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

Terry L. Meyers

    "The good magistrate asks, 'If you want to preach your doctrines, why don't you hire halls or go to the parks?' Well, the working people who form the Socialist bodies do not hire halls because they cannot afford to do so, and they do not confine themselves to the parks because they cannot there reach all the classes of people whom they wish to reach. The people who most need to be stirred to a comprehension of their own condition are the very people who do not and will not attend ordinary meetings, whether in hall or park. We must get at these people at their own doors, and these are the people we do get at by our street meetings. They are so down-drawn with poverty they scarcely know what to think at first, but they always listen patiently and quietly. When there are disturbances they are caused by men in better positions. If we do not get hold of these poor people, what can we do? They are the people who have the best reason to be discontented--they are the people who must move. Other missionary organizations will appreciate this as readily as the Socialists. Apart altogether from the objects of the promoters, I believe that the stoppage of these meetings would entail upon the people a distinct loss. I think in respect to these meetings in the same way as I think in regard to the complaints against the street musicians--how wearisome and dull the streets would be if they were as respectable people would have them! For myself, I would rather experience some noise and suffering rather than that the streets should be dull. We must remember that the people in the poorer districts have not the same recreations and amusements that we possess. ["]
    "The movement as a movement for the defence of free speech is now in the hands of a vigilance committee, formed of delegates from political clubs and leagues; and I should think the suggestion made by the Pall Mall Gazette--for the summoning of a conference of all persons interested in the maintenance of the right to hold public meetings in the streets ["Right" 1]--will commend itself to the committee. I decidedly think the attempt to hold these meetings should be maintained at any cost; and it is the direct and urgent interest of everybody that has anything to gain by street preaching to join those already associated together in protection of the right to free speech. Unless the Home Secretary intervenes, I have no doubt that we shall be interfered with next Sunday.@ But that kind of interference is a dangerous business. The men who attend these meetings may be as peaceably disposed as you please, but when a man is knocked down, who can answer for him? However, if the peace is broken, the burden will lie solely upon the police. It may be that the Government, having been rather loose in one direction--Ireland--are pulling the reins a little tighter in another direction, in order to regain their character for firmness. Still, it cannot be in the interests of the Government to allow this business to continue. As one of my workmen remarked to me this morning, every Conservative candidate at the East End will rapidly lose any chance of election they may have had." "As I have said," concluded Mr. Morris, "I am not predisposed to enjoy the luxury of martyrdom in a small way, but I am quite clear that the question must be fought out, whatever may be the cost." "Have you any important literary work in hand at present, Mr. Morris?" "I cannot say that I have--I cannot find time." "Then it may be a public gain if you are cast into prison?" "Ah! But there is the oakum to pick."
The College of William and Mary.