribed on the scrolls poor Mr. Morris woke to discover the next morning?

"As I can't."

Oh how I wish I could have seen his face....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Aww my blog's first award!

Thanks to RowanDevoe for giving us this award!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Red Lion Mary

(Part 4 of "Boys Will Be Boys")

"Red Lion Mary" was the maid at Red Lion Square, where Topsy and Ned lived in an idyllic bachelor pad of creativity. It was at Red Lion Square that Topsy, Ned, and Rossetti created their famous painted chairs, and Topsy hired out to have numerous gorgeous large-scale pieces of medieval furniture made.

Anyway, I digress.

There are numerous amusing anecdotes about Red Lion Mary. She seems to have been the perfect maid for these rambunctious youths...maintaining a sense of humor, and willing to help find sleeping locations for all the guests at their last-minute parties.

One of the tales told of Red Lion Mary shows her imperturbable good nature. Rossetti one day, on her entering the room, strode up to her, and in deep resonant tones, with fearful meaning in his voice, declaimed the lines:

'Shall the hide of a fierce lion
Be stretched on a couch of wood
For a daughter's foot to lie on,
Stained with a father's blood?'

Whereupon the girl, quite unawed by the horrible proposition, replied with baffling complacency, 'It shall be if you like, sir!'

--From Highways and Byways in London
Thus it was one of Madox Brown's most pleasing William Morris came out on the landing in the house of the "Firm" in Red Lion Square and roared downstairs:

'Mary, those six eggs were bad. I've eated them, but don't let it occur again.'

Morris, also, was in the habit of lunching daily off roast beef and plum pudding, no matter what season of the year, and he liked his puddings large. So that, similarly, upon the landing one day he shouted:

'Mary, do you call that a pudding?'

He was holding upon the end of a fork a plum pudding about the size of an ordinary breakfast cup, and having added some appropriate objurgations, he hurled the edible down-stairs onto Red Lion Mary's forehead. This anecdote should not be taken to evidence settled brutality on the part of the poet-craftsman. Red-Lion Mary was one of the loyalest supporters of the "Firm" to the end of her days. No, it was just in the full-blooded note of the circle. They liked to swear, and what is more, they liked to hear each other swear. Thus another of Madox Brown's anecdotes went to show how he kept Morris sitting monumentally still, under the pretence that he was drawing his portrait, while Mr. Arthur Hughes tied his long hair into knots for the purpose of enjoying the explosion that was sure to come when the released Topsy...ran his hands through his hair. This anecdote always seemed to me to make considerable calls upon one's faith. Nevertheless, it was one that Madox Brown used most frequently to relate, so that no doubt something of the sort must have occurred.

From Memories and Impressions by Ford Madox Ford

Dear me....the memoirs of the Pre-Raphaelites are just chock FULL of hilarious anecdotes like the above.

Red Lion Mary may not be as "flashy" or as "eye-catching" as the more famous Pre-Raphaelite women like Jane and Lizzie, but she clearly had a wonderful sense of humor, and a devotion to her boisterous boys at Red Lion Square that lasted a lifetime.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Boys Will Be Boys: Part 3

Burne-Jones describes in the below excerpt from a letter Georgie put in her Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, what it was like as a young man to wake up in the morning among his vagabond friends. I love this moment described in Burne-Jones' own words. And there are so many more moments like this in the memorials of these great artists. I'll be sharing a few more in a later post.

I have from now till breakfast to write you in, and I have no idea what now is, for after the most elaborate directions for being called early, which were strictly attended to, I turned over and dozed away like a pig, and now I expect every moment my usual morning tormentors, Rossetti and Pollen, who come at about 8 o’clock to insult me—laugh at me, my dear—point the finger of scorn at me, address me by opprobrious names and finally tear blankets and counterpanes and mattresses and all the other things that cover me, from my enfeebled grasp, and so leave me, to do the same to Topsy. I’ve done them this time; when they come in presently with no knocking at the door, they will see Virtue asserted in the form of a bold and upright figure at the dressing-table, who will slowly turn upon them a look of calm but significant defiance with one eye, while with the other he expresses similar feelings by a contumelious wink.”

I think one thing I love about the Pre-Raphaelite circle of friends is their continuous joke of making things out to be more formal than they should be. The name "The Firm" began for their works back when they were living in relative poverty, to joke that their efforts were more serious than they were. Of course, as we all know, their efforts were indeed eventually more serious and professional, but their mock formality amuses me greatly. Burne-Jones description of a simple morning hazing ritual reads more like the triumphant victory of a knight vanquishing his foes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Boys Will Be Boys: Part 2

Yes, boys will be boys, and when the P.R.B. was younger, they were certainly no exception. I love to hear the stories about how rowdy they were, and how they loved to laugh together. Today there are a few examples of their public exploits.

...Namely, their public admiration for women. I picture them walking the streets of London, boldly admiring the "Stunners" who might pass their way. Even the nickname they gave to these women indicated a casual slang admiration of feminine beauty. I could see Rossetti and Millais, perhaps, walking the streets and nudging each other to boldly approach a woman they might see and ask her to model for them. In their behavior, they are charmingly timeless.

I'm quite fond of both stories told about how Rossetti convinced Fanny Cornforth to model for him. There is, of course, the tale that Rossetti met her in the Strand, when she was walking by, cracking nuts between her teeth, and threw the shell at him. He was so smitten by her beauty and her bold action, that he went to ask her to model for him immediately.

The other story of their meeting, however, told by Fanny, is that she was walking in a pleasure garden, celebrating the return of Florence Nightengale, when a group of the Brothers accidentally "bumped" into her, and her pinned-up hair came tumbling down. (I can't believe it would be so easy to dislodge her hair...I could see Rossetti pulling a pin or two out on the sly in the confusion) Rossetti announced then that she was a Stunner, and asked her to pose.

The first story has a great charm to it, but I actually prefer the second. I love to think of this group of mischievious young men giving each other confidence to 'accidentally' bump into women and dislodge their hair to see it tumble down around their shoulders. Although in Victorian times, this would have been far more outrageous a thing to do, I still see it as the equivalent of a bunch of schoolboys trying to score a peek into a women's locker room or somesuch.

Those rowdy boys!

Coming soon...a charming tale from Burne-Jones' biography about what it was like to go out on the town with Topsy and Rossetti.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

PRB: Stands for Precocious Rowdy Boys?

I've been saving up examples for a while now for this series of posts. Ok, originally it was going to be just one post, but there are so many wonderful examples, I think this deserves at least a few.

Pre-Raphaelite Humor.

I've already done a post about the way the Pre-Raphaelites loved to draw cartoons of each other and themselves. And I have a few more examples of that to share as well. But beyond that, there are so many other examples of how the Brotherhood was, at times geniuses, and at times, just a rowdy bunch of boys who loved to pull pranks and laugh.

I'll begin with an example from Jen Parrish, who overheard a tour guide of Trinity Church in Boston pointing this out to a tour group. Jen (and me too!) found it hilarious.

See the stained glass window by Edward Burne-Jones above? It depicts David's charge to Solomon. Nothing strange there.

But....look closer:

....Ned depicted the head of Goliath as his dear friend William Morris. (chuckle) I have to think there was a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor by that choice.

Of course, as many people already know, the very name "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" was arguably originally chosen as a joke. And it was joked that the P.R.B. could be put on a sign outside the front door, so that those not in the know would assume it meant "Please Ring Bell."

Boys will be boys, I suppose.

Friday, August 1, 2008

William Morris in Foreclosure

My friend on Live Journal recently did a blog directing my attention to The Shire, in Bend, Oregon. Of course I adore Oregon to begin with, but as I went to the site and looked through the beautiful drawings of homes with medieval and Old World detailing, I couldn't help but think of William Morris and his appreciation for fine craftsmanship, quality, and the medieval times. Plus the community concept uses natural and Old World detailing done in an eco-friendly and modern ized way that is truly impressive. I really feel that this community is a modern day extension of William Morris' ideals. Click the link to see the amazing ideas behind this community. Being an apartment dweller myself, I especially love the townhomes.

Now for the bad didn't work. Sadly, the community is now in foreclosure. As the creator of the community explained, “The development wasn’t able to materialize fast enough before the market crashed.”

It breaks my heart to see this dream of an artistic and creative community with a shared appreciation for simplicity and beauty not becoming a reality :(