William Morris wrote 'A Death Song' for the funeral on 18 December 1887 of Alfred Linnell, a week after 'Bloody Sunday', a radical demonstration in Trafalgar Square, against coercion in Ireland. Three men were killed that day after the demonstration was broken up by the police and military. The following week Mr Linnell's fatality occurred after a vicious clubbing where 'the crowd was batoned by the police.'
His Death Song was sung and Morris preached a funeral address "Our friend who lies here has had a hard life and met with a hard death..It is our business to begin to organise for the purpose of seeing that such things shall not happen."
Morris, world famous already as a designer and poet, became a socialist because he hated ugliness and he saw capitalism breeding ugliness everywhere around him. He also wrote Chants for Socialists containing The Day is coming for the Socialist League, The Voice of Toil, The message of the March Wind, No Master, All for the Cause, The March of the Workers and Down among the Dead Men.
The Socialist League was a break away group from the Democratic Federation formed in 1881 by HM Hyndman, which changed in 1883 to Social Democratic Federation. Hyndman started the journal Justice with a contribution of £300 from Edward Carpenter. The newly formed Socialist League was one of the outstanding examples of a group possessed of great self-sacrifice, talent and genius. Unfortunately it lasted only six years due to lack of organising ability. The League's paper the Commonweal and Morris's writing was a legacy, due to his poems of beauty which were appreciated by so many whether they knew of the socialist league or not. He gave much to British socialism. So different from the 'dialectical materialist' Hyndman, he wrote to awaken men's imagination, to give them visions of working for a realisation of a dream, in fact he gave them comradeship.
Resources about the songs of William Morris in the library collection
Collected Works of William Morris (1910-1915) – Shelfmark: J27
Chants for socialists (1885) - Shelfmark: AG Socialist League (1885) Box 1
Contents: The day is coming - The voice of toil - The message of the March wind - No master - All for the cause - The march of the workers - Down among the dead men
- Come, comrades, come - Shelfmark: AG Songs Box 3
- Hear a word, a word in season - Shelfmark: AG Songs Box 3
- I heard men saying - Shelfmark: AG Songs Box 3
About William Morris
The library holds a number of works about William Morris including:
J. Bruce Glasier, Socialism in song: an appreciation of William Morris's Chants for socialists (no date) - Shelfmark: AG Independent Labour Party Box 1