William Morris is best known for his famous artwork, and by some as a 'socialist', though his brand of socialism was not quite so straightforward as some would have it. No doubt the Marxist Socialists claim him for their own, since he was a champion of social reform in the face of the problems created by the Industrial Revolution. Here I am going to look at a completely different side of William Morris through a study of one of his less well-known works - House of the Wolfings.
In the House of the Wolfings we find a tale of heroism and bravery set against the true story of Herman The Cheruscan and his victory over the three Roman Legions of Varus, whom he defeated at the Teutoburger Wald in 9 CE. Here the hero is Thiodolf ('Folk-Wolf') who is the leader of the Germanic Tribe called the Wolfings. Since there are indications that the Cheruscan Tribe were linked to the Volsungs and thus the Wolfings it is likely that Morris knew of this and worked it into his tale.
In this work William Morris sets out to restore the Germanic Tongue of the English through using words based on Germanic and Norse roots, cutting out as best he can the Greek and Latin words. But he does not try to revert to some archaic tongue that only a handful of scholars could understand, a futile act that that is self-defeating. Instead the words he uses can still be understood, even though many of them are no longer used in modern English - something that we would do well to ponder upon since this type of usage invokes a kind of English Consciousness through the use of archaic words spelt in a modern way.
'On either side, to right and left the tree-girdle reached out toward the blue distance, thick close and unsundered, save where it and the plain which it begirdled was cleft amidmost by a river....'
Here the words 'unsundered', 'begirdled' and 'amidmost' are not found in modern English, but they are still understandable to most people. Writing in this way, Morris evoked an air of the archaic in his works, at the same time reaching deep into the Germanic Consciousness of the English. To add to this archaic atmosphere part of the work is poetic which gives the work rhythm and rhyme, adding to the mystical appeal of a tale of honour, loyalty, strength and heroism.
The Wolfings are just one of the various Germanic Tribes that make up this tale, others being - the Hartings, Elkings, Bearings - whom they could marry into as close-kinship, but not within their own tribe, for they were 'not so close akin to the blood of the Wolf'. This was a law that none would break, which ensured the continuing strength of the blood of their own tribe.
In the great hall of the House of the Wolfings hung an Eternal Flame fastened to a tie-beam of the roof; this was named the Hall-Sun and it was tended by an appointed maiden of the Wolfing Kindred, who was also called the Hall-Sun. This maiden could not be wed to a man, since no wedded woman of that house could be a Wolfing. It is well known in genetics that interbreeding between close families can produce mutant offspring, and the Germanic Tribes well knew this and practiced a form of racial hygiene by breeding with other (Germanic) tribes around them.
An interesting part of the tale tells how Thiodolf is offered a magical byrnie, but refuses this because he wishes to fight the battle as any other heroic human would do, not having magical protection which the others of his kin would not have. In the end he is slain and a massive burial-mound raised over his body for future generations to see an honour.
The names used are taken from the Norse mainly, since William Morris was a Norse scholar, but this does not take away the feeling of the work - we all know that Swedes, Danes and Norwegians make up a good proportion of the English, indeed the royal dynasty of the Swedes was the Ynglingas, named after the god Ing - God of the English.
The story is worked around the age-old conflict between the degenerating power of Rome and the fight for freedom of the Germanic Folk. We see in the great German hero, Herman the Cheruscan, an elected war-lord that united warring tribes in order to save Germania from Roman occupation. Herman has as much to do with the English as he has with the Germans, since the Saxons occupied the area around the Teutoburger Wald.
Each Germanic Tribe had their own elected leader, but in times of war a war-duke could be elected over several tribes; Herman was such a war-duke and he united the warring tribes for the sake of the survival of them all. Unfortunately, this trait of the Germanic Tribes at the time proved to be their downfall, for after the great battle they saw no need for a war-duke over the tribes even though Herman recognised that the danger was not over. This resulted in Herman's downfall and further Roman incursions that proved more effective, though Rome never entirely conquered Germania.
There are sections of the tale which glaringly describe the array of war-banners of the tribes that make up the Mark, and which are waging war against the Rome-Welsh ('Welsh' meaning 'foreigner'). These banners depict animals and other symbols of each tribe - wolf, bear, elk, horse, dragon etc. Banners and flags have always been a most important part of any gathering of tribes and nations.
O warriors of the Wolfings, by the token of the flame,
That here in my right hand flickers, ye are back at the House of the Name,
And there yet burneth the Hall-Sun beneath the Wolfing Roof,
And the flame that the foemen quickened hath died out far aloof.
Ye gleanings of the battle, lift up your hearts on high,
For the House of the War-wise Wolfings and the Folk undoomed to die.
There is something magical about the use of this archaic tongue, something which invokes the past, past glories and honour, loyalty, heroism - all of which are missing in a stale, dying world based upon economic materialism and the greed for gold, as well as the opposing form of social order based upon the same economic materialism, on envy and greed, and all of the lower forms of human drives.
This tale, and others like it written by William Morris are not well known, but can be found in books in second-hand shops, though they are rare now. There is nothing of the 'Marxist Socialism' in these works, they are Germanic works designed to evoke the ancient Germanic World. This is a side of William Morris that will never be well-published, but one that ever Englishman and Englishwoman should look into for inspiration. This world was once our world, and even today the threat from Rome looms over all of the nations of Europe - in the form of the European Union founded by the 'Treaty of Rome'! Will not another Thiodolf or Herman arise in the nick of time to unite the warring peoples and once more crush the power of the 'New Rome'?