[Piano music plays]
Voiceover: This is an audio dramatisation from the State Library of Victoria.
Man: We’re here at the printing works of Kelmscott Press. This is William Morris’ private press dedicated to quality handmade books. I’ve been told that Mr Morris is on his way to receive us. Oh, here he comes. It’s a rainy spring morning, this March the second 1896.
William: Ah, there you are. Sorry to keep you waiting, I was just wondering – you’re from Illustrated London News?
Man: Ah, well actually…
William: Yes, yes, of course, I normally receive people up at Kelmscott House, but I thought you would prefer to see the press in action.
Man: Yes, I’m very anxious to see the whole operation.
William: We just reprinted another 350 copies of my own romantic fantasy The well at the world’s end. People seem to really like my character Gandalf. Oh, this gout. Here, feel this quality.
William: Unbleached handmade paper. And all the illustrations and ornaments are woodblock. No, no, no, go ahead, you can, it’s dry.
Man: Oh, I thought it was still wet.
William: Ah, our good quality rich black ink will look like that – sitting proudly on the paper, not soaking in like so much of what you are used to these days.
Man: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book this beautiful.
William: Oh, this industrial revolution has left craftsmanship dead in its wake. Cheap thin paper, shoddy presswork, drab grey inks and anaemic typefaces. Oh, they throw in marbled end-pages but that doesn’t make up for it. No thought to design, no thought to beauty – when was the last time you held a book in your hands with detailed hand-carved woodcuts of artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, hmm?
Man: This is really an Edward Burne-Jones?
William: And these borders – they just set the page.
Man: And what is this large book?
William: Beautiful, isn’t it? We stopped printing them with untrimmed edges in 1892, but this was a special request. I prefer this big folio style – it lies quiet and majestic on the table, waiting kindly ‘til you please to come to it with its leaves flat and peaceful, giving you no trouble of body, so that your mind is free to enjoy the literature which its beauty enshrines.
Man: I never really thought of it that way.
William: No, probably not. You see each book houses an idea and ideas are the only truly precious things any of us will ever have.
Man: I see.
William: Here at Kelmscott, we build them homes that they deserve. Fine, handcrafted homes with doors of embossed leather and with a binding that will stand the test of …
Jack: Mr Morris?
William: Yes Jack.
Jack: You’ll be wanted up at the ‘ouse sir.
William: My, is that really the time? I must apologise, I am due at the house. Another interview I’m afraid – this one in response to my article ‘How I became a socialist’ [laughs]. Can there be any question?
Man: Well thank you, Mr Morris. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a book in quite the same way.
[Piano music resumes]
Voiceover: This has been an audio dramatisation from the State Library of Victoria.