A Dream of John Ball

A Dream of John Ball (1888) is a novel by English author William Morris about the Great Revolt of 1381, conventionally called "the Peasants' Revolt". It features the rebel priest John Ball, who was accused of being a Lollard. He is famed for his question "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?"[1]

A Dream of John Ball
Artwork from the original 1888 edition.
AuthorWilliam Morris
IllustratorEdward Burne-Jones (frontispiece)
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorical fantasy
Science fiction
Time travel
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback) & E-book
Pagesc. 300 pp (may change depending on the publisher and the size of the text)

Depiction of the Middle Ages

Morris draws on Froissart for information on the fourteenth century,[1] but has a different attitude towards the revolting peasants from the chronicler who, Sir Walter Scott once remarked, had "marvelous little sympathy" for the "villain churls."[2] Morris was also aware of interpretations of the Peasants' Revolt as representing a socialist tradition. In 1884 he had written an article in which he stated that "we need make no mistake about the cause for which Wat Tyler and his worthier associate John Ball fell; they were fighting against the fleecing then in fashion, viz.; serfdom or villeinage, which was already beginning to wane before the advance of the industrial gilds."[3]

The novel describes a dream and time travel encounter between the medieval and modern worlds, thus contrasting the ethics of medieval and contemporary culture. A time-traveller tells Ball of the decline of feudalism and the rise of the Industrial Revolution. Ball realizes that in the nineteenth century his hopes for an egalitarian society have yet to be fulfilled. A parallel can be drawn with the novel's close contemporary—A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) by Mark Twain. Unlike Twain's novel, which depicted early-Medieval England as a violent and chaotic Dark Age, Morris depicts the Middle Ages in a positive light, seeing it as a golden, if brief, period when peasants were prosperous and happy and guilds protected workers from exploitation. This positive portrayal of the Medieval period is a recurring theme in Morris' literary and artistic oeuvre, from the largely pastoral and craftsman based economies of the prose romances, to his similar dream vision of Britain's utopian future, News from Nowhere (1889).[4]

Publication history

The story was originally published in serial format in the socialist weekly The Commonweal, November 13, 1886 - January 22, 1887. It appeared in book form in 1888.

Kelmscott, Morris's private press, published, in 1892, A Dream of John Ball and A King's Lesson.[5]


John Ball continues to be cited as an example of an English socialist.[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b Froissart, although unsympathetic to the rebels, gives a detailed, albeit imaginary (see Dobson, R.B. The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, (Macmillan, 2nd ed, p. 369)), account of Ball's preaching.
    • Et, se venons tout d'un père et d'une mere, Adam et Eve, en quoi poent il dire ne monstrer que il sont mieux signeur que nous, fors parce que il nous font gaaignier et labourer ce que il despendent? Il sont vestu de velours et de camocas fourés de vair et de gris, et nous sommes vesti de povres draps. Il ont les vins, les espisses et les bons pains, et nous avons le soille, le retrait et le paille, et buvons l'aige. Ils ont le sejour et les biaux manoirs, et nous avons le paine et le travail, et le pleue et le vent as camps, et faut que de nous viengne et de nostre labeur ce dont il tiennent les estas.
      • If we all spring from a single father and mother, Adam and Eve, how can they claim or prove that they are lords more than us, except by making us produce and grow the wealth which they spend? They are clad in velvet and camlet lined with squirrel and ermine, while we go dressed in coarse cloth. They have the wines, the spices and the good bread: we have the rye, the husks and the straw, and we drink water. They have shelter and ease in their fine manors, and we have hardship and toil, the wind and the rain in the fields. And from us must come, from our labour, the things which keep them in luxury
    Book 2, p. 212. Froissart. q:Jean Froissart
  2. ^ Claverhouse, in Walter Scott's Old Mortality (1816), ch. 35.
  3. ^ Salmon. "A reassessment" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  4. ^ Bull, M (2005) Thinking Medieval: An Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages London:Palgrave ISBN 978-1-4039-1294-7
  5. ^ A king's lesson is a short story based on the life of Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary,
  6. ^ John Ball's Speech to Peasants

External links

1886 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1886.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Some early editions are titled A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur.

In the book, a Yankee engineer from Connecticut named Hank Morgan receives a severe blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to England during the reign of King Arthur. After some initial confusion and his capture by one of Arthur's knights, Hank realizes that he is actually in the past, and he uses his knowledge to make people believe that he is a powerful magician. He attempts to modernize the past in order to make people's lives better, but in the end he is unable to prevent the death of Arthur and an interdict against him by the Catholic Church of the time, which grows fearful of his power.

Twain wrote the book as a burlesque of Romantic notions of chivalry after being inspired by a dream in which he was a knight himself, severely inconvenienced by the weight and cumbersome nature of his armor. It is a satire of feudalism and monarchy that also celebrates homespun ingenuity and democratic values while questioning the ideals of capitalism and outcomes of the Industrial Revolution. It is among several works by Twain and his contemporaries that mark the transition from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era of socioeconomic discourse.

Dream vision

A dream vision or visio is a literary device in which a dream or vision is recounted as having revealed knowledge or a truth that is not available to the dreamer or visionary in a normal waking state. While dreams occur frequently throughout the history of literature, visionary literature as a genre began to flourish suddenly, and is especially characteristic in early medieval Europe. In both its ancient and medieval form, the dream vision is often felt to be of divine origin. The genre reemerged in the era of Romanticism, when dreams were regarded as creative gateways to imaginative possibilities beyond rational calculation.This genre typically follows a structure whereby a narrator recounts his experience of falling asleep, dreaming, and waking, and the story is often an allegory. The dream, which forms the subject of the poem, is prompted by events in his waking life that are referred to early in the poem. The ‘vision’ addresses these waking concerns through the possibilities of the imaginative landscapes offered by the dream-state. In the course of the dream, the narrator, often with the aid of a guide, is offered perspectives that provide potential resolutions to his waking concerns. The poem concludes with the narrator waking, determined to record the dream – thus producing the poem. The dream-vision convention was widely used in European literature from late Latin times until the 15th century.

Golden Type

The Golden Type is a serif font designed by artist William Morris for his fine book printing project, the Kelmscott Press, in 1890. It is an "old-style" serif font, based on type designed by engraver and printer Nicolas Jenson in Venice around 1470. It is named for the Golden Legend, which was intended to be the first book printed using it. The original design has neither an italic nor a bold weight, as neither of these existed in Jenson's time.

Morris's aim in the Kelmscott Press was to revive the style of early printing and medieval manuscripts, and the design accordingly is a profound rejection of the harsh, industrial aesthetic of the contemporary Didone typefaces used at the time in general-purpose printing, and also of the relatively pallid "modernised old style" designs popular in books. Instead, the design has a relatively heavy "colour" on the page. The design is a loose revival, somewhat bolder than Jenson's original engraving, giving it something of the appearance of medieval blackletter writing, and it has been criticised for ponderousness due to this heavy appearance. (A particularly extreme response in the twentieth century was that of Stanley Morison, who while polite about its innovation and legibility described its design privately as "positively foul".) Morris decided not to use the long s and some ligatures found in early printing but discarded since, feeling that they made texts hard to read.To prepare the design, Morris commissioned enlarged photographs of Jenson's books from the artist Emery Walker (which survive), from which he prepared drawings; Walker was interested in the history of printing and his interest may have inspired Morris to venture into printing. The design was then cut into metal in a single size by Edward Prince and cast by the company of Morris's friend Talbot Baines Reed.The Golden Type sparked a trend of other typefaces in a similar style commissioned for fine book printing in Britain, including that of the Doves Press, which was co-founded by Walker. Several of these typefaces were also cut by Prince. Other early copies were made in America. Many similar Jenson revivals, including Cloister Old Style, the Doves Type, Centaur, Adobe Jenson and Hightower Text have been created since, most more faithful to Jenson's original work. It also influenced some of the work of Frederic Goudy.The Golden Type has been digitised by ITC. The original punches and matrices, along with all of Morris's other typefaces, survive in the collection of Cambridge University Press.

John Ball (priest)

John Ball (c. 1338 – 15 July 1381) was an English Lollard priest who took a prominent part in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

John and William Merfold

John and William Merfold were yeomen brothers in Sussex, England, in the mid 15th-century. Both were indicted in 1451 after publicly inciting the killing of the nobility, clergy, and the deposition of King Henry VI. They also advocated rule by common people. Minor uprisings spread throughout Sussex until authorities intervened and four yeomen were hanged.

The Merfold statements followed a major rebellion in Kent led by Jack Cade, and are considered demonstrative of underlying class and social conflicts in 15th-Century England.

List of time travel works of fiction

The lists below describes notable works of fiction involving time travel, where time travel is central to the plot or the premise of the work. For stories of time travel in antiquity, see the history of the time travel concept. For video games and interactive media featuring time travel, see list of games containing time travel.

Peasants' Revolt

The Peasants' Revolt, also named Wat Tyler's Rebellion or the Great Rising, was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381. The revolt had various causes, including the socio-economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death in the 1340s, the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years' War, and instability within the local leadership of London. The final trigger for the revolt was the intervention of a royal official, John Bampton, in Essex on 30 May 1381. His attempts to collect unpaid poll taxes in Brentwood ended in a violent confrontation, which rapidly spread across the south-east of the country. A wide spectrum of rural society, including many local artisans and village officials, rose up in protest, burning court records and opening the local gaols. The rebels sought a reduction in taxation, an end to the system of unfree labour known as serfdom, and the removal of the King's senior officials and law courts.

Inspired by the sermons of the radical cleric John Ball and led by Wat Tyler, a contingent of Kentish rebels advanced on London. They were met at Blackheath by representatives of the royal government, who unsuccessfully attempted to persuade them to return home. King Richard II, then aged 14, retreated to the safety of the Tower of London, but most of the royal forces were abroad or in northern England. On 13 June, the rebels entered London and, joined by many local townsfolk, attacked the gaols, destroyed the Savoy Palace, set fire to law books and buildings in the Temple, and killed anyone associated with the royal government. The following day, Richard met the rebels at Mile End and acceded to most of their demands, including the abolition of serfdom. Meanwhile, rebels entered the Tower of London, killing the Lord Chancellor and the Lord High Treasurer, whom they found inside.

On 15 June, Richard left the city to meet Tyler and the rebels at Smithfield. Violence broke out, and Richard's party killed Tyler. Richard defused the tense situation long enough for London's mayor, William Walworth, to gather a militia from the city and disperse the rebel forces. Richard immediately began to re-establish order in London and rescinded his previous grants to the rebels. The revolt had also spread into East Anglia, where the University of Cambridge was attacked and many royal officials were killed. Unrest continued until the intervention of Henry le Despenser, who defeated a rebel army at the Battle of North Walsham on 25 or 26 June. Troubles extended north to York, Beverley and Scarborough, and as far west as Bridgwater in Somerset. Richard mobilised 4,000 soldiers to restore order. Most of the rebel leaders were tracked down and executed; by November, at least 1,500 rebels had been killed.

The Peasants' Revolt has been widely studied by academics. Late 19th-century historians used a range of sources from contemporary chroniclers to assemble an account of the uprising, and these were supplemented in the 20th century by research using court records and local archives. Interpretations of the revolt have shifted over the years. It was once seen as a defining moment in English history, but modern academics are less certain of its impact on subsequent social and economic history. The revolt heavily influenced the course of the Hundred Years' War, by deterring later Parliaments from raising additional taxes to pay for military campaigns in France. The revolt has been widely used in socialist literature, including by the author William Morris, and remains a potent political symbol for the political left, informing the arguments surrounding the introduction of the Community Charge in the United Kingdom during the 1980s.

Rodney Hilton

Rodney Howard Hilton, FBA (17 November 1916 – 7 June 2002) was an English Marxist historian of the late medieval period and the transition from feudalism to capitalism. He was born in Manchester and studied at Balliol College Oxford University and was a member of the Communist Party Historians Group before leaving the party in 1956 with many others. He had a 36-year teaching career at the University of Birmingham. His papers are held at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.

William Grindecobbe

William Grindecobbe or William Grindcobbe was one of the peasant leaders during the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381. A Townsman of St Albans, he was a substantial property owner there and has been described as a 'hero' of the revolt.

William Morris

William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he played a significant role propagating the early socialist movement in Britain.

Morris was born in Walthamstow, Essex to a wealthy middle-class family. He came under the strong influence of medievalism while studying Classics at Oxford University, there joining the Birmingham Set. After university, he trained as an architect, married Jane Burden, and developed close friendships with Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and with Neo-Gothic architect Philip Webb. Webb and Morris designed Red House in Kent where Morris lived from 1859 to 1865, before moving to Bloomsbury, central London. In 1861, Morris founded the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co decorative arts firm with Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Webb, and others, which became highly fashionable and much in demand. The firm profoundly influenced interior decoration throughout the Victorian period, with Morris designing tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained glass windows. In 1875, he assumed total control of the company, which was renamed Morris & Co.

Morris rented the rural retreat of Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire from 1871 while also retaining a main home in London. He was greatly influenced by visits to Iceland with Eiríkr Magnússon, and he produced a series of English-language translations of Icelandic Sagas. He also achieved success with the publication of his epic poems and novels, namely The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870), A Dream of John Ball (1888), the Utopian News from Nowhere (1890), and the fantasy romance The Well at the World's End (1896). In 1877, he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to campaign against the damage caused by architectural restoration. He embraced Marxism and was influenced by anarchism in the 1880s and became a committed revolutionary socialist activist. He founded the Socialist League in 1884 after an involvement in the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), but he broke with that organization in 1890. In 1891, he founded the Kelmscott Press to publish limited-edition, illuminated-style print books, a cause to which he devoted his final years.

Morris is recognised as one of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain. He was best known in his lifetime as a poet, although he posthumously became better known for his designs. The William Morris Society founded in 1955 is devoted to his legacy, while multiple biographies and studies of his work have been published. Many of the buildings associated with his life are open to visitors, much of his work can be found in art galleries and museums, and his designs are still in production.

Morris & Co.

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