Burne-Jones apologizes for being "forgetful" of Price and admits that he "cannot plead hard work altogether for my cause, so many nameless trifles occur all day long to break the best resolutions." He tells Price that he has heard that he is studying hard and wishes him success in his endeavors. He encourages Price to apply for an Oxford scholarship, noting that even in failure "the practice is very good and often encouraging." He says that this term has been his happiest yet and he has been filling his time with many good things. He admits that he has "fallen back upon my drawings and intend[s] cultivating it to some extent."
Burne-Jones states that William Morris has taken up a lot of his time, describing him as "one of the cleverest fellows" he knows and "far more congenial in all his thoughts and likings, than anyone it has been [his] good fortune to meet with." He believes that Morris's art criticism is better than William Fulford's, who was Burne-Jones's "old ideal in such subjects." He proclaims that Morris is "full of enthusiasm for things holy and beautiful and true" and possesses "the most exquisite perception and judgement" which has "tinged [Burne-Jones's] whole inner being with the beauty of [Morris's] own." He remarks that "if it were not for his boisterous mad outbursts and freaks which break the romance [Morris] sheds [?] around him -- at least to me -- he would be a perfect hero."
Burne-Jones asks Price to spend time with him at Easter. He says of Price's writing piece (presumably sent in correspondence from Price) that, unless it is for a joke, it is unlikely to be profitable. He asks him why he has written blank verse, remarking that the style "is a strange fashion of young poetlings of this generation; on the principle I suppose of the age generally 'as much as you can at the cheapest rate'." He also questions Price's "horticultural facts" and critiques his long preamble to the piece. He recommends that Price translates metrically from Greek lyrics, beginning with either Theocritus or the "chorus of the Dramatists."
This collection comprises 16 items, including 15 letters from Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and Cormell Price and 1 autograph envelope from Burne-Jones addressed to Price. The correspondence was written over the course of a decade, between 1852 and 1862. The letters are indicative of Burne-Jones and Price’s long and close friendship and are very affectionate and personal in nature. The letters are rich in detail, with Burne-Jones sharing news of mutual friends, his Oxford lessons, his social life and his artistic and literary endeavors.
The collection gives an account of the early activities of what came to be known as “The Birmingham Set” and Burne-Jones’s letters frequently refer to many of the group’s members, including William Morris (often affectionately dubbed “Topsy”), William Fulton, Charles Faulkner, Richard Watson Dixon, Edwin Hatch and Harry MacDonald. The close friendship held between Burne-Jones, Price and the wider group is evident in a letter dated May 18th, 1856, in which Burne-Jones sketches for Price a heart surrounded by the names of their friends, including many members of the Birmingham Set.
The early publishing and exhibition activities of the group are recounted in Burne-Jones’s letters. The first letter in the collection, dated January 24, 1852, describes Burne-Jones’s agitation to receive articles from Price and Charles Faulkner for a forthcoming publication, perhaps a precursor to THE OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE MAGAZINE. Discussion of THE OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE MAGAZINE also features prominently in the correspondence. In one letter (circa 1856 January), Burne-Jones instructs Price to send him a piece of writing for a forthcoming issue while also lamenting the scandal caused by the January issue’s article on the work of Charles Kingsley, a university professor, historian, social reformer, novelist and Church of England priest. The letter goes on to state that William Morris has passed editorship of the magazine on to William Fulford, which Burne-Jones remarks is a “great relief” to Morris.
The post-university activities of the Birmingham Set are also presented in the correspondence. Burne-Jones’s letter of June 28, 1861, announces the foundation of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. by Burne-Jones, William Morris, P.P. Marshall, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Webb and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The letter describes the company’s products as "stained glass, furniture, jewelry, decorations and pictures" and notes that the organization has received many commissions in the short time since its inception.
Also evident in the collection is Edward Burne-Jones and The Birmingham Set’s place within the wider literary and artistic circles of mid-nineteenth century Britain. The letters often demonstrate Burne-Jones’s connection and friendship with prominent figures of the era. For instance, in his letter dated January 24, 1852, Burne-Jones expounds, at great length, upon his love of the influential art critic, John Ruskin, and his delight in receiving a letter from Ruskin, an event which Burne-Jones claims has transformed him into “a reformed character.” Later letters reveal a closeness with a variety of artists, patrons and writers. Burne-Jones’s letter of June 21, 1861, provides a particularly detailed account of the lives of a variety of such figures. In it, Burne-Jones describes the stillborn birth of a child of Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the death of the Pre-Raphaelite art collector, Thomas Plint, the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the marriage of Valentine Cameron “Val” Prinsep.
The letters abound with contemporary cultural references and accounts of major events in Victorian society. Burne-Jones expresses, at length, his deep love of the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who he describes as “save Shakespeare only […] the only guide worth following far to dream-land.” In the same letter, Burne-Jones warns Price that he should avoid seeing Chevalier Count George Jones’s “mangling” of Shakespeare and, in another, recommends the work of Edgar Allan Poe (see May 1 and October 29, 1853). The letters also give details about major public events, including the Tooley Street Fire in London and the Victorian superstitions surrounding the Great Comet of 1861 (see June 28, 1861).
The collection chronicles some of the political and academic history of Oxford University in the early to mid-1850s. In a letter dated March 5, 1853, Burne-Jones describes the employment and promotions of various Oxford professors and chaplains and how they relate to the philosophical and ecclesiastical debates of the Oxford Movement. Later, in his encouragement of Price’s application to study at the university, Burne-Jones gives long descriptions about Oxford fellowships and scholarships and how to write “Oxford Latin” (see February 28, 1854).
The long and close friendship between Burne-Jones and Price is reflected in the personal and quotidian events about which Burne-Jones writes to his friend. He sends Price a lengthy description of his infant son’s features and personality and the health and happiness of his family (see February 23, 1862). The letters are full of details and references to Burne-Jones’s father, aunt, friends, social life and the romantic exploits of his and Price’s mutual acquaintances. In one letter, he gives Price an hour-by-hour account of his holiday in the River Wye area. (see January 24, 1852).