John Morley’s Impersonal Domesticity
John Morley’s Impersonal Domesticity
Abstract and Keywords
Chapter three analyses John Morley’s suburban residences from 1886 to 1923 as reflections of his belief that the home should be inhabited in ways that nurture an optimal liberal life. Morley sought to effect a highly controlled environment that, largely shorn of bric-a-brac, ensured mental serenity. This serenity was achieved through an arduous practice of impersonal domesticity.
When John and Rose Morley began house-hunting in late December 1885, the couple had intended to secure accommodation close to Westminster.1 As Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne, Morley – who had ventured into politics with the by-election of 1883, having distinguished himself as a journalist and editor – found the daily commute from Wimbledon, where the couple had been residing, increasingly onerous. After viewing a number of houses that were centrally located but incommodious and lacking in amenities, however, Morley lamented to his sister, Grace, that the experience was ‘very doleful’.2 The Morleys settled instead on a suburban property. Morley wrote to Grace in April 1886 to share the news:
The scene of our future glories is to be at Elm Park Gardens – a great pack of dwellings in S. Kensington, about six minutes’ walk from Gloucester Road station, and on the Fulham Road, almost close to the Brompton hospital. There is an immense large garden belonging to all the houses collectively, and the rooms are wonderfully light and bright. The house has never been inhabited, and we have the privilege of choosing our own papers, paint, tiles, etc., etc. – which we like very much. Also we are well pleased to go into a place which has not the heart-sickening smell of old London houses. The servants will have very fair quarters indeed – and on the whole, considering the awful dog-holes of London, we are more than satisfied. The rent is more than I like, but we shall cut down at some other end … We shall migrate as soon as the painters will let us – probably in about a month’s time. It is very handsome and mighty genteel, and you will not be at all ashamed to come to see us.
With its excellent transportation links, South Kensington offered spacious, newly constructed houses with modern amenities and rents lower than in central London.4 In writing about his new residence, Morley does not boast about the location. Rather, he refers to the (p.131) property’s newness and spaciousness and the freedom to express individual preferences in decoration. As this chapter will explore, Morley’s enthusiasm for these three characteristics, coming from a second-generation liberal whose views took shape against the backdrop of scientific developments that catalysed materialist and determinist understandings of the self, has broad and significant implications.
Published interviews and biographical vignettes that describe Morley’s two Elm Park Gardens residences – no. 95 (1886–96) and no. 57 (1896–1903) – frequently juxtapose the acute particularity of his domestic interiors with the indistinguishability of their Queen Anne exteriors (Figure 3.1). ‘Because the external structure of the houses built during the building booms of the Victorian period were often uniform in external appearance, as is the case today,’ Mike Hepworth points out, ‘it was the home within which gave these homes their individual character and which encouraged an increasing fascination of outsiders (newspaper reporters, novelists, gossips) with the lives of those inside’ (1999: 18).5 Although biographical profiles of all kinds proliferated in print, the ‘at home’ feature was particularly successful because it tapped into an emergent belief that domestic
(p.132) interiors reflected the personality, and hence the individuality, of their occupants (Cohen 2006: 123).
Morley was the subject of numerous ‘at home’ portraits, beginning in the mid-1880s. ‘A broad, quiet street’, with its ‘prospect of a hundred similar houses, four storeys high, with steps leading to a portico and three front windows’, the French critic and Anglophile Augustin Filon remarks in the opening paragraphs of his lengthy character sketch of Morley, published in the Revue des deux mondes (Filon 1891: 155).6 While Filon thought Elm Park Gardens evinced a high degree of stylistic uniformity (each house ‘differs in no way from its neighbours’), the interior of no. 95 seemed singularly different (155).
From the 1860s the Victorian middle class began practising dense massing of furniture and knick-knacks. This process accelerated, Deborah Cohen has argued, towards the close of the century, with the home becoming the staging ground for a new concept of personality; instead of being associated with honesty and sincerity, personality was about performance and display (2006: xi–xiii). Through tasteful and adept, or even incongruous, choices and the presentation of sentimental memorabilia, bibelots and goods acquired in travels abroad, individuals could establish a meaningful and intelligible relation to the home as a representation of their interiority (Cohen 2006: 136–44). But this was not what Filon encountered:
On the first floor,7 you are left alone in a drawing room that reinforces the impression [of this house as a place for quiet contemplation]. Bookshelves take up an entire wall. No knick-knacks, no bright colours, not a trace of affectation or exoticism. The furniture is vaguely modern, without an exact date and without a distinguishing style. There is a severity half-way between banality and elegance in a harmony of subtle and pale tones. The master of the house must like whiteness, not the glaring, aggressive whiteness that affronts the eye, but the discreet, slightly grey whiteness that rests and caresses the sight. (1891: 155–6)
If the concept of personality enabled homeowners to revel in decorative eclecticism, based on individual whimsy rather than slavish adherence to design rules, here was a domestic environment that presented an enigma. Excess and clutter, including objects that symbolised emotional attachments and the exotic knick-knacks popular among much of the middle class, were nowhere to be found.
Filon’s 1891 essay was picked up by the English press and disseminated in summary form. Subsequently, he published Profils anglais, (p.133) a widely reviewed collection of essays on leading English political figures, which included a slightly revised version of the Morley essay.8 Although Filon was particularly influential and widely read, others commented on Morley’s home. The Windsor Magazine included two paragraphs as part of its ‘Houses of celebrated people’ series (Bell 1895: 335). More ephemeral publications, such as The Star, The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times and Moonshine, provided brief observations of the ‘wholly unpretentious outside’ of Morley’s Elm Park Gardens home and the omnipresence of books within (‘Mr. John Morley’s London home’ 1892).9 In 1903 The Pall Mall Magazine published a vignette by Harold Begbie, who subsequently included it in a book of profiles of notable men (Begbie 1905). Years later The Graphic provided an intimate glimpse, with photographs by the commercial photographer Alfred Abraham, of Rose and John in retirement at Flowermead, the home on Princes Road in Putney to which they had moved in 1903 (‘A great English man’ 1917).10
Biographical pieces on Morley are remarkably consistent in depicting his domestic environments as sparsely furnished and, for an upper-middle-class home, atypically decorated.11 In 1892 a journalist visited no. 95 and pronounced that ‘simplicity is the note within’ (‘Mr. John Morley’s London home’ 1892: 157). Seven years later, an anonymous parliamentary colleague who met with Morley at no. 57, built according to the same floor plan as no. 95, described it as ‘his roomy but simple house’ (Anon. 1899: 874). These minimalist interiors were always attributed to Morley, who, for reasons I will soon elaborate, was responsible for decorating the couple’s homes. The accounts leave one with the impression that, by controlling the selection and quantity of furnishings, as well as their colour, which, together with the unadorned walls, effected a soothing whiteness, Morley was able to create a disparate, serene environment.
Frequently described but never examined in depth, Morley’s residential interiors reflect a strong sense of order, unity and freedom from distraction. Conspicuously absent was the dense massing of textiles, bric-a-brac and furniture characteristic of the bourgeois home in that era. His interiors fostered cultivation of detachment and impersonality.12 Morley, whose intellectual mentor was John Stuart Mill, might be expected to have realised Mill’s notion of the ideal home as a site of deliberation between autonomous adults who, as spouses, have achieved friendship of the ‘highest order’ (JSM 1984: 411). But Morley’s liberalism was inflected by his religious upbringing and his experience of institutionalised homosocial (p.134) relations – at boarding schools and Oxford, as a member of the Athenaeum Club (where he was elected in 1874) and of Parliament, and as a cabinet minister in several Liberal governments – in ways that complicate our understanding of his indebtedness to Mill. In the spaces of the home, Morley engaged in a strenuous practice that I call ‘impersonal domesticity’, which Mill might term an experiment in living. However, in attempting to live as a free subject, emancipated from the narrow interests of class, from the feminine influence ascribed to the home and even from the constraints of physical proximity, Morley continued to rely on class- and gender-based prerogatives he otherwise disavowed.
‘A Large and Serene Internal Activity’
In her influential Household Gods: The British and Their Possessions, Cohen argues that changing theological views in the nineteenth century, from emphasis on the atoning death of Christ to an incarnationalist view of creation and sanctification, enabled the increasingly prosperous middle class to celebrate the acquisition, distribution and display of material goods (2006). Christ began to be seen less as a saviour than as a perfect exemplar. ‘A worldly Christian compassion, inspired by the life of Jesus’, Boyd Hilton writes, ‘had alleviated such stark evangelical doctrines as those of eternal and vicarious punishment’ (1988: 5). The doctrine of incarnation, which began to pervade Anglican and Nonconformist theology, was seen by many as liberating and ennobling.
In Cohen’s account the doctrine of atonement had facilitated rejection of worldly goods. The incarnationalist doctrine, widely embraced beginning in mid-century and positing human beings and their possessions as repositories of the divine, undergirded the emergent self-confidence and optimism of the British middle classes. This doctrine enabled them to reconcile religious morality with what the earlier Evangelical culture had often opposed: material prosperity (Cohen 2006: 3). Thus, the quintessential Victorian drawing room came into its own in the 1860s and 1870s as a monument to self-expression.
The simple décor of Morley’s residences indicates that he largely eschewed the late nineteenth-century turn towards demonstrating material abundance. Yet it would be inaccurate to conclude that Morley’s homes simply reflected the residual traces of austerity and abstemiousness associated with the age of atonement. Unfolding (p.135) alongside and informed by the design reform efforts late in the century, such as aestheticism, Morley’s impersonal domesticity necessitated the transmogrification of these and other Evangelical principles.
Before elaborating on the elements that make up this experiment in living, I need to begin by considering Morley’s religious upbringing. These biographical details are important to my argument for two reasons. First, Morley’s early religious convictions and subsequent loss of faith are essential to his contributions to philosophical thought. In emphasising the religious aspect of Morley’s childhood and youth, I am not thereby claiming, as a psychological reading might, that the singularity of his experience is what matters in understanding his work. Rather, Morley could generalise in his writings from the occurrences in his own life precisely because these experiences were widely shared (Hamer 1968: 2). The liberalising individuals of mid-century had been raised in similarly devout homes; at university, they found their convictions becoming unsettled; and, if they renounced their faith, often their families rejected them.13 Loss of faith produced, in turn, collective longing for some synthesis or system to replace Christianity.
Second, as I have already suggested, Morley did not so much abandon as transform the practices of Protestant Dissent with which he and many contemporaries were raised. At the centre of Evangelical theology was Christ’s atoning death on the cross. Through abiding and demonstrable faith in this sacrificial propitiation, an individual, tainted at birth by original sin, could be forgiven. The individual conscience, which served as the instrument by which salvation was achieved, held one to account for any lapses. One’s conscience also remained ever attuned to the signs of God’s infinite blessings. An individual needed to engage in prayer, biblical study and self-examination, commonly through writing diaries and spiritual account books, in order to recognise susceptibility to worldliness. The home as the site for Dissenting Christianity’s most significant devotional practices inevitably became paramount because, within its discrete spaces, Evangelicals could employ their privileged tools of introspection and self-scrutiny in an effort to discern deviations from the strictest principles of conduct.14 Indeed, with its emphasis on personal transformation and individual salvation rather than communal religious expression, Evangelicalism was principally a domestic religion.
For Morley, the home became a site for achieving, instead of God’s saving grace, an agnostic ethic of belief. In the domestic setting he cultivated impersonality evinced through disinterestedness. He substituted for religious faith a no less fervently held devotion (p.136) to opinion, produced through the mental techniques of abstraction, reasoning and induction.15 In Morley’s daily practice, liberalism was a religion of the home no less than Evangelicalism had been in his earlier years.
His upbringing had been profoundly shaped by the Evangelical revival, which invested new power in the godly household as a protection and defence against worldliness. Both his parents were raised Methodists. His mother, Priscilla Mary, was, in Grace’s words, an ardent ‘John Wesleyan’ throughout her life (qtd in Hirst 1927: I, 7). His father, Jonathan, converted to Anglicanism as an adult, but Methodism left its stamp. In response to the perceived excesses and smug satisfaction of the eighteenth century, Evangelical clergymen exhorted believers to abstain from the pleasures of this world to attain the eternal bliss of the next. ‘He who lays greatest restraint on his passions and appetites, and contemns upon principle, every merely sensual gratification’, the Reverend John Styles, a Congregationalist, sermonised, ‘increases, in a wonderful degree, his powers of intellectual enjoyment, and opens to himself boundless resources of spiritual delight. His happiness is seated in the mind; it is pure and refined; it is the happiness of angels’ (1815: 26). To stimulate ‘intellectual enjoyment’ within the home, daily life was highly regulated, requiring prayer, biblical study and introspection. Decoration, which was to be minimal, reflected an emphasis on self-denial through restricted practices of consumption. With the exception of religious verse and hymnody, the arts, having no relevance to atonement, were highly discouraged. Their sensuousness could stimulate worldly appetites.
Serious Christianity pervaded both the domestic interiors and the wider environment in which Morley spent his childhood. Thrift and abstemiousness were widely practised in Lancashire, the county of Morley’s birth, by the many current and former Methodists who settled there. Blackburn, where Jonathan Morley, a surgeon, established his practice, was markedly puritan (Phillips 1982: 128–32). Even after John Morley renounced Christianity, he continued to endorse Lancashire’s puritan values, but for their social rather than religious signification:
Although the theology of a town like Blackburn is of a narrow, unhistoric, and rancorous kind, yet one must give even this dull and cramped Evangelicalism its due, and admit that the churches and chapels have done a good service, through their Sunday Schools and otherwise, in impressing a kind of moral organization on the mass of barbarism which surged chaotically into the factory towns.
(p.137) Regardless of Evangelicalism’s deficiencies, which Morley rendered through spatial metaphors (‘narrow’, ‘cramped’), its chief attraction for him was its privileging of ethos. Although ‘Lancashire theology does not make a man love his neighbour’, yet ‘its external system promotes cleanliness, truth-telling, and chastity’, Morley insisted (5).
Morley’s abiding interest in the characterological dimension of belief began at Hoole’s Academy in Blackburn, where he was enrolled at the age of eight or nine. He recalled being nursed there on the ‘unadulterated milk of the Independent word’ even as he was trained in the ‘general habits’ the pupils were expected to adopt, modelled with ‘severe exactitude’ by the proprietor and headmaster (1917: 6). William Hoole, an influential alderman and strict Congregationalist, ensured his pupils memorised lines of scripture daily and attended services at the Independent chapel twice each Sunday.17 This rigorous training, Morley believed, ‘perhaps accounted for the nonconformist affinities … of days to come’ (6). It also prepared him, more immediately, for University College School – a non-religiously affiliated educational institution in London – and subsequently for Cheltenham College, at which he remained for just under two years. From there Morley secured in 1856 a scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he intended to take holy orders and become an Evangelical clergyman.
In the late 1850s the struggle between the opposing forces of science and religion, intellect and faith, was on full display at Oxford.18 Morley was quickly exposed to ‘the great controversy’ then waging between Mill, with his theory of empirical rationality, and William Hamilton, a leading advocate of intuitionalism (Morley 1917: 8, 12). According to Hamilton, the intuitive faculty enabled one to perceive in the physical world an underlying spiritual reality and to discern, independent of observation or experience, right from wrong.19 Mill found such arguments specious, entirely lacking in rational or objective foundation, and contended in his System of Logic that empirical principles offered the best solution to pressing scientific, social and political problems.
At Oxford in 1858 Morley attended Henry Longueville Mansel’s Bampton Lectures on religious thought and its limits. These lectures were, as Morley recalls somewhat snarkily, the ‘official reply, if reply it was’, to the debate between Mill and Hamilton (1917: 8).20 One of the editors of Hamilton’s works, Mansel expounded on the intuitionist view. Morley also rarely missed Samuel Wilberforce’s sermons at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. As Bishop of Oxford from 1845 to 1869, Wilberforce was a vociferous opponent of the (p.138) church’s critics, persistently arguing that ‘irreverence and doubt’ should be an individual’s ‘greatest fear’ (qtd in Meacham 1970: 229). One biographer summarises Wilberforce’s position thus: ‘In an age that pressed desperately for answers to all sorts of questions, Wilberforce believed they were better left unasked’ (Meacham 1970: 228). Despite the growing doubt he experienced during his Oxford years, Morley continued to harbour great affection for Wilberforce: ‘he had a glorious voice, unquestioning faith, full and ready knowledge of apt texts of the Bible, and a deep earnest desire to reach the hearts of congregations who were just as earnest in response’ (Morley 1917: 9).
A little more than a decade earlier, John Henry Newman had profoundly influenced the minds of students, including Matthew Arnold, who had come under his sway. But Newman’s ‘star’ had set, while John Stuart Mill’s ‘sun … had risen’ (Morley 1901: 115). If Mill was not a religious figure, he certainly foretold the coming of a new faith.21 As early as 1831, he had been proclaiming, ‘Mankind have outgrown old institutions and old doctrines, and have not yet acquired new ones’ (JSM 1986a: 230). He and his contemporaries were living in a ‘transitional period’ characterised by ‘weak convictions, paralysed intellects, and growing laxity of principle’ (JSM 1981: 247).22 Such a stage of uncertainty was a painful but natural part of the ‘renovation’ in thought necessary for ‘the evolution of some faith, whether religious or merely human’, in which all can ‘believe’ (247). If Wilberforce’s sermons discouraged subjecting religious belief to critical analysis, Mill’s A System of Logic, published in 1843 and required for students studying classics for decades to come, exerted a corrosive effect on the Christian theology, especially in its examination of miracles, to which many undergraduates subscribed (Capaldi 2004: 186). At Oxford, Morley was known to carry around a volume of Mill’s writings and to have virtually memorised On Liberty, Mill’s encomium to the liberating practices of free thought and individuality, published during Morley’s final term (Hirst 1927: I, 22). It was becoming clear to Morley, then, that the tenets of revealed religion were susceptible to critical reflection. They had lost their utility. On one side of the debate between intuitionism and rationalism, it increasingly seemed to Morley, were ‘people of common, plain intelligence’, possessing unbelievable, dogmatic notions produced by facile practices of thought (Morley 1917: 12). On the other side stood individuals of considerable learning, whose meticulous and diligent engagement with Anglican orthodoxy showed – by demonstrating the liberating power of critical thinking to demystify and dismantle ‘traditional thought, devotion, [and] dogma’ (13) – that belief (p.139) in religion was untenable without, in Mill’s words, ‘modifications amounting to an essential change of its character’ (JSM 1981: 247). Such strikingly opposed views inevitably resulted in discord: ‘Loud became the din of internecine war’, writes Morley of this ‘agitated’ period at Oxford (1917: 13).
While Morley was beginning to think critically about aspects of theology he had previously accepted as articles of faith, he was also finding himself susceptible to arguments in favour of beauty. Years later, as editor of The Fortnightly Review (1867–82), he published contributions by several aesthetes, some of whom were likely among his acquaintances at Oxford (Hirst 1927: I, 28). Algernon Swinburne was, along with Morley, a member of the Oxford Union Debating Society. Less than a year after Morley matriculated as an undergraduate, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood began experimenting in surface decoration by painting figure scenes from Arthurian legends on the Oxford Union walls and ceiling. The intense perceptual experience engendered by the bold colours with which they worked – dark reds, rich greens, gold – may have forced Morley to call into question the principles of self-denial and vigilance against worldliness on which the decoration of his childhood home was based. His comments in defence of Paterian aestheticism nearly two decades later suggests as much: ‘The prodigious block of our philistinism needs to have wedges driven in at many points’ (1873: 476–7).
In John Wesley’s former lodgings at Lincoln College, where Morley resided for a period, he found his religious convictions had waned. The irony was not lost on him.23 Jonathan Morley, on learning his son was unwilling to enter the church, refused to continue providing financial support. Morley had been planning to stay at Oxford for a fourth year to read Greats but was forced to terminate his studies. He accepted a ‘Pass’ degree in Classical Moderations in 1859 and then moved to London to make a living (Hirst 1927: I, 17, 33).
As the prevailing religious concern with the soul and its relationship to the body began to ebb, many of the leading figures in Morley’s post-Oxford intellectual circle were helping to make the concept of environment central to British thought. At Oxford, Morley was introduced by his friend James Cotter Morison to the positivist teachings of Auguste Comte. These did not, initially, resonate with him (Morley 1917: 6). Soon after arriving in London, however, Morley contributed to The Leader, a newspaper with which George Henry Lewes, a principal disseminator of positivist philosophy in England, was also associated.24 Morley became friends with Lewes and George Eliot (Marian Evans), (p.140) regularly sharing meals with the couple. Through his friendship with them as well as with the philosopher and historian Frederic Harrison, Morley found himself greatly attracted to Comte’s view of intellectual, political and social evolution from primitivism to enlightenment. Bereft of the religious convictions that had once guided him, Morley found solace in the notion that the dark era of doubt and confusion in which he lived, the age of transition Mill had identified, was part of an ordered movement leading towards the dawn of a new age based on ‘positive’ scientific principles.
A principal contention of Comte’s was that the physical and social milieu profoundly affected one’s consciousness and rational agency. Comte was not much interested in individual psychology, however. Lewes sought to remedy this omission by developing a theory of physiological psychology based on positivistic principles. In his influential study Problems of Life and Mind, Lewes contended that one’s perceptual and cognitive processes were inextricable from one’s milieu (1879: I, 71). Human sense perception was moulded by the wider medium (society) in which one lived. Because this medium was the product of historical development and change, understanding individual psychology required taking into consideration society’s entire evolution.
One of Morley’s other chief interlocutors during this period was Herbert Spencer, who moved in the same circles. Spencer was developing an immense speculative cosmology that combined Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s notion of heritable traits with Darwinian evolutionary theory. The development and evolution of the species, Spencer argued, were dependent on reciprocity between self and milieu or, in his phraseology, ‘the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations’ (1910: 99). Although Spencer abhorred any suggestion that his thought was comparable to Comte’s, it clearly bore many similarities to positivism.25 In their different ways, Spencer and Lewes vociferously repudiated the notion of a spiritual essence transcending the corporeal frame and undermined the view that a given environment is simply the background against which human agency is exercised.
Ultimately, Morley sided with Mill, whom he had long admired and with whom he had begun a friendship in 1867. Comte’s so-called absolute method, no less than Spencer’s synthetic philosophy, Morley felt, inhibited the free play of the mind – a notion he had embraced despite his differences with Matthew Arnold, which I have discussed in Chapter 2. The sectarian tendencies of the positivist London group, too, inhibited Morley’s ‘formal union with this new church’ (Morley 1917: 69). Moreover, with his commitment to ratiocination firmly (p.141) intact, Morley was never entirely persuaded by Lewes’s attempts to establish a somatic basis for consciousness. He did not deny embodied experience shaped one’s character. However, as a firm proponent of Mill’s dictum ‘mind over matter’, Morley believed that character, if it was a relation of inner essence to outer environment, emerged first as the self’s ‘creature’ and then as its ‘master’ (Morley 1923b: 98).
In On Compromise, his 1874 treatise on political ethics, Morley outlines the process of self-development by which the self-governing individual, formed in private, becomes recognisable as a citizen in the public sphere. In so doing, Morley mobilises an architectural metaphor by likening those who possess obsolete beliefs to those who dwell in an unstable tower. The social and epistemological changes of the time are equated with earthquakes rattling the tower’s foundation and missiles flying past its spire. For the occupants, he writes, ‘all is doubt, hesitation, and shivering expectancy’ (1901: 37). Wavering beliefs lead to inconsistent principles and frail convictions: all signs of a disjointed, fragmentary personality (31). As a figure for one’s frame of mind, the tower, cramped and narrow, also evokes Morley’s characterisation of the Evangelical creed. When he turns to a description of the mind engaged in a liberalising process, he relies further on architectonic language. Those who possess sound convictions arrived at through abstraction, reasoning and induction – which is to say, thinking reflexively rather than responding impulsively to pressing contemporary events – experience ‘a large and serene internal activity’ (Morley 1867e: 170). Because these beliefs can withstand critical scrutiny and do not change to meet the necessity of any particular exigency, they eradicate ‘paralysing dubieties’ and leave an individual ‘in full possession’ of oneself ‘by furnishing an unshaken and inexpugnable base for action and thought’ (Morley 1871a: 230–1). The phraseology here may not appear to be intentionally figurative. But, etymologically, an ‘inexpugnable base’ contains architectural associations, while ‘a large and serene internal activity’, like his characterisation of Evangelicalism as ‘narrow’ and ‘cramped’, is in some sense spatial.26 In so far as metaphorical dwelling places (such as towers, houses and rooms) became more frequently used in the latter half of the century to express the experience of human interiority within a body, Morley’s thinking here draws on the habitable interior as a topos.27 He portrays reasoned opinion as that which makes the individual whole, thwarting any ‘paralysing dubieties’ and ensuring mental repose. This resonates in some ways with the non-denominational but evangelically inspired idealisation of the Victorian home as, in John Ruskin’s words, a ‘place of Peace; the shelter, not only from all (p.142) injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division’, and a bulwark against the ‘inconsistently-minded’ outside world (1905: 122). Morley’s reference to furnishing a base also, at the very least, alludes to, if not directly indexes, a building’s foundation.
Morley likens mental liberalisation to dismantling one edifice, the materials of which derive from ‘the old faith’ (Morley 1901: 152), and constructing a new one. The individual who engages in this process is akin to a ‘prudent architect, who, when obliged to destroy a building, and knowing how its parts are united together, sets about its demolition in such a way as to prevent its fall from being dangerous’ (58). After tearing down the outmoded structure, the liberalising individual begins ‘building up a state of mind’, gathering ‘material’ from ‘the purified and sublimated ideas’ of Christianity as an antiquated system of belief, a process which thereby preserves continuity between present and past (152, 155). With the figure of the prudent architect, Morley attempts to show – no doubt recalling the rift with his father, which never healed – how commitment to nonconformity, or dissent from popular belief, need not cause estrangement from others. An individual’s dissenting opinion, far from being associated with profligacy, can coordinate and direct one’s conduct. Insisting that ‘disbelief’ need not be ‘thrust’ upon others ‘in gross and irreverent forms’ (164), Morley’s account takes up Evangelicalism’s privileging of ethos and transforms it into a moralised and moralising opinion.28
For Morley, political individuality is substantially dependent on the patient and patiently ordered construction of this cognitive architecture, characterised by capaciousness and serenity and fortified against incursions from the outside world. Self-governing individuals possess a character that is ‘as little as possible broken, incoherent, and fragmentary’ (Morley 1901: 120). They enjoy integrity and serenity, ‘a large and serene internal activity’ that rests on reasoned, consistent opinions.29 Instead of thrusting opinions on others, individuals live them; as a result, ‘independent convictions inspire the intellectual self-respect and strenuous self-possession which the clamour of majorities and the silent yet ever-pressing force of the status quo are equally powerless to shake’ (120). The liberalising individual’s principal social obligation, Morley had learned from Mill, is to be true to one’s convictions. Individual opinion, confidently held, leads slowly, carefully to social and political change.30
Written as a defence of On Liberty against the explicit criticism of James Fitzjames Stephen and the implicit criticism of Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, On Compromise utilises the idiom of architecture – as (p.143) Mill’s evocative phrasing, the necessary ‘renovation’ in thought, did – to conceptualise the liberalising self. Informed by new theories about perceptual experience, however, Morley was already beginning to draw connections between states of mind and spatial environments that were not merely figurative. In Elm Park Gardens and Flowermead, Morley’s ideas found their symbolic form. It is no coincidence that Morley analogised the process of liberalising the mind to tearing down old buildings for new. Each architectural style, instead of emerging anew, evolves from preceding styles. It draws mostly on the same construction materials, perhaps differently conjoined, and incorporates or juxtaposes in new or unexpected ways the insignia and decorative details of the past. The term ‘Queen Anne Revival’, used to describe the domestic architecture of which Elm Park Gardens was a part, emphasises restoration and renewal. This continuity between present and past is the equivalent of what Morley imagines as the outcome of mental liberalisation. But suburban residences offered Morley something more than a spatial analogue, contrasted with the cramped narrowness of the Evangelical mind, to the ‘large and serene’ cognitive edifice he designates as the very condition of liberal individuality. These architectural spaces and settings actualised a set of distinctive perceptual and cognitive practices.
‘The Place Is Quiet and Sheltered’
By the time that Morley began making significant contributions to philosophical thought, the concern with the barely perceptible, often unregistered, effects of spatial experience had become widely popularised. Acceptance of this notion was evident in psychology, architecture, education, literature and decorative advice. In 1879 William Young called attention to the ‘power’ domestic architecture exerts over one’s moral and physical constitution. This was especially so, he argued, in the British Isles, ‘where we spend so much of our life indoors’; thus, ‘the kind of houses we live in have a by no means insignificant effect upon us’ (1879: 1). Young maintained:
If the important fact that the house a man lives in has a great influence on his health, both of body and mind, were more generally known, the object of making our houses more healthy and beautiful would be regarded as a study worthy of the attention of the public.
(1879: preface, n.p.)
Social reformers, who departed from the more deterministic accounts of subjectivity that held sway earlier in the century, were particularly (p.144) emphatic. If the human organism was influenced by its surroundings, then tackling problems like slum housing could change the character of the residents. By the early 1870s decorating manuals insisted that the home’s interior spaces shaped one’s character. Beauty, the writer and illustrator Mary Eliza Haweis observed, was becoming widely recognised as ‘a refining influence’ (1881: 2) – hence, the need for instruction in purchasing and displaying domestic goods. Haweis, a painter’s daughter and a minister’s spouse, played a crucial role in realigning art, long suspected of whetting the sensual appetite, with morality (Cohen 2006: 63). The assumption that environment mattered was so widespread by the late 1880s that the writer and domestic advisor Jane Panton, also a painter’s daughter, admonished her readers, in a vein more practical than religious, that they should always ‘remember this axiom’:
Let sunshine and brightness and cheerfulness be found … in every … room and place in the house; for we are insensibly and immensely influenced by our surroundings, and we should always make the best of our lives and belongings in every way we possibly can. (1889: 98)
Combining idealism and practicality, the pleasures of the countryside with the conveniences and amenities of the metropolis, the suburban home represented for many Londoners ‘the apotheosis of the Englishman’s castle’ (Dyos 1961: 22).31 To Morley, Elm Park Gardens, with its ‘immense large garden belonging to all the houses collectively’, offered the good life, in contrast to ‘the awful dog-holes of London’. The anti-urban rhetoric of Evangelicals and the promotional language of speculative developers alike imbued suburbs with Romanticism.32 The housing complexes near the Royal Albert Hall, including De Vere Gardens, where Robert Browning would for a time reside, were particularly attractive because their strategic position near Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park facilitated ease of travel to the clubs of St James’s and the West End theatres. Elm Park Gardens was located about a mile south of the Royal Albert Hall – ‘a long way off’, one of Morley’s colleagues sniffed (Harcourt 2006: 144), although Morley did not hold that view.
Terraced houses were not favoured in suburbs, which were attractive precisely because they offered the possibility of living in a low-density, verdant environment. By the closing decades of the century the wealthier members of the middle class held increasingly negative perceptions of terraces. One commentator on English residential districts, deriding the English penchant for bestowing stylish names (p.145) on modest brick terraces, scoffed: ‘The word “Mansion” has long ceased to convey the idea of a mansion, and when “Gardens” are referred to, few people expect to see a garden’ (Perks 1905: 204). Detached villas or semi-detached houses were prized. Detached suburban villas or semi-detached houses promised, instead of the fluidity and permeability of urban life, achievement of an ideal domestic space – private, self-contained, interiorised – on the periphery of an easily accessible metropolis. Morley was greatly attracted to the domestic ideal of the detached home: ‘I like the civilized fashion of one’s own house best’, he wrote to Grace in August 1886, during a six-week stay at a free-standing house in Surrey.33
But the speculative builder Alexander Thorn proved adept at marketing Elm Park Gardens to a class wary of terraces.34 Constructed between 1878 and 1885, Elm Park Gardens was designed by George Godwin, a leading architect, the editor of the influential Builder magazine and a vociferous housing reformer. Along with his brother Henry, he was converting late nineteenth-century Brompton and South Kensington into elite suburbs (A. King 1976: 35).35 Queen Anne, although applied in constructing buildings ranging from schools to pubs, was principally the domestic architecture of the new West London suburbs of Chelsea, Holland Park and South Kensington.
Opposing domestic to urban space, Thorn’s advertisements attempted to allay concerns about the property’s similarity to a block of city apartments by emphasising the size of the units (calling them ‘Modern Mansions’) and their intended use by single families and individuals: ‘Red-brick HOUSES of the Queen Anne type’, according to a frequent notice in newspapers. In contrast to the growing but unpopular architectural form of flats, with a common entrance from the street, a shared hallway leading to individual living spaces and incomplete mitigation of the sounds and smells of others, these houses were spatially enclosed.36
Because Elm Park Gardens was constructed on a vast expanse of previously undeveloped land, Godwin, who worked closely with Thorn on its design, was not constrained by surrounding properties. As a result, the residences were generously sized and incorporated many amenities not yet added to extant houses in central London. ‘If anyone wishes to see how the British metropolis is pushing out into the country’, the Birmingham Daily Post noted in 1877, ‘he need only take the underground railway and alight at the South Kensington or West Brompton stations. Here he will see acres occupied by palatial residences.’ The residences at Elm Park Gardens, in particular, were being ‘hired or bought as fast as they can be built’ (‘Private correspondence’ 1877).
(p.146) The estate was built in a slightly skewed U shape with five principal buildings facing a street that opened onto Fulham Road at both ends.37 The centre of the U contained a large communal garden, as Morley noted in describing the property to Grace. The two buildings erected on the north-eastern and south-western sides of the garden were made of red gault brick and featured gable roofs, a number of wood-framed sash windows, wrought-iron railings and terracotta panelling. A single building, also in red gault brick, was erected at the bottom of the U; its houses faced the garden just across the road. This building and the two abutting the garden were more exclusive than the two on the outer periphery. Thorn erected a sixth building, again according to Godwin’s specifications: a small detached house in the centre of the garden, fronting Fulham Road. Park House, later called Elm Park House, was built in Gothic style but utilised the same brick as the three more exclusive terraces.
Elm Park Gardens was the only private estate at the time in South Kensington and nearby Chelsea in which the principal houses flanked a large open ground (Chelsea Society 1962: 17). The garden’s large cedar, elm and mulberry trees acted as a luxuriant screen that maintained the privacy of the adjacent buildings. ‘The place is quiet and sheltered’, Morley rhapsodised.38 Intended to be used solely by residents, the garden was a space of symbolic inwardness.39
With minor variations, the layout of Elm Park Gardens residences was fairly typical of the urban terraced house. Each had a basement, four floors and an attic.40 Two rooms were on the ground floor, the dining room and the morning room, and another two, the boudoir and the drawing room, on the first floor. But whereas the basic plan of the urban terraced house provided for two bedrooms on each of two additional floors, the houses at Elm Park Gardens had no less than five bedrooms and two dressing rooms on the second and third floors, with an additional two bedrooms in the servants’ quarters in the attic.41 ‘The very fair [working] quarters’, as Morley called them, were located in the basement: a large servants’ hall, butler’s pantry, kitchen and scullery, in addition to coal and wine cellars. Godwin, who advocated utilising advanced sanitary technologies in new buildings, ensured that each house was fitted with excellent drainage and ventilation as well as four toilets: one in the basement for the servants, one close to the morning room on the ground floor, one as part of a full bathroom on the second floor and one on the third floor.42 The interiors, in other words, were distinctly modern with considerable aeration, adequate plumbing and, from the mid-1890s, electric light.43
(p.147) For Morley, as he remarks in his April 1886 letter to Grace, one of the most attractive features of no. 95 was that it had never been occupied. It was not tainted by what Harold Begbie, a younger contemporary of Morley’s, called ‘a smell of Time – the smell of the Past’ (1909: 97). The couple could express their individual feelings and desires without having to contend with the design preferences of previous residents. In contrast to closely shaded middle-class homes, with their windows covered by both translucent muslin and more colourful and elaborate fabric, often resulting in a musty, acrid and heavy atmosphere, no. 95 boasted rooms that were ‘wonderfully light and bright’, as Morley enthusiastically reported to Grace. Despite Morley’s preference for detached houses, the spaciousness of the individual units, their layout around a garden, which obscured the view of other buildings, and their newness all contributed to his feeling of having realised the ideal of a private, self-contained and interiorised domestic environment.
The Morleys resided at no. 95 for a decade (1886–96) and at no. 57 for only a slightly shorter period (1896–1903). The difference between the two was largely positional because all the Elm Park Gardens residences were built according to the same floor plan. Whereas the former was situated between other houses, the latter was a corner unit with additional windows. Although no. 57 had previously been occupied, Morley was able to decorate it anew.44 As a result, the residences were strikingly similar. Overall, Morley’s diaries and letters are frustratingly silent on decorative choices. However, by turning to other sources, including a few extant photographs, his periodical essays in The Saturday Review and The Fortnightly Review and recollections of visits to the Morleys’ homes, we can begin to reconstruct these domestic environments.
From his review of Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance, published in The Fortnightly Review during Morley’s tenure as editor, one can infer certain ideas of his about home decoration:
A great many people in all times, perhaps the most, give a practical answer to the question [of what will give their lives significance] by ignoring it, and living unaccented lives of dulness and frivolity. A great many others find an answer in devotion to divine mysteries, which round (p.148) the purpose of their lives and light the weariness of mechanical days. The writer of the essays before us [Pater] answers it as we have seen, and there is now a numerous sect among cultivated people who accept his answer and act upon it. So far as we know, there never was seen before in this country so distinct an attempt to bring the aesthetical element closely and vividly round daily life. (1873: 475)
Morley concludes that Pater, in enunciating the dictum ‘art for art’s sake’, makes visible how outmoded the old theologies have become. Although Pater ‘has no design of interfering with the minor or major morals of the world, but only of dealing with what we may perhaps call the accentuating portion of life’, his aestheticism nevertheless provides a noble counterpoint to middle-class philistinism (475). The Aesthetic Movement represents ‘a craving for the infusion of something harmonious and beautiful about the bare lines of daily living’ (476). After all, philistinism and Evangelicalism both discouraged appreciation of sensory experience. Thus, aestheticism is clearly valuable because it makes plain that there is more to life than politics or material gain – interests to which, as Matthew Arnold had complained, so many of Morley’s contemporaries turned in the absence of strong religious convictions.
But aestheticism was also in danger of becoming a substitute belief:
It has an exaggerated side. Dutch farmhouses are systematically swept by brokers, that the vulgarity of ormolu may be replaced by delft, and nankin, and magic bits of oriental blue and white. There is an orthodoxy in wall-papers, and you may commit the unpardonable sin in discordant window-curtains. Members of the sect are as solicitous about the right in tables and the correct in legs of chairs, as members of another sect are careful about the cut of chasuble or dalmatica [clerical vestments]. Brica-brac rises to the level of religions, and the whirligig of time is bringing us back to fetishism and the worship of little domestic gods, not seldom bleak and uncouth.
(Morley 1873: 475)
In its quest to make primary what Morley calls the ‘secondary adjuncts of grace and dignity’ (1865f: 15), aestheticism engendered a return to primitive fetishism: home decoration as no longer a representation of meaning but, as the phrase ‘domestic gods’ suggests, meaning itself. Hence, for all its good, aestheticism contributed to society’s devolution into an incapacity for abstraction.
Implicit in Morley’s comments is that, while domestic environments may be outward manifestations of inner preferences and beliefs, they also profoundly affect one’s frame of mind and the (p.149) mental techniques that produce ideas. Thus, it stands to reason, a home’s interior spaces can be decorated and inhabited in ways that nurture an optimal liberal life. Although contemporary critics tend to see individual expression in Victorian domestic interiors as an activity that primarily occupied women,45 Morley took responsibility in decorating his residences. One might argue that, at least initially, this occurred as much out of necessity as of interest. Beginning in 1873, Rose was frequently unwell. The couple relocated twice for her health, moving from Surrey, where they lived from 1870 to 1873, to Tunbridge Wells (1873–5) and then to Brighton (1875–9) in search of, respectively, medicinal spring waters and therapeutic sea breezes.46 In 1879 they moved to Wimbledon, where they resided when he was elected to Parliament, before settling in Elm Park Gardens and subsequently at Flowermead. But even when Rose’s health was good, Morley demonstrated keen interest in the domestic environment (Hirst 1927: I, 193). He had learned in his childhood and youth that the home was central to obtaining an ideal life: the strong rhetorical framing in theological treatises of the domestic sphere as a fortress for spiritual well-being helped engender in many Evangelicals a great ‘love of domesticity’ (Clive 1975: 39). Even as Morley shed his religious beliefs, he continued to derive most of his pleasures, as well as his sense of moral direction and integrity, from the interiors and rituals of the home through his practice of impersonal domesticity. He did not ‘divert himself after the fashion of most of us’, according to a friend who had worked with him; he was completely uninterested in sport, for example, although he relished ‘long walks across the hills’ (Stead 1890: 427). These were not signs of vestigial puritanism, however. ‘He delighted in good living’ (Staebler 1943: 32); was ‘passionately fond’ of music (Stead 1890: 427); surrounded himself with books; enjoyed early evening dining, complemented by select wines chosen from his cellar and erudite conversation; and took an interest in the decorative principles of the Aesthetic Movement while freely adapting them to his surroundings.
While waiting to be received by Morley in the drawing room at no. 95, Augustin Filon, as I noted at the outset of this chapter, was struck by the absence of decorative objects. No room in a typical middle-class residence was more subject to decorative display than the drawing (p.150) room, which held both practical and symbolic importance. It was a place to exhibit the family’s latest treasure: ‘a Persian tile, an Algerian flower-pot, an old Flemish cup, a piece of Nankin blue, an Icelandic spoon, a Japanese cabinet, a Chinese fan’, writes Lucy Orrinsmith, a leading Victorian authority on interior design (1878: 133). Through the heterogeneity and multiplicity of objects on display, a middle-class family asserted its status, educated its visitors about the world and told others who they were. Meanwhile, the medley of objects also told the owners themselves who they were (Tristram 1989: 260). Handcrafted articles symbolised a family’s ability to purchase items that were not mass produced; heirlooms asserted familial lineage; photographs and drawings represented countries visited, childhood experiences or the family’s originary moments (a wedding, a birth). ‘At no period before or since have movable objects played so vital a part in deciding the character of an interior as they did in mid-Victorian Europe’, Denys Hinton notes (1967: 180). Not unlike a museum, the typical middle-class drawing room was the principal location of collection and exhibition, a site, at least according to its critics then as now, of excessive ornamentation and sentimentality.
Practices of accumulation and display within a domestic environment are not, of course, limited to either the nineteenth century or the middle class. Noblemen in Renaissance Europe assembled geological artefacts and botanical specimens in chambers or cabinets used for collections of curiosities (wunderkammern), and aristocrats more generally have long acquired objects of art, great and small, to exhibit in splendorous settings. But the late-Victorian proliferation of objects in the middle-class drawing room, while indebted to these earlier forms, differed in at least two ways. First, whereas cabinets of curiosities were linked to men, the highly ornamented drawing room, with its appeals to sensual pleasure and its complex accounts of social standing, was seen as a quintessentially female space. Second, the literature on interior decoration, instead of simply adapting aristocratic models of splendour and elegance, championed homely comforts. ‘The excessive ornamentation of nearly every article used in the Victorian home’, John Gloag remarks, ‘made even the spacious rooms of large houses seem overcrowded, and in small rooms the effect was overwhelming: yet this excess of ornament, this restless conflict of motifs, helped to create an atmosphere of solid, unshakable comfort’ (1962: 137). Collected and displayed in the middle-class drawing room, the family’s treasures – whether souvenirs, novelties, handcrafted articles, photographs or drawings – were not part of a sumptuous display of wealth. Rather, they reflected a new desire for cosy living, the distinctive middle-class mode of (p.151) inhabiting domestic space through individual expression.47 Although the trend of cosy living did not begin with them, the upper classes embraced it; their homes, too, might contain bibelots and ormolu.
The absence of bric-a-brac in Morley’s home was perhaps all the more pronounced because the interior was, according to written accounts, painted in large swaths of white. The vast majority of middle- and upper-class homes eschewed the colour (Muthesius 2009: 127). The aristocratically inclined Mary Eliza Haweis summed up the necessity for a dark-coloured wall: it ‘is easier to cover than a light one, enlarges the apparent size of the room, and is more becoming to the human face’ (1889: 30). Concluding that ‘a light wall looks aggressively bare’, she denounced white walls in particular: ‘They greatly diminish the size of the room, as a white ceiling diminishes its height’ (1889: 30; 1881: 217). White walls, Haweis insisted, ‘cast an unpleasant glare on all polished surfaces, [and] ruin pictures’; in contrast, ‘a dark wall adds size, because the eye cannot exactly measure the distance at which the wall stands’ (1881: 217). Advisors with a more middle-class sensibility encouraged naturalistic representations, which were favoured well into the twentieth century. Benefitting from an ample disposable income and technological developments that made mass production of wallpaper possible from the 1840s onward, middle-class families aimed to produce a sense of envelopment in decorating their walls. In the mid-Victorian period the flora and fauna that adorned wallpaper in sitting and dining rooms were often realistic. In the century’s closing decades these representations became much more stylised. By the 1880s damask designs were particularly vivacious, largely owing to the invention of aniline dyes, which made colours far richer, even garish. Frequently made of embossed imitation leather, wallpapers might include flowers or animals in high relief. More often than not, then, wall treatments served as the visual effects of membership in a distinct class: solid colours for the upper class, patterns for the middle class.
Morley desired to break free from these designations, and his partiality for white was noticeable indeed. Filon, who had ample time to observe Morley’s surroundings, describes an evident love not for ‘the glaring, aggressive whiteness that affronts the eye, but the discreet, slightly grey whiteness that rests and caresses the sight’. It was a white, Filon says, ‘that perhaps, to the thinker, has the symbolic charm of a synthesis of colours’ (1891: 156) – a tantalising phrase by which he intends, presumably, to draw a connection between a peculiar shade and the comprehensive new creed Morley sought to establish. Warren Staebler, paraphrasing Filon’s description, asserted that ‘the tranquillity, the cool quietness, the (p.152) immaculateness, the restful, discreet whiteness’ that characterised Morley’s decorative schemes at Elm Park Gardens ‘remained distinctions of his household to the end’, at Flowermead (1943: 187). While assembling various written accounts of Morley’s interiors, I recalled Le Corbusier’s remark that civilisation is the abandonment of decoration, with its ‘caresses of the senses’, in favour of the visual harmony of proportion, which whiteness facilitates (qtd in Wigley 2001: 3). For many months during my research, it seemed to me that one might even characterise Morley’s domestic environments as proto-modernist. Two kinds of textual evidence supported this initial hypothesis: frequent references to Morley’s obvious partiality for whiteness and insistence by those who had been there that no. 95, without the characteristic signs of accumulation and display, was distinctively minimalist (‘simplicity is the note within’).48
When I finally located a photograph of Morley in his library at no. 95, I found myself unable to reconcile these textual accounts with the clear visual evidence (Figure 3.2). His interior did not bear any
(p.153) relationship to, say, modernism’s white geometrical houses. At least nine portraits of various sizes are above the mantel of the fireplace, which is draped in fabric and adorned with a few mementos. When reading Filon’s description of the total effect of Morley’s decorative interior as ‘a harmony of subtle and pale tones’ (1891: 155), I had not conjured either an armchair of dark wood, perhaps mahogany, upholstered in damask, or an ornate and rather regally gilded wooden chair, upholstered in velvet. Finally, instead of painted white walls, there is floral wallpaper. Besides the fireplace and the fixed bookcase frame, where is the white that so many biographical sketches single out as a remarkable aspect of Morley’s domestic interiors? Where is the absence of bric-a-brac?
A photograph of Morley’s library at Flowermead was only slightly less unsettling (Figure 3.3). On the one hand, white is unmistakably dominant. The walls, barrel-vaulted ceiling and fixed bookcase frames all painted white. On the other hand, my definition of decorative ‘simplicity’ and ‘severity’ had left me unprepared for the Turkey carpets, naturalistic chintz slipcovers, ebonised Aesthetic Movement tables, ornate vases and potted plants. I had not reckoned with the clustered furnishings in the centre of the room that seem to serve a wholly ornamental purpose: the velvet upholstered chair on which rests a portrait of a figure whom I cannot quite make out but who is
(p.154) recognisably male; the newspaper and magazine stand, which is not close to any sitting area; and the elaborate, likely hand-carved, trestle table on which rests a flowerpot and a few journals.
I was fully aware of the interpretative problems photographs pose as historical evidence, especially in their presumed mimetic accuracy. But, given the descriptions of Morley’s residences, I had assumed that photographs, if and when I located them, would corroborate my initial findings. These photographs presented me, instead, with rooms that seemed neither distinctive nor particular to Morley but were entirely representative of the movement in the 1880s and 1890s away from the decorative incongruities of mid-century and towards more aesthetic environments. Helena Michie and Robyn Warhol have written about the impulses and fantasies that motivate archival work undertaken by literary scholars. I recognised myself in their description of the scholar whose intuition leads to scouring the historical record in search of something that makes a biographical subject ‘individual, something like a character’ (Michie and Warhol 2015: 40). This was perhaps what I was after: elements of a domestic life that made Morley different, even unique, his experiment in living constituting a form of resistance to the tyranny of custom and conformity.
But a disciplinary difference in perspective was not, in the end, the problem. After all, Staebler, a twentieth-century historian whose work on Morley omits the illustrated articles I consulted, repeatedly references ‘the tranquillity, the cool quietness, the immaculateness, the restful, discreet whiteness’ of Elm Park Gardens, based solely on Filon’s account (1943: 187). The discrepancy between written records and visual imagery – each set of evidence producing seemingly contradictory and certainly partial knowledge – may well be an admonition to those whose epistemological desires include recovering the individual experiences of domestic interiors. It is also, I have concluded, a function of historical distance. Because my modern eyes were unable to discern the minimalism for which Morley’s interiors were widely known, I could see only evidential inconsistency in the two sets of records. But Morley’s contemporaries apparently did not have similar difficulty. To them, his interiors were noticeably different. In an effort to see Morley as exceptional, I had mistakenly reasoned that this difference would be in kind rather than in degree.
Complicating my initial hypothesis that Morley’s mental hygiene, or agnostic free thought, found expression in the architectural spaces of the home, the photograph of his library at no. 95 revealed, as I have noted, that it was not entirely or even predominantly white. It was, however, pale in hue. The walls were papered in a subdued floral (p.155) pattern, containing white accents that harmonised with the fireplace, bookcase frame, frieze and ceiling as well as the patterned damask of his upholstered armchair. In the late nineteenth century, during the heyday of exuberant wallpapers, often printed on Lincrusta, a subdued floral pattern was a marked departure from prevalent trends in decoration.49 Susan Weber Soros, in her study of the influential architect and designer E. W. Godwin, a leader in reforming interior design, notes, ‘Strongly colored, boldly patterned wallpapers were the most common form of wall decoration at this time. Godwin, however, endorsed plain-colored walls or simple wallpapers’ (1999: 187). Soros quotes Godwin as saying his preferences were ‘carried out with a leaning, perhaps in excess, towards lightness, and a simplicity almost amounting to severity’ (187). Filon’s use of the term ‘severity’ to describe the library, which he sees as somewhere ‘between banality and elegance in a harmony of subtle and pale tones’, precisely registers this sense of difference.
The effect of severity is achieved in part by Morley’s use of white as an accent colour. At the time, even for accenting, white was a bold choice. Gas lighting left a filthy residue, as Morley himself was aware: shortly after the move to no. 95, he urged Grace to ‘see our white paint’ as soon as possible.50 Because gas lighting also cast a yellow pall over the interior spaces of the home, browns and reds were considered appropriate. Thus, the decision to use white is notable. When the future statesman and twentieth-century liberal political thinker Herbert Samuel was an undergraduate, he met with Morley at no. 95 and, like Filon, was struck by the play of white: Morley, Samuel would recount years later, ‘received me in his library – a bright room with large windows, lined with books in white-painted book-cases’ (1951: 13).
While Morley’s library at no. 95 did contain some knick-knacks, a profusion of exotica is entirely absent from the photograph. A bust, possibly of William Ewart Gladstone, flowers in a small vase and a paperweight share space on the mantelpiece with a candlestick that, without electric lighting, may have served a practical as much as an ornamental purpose. What appear at first to be family memory objects turn out to be reminders of the entwined nature of literature and liberal politics: framed portraits of Mill, the poet and novelist George Meredith, whose philosophical fiction narrativises liberal self-possession, and Liberal politicians (Gladstone, the Earl of Rosebery and Henry Campbell-Bannerman).
Morley’s library at Flowermead was evidently responsive to aestheticism but not reducible to a direct instantiation of that movement’s (p.156) aims, as the absence of, say, peacock feathers or Japanese fans suggests. White was much more prevalent than at no. 95. Jane Panton, who championed hygienic decorative schemes, rather surprisingly admitted her partiality for white: ‘Perhaps the very prettiest library I have ever seen’, she informed her undoubtedly sceptical readers, ‘is one in London … enamelled white – doors, cupboards, bookshelves, overmantel, indeed everything …’ (1889: 94). To Panton, a library should have a character of ‘sobriety’, not frivolity; it should be furnished for ‘study’, not ‘flirtation’, for ‘proper, severe application to one’s books’, not ‘sweet sleep’ (94). The white library in London was striking because the colour complemented the important activity the owner pursued in that room: ‘some of the most serious work of the nation [is] done between its four walls’, and such intellectual labour ‘requires absolute peace and solitude’ (94, 95). Inveighing against ‘the orthodox dark green and carved oak’, Panton implies that white is the sine qua non of intellectual nonconformity (95).
The white library was notable precisely because it was so uncommon. Even Panton confesses: ‘Now this white idea for a library in London – dirty, smoky London – does seem absurd and a trifle frivolous, but the effect thereof is perfect …’ (1889: 95). Although white may have seemed hygienic, rarely was it so. ‘Replacement of browns and reds by white in interior decoration from the end of the nineteenth century at least in part reflected a wish to see greater cleanliness in the home’, Adrian Forty explains, ‘but … does not indicate that life was objectively any cleaner’ (1992: 159). Few families were in the privileged position of being able to create and maintain such ‘perfect’, bright and clean interiors. No. 57, a corner unit, had numerous windows; it was also fitted for electricity. As Morley himself noted to Grace in February 1896, after a round of house-hunting, ‘It looks as if we should stick to E. P. Gardens, but migrate to another house at the bottom of this side – about the same accommodations, in fact just the same – but a good deal brighter, and with electric light.’51
By emphasising white, therefore, some written accounts of no. 57 may reflect the visitor’s perceptual experience: the sharp glare of electricity registering chromatically as bluish rather than yellow, and the various shades of Morley’s walls and furnishings appearing especially crisp, lacking the grey filmy traces of soot left by gas lighting.52 Visitors accustomed to the yellowish hue of gas lighting would have had an unwonted perceptual experience of the library at Flowermead, with its white walls and two chandeliers, each with six electrical bulbs.
(p.157) Rather than introducing a radical difference in interior decoration, the practice of impersonal domesticity, I concluded after seeing the photographs, produced modest reconfigurations. At Flowermead, naturalistic patterns persist: slipcovers on chairs feature sheaves of wheat, a motif frequently utilised by designers associated with the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts Movements. Morley seems to have heeded the call, as much aesthetic as hygienic, for wooden floors complemented by oriental or Turkey carpets, which could be regularly shaken or beaten, rather than fitted carpeting with bold and vivid designs that imitated Eastern patterns. The use of hygienic decorative principles espoused by some of the leading advisors of the day is visible, too, in Morley’s treatment of the fireplace. The mantel at Flowermead is draped, as at no. 95, with a solid fabric. These simple fabrics could be easily and routinely cleaned, unlike the ‘elaborate flutings and flounces of muslin and general awfulnesses’ Panton abhorred (1889: 66).
Just above the fireplace, liberalism’s practical and theoretical sides find expression in the dominating portraits of Gladstone and Mill. Between them is a painting by Jean-François Millet depicting, in its figure of a woodcutter, male industriousness. Along the crown moulding, Morley hung Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s etchings of Roman scenes, including the arches of Titus, Septimius Severus and Constantine.53 These artworks had personal or symbolic significance for Morley. Millet’s painting may have evoked memories of the axewielding Gladstone felling trees. Another painting directly above the fireplace, depicting waves crashing on the rocks, represented, in Morley’s words, ‘the life political’ (qtd in Begbie 1905: 134). To modern eyes, the library may appear rather fully furnished, but a Victorian visitor would have gained the overwhelming impression of a vast expanse.
The interiors at Elm Park Gardens and Flowermead reflected Morley’s ongoing effort to free himself from the limiting designations of family, clan and class. The orthodox carved oak and dark green of the gentleman’s library; the yellow and crimson damask and the velvet-covered walls of an aristocratic estate; the dense massing of furniture and the display of bric-a-brac, whether judiciously chosen or indiscriminately acquired, were all to be avoided because they signified and displayed attachment to a particular class status and, consequently, inhibited free thought. Cognitive liberalisation, as Morley intended to practise it, required that he form opinions disinterestedly, impersonally, individually: ‘Truth is the single object’, he insisted (1901: 147). (p.158) This aim, it seems, required facilitating abstraction from quotidian personal interests within the spaces of the home. Meanwhile, by surrounding himself with decorative artefacts representing liberalism’s philosophical and political sides, Morley attempted to domesticate impersonal practices that might be seen today as alienating and isolating. Rather than anticipating the stark-white, stripped-down interiors of Modernism, therefore, Morley’s residences attempted to make the states of abstraction and detachment, which some may find sterile and disembodied, part of a meaningfully lived experience.54
Yet this rather visionary experiment in living relies on specific class-based prerogatives, even if Morley intended to forswear obvious class markers such as preferred wall treatments. In order to maintain the pale hues of no. 95, for example, servants would have scrubbed the rooms to mitigate the effects of gas lighting. When the Morleys moved to no. 57 in 1896, electricity was still an exclusive amenity. By 1911 there were only 122,000 customers throughout London and its suburbs (London County Council 1912: 483). Although the artefacts and portraits with which Morley decorated the home, which housemaids regularly dusted, were not reminders of familial interest, they nevertheless reflected his status as a member of London’s political elite.
Body, Privacy, Space
Morley’s practice of impersonal domesticity, with the aim of achieving disinterested thought, necessarily existed in tension with the emotional intimacy and inter-familial attentiveness many Victorians had long celebrated as the foundation of home life. Within the domestic sphere one’s actions were liable to be motivated by spontaneous feeling and unreflective attachments that inhibited detachment. Indeed, Arnold saw the home as a less than ideal environment for the free play of mind. Mill thought of the home in far different terms: it was potentially a place where spouses – as independent, self-governing friends – worked together in a spirit of equality and cooperation.
In his attempt to live impersonally, Morley accepted certain aspects of his mentor’s argument in The Subjection of Women.55 Taking his cue from Mill, Morley sought, through the spatial arrangements of the home, to create an environment that nurtured the individuality of its residents. In On Compromise, published in 1874, Morley argues that ‘the painful element in companionship is not difference of opinion, but discord of temperament’ (1901: 184). Husbands and wives (p.159) need not hold the same beliefs; instead, ‘each of them should hold his and her own convictions in a high and worthy spirit’ (184). He gives the example of religious belief:
It is certainly not less possible to disbelieve religiously than to believe religiously. This accord of mind, this emulation in freedom and loftiness of soul, this kindred sense of the awful depth of the enigma which the one believes to be answered, and the other suspects to be for ever unanswerable – here, and not in a degrading and hypocritical conformity, is the true gratification of those spiritual sensibilities which are alleged to be so much higher in women than in men. (184)
Were women to ‘insist on more than this kind of harmony’, Morley affirms, ‘their system of divinity is little better than a special manifestation of shrewishness’ (185). If a husband ‘suppresses’ his beliefs, capitulating to a wife who insists on harmony of belief rather than of aim, he is guilty of ‘weakness of will and principle’ (185). As did Mill, Morley believed that accepting the views of others as the premise of one’s own life fatally compromised one’s capacity for self-formation.
But these ideas about living in harmony of aim, formulated after he read The Subjection of Women, existed in tension with his previous notions about women, the vestigial remains of which are evoked by his reference to ‘shrewishness’. In his early essays Morley expresses less faith than Mill in women’s mental capacities. ‘As a rule’, women are ‘not thoughtful readers’ and are ‘so intensely practical, in the narrowest, and often the worst, sense of the term, as to look with habitual distrust upon those general ideas which it is the chief business of literature to sow’ (Morley 1867c: 175). The mind of a wife and mother is not ‘roomy enough to contain at once a vigorous taste for books and a just interest in the various duties of her position’, a condition in which men played a role by encouraging their wives to devote themselves ‘not to books, but to their children’ (175). A man may discover on marriage that his wife is not the ‘high-souled sympathetic woman’ she seemed, having instead ‘a confirmed habit of looking at things in a narrow, fractious, half-hearted way’ (Morley 1867d: 47). The traces of such views may have contributed to his separating the masculine and feminine spaces of the home in ways that reflected lingering attachment to masculine amity and difficulty in relinquishing the intimacy, security and enjoyment of homosocial settings.
With a total of five bedrooms and two dressing rooms on the third and fourth floors, both houses at Elm Park Gardens were, by any measure, remarkably spacious. But, at least for the decade they (p.160) spent at no. 95, the Morleys did not live alone, with just their staff in attendance. When the couple met, Rose already had two children, Florence and John Ayling, who had been born out of wedlock. In 1877 Morley adopted his eight-year-old nephew, Guy, whose parents, Morley’s brother William and his wife, Maria, had died in India several years earlier. After returning from boarding school in Bristol, Guy took up residence at Elm Park Gardens for a few years. Grace, too, moved into no. 95 for a period. Even after obtaining her own accommodations, she made frequent, extended visits.56
How were the issues of body, privacy and space negotiated within the Morleys’ homes? A floor plan of no. 95 annotated in Morley’s hand, fortuitously included among his collected papers, provides some guidance (Morley n.d.; Figure 3.4). Both houses included two dressing-rooms. Thus they met Victorian architect Robert Kerr’s definition of a gentleman’s residence: at least one bedroom with an attached dressing-room should be found in ‘every instance of what we might call a Gentleman’s House, however small’, with ‘more of these as the size of the house increases’ (1871: 137–8). Grace, according to Morley’s notation, used a bedroom with an attached dressing-room on the third floor. Florence, who probably shared the dressing-room with Grace, had her own room across the hall, and Morley allocates another bedroom on that floor to Guy and John. The three live-in servants would have been assigned the attic rooms. John and Rose,
There were, for Morley, philosophical reasons for such an arrangement for him and Rose. In an early essay, written before his marriage and before being deeply influenced by The Subjection of Women, he rejected the notion that one’s wife is ‘the most desirable companion he [a husband] could have at all times and under every circumstance’. He asserted, ‘Nobody wants to have his wife in his chambers or at his counting-house’ (1865b: 116). Although Morley’s views may have evolved over time, the floor plan suggests the possibility that such a separation extended to their bedchambers. Despite being generously sized, the houses at Elm Park Gardens could not accommodate every family member in a separate room. With five bedrooms and six family members in residence, it would have been necessary for two people to share a room. According to Morley’s annotated floor plan, Guy and John did so. The three bedrooms on the fourth floor are clearly assigned, but the two bedrooms on the third floor are not. If he and Rose did sleep apart, Morley probably would have stayed in the bedroom overlooking the communal park, accessing the dressing room from the hallway. She probably would have taken the larger bedroom, entering the dressing room directly from the bedroom.57
Intimacy between women and men, for which the shared bedroom is a symbol, is a vexing problem for Morley’s version of liberal individualism. On the one hand, a world without feeling is an unliveable one. On the other hand, ‘a great many clever and likeable men seem to demand a certain amount of solitude’ (Morley 1865b: 121).58 By possibly arranging for separate bedrooms and, as I will shortly consider, separate workspaces on separate floors, Morley minimised bodily proximity between Rose and himself, facilitating privacy while also ensuring that distractions and aggravations would not frequently disrupt the ‘large and serene internal activity’ he attempted to cultivate.
For him, romantic or familial love is a key step in the challenging journey every liberalising individual must undertake. ‘When he is in love’, Morley wrote of courtship while in his late twenties, ‘a man may think as a child and speak as a child; but, if he is to go on growing, he must put away childish things’ (1865c: 107). Because tenderness and love are the foundations of the family as a communal or corporate unit, they are not themselves the destination. Instead, one must transcend those feelings, without relinquishing them, to embrace higher-order abstractions. ‘If he is a genuine lover of truth, (p.162) if he is inspired by the divine passion for seeing things as they are’, Morley avows, with a nod to Arnold, ‘and a divine abhorrence of holding ideas which do not conform to the facts, he will be wholly independent of the approval or assent of the persons around him’ (1901: 201). But this independence must be tempered: ‘When he proceeds to apply his beliefs in the practical conduct of life, the position is different. There are now good reasons why his attitude should be in some ways less inflexible’ (201).
The frequent descriptions of Morley as an ascetic, as well as erroneous press reports that he was single, indicate that many who saw his commitment to truth and independence were unaware of the flexible, practical aspects of his private life, about which he was extremely reticent. His devotion to ideas was often registered as an impoverished substitute for familial relations or romantic love. On Morley’s death, one writer proclaimed that Morley ‘lived and died a bachelor, and I cannot imagine from his writings at least that he ever commanded from anybody passionate affection’ (Abbott 1923: 173). Others made similar observations.59
In Morley’s view, the relationship that best matched a lived commitment to higher-order abstractions is friendship. While Mill saw friendship as the basis of marriage in its highest form, Morley began his adult life believing that ‘it is only a small and lucky minority who find in their wives anything at all resembling the ideal of friendship’ (Morley 1865b: 115). Marriage brought together two people whose camaraderie, if it developed, was born of daily routines more than of intellectual affinity. A wife may be ‘a sufficiently agreeable companion’, he acknowledged, ‘provided she has sense enough to throw the children’s boots, and coughs, and teeth off her mind’ (116). But most women, he found, were unable to formulate thoughtful opinions: ‘tenderness and love are very excellent things, but many husbands would be delighted if the wives of their bosoms were rather more like old college friends than they are, and if their tenderness were solidified by rather more judgment’ (115). Although Morley may have moderated his views later, especially in light of Mill’s influence, his relative silence on these subjects after the 1860s makes it difficult to assess changes in his thinking. Looking back at his life in his Recollections, published in 1917, Morley mentions Rose only occasionally – she appears as ‘my wife’ or ‘R.’ – but freely discusses homosocial relationships. He notes that throughout life he formed deep friendships with ‘men vastly my superiors’, including Mill and Gladstone. Such relationships, he felt, were ‘golden boons’ (1917: 163). Other bonds, such as his with George Meredith and with (p.163) James Cotter Morison, which formed at Oxford, were abiding. Until they broke over the question of Irish home rule, Morley and Joseph Chamberlain ‘lived the life of brothers’ (163). Morley received his many (male) parliamentary, journalistic and literary friends in the masculine precincts of the drawing room and the library, which he decorated with portraits of friends and reminders of their shared interests. This atmosphere of camaraderie was a way to ensure that free and independent living, untainted by influence, was never experienced as loneliness or isolation.
‘The Pure Serene’
The principal location within the home for cultivating a love of truth, Morley believed, was the study or library, which functioned for him as the generative site of critical reason. By the time he moved his books to his 400-square-foot library at Flowermead, Morley owned more than 11,000. His tranquil domesticity was founded, in part, on their possession. Books were, Morley once confessed, his ‘genial, instructive, fortifying comrades’ (qtd in Staebler 1943: 187). Biographical sketches made frequent reference to Morley’s collection. ‘Mr. Morley’s study, which is upstairs, is simply packed with books’, reads a brief sketch of no. 95 published in The Star, a London daily newspaper, and subsequently republished in a popular Liberal-leaning weekly. ‘Perhaps it is as true to-day as it was long ago’, the journalist concludes, ‘that Mr. Morley is never more happy than among his books’ (‘Mr. John Morley’s London home’ 1892). If the library was a place of retirement for Morley, retirement was decidedly not spent in idleness and complacency. Instead of being a restful withdrawal from political activity, his seclusion in the library is framed as a ‘change of employment’, Gladstone’s vaunted definition of ‘recreation’ (Bailey 1978: 67). Morley understood, and the biographical sketches of him in the popular illustrated press helped to confirm, that the scholarly activities he undertook within his library were a form of strenuous labour of public benefit.
The floor plan for the Elm Park Gardens residences did not designate any room as a library. George Godwin’s architectural rendering provides for a morning room on the ground floor, which he likely intended for the use of women and children; a dining room, often considered a masculine space, on the same floor; and a drawing room and a boudoir, principally feminine, if not female, spaces, on the first floor.60 By using the French term rather than ‘sitting room’, (p.164) its English equivalent, Godwin’s plan evokes the word’s etymological association with feeling – from bouder (to sulk or pout). While the boudoir was a place of female withdrawal, the drawing room, as Thad Logan describes it, was far more complex. It was simultaneously ‘an inner sanctum … set aside for the private life of the family members’, usually under the decorative sway of the household mistress, and, in what may seem like an extraordinary contradiction, also the most public space in one’s ostensibly private home, a place to greet or entertain guests (Logan 2001: 27). Godwin’s design reflected widely held assumptions about the sexual geography of the home: certain rooms were to be more masculine or feminine than others.61
By placing an X just below the word ‘boudoir’ on his copy of the floor plan, scrawling ‘J. M.’s library’ just above it and designating the morning room for use by Rose and Florence, Morley makes a subtle change that might be seen as an attempt to allocate female conviviality and occupations to the ground floor, where the morning room was located in both no. 95 and no. 57, and male studiousness to the next floor (Morley n.d.). While the morning room in a Victorian home was to be utilised chiefly by women, it was not strictly a place for retreat or receiving formal calls. Instead, it was to be used by the lady of the house to coordinate household activities and to oversee the work of domestic servants. It was most often considered a practical workspace: the female equivalent of a library.62 The library, according to Kerr, is ‘primarily a sort of Morning-room for gentlemen’ (1871: 116). Rather than reorganising the spaces within the home to separate perceived frivolity from sobriety, Morley establishes complementary, though unequal, work spaces. In so doing he negates a space synonymous with femininity – annexing the drawing room, which will function instead as an antechamber to his library, and eliminating the boudoir – to privilege (masculine) intellect.63
Yet I think it would be a mistake to see Morley’s home as a site of contest between male and female. The larger point, it seems to me, is that individuals in the house are allowed to live according to their own definitions of the good life. By spending large portions of their time on separate floors, Morley and Rose could, as Morley once theorised, ‘pursue pleasure after their respective tastes’ (1865b: 116).64 In so far as Morley’s spatial arrangements, drawing on but also creatively adapting prevalent notions of sexual geography, attempted to facilitate necessary propinquity while lessening the disruptions of chance encounters, impersonal domesticity shares modernism’s emphasis on functionality, regularity and predictability. But it does not simply prefigure it: Morley’s use of the architectural spaces of (p.165) his homes, which took advantage of the architectural trend towards differentiation and specialisation (to each room its purpose), reflects transmogrification of the Evangelical desire for solitariness wherein the deepest personal experiences of truth occur.65
To discern truth from falsehood, Morley had concluded during his university days, one must extricate oneself from the clamour of competing theories. In his essay on Paterian aestheticism, Morley remarks:
The speculative distractions of the epoch are noisy and multitudinous, and the first effort of the serious spirit must be to disengage itself from the futile hubbub which is sedulously maintained by the bodies of rival partisans in philosophy and philosophical theology. This effort after detachment naturally takes the form of criticism of the past, the only way in which a man can take part in the discussion and propagation of ideas, while yet standing in some sort aloof from the agitation of the present. (1873: 470)
The ‘internecine war’ at Oxford, which he characterises as ‘loud’, and the general air of intellectual discordance were anathema to him (1917: 13). ‘Truth’, the reconciliation of opposing views, ‘is quiet’, he famously contends (1987: 49).
Although Morley’s remark about the ‘futile hubbub’ refers to the clamour of contemporaneous religious debate rather than to disturbing sounds within a spatial environment, he nevertheless sought to cultivate, within the home, an environment conducive to discovering truth in a quiet way. When Filon visited Morley, he noted the unusual quiet, as if the sabbatical principle of avoiding idle conversation had been extended to each day of the week:
A parlour maid greets you, wearing the traditional bonnet and printed cotton dress if it is morning, or black merino wool if it is after three o’clock. You have an appointment: you are introduced without unnecessary words … the house is silent … (1891: 155)
Escorted by the parlour maid to the drawing room, across the hall from Morley’s library, Filon immediately experienced ‘a feeling of contemplation’ while waiting to be received (155). Absent were the recognisably domestic sounds that made a middle-class house a home: the chords of a piano (although the Morleys owned one) or ladies talking in the morning room. The relative quiet in which the domestic inhabitants went about their business was a constituent element of Morley’s aesthetic of serenity.
(p.166) On the garden side of the house, away from the street, Morley’s library was a place for quiet reflection. No less than the private rooms of an Evangelical home dedicated to contemplation and conversion, the library was, for Morley, a sanctified space wherein he expected the experience of truth to occur. When Morley readied himself to read and write, the process by which truth could be apprehended, he engaged in a particular ritual, which he recounted to the Clerk to the Privy Council and literary figure Arthur Helps: ‘Like Buffon, I insist upon shaving and clean linen before sitting down to composition’ (qtd in Helps 1917: 294). The eighteenth-century French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon asserts in his famous lecture on style: ‘Writing well is thinking, feeling and expressing well; it is having at the same time wit, soul and taste … The style is the man himself.’66 But to take Morley at his word that these preparatory activities were like Buffon’s would be to miss their religious overtones: in the biblical phrase ‘in fine linen, clean and white’ (Rev. 19:8), ‘linen’ signifies righteousness, the adjectives purity.
Cleansed of impurities and dressed in clean linen, Morley would enter his library, which was decorated on hygienic principles that complemented the mental hygiene for which he strove. He diligently filed his many papers into the drawers of his two desks (Robertson Scott 1952: 24). Discernible in the photograph of Flowermead, these desks – the first in the foreground, right, and the second in the background, left – appear to have separated, following Gladstone’s practice, Morley’s literary and political work.67 The distinction between politics and literature, though, is less neat than this arrangement might imply. In the realms of both literature and politics, Morley wrestled with a choice between directly intervening in the contemporary issues of the moment, which his work as a journalist, Member of Parliament, cabinet official and, from 1908, a peer often required, and indirectly intervening through writing biography (mainly historical biography). As one who continually sought to ensure that his mind was thinking reflexively rather than responding impulsively to the concerns of the present, Morley was most comfortable when he withdrew from the ‘futile hubbub’ and turned his mind to ‘criticism of the past’. W. T. Stead, Morley’s deputy editor at The Pall Mall Gazette, recognised this when remarking, in assessing Morley as a journalist, that he ‘had no eye for news’ and ‘was totally devoid of the journalistic instinct’, adding that ‘to him a newspaper was simply a pulpit from which he could preach’ (1890: 430–1). Morley’s more effective means of moralising was through biography, which he either wrote or edited at his literary desk.
(p.167) Morley sought to discern truth through studying historical personages and, by writing about them, to relay that truth to readers. He authored numerous historical biographies. As general editor between 1878 and 1892, and again from 1902 to 1919, he also oversaw the publication of Macmillan’s English Men of Letters series, profiles of individuals through which one was meant to glimpse the underlying impersonal historical forces that moved them. As I noted in the introduction, Morley vigorously disagreed with the still-influential eighteenth-century approaches to life writing. The essayist Samuel Johnson thought that only by leading readers ‘into domestick privacies, and display[ing] the minute details of daily life, where exterior appendages are cast aside’, was character best discerned (Boswell 1826: 6). Morley felt otherwise: assessing the truthfulness of a published opinion in no way required knowledge of the writer’s conduct (Morley 1865a). Therefore, Morley’s biographies, as well as those he solicited as editor, were, for all their contextualisation, intended to illuminate universal rather than ephemeral concerns. They were to avoid what he derisively termed ‘domesticities’ or ordinary, insignificant details (qtd in Hamer 1968: 45).
By concentrating on individuals through whom larger historical forces moved, Morley differed somewhat from Mill. In A System of Logic, written after his ascent to the upper echelons of East India House management, Mill argued that ‘eminent men do not merely see the coming light from the hill-top, they mount on the hill-top and evoke it’ (1974: VIII, 938). In accord with this line of thinking, which resonated to a limited extent with Thomas Carlyle’s notion of the hero, Mill insisted that ‘had there been no Socrates, no Plato, and no Aristotle, there would have been no philosophy for the next two thousand years, nor in all probability then’ (VIII, 938). But Morley understood historical writing, and biography as a subgenre, slightly differently:
History has strictly only to do with individual men as the originals, the furtherers, the opponents, or the representatives of some of those thousand diverse forces which, uniting in one vast sweep, bear along the successive generations of men as upon the broad wings of sea-winds to new and more fertile shores. (1867b: 63)
Although Morley insisted one could discern the progress of truth through history by studying a wide variety of literary genres, he privileged historical over imaginative writing. Knowing about the past, he affirmed, lent ‘stability and substance to character’ (1887: 43). Through his Men of Letters series, Morley trained a (p.168) popular readership, too ‘busy’ and ‘preoccupied’ by the concerns of daily life to spend much time acquiring ‘knowledge’ or engaging in ‘reflection’ (Morley 1917: 92), to understand what he considered the proper methods of studying history.
A number of volumes in the series suggest that fiction and poetry are deficient when their subject is a historical event or personage. Thus, the volume on Charles Dickens, written by A. W. Ward, declares A Tale of Two Cities ‘an extraordinary tour de force’ but ‘not [a] perfectly constructed novel’ (1882: 157, 155), with at least one ‘historically questionable’ character portrayal (157). G. K. Chesterton, in his estimation of Robert Browning for the series, notes a similar lack of discipline. Browning’s love of historical detail creates a ‘turbulent democracy of things’, with ‘sometimes no background and no middle distance in his mind’ (Chesterton 1903: 166). Morley shared James Cotter Morison’s view that to effect a fair representation of history the writer must ensure that ‘the whole temper of his mind and feelings is in a state of balanced equipoise’ (Morison 1878: 238).
By maintaining his ‘large and serene internal activity’, Morley approached writing history as he attempted to live his life. In the quietude of his domestic library, he sought first to think. He practised ‘the all-important habit of taking care that … [the] mind works at ideas instead of allowing it to absorb their pale shadows’ (Morley 1866a: 273). The mind at work is precisely what a photograph of Morley at Flowermead attempts to capture (Figure 3.3). Reclining in a chair to the right of the fireplace, Morley is enveloped in streams of light. Early photographic experts frequently advised that windows be screened ‘to yield pleasant portraits in home situations’ (‘Lessons’ 1901: 613).68 In this photo the natural light flooding the room is not a lapse by the photographer. Rather, light, a frequent symbol of knowledge in representational imagery, is harnessed to depict Morley as a man of thought, diffusing, as Morley himself would write of Burke, ‘that clear, undisturbed light which we are accustomed to find in men who have trained themselves to balance ideas, to weigh mutually opposed speculations’ (1867b: 25). Morley is shown engaged in the process of achieving ‘a state of slow but never-staying fermentation, in which everything that enters the mind is transformed and assimilated’ (Morley 1867e: 169–70).
‘Coherency of Character’
Once he resolved to write, Morley approached composition as he did interior decoration. One might imagine that Morley has such (p.169) consistency in mind when he asserts, through an aesthetic idiom, that ‘coherency of character and conduct’ is one aim of ‘the great art of living’ (1901: 67). Noting that ‘the flash and the glitter’ of Carlyle, Macaulay and Ruskin, ‘three great giants of prose writing’, has had its day, Morley maintains that ‘a quieter style’ is beginning to take hold (Morley 1887: 12–13). This style, ‘the steadfast use of a language in which truth can be told … without trick, without affectation, without mannerisms’, is the natural outcome of measured reflection (13). His parliamentary colleague, whom I quoted earlier, agreed. After referring to the simplicity of the home at Elm Park Gardens, he declared that Morley’s prose is ‘contemptuous of glitter’: ‘the style is not only the man, but the revelation of the man’ (Anon. 1899: 879).69
Other contemporaries used the idioms of decoration and space when referring to Morley’s writings or personality, evoking, intentionally or not, widely understood features of his homes. They lauded Morley’s lack of interest in ‘mere rhetorical ornament’; his embodiment of ‘the splendid austerity of truth’; and the development of ‘a style which, with all its severity, often rises into lofty eloquence’.70 Many readers of these portraits shared Morley’s confidence in the possibility of an achieved coherence. The principles of orderliness and minimalism governing his decorative choices are shown also to inflect his writings and persona, revealing coherence of character across the public/private divide. For a time this consistency among person, place and idea (printed word) counted as integrity in the increasing intimisation of the public sphere, in which politics is reduced to the spectacle of public figures leading private lives.71 Until Morley was unseated in the 1895 general election, the largely working-class electorate in Newcastle referred to him simply as ‘Honest John’. In the opinion of one contemporary, ‘Honest John’ did not, as the concept of personality emerging at the end of the nineteenth century seemed to require, engage in ‘pushing himself to the center of the stage’: ‘Lord Morley’s is not a personality that flaunts its virtues or affects a theatrical pose’ (Ford 1908: 212–13). But this claim, it seems to me, like Cohen’s more recent assertion that ‘unlike character, which was silent, personality was constantly on display’, severely underestimates how much character was dependent for its confirmation on public staging (2006: 125). The seeming congruence between Morley and his domestic environments at Elm Park Gardens and Flowermead helped fashion the popular perception that – as one columnist proclaimed, perhaps unintentionally echoing Morley’s assumptions about character as the self’s ‘creature’ and then as its ‘master’ – ‘he was always master of himself’ (W. Ryan 1923: 94).
(p.170) Morley’s interiors are evidence that he accepted what the espousers of the new concept of personality had vociferously contended: the fundamentally reciprocal relationship between the self and its environments. He would not, however, have shared the writer Hallie Miles’s view that ‘everything in a human dwelling is bathed in personality’, that each object has ‘a voice’ that bespeaks the ‘individuality of the person to whom the room belongs’ (Miles 1911: 231). Through practising impersonal domesticity, one was no longer to be hindered by mere individuality. Robert Browning, the subject of my next chapter, would have disagreed with Miles as well, but for entirely different reasons. To him, as G. K. Chesterton recognised, each object had a voice of its own.
(3.) Although indexed, the original letter is not in the file of correspondence with Grace in the Morley Papers at the Bodleian Library. Just one day after Morley characterised the house-hunting experience as ‘very doleful’, he noted in his diary that they had inspected Elm Park Gardens (Morley 1882–92: l January 1886, MS. Eng. d. 3441). Between excised pages and long periods in which Morley failed to record his activities, it remains unclear why, after visiting Elm Park Gardens on 1 January 1886, they did not move until April. If they continued house-hunting after their initial visit to Elm Park Gardens, Morley does not mention it.
(5.) Influenced by seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century vernacular architecture, Queen Anne, which gained popularity in the 1870s, was initially hailed as symbolising receptivity to socially efficacious ideas and eagerness to dwell in beauty. Some saw it as a response to Matthew Arnold’s call for more sweetness and light to counter middle-class philistinism (Girouard 1977: 3–4). Queen Anne architecture was not intended to be uniform. One claim made on its behalf was that ‘it gives more variety and character to city houses than was possessed by houses of the old style, that stood along the streets like regiments of drilled soldiers’ (Carpentry and Building 1885). Whereas John Nash’s terraces earlier in the century were intended to appear as singular compositions, late-Victorian terraced houses sought to emphasise the separateness of each residence. ‘Less monumentality and more cosiness, less classicism and more individuality’ were the primary aims ( (p.171) Dohme 1888: 28; translation mine). Nevertheless, observers increasingly viewed this style as contributing to the uniformity of residential streets.
(6.) The translation of Filon’s essay is mine.
(7.) Filon is using British terminology in referring to one level above the ground floor.
(10.) Although Morley often referred to Flowermead’s location as Wimbledon Park, it stood just over the Wandsworth boundary in Putney. The house appears in the 1881 census index but not on the 1869 Ordnance Survey map; hence, it was built between these dates. In street directories Morley is listed at the property first in 1904 and last in 1923, the year he and Rose died. His move to Flowermead is often given as 1904; however, he began sending letters on Flowermead stationery in midsummer 1903. See his letters to Francis Wrigley Hirst in the Hirst Papers at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
(11.) Morley was also featured in so-called gallery portraits, a form of biographical sketch focusing on the subject’s life and works instead of the home. See, for example, Banfield 1884: 25–6; Cassell’s Universal Portrait Gallery 1895: 172–3; Cabinet Portrait Gallery 1890: 81–3; and Hansard [1912?]: 25–32.
(12.) Although Judith Neiswander and I start from a similar premise, linking liberalism to home decoration, she pursues a different angle. While contemporary critics have tended to see individual expression in residential interiors as primarily an activity by women, who were frequently charged with furnishing and maintaining the home, Neiswander contends that decoration was, in fact, ‘once part of a broader conversation’, which she associates with British liberalism, ‘about optimal ways of living, both within the family and within the culture as a whole’ (2008: 9). In her view the increasingly widespread belief, emergent in the 1870s, that domestic interiors should mirror the unique characteristics of their inhabitants reflected the popularisation of John Stuart Mill’s support for ‘the trial of new and original experiments in living’ (JSM 1977d: 281). Neiswander focuses almost exclusively on a few phrases of Mill’s, which she sees as authorising the expression of individuality in choosing domestic goods and furnishings.
(13.) ‘In the Victorian period’, Walter Houghton writes, ‘a great many thoughtful people shared the same fate’: intellectual and social isolation (1957: 81).
(15.) See Hadley 2010: 147; Willey 1956: 248–301; and B. Russell 2009: 441. For considerations of other ways in which practices of Protestant (p.172) Dissent saturated political liberalism, see Parry 1986; Biagini 1992: 15–17; Brent 1987.
(21.) Thus, when Morley claims he discovered in Mill’s writings ‘that sense of truth having many mansions’, the religious – and spatial – phraseology is undoubtedly intentional (1904b: 131).
(22.) ‘Though the Victorians never ceased to look forward to a new period of firm convictions and established beliefs’, Houghton notes, ‘they had to live in the meantime between two worlds, one dead or dying, one struggling but powerless to be born, in an age of doubt’ (1957: 9–10). On this age of transition, see also Culler 1985.
(23.) I have, necessarily, truncated the account of Morley’s waning religious belief. He experienced many other blows to his faith, including from the first stirrings of Darwinism during his crucial final year at Oxford. On Morley’s time at Oxford, see Hirst 1927: I, 15–32; Morley 1917: 7–13.
(25.) Ever the eccentric, Spencer refused to read any books (Morley 1917: 111), which left him vulnerable to charges of plagiarism when he did not acknowledge similarities between his work and others’.
(26.) The Oxford English Dictionary dates one of the literal meanings of ‘inexpugnable’ (a fortress that cannot be conquered) to 1490. ‘Base’ has been part of an architectural idiom since the 1300s.
(27.) See, for example, Charles Rice, who argues that bourgeois interiority and domestic interiors emerge coevally (2007: 2–3).
(28.) As Stefan Collini states, Victorian intellectuals linked morality to thought; they believed that with the decline of orthodox Christianity there still were correct ways to solve problems (1991: 75). Elaine Hadley claims that ‘mid-Victorian political liberalism was … stoked by particular – and clearly still influential – practices of moralized cognition’ (2010: 9). For liberal thinkers such as Morley, who fashioned a morality of knowledge and its expression through opinion, the principles of earnestness and sincerity were the characterological manifestations of rigorously formed and faithfully held belief.
(29.) The self-governing individual also possesses ‘an intelligent set of convictions upon the problems that vex and harass society’ and is in the (p.173) ‘habit of expressing it and supporting it in season and out of season’ (Morley 1866b: 382). See also Hamer 1968: 23.
(30.) ‘Every considerable advance in material civilization’, Mill argues in A System of Logic, ‘has been preceded by an advance in knowledge: and when any great social change has come to pass … it has had for its precursor a great change in the opinions and modes of thinking of society’ (1974: VIII, 927).
(32.) See Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall on the anti-urban strand in Evangelical thought (1987: 157–8, 162–7, 357–69).
(34.) Peter and Alexander Thorn undertook several residential construction projects in South Kensington. Their most important commission, however, was Blackfriars Bridge. Elm Park Gardens, one of Alexander’s first solo ventures after a period of insolvency following his brother’s death, was successful. Several other properties were not. In late 1886, after the Morleys rented their house, his firm collapsed under the weight of its debt. See ‘Failure’ 1886; ‘Princes Gate’ 2000.
(35.) Elm Park Gardens was sanctioned as a new road in 1875. Building leases were granted to Alexander Thorn beginning in 1878 (Croot 2004: 74). Thorn constructed the terraces in stages: although the first houses were available in the late 1870s and promptly purchased or rented, the development was not finished until the mid-1880s.
(36.) Flats were so undesirable that, according to Stefan Muthesius’s estimate, they made up only about 3 per cent of all dwellings in England and Wales by 1911 (1982: 1).
(37.) I discuss the development as it existed when built. Much of Elm Park Gardens remains, although conversion into flats began during World War Two. Extensions into the garden have been added to some houses, and modern apartment blocks have replaced a number of others.
(39.) Davidoff and Hall discuss privacy as a characteristic of middle-class home life and the role played by garden spaces in securing such privacy (1987: 361–2, 370–5). Tyack documents the enclosure of the garden square in ‘smarter’ districts for the residents’ exclusive use (1992: 87).
(40.) In my discussion of Morley’s residences at Elm Park Gardens, I adhere to the British floor-numbering system as represented by the floor plan.
(42.) Harold Dyos argues that part of the lure of the suburb for London’s wealthier residents was that it offered ‘a personal solution to a collective sanitary problem’ (1961: 23). On Godwin’s role in helping to realise this solution, see Thorne 1987.
(45.) On the impossibility of female self-expression within the confines of domestic ideology, see Calder 1977. For an account more open to the possibility of female agency and pleasure in decorating, see Logan 2001.
(46.) For a study of the environmental amenities of seaside towns, see Hassan 2003: 31–107. On Rose’s declining health and the couple’s moves, which Morley loathed, see Hirst 1927: I, 231, 238; II, 8. Morley’s aversion to moving predated her illness; in 1871 he commented on having ‘just passed through the horror and anguish of flitting’ (qtd in Hirst 1927: I, 194).
(47.) As Neiswander argues, ‘the appearance of the home would be generated from within the middle class itself and would no longer be a diluted and inferior imitation of upper-class magnificence’ (2008: 80).
(48.) If visitors were left with the impression that Morley was frugal, he would not have been displeased. His reclamation from puritanism of the principle of thrift emphasised its positive value. Prudence, ‘the wise and careful outlay of money’, not penuriousness, was the aim (Morley 1865e: 79). Because thrift necessarily restrained one’s whims and impulses, providing delayed rather instant gratification, Morley saw its practice as an outward manifestation of a liberal mind. But self-control was not the same as self-denial: ‘The proposition that all pleasant things are right is untrue, but it is certainly not so radically untrue as the more popular proposition that most pleasant things are wrong’ (Morley 1867a: 8–9). Consistent refusal of pleasure, out of an erroneous belief that refusing would save one’s soul, checked ‘all blitheness and freedom of spirit’ (9).
(54.) In this respect, I share Amanda Anderson’s concern with, although perhaps to a lesser extent her optimism about, the liberal cultivation of detachment as a structure of feeling (2001: 178).
(55.) Morley read The Subjection of Women on its publication in 1869 and recommended it to his friend George Meredith, who ‘had more experience than Mill of some types of women and the particular arts, “feline chiefly,” to which some have recourse to make their way in the world’ (Morley 1917: 47).
(p.175) (56.) The 1891 census records the residents of no. 95, in addition to John and Rose Morley, as Grace Morley, Florence Ayling and three female servants.
(57.) ‘A lady’s [dressing] room’ requires ‘a door of direct intercommunication with the Bedroom’, Kerr advises, ‘whereas in a gentleman’s room it is allowable to have no more than the one outer door, provided this opens close to the door of the Bedroom and within a private Lobby’ (1871: 136). The dressing rooms in no. 95 and no. 57 had doors that opened from both the hallway and the adjacent bedroom.
(58.) In the passage from which this quote is taken, Morley refers specifically to difficulties encountered when travelling with friends. However, the statement may also be understood in a general sense.
(59.) See the debate on this point in The Spectator (Janus 1952: 525; H. Harrison 1952: 570). Morley’s relationship with Rose was problematic. It appears that they lived together before marrying. If so, he initially followed his heart (and likely his body) rather than his head. Because their union originated in scandal, Rose was not wholly acceptable socially. This, along with her frail health, helps explain their low profile as a couple even after he rose to prominence. Some felt Morley’s decision to enter into a relationship with an ‘unsuitable’ woman, tainted by scandal, cost him the chance to serve as prime minister. It is possible that Morley’s impersonal domesticity was a way to (over)compensate for choices he made earlier in life.
(60.) In Kerr’s influential formulation, the ideal dining room, ‘somewhat massive and simple’, reflected ‘masculine importance’, while the drawing room in its ‘cheerfulness’ and ‘elegance’ was to be ‘entirely ladylike’ (1871: 94, 107). Kerr notes that in some houses the term ‘boudoir’ is inaccurately used in reference to a morning room (1871: 114–15). Because the houses at Elm Park Gardens contained both, that is not so here.
(62.) See Panton’s characterisation of the morning room (1888: 69–77) and Flanders’s extensive discussion (2004: 292–323).
(63.) Jill Casid explores the role the boudoir played not only as a rival to the male library but as a crucial element in fashioning separate spheres. She considers how, in eighteenth-century France, the boudoir, as a place of feminine authority and display, was the counterpart to men’s salons (2003: 91–114).
(64.) These arrangements also had implications for the children residing in the household, which I discuss in A Microhistory of Victorian Liberal Parenting: John Morley’s ‘Discrete Indifference’ (forthcoming, Palgrave).
(68.) ‘In making pictures indoors’, the American photographer Alexander Black insisted, ‘the illumination, instead of being managed by nature, as out-of-doors, must be managed by the photographer’ (1887: 725).