The Stealthy School of Criticism

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871 October - 1871 November
Genre: essay


◦ Cassidy, “Robert Buchanan and thr Fleshly Controversy”

◦ Dawson, “Intrinsic Earthliness: Science, Materialism, and the Fleshly School of Poetry”, (2003)

◦ Murray, “D. G. Rossetti, A. C. Swinburne, and R. W. Buchanan: The Fleshly School Revisited”

◦ Stauffer, “Another Cause for the Fleshly School Controversy: Buchanan versus Ellis”

◦ Stauffer, “The Lost Pamphlet Version of D.G. Rossetti's ‘The Stealthy School of Criticism’” (2003)


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the The Privately Printed pamphlet text.

Scholarly Commentary


This is DGR's reply to Robert Buchanan's notorious attack on DGR's poetry, “The Fleshly School of Poetry. Mr. D. G. Rossetti”. The latter appeared in the Contemporary Review in October 1871 under the pseudonym “Thomas Maitland”. As his letters of October and November show, he spent considerable effort trying to determine for certain that Buchanan was the author of the abusive review. He began writing the essay in late October, however, even before he became sure about Buchanan's authorship.

DGR initially planned a pamphlet publication. He wrote this essay and had it set in type by his printer Strangeways, but before it was actually published DGR was persuaded by his brother and his publisher to cut the opening half of his essay, which they considered potentially libelous. As the essay was then reduced by one-third, DGR abandoned his pamphlet publication and had the essay printed in The Athenaeum (December, 1871). Only one copy of that original long version of DGR's essay survives—the uncorrected proof copy now in the Huntington Library.

The two essays comprise one of the most notorious literary controversies in English literature. Originally written as an open letter to Buchanan, the published version is measured and restrained in tone—in sharp contrast to the original opening, which is riven by DGR's anger and anxiety. Apart from its biographical interest, the essay features a presentation of DGR's aesthetic “law” of the “inner standing point”— a neglected but major contribution to the theory of art and poetry. Also notable is the fact that Buchanan's review led DGR to remove the sonnet “Nuptial Sleep” from the 1881 edition of The House of Life, and that Buchanan recanted his attack after DGR's death.

During this time DGR wrote a number of poems and epigrams attacking Buchanan, one of which, “The Brothers”, was originally written as part of the pamphlet version of DGR's reply. See also the satiric limerick “As a critic the poet Buchanan” and the epigram “Yon skunk's not rid of his own name”.

Textual History: Composition

DGR began writing his response to Buchanan almost immediately after being told of Buchanan's authorship in late October. Early in November he wrote to Swinburne asking his advice and enclosing an excerpt of the essay he was composing: “Meanwhile I send you the beginning of an epistle to B. which I struck off on first hearing of his identity with M. but afterwards flagged in when I heard the report you wrote to the contrary—not that I was convinced but further enquiry seemed needed. If done at all, of course there should not be much more delay now in publishing the letter, though the time needed for digging one dead dog from under the carefully paraded corpse of the other would excuse some delay. I want your sincere opinion whether, in event of established identity, it would be well to print this. Of course most people say no, but I can't help feeling a leaning towards yes. It is no good letting even an ape have the laugh of one if one can turn it against him. So I send you the first paragraphs for your counsel.” (letter of 7 November, Correspondence, 71. 177 ). On 24 November he wrote to his publisher Ellis: “I am going on with my Epistle to the Philistines and mean to put it in print at once, to avoid delay. When printed one can settle about publishing. Will you kindly see at once today about giving what I send to the printer Strangeways. I hope he can get it all in type by tomorrow and let me have a proof. Please pardon trouble and oblige me in this. . . . I want to get this much in type at once. I expect probably to finish writing today but want to see how much more is needed to fill it out. Please enjoin haste on the printer, and let him of course take care not to gossip about the matter” (letter of 24 November, Correspondence, 71. 192 ).

Printing History

During late November and early December, after DGR had the first and longer version of his reply to Buchanan set in type, he was persuaded against publishing this version and so abandoned his initial plan to publish the essay as a pamphlet. At that point he determined on a shorter reply and engaged his publisher Ellis to help see it put quickly into print in the Athenaeum (see DGR's letter to Ellis of 19 December, Correspondence, 71. 212 ).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 34p-1870.raw.xml