As an earlier post on this blog suggests (25 June 2011), I remain on the lookout for namesakes in Morris’s copious oeuvre, so I really should not have missed the Antony who briefly crops up in A Dream of John Ball: ‘Hob Horner and Antony Webber were slain outright, Hob with a shaft and Antony in the hand-play’. I’m glad that my namesake died fighting bravely against medieval tyranny, and his fate is a reminder of just how serious the issues are in Morris’s celebration of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt. The famous invocation of fellowship in that text – ‘fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death’ – is often cited at Morris Society meetings as a celebration of their genial hospitality, yet its contextual meaning in the romance itself is rather more fraught than that.
For what John Ball is celebrating in those memorable words is the villagers’ forcible freeing of a political prisoner, i.e. himself, ‘when ye lighted the archbishop’s house for the candle of Canterbury’, an act which brings down on them the retributory military attack we witness in the opening chapters of the work – in which my namesake and several others are killed. So Morrisian fellowship in the present isn’t just a matter of warm mutual feelings over a glass of wine on Morris’s birthday, March 24. Its contemporary equivalent would be something more like marching off to the Ecuadorean embassy, driving away the British policemen who keep round-the-clock guard there (at an annual cost of several million pounds to the tax-payer) and freeing the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, whom the UK government has in effect been vindictively keeping political prisoner there since June 2012. Unless one is willing to embark on ventures of that order, one should not be invoking John Ball-style ‘fellowship’ quite so lightly.