“The God of the Poor” for Sale

The famous Hollyer portrait of Morris, one of the sale’s offerings.

In April and May, there will be a highly interesting sale at Bonhams in London, of items from the collection of Roy Davids. The offerings include a photographic portrait of William Morris, taken by Frederick Hollyer in 1886; and the autograph revised manuscript for Morris’s poem “The God of the Poor.” There are many differences between this manuscript and the printed version of the poem. From the official description:

THIS MANUSCRIPT, THE ONLY ONE KNOWN OF THE POEM, PRESERVES A TEXT VERY SUBSTANTIALLY DIFFERENT FROM THE RECEIVED VERSION. Of the 260 lines in 52 five-line stanzas in the printed version many do not appear in the present manuscript at all, and vice versa, and many lines and stanzas were very significantly rewritten. According to Fairfax Murray this manuscript was written in the early 1860s, but the poem was only sent for publication in theFortnightly Review in 1868. Between those dates Morris clearly rethought and very extensively rewrote the poem so that whole stanzas in this manuscript do not correspond in any way with those in the printed text and were completely replaced; others have been so reworked as to be almost unrecognisable, and vice versa. The following examples are but two instances of those where any comparison can be made at all:
The third stanza in this manuscript ends:
…Many a fair maid white & red
By him was deflowered.
Deus est Deus pauperum.
The printed version ends:
…Whatso man loved wife or maid
Of Evil-head was sore afraid.
Deus est Deus pauperum.
The first four lines of the sixth stanza in this manuscript read:
But Boncoeur knew it was in vain
To strive to take him by force plain;
Therefore he made a crafty wile
God gave him wit and much good guile.

In the printed text they read:
But Boncoeur deemed it would be vain
To strive his guarded house to gain;
Therefore within a little while,
He set himself to work by guile.
The first four lines of the eighth stanza in this manuscript read:
Than of twenty poor mens lives I wis
Boncoeur well imagined this
So a good squire not lightly feared
Put on a carles hood and a carles beard.
In the printed text they read:
Twenty poor men’s lives were nought
To him, beside a ring well wrought.
The pommel of his hunting knife
Was worth ten times a poor man’s life.
With the manuscript is a note about the poem in the hand of Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919), artist, assistant to Burne-Jones, William Morris, John Ruskin and D.G. Rossetti, art dealer and connoisseur, stating: ‘The following poem God is the God of the Poor was written about the same time [i.e. early 1860s] as the first Prologue for the Earthly Paradise (that in 4 line verses) & was written in the same M.S. book. It was not published till some years later when Mr Morris was solicited to send something to the Fortnightly [Review] & found this in his hand.’
Those interested can learn more by contacting simon.roberts@bonhams.com.

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