All of his life DGR kept notebooks which he used in a variety of ways (though none as diary notebooks). Most importantly, he plundered the notebooks at various times for copies of poems that
he was making plans to publish. Printer's copy for the poetry published in the three volumes of 1870 and 1881 is often a text torn from a notebook. Using the notebooks in this way has resulted
in a scattering of loose notebook pages throughout many libraries.
The earliest notebooks are the fragmentary and disbound remains of five notebooks in the Duke University Library, including some of the original covers. These Duke materials represent the disjecta membra of what the library describes as four notebooks, but which seem to comprise pieces of perhaps as many as six. The most complete of these notebook
materials are “Notebook IV” and “Notebook I”.
Eclectic by nature, DGR's notebooks contain sketches, memoranda, poetical and prose fragments, quotations, lists of rhyming words, literary scraps, even shopping lists and other personal data.
The notebooks show that DGR's quotidian life and his life as an artist/writer merged and blended together. Merchant bills and appointment dates get jotted down along with draft passages for
poems, lists of poetical words, ideas for pictures and notes on painting, quotations that he found interesting, and prose comment of various kinds, many of which eventually turned into some kind
of verse. (See the commentaries for DGR's Poetical Scraps, Memoranda, Miscellaneous Prose, and Notebook Sketches.)
DGR favored a particular type of notebook which he seems to have purchased regularly at the stationer Partridge and Cooper, on Fleet Street. The book consists of 88 pages of 22.2 x 18cm ruled
white laid paper (watermarked J ALLEN & SONS SUPERFINE) in a soft imitation leather cover. Only a few of these notebooks survive intact: a notebook in the Bodleian, the so-called “Kelmscott Love Sonnets”; another in the British Library housing DGR's fair copy manuscript of “Rose Mary”; and a third in the Small Library, University of Virginia, containing a fragmentary manuscript of St. Agnes of Intercession.
An interesting survival is the set of four small notebooks housed in the British Library (Ashley 1410). DGR appears to have chosen these little books so that he could drop them into a pocket of a waistcoat or smock and retrieve them quickly.
In editing The Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, WMR included those fragments he deemed interesting, witty, or generally characteristic of DGR. He collected them under such headings as “Scraps: Essays Written in the
Intervals of Lock-Jaw, Etc.” and “Scraps: There Are Certain Passionate Phases, Etc.”. While emblematic of DGR's fragments, these do not fully represent the wealth
of material available in the loose pages.
Later collectors and students of DGR's work—Fairfax Murray, Buxton-Forman, and others as well— bound together collections of pages and scraps torn from the notebooks.
Bound volumes at the Fitzwilliam Museum Library and the Firestone Library, Princeton University, exhibit this kind of posthumous construction. Sometimes the manuscript book is an effort at
reconstruction—for example, the composite House of Life manuscripts at Princeton and at the Fitzwilliam. Sometimes the gathering seems to comprise a printer's copy manuscript, as in the case of the Lyrics, &c. manuscript at Princeton. Often, however, the gathering is completely idiosyncratic, as in the case of the bound manuscript from the Wormsley Library.