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An Interview With William Morris, September, 1885: His Arrest and Freedome of Speech

Terry L. Meyers


    A representative of the Pall Mall Gazette called yesterday afternoon upon Mr. William Morris at his fine-arts works at Merton Abbey, and at his invitation Mr. Morris willingly "thought aloud," at greater length than the officers of Mr. Saunders's court would permit, upon the subject of the police and their prosecutions.
    "The Standard, I see," he observed, "speaks of the magistrate's decision being 'in accordance with justice and common sense'; but I will be bound that if the writer had been present in court yesterday he would not have thought so. The fact is, the worthy magistrate picked out for discharge the man who did the most, while he sent to prison for two months the man who was the least responsible. We are really concerned for Lyons, who is not the sort of fellow to have done the thing charged against him. The constable charged Lyons with having kicked him, but how could the policeman tell absolutely who kicked him in a crowd like that? The evidence given in support of the attempt to connect the banner-bearers with a previous resistance to the police was most trumpery, and if I had been a jury-man I should not have convicted upon it, even supposing that the police were in a position to identify those men in the midst of a great crowd when they were almost the breadth of a street away. From what I know of the people taken, I feel certain that they had not been active in the matter. We are bound, I think, to take what action may be possible to secure the release of Lyons.
    "When I found myself in the dock, upon my word it was so absurd a charge I really did not know what to say--I could not treat it seriously. When the sentence was passed upon the men charged with resisting the police we had all cried out 'Shame!' and then came the order, 'Clear the court!' Two or three policemen rushed at us, especially the policeman who had given evidence against Lyons. He caught hold of me and shoved me, and also seized Mrs. Aveling by the shoulder, and hustled us about. I had previously said 'All right, I am going,' and all that I did when hustled was what a man always does when shoved--he stiffens himself up, else he would fall down. Turning round, I remonstrated with the constable upon his conduct, when he exclaimed, 'I will run you in,' and then, as if a brilliant idea had suddenly struck him, he added, 'You have broken my helmet chinstrap.' Thereupon, another bobby having taken hold of me, they ran me into the road, where the people cheered me vigorously. I was walked into the police-station, where there was some ridiculous discussion as to the damage to the helmet; and afterwards I was kept for two hours in the lobby before I was placed in the dock. I am sorry for more reasons than one that I answered the magistrate's inquiry--'What are you?'--in the language I did. As sure as a gun, if I had passed as an ordinary workman, I would have been sent to prison. Yes; your contemporary's 'empty-headed artists and literary men' is one for me; but I am tolerably thick-skinned. By the way, I was congratulated at our meeting last night on having written a new poem."@