Review of John Payne's Lautrec (Princeton draft manuscript)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Production Description

Document Title: [Untitled]
Author: DGR
Date of composition: 1878
Type of Manuscript: draft


Current Location: Princeton/Troxell Collection
Catalog Number: 23296

Scholarly Commentary


This manuscript is the only known surviving witness of DGR's review, which he drafted in late 1878 but never published.

Textual History: Composition

Composed sometime around late November or early December 1878.

Printing History

As this review has never been published or printed, a reading text is here supplied. The transcription of the rough draft comes at the end of the file.


The Athenaeum was younger, & so were those then born among its present writers & readers, at a time when the streets of London were paraded by advertising views inscribed “Varney the Vampire, or, The Feast of Blood!” in letters wide-spread as the vampire-bat himself. The ghastly announcement referred to a “Romance of thrilling interest” then appearing in penny weekly numbers. It emanated from the great emporium of such commodities in congenial Shoreditch; it was doubtless dramatized at some of the extreme minors; & it was one of those works cited by Charles Knight in the Preface to the last beautiful issue of the Penny Magazine, as being written “at scavenger's wages by literary scavengers”, and as threatening to drive healthy cheap literature fairly out of the book-market. Mr Payne's “Lautrec” is not heralded along London gutters by red-nosed charioteers; nor is it illustrated with woodcuts dangerous to the nocturnal nerves of youth, albeit merely scrawled for one half-crown & scratched for another by artists yearning for no feast but that of beer. On the contrary it comes forward in all the dignity of grave grey wrapper & semi-archaic type, recalling at once by its aspect the nasty nastiness of the newest French Bordelaisians. Of its kind, it is a very charming specimen indeed; only that kind is exactly the same as “Varney the Vampire.”. Has Piccadilly gone down to Shoreditch or Shoreditch welled up to Piccadilly?

Some of Mr Payne's former work has been somewhat noteworthy, through wandering always in a maze of reflected styles. Perhaps the best thing he has done is the ballad-poem called “The Rhyme of Redemption.”. This is ill followed up by the “Anatomy of Vampyrism” or “Screech of Damnation” whichever the reader may think the better substitute for the obviously inefficient title of “Lautrec”.

We shall give no summary of the hideous scheme of this poem: but we may note that it fails to satisfy even on the side of artistic consistency. In all imaginary Vampire legends, the curse should be entailed on the accursed one as the penalty for some fearful act akin to the ℌunpardonable sin.” In Mr Payne's story, the teller of it (a She, not a He of the species) is an innocent girl, a king's daughter who falls into an insensible trance of grief through true-hearted love for her knight reported as slain; and being supposed dead is laid in state in a chapel, preparatory to her burial. Here she revives while left alone (which is untrue medically, as priests would continue to pray by the bier all night); and it is the mere fact of the moon striking upon her through the chapel-casement which transforms her into a vampire! At this rate, why should not the same thing happen to any person walking in the moonlight or acidentally sleeping under it? Yet it is on the sole strength[?] of this guiltless lunacy that the heroine is made to commit loathesome & [compulsory?] murder on the bridegroom of her heart and to incur an eternal community of fate with fiends & wehrwolves. One is glad to find the conception as weak as it is hateful.

We advise Mr Payne to leave off harnessing his personal hobbies as gift-horses for the public. Their mouths do not always bear examining. One of his latest feats was to endow Englishmen (for discreetly private circulation) with a complete translation of Villon's poems — beauties & putridities all together. We do not congratulate him on the bequest; and we believe that Lord Campbell (or his ghost, or his vampire as it might have proved to such a public [?]) was the only one among Mr Payne's countrymen to whom he really shrank from presenting his [work].

We have debated whether to review "Lautrec" at all, but it seemed needful to enter our protest, even at the risk of rousing the fitting reader of the book to his repast. But it would be of no avail to remain silent. When such things can appear, it is because the times are ripe for them.

We fully expect this book to be translated into French. They really have not even yet quite matched it on the other side of the Channel, & it must be felt there as a national want,— almost a national slur.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
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