William Morris, aged 53
Birthdays were an occasion for Morris’s more immediate family, especially since his daughter May was born on 25 March and they often held a joint celebration. If Morris was away, he would report back on his birthday to his family. An 1878 letter to his (two) daughters shows parental kindness moderating, but not effacing, Morris’s critical eye for design detail; he thanks May for her gift of a very pretty ‘baccy pouch’ but insists that the cotton strings will need replacing with silk to avoid setting his teeth on edge when opening it. In the same year, he provided his wife Jane with a humorous sketch of the morning after his birthday dinner with his mother and (second) sister Henrietta in Much Hadham, in Hertfordshire. Rogers (his mother’s maid) had cut his hair in the presence of not only his ‘kinswomen’ but also his mother’s parrot; the latter, at least, was seemingly delighted with the entertainment and ‘mewed & barked & swore & sang at the top of his vulgar voice’.
Birthdays were also an occasion for being remembered by, and spending time with, his friends. In thanking Louisa Baldwin for ‘remembering me & my birthday’ in 1875, Morris added that he had always been a lucky man with his friends. Those friendships, however, were sometimes tested by his occasional ill-humour and quick temper (usually immediately followed by embarrassment and regret). After one especially ‘crabby’ birthday evening (1869) spent in the company of Edward Burne Jones (‘Ned’) and Charles Fairfax Murray, Morris felt obliged to write apologies to both men. Admitting that he could be ‘like a hedgehog with nastiness’, Morris craved forgiveness from Burne-Jones on the grounds that he simply could not do without him.