Rossetti Archive Prose

Rossetti's prose writings, both published and unpublished, comprise a large body of work. They fall into four categories: fiction; criticism (literary and artistic); letters; notebooks.

Of the more formal materials—the fiction and the criticism—two works are especially notable and important: the story “Hand and Soul”, written in 1849 and first published in 1850 in The Germ; and the critical essay “The Stealthy School of Criticism” which he published in The Athenæum in 1871 to answer “The Fleshly School of Poetry”, Robert Buchanan's pseudonymous attack on Rossetti's 1870 book of Poems. Another early story, “St. Agnes of Intercession”, was begun in 1850 and worked on later. Left unfinished and unpublished in his lifetime, it remains one of Rossetti's most significant works.

The character and quality of Rossetti's fiction is such that it commands the greatest attention. His two stories, much influenced by his close reading of Poe in particular, stand virtually alone in mid-Victorian England as examples of a style with short fiction that would soon become celebrated through the work of French writers. The gift books and periodicals were filled with short fiction, but in England at mid-century only Mrs. Gaskell was producing work that could be compared to Rossetti's in point of quality; and in point of innovation, Rossetti stands alone.

A crucial feature of Rossetti's fiction is its strongly theoretical quality—what we would today call its “metafictional” character. This is especially remarkable in “Hand and Soul”, which is as much a statement of Rossetti's ideas about art as it is an imaginative work of pseudo-historical fiction. Poe was probably Rossetti's immediate model for this innovative use of imaginative work for exploring ideas. (Rossetti often used his other work in similarly programmatic ways, as his Sonnets for Pictures show very clearly.) The tendency reflects his view that forms of imaginative expression are themselves intellectual forms—indeed, that ideas are best and most fully developed not in expository prose but in imaginative writing, prose or poetry, or in the imaginative representations of pictorial expression. His translations are similarly “intellectual” in their conception.

Rossetti wrote significant formal, expository criticism besides “The Stealthy School of Criticism”. Of first importance are the essays and commentaries he wrote for The Early Italian Poets (1861). These writings supply the general context of ideas that drew Rossetti to study and emulate the poets from the Sicilian School through Petrarch. The preface to that book, which lays out Rossetti's ideas about the art of translation, is a document of the greatest importance.

Only slightly less significant are Rossetti's writings on Blake: first, the general essay published as the last chapter of Alexander Gilchrist's Life of William Blake (1863), where Rossetti ranges pretty broadly on the subject of art and Blake's art in particular; and second, the series of commentaries in volume 2 of the Life that treat particular works of Blake, both poetical and visual. All of this commentary was revised and significantly augmented in the second edition of the Life published in 1880.

Hardly less notable are the editions Rossetti produced of the work of Dante and the early Italian poets, on one hand, and of Blake on the other. (The latter comes as the second volume of Gilchrist's Life of William Blake.) The materials that are selected, their arrangement, the methods of presentation: all these matters tell a great deal about Rossetti's critical and aesthetic thinking. His method of editing Blake, for example—idiosyncratic, not to say high-handed—may leave much to be desired in a scholarly point of view; as an index of Rossetti's mind, however, the work is very valuable indeed.

Rossetti also published several important reviews as well as some art criticism, but the body of this work is not large.

Rossetti's letters comprise his most significant informal prose. Less lively (in general) than Byron's or Swinburne's letters, Rossetti's are nonetheless quite interesting in various ways. They are especially important for revealing the day-to-day affairs of a highly professional artist and writer who was, despite his increasingly reclusive life, widely connected. Rossetti is almost always reserved, however, so the letters reveal very little about the intensities of his personal life. William Michael Rossetti first published a good selection in 1895 in volume 2 of his Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His Family Letters, with a Memoir. Since that time individual selections from the correspondence have appeared from time to time, and a dreadfully inadequate collected edition (in 4 volumes) was published in 1965 by Oswald Doughty and John Robert Wahl. William E. Fredeman's long-awaited complete edition, the first volume of which was published in 2002, is progressively making this important material available in proper form.

The other informal prose descends to us as notebooks or loose papers. This material contains interesting sketches for literary works he projected, or remarks on art or on the work of particular artists. William Michael culled these materials from Rossetti's posthumous papers, and in particular from various notebooks, and then published them as “fragments” in his several editions of his brother's works.

The notebooks are quite interesting, especially the four small notebooks, now in the British Library's Ashley Collection, that Rossetti must have used while he was painting and that he would have kept in a pocket of his artist's smock. These contain a heterogeneous body of material ranging from quotidian notes about groceries to draft versions of poems and ideas for pictures. One other notebook (at the Bodleian) contains an integral and unique version of The House of Life. Rossetti made a gift of this notebook to Jane Morris, who was the focus and inspiration of the poetry in the notebook.

The surviving manuscripts show that other notebooks once existed, but that they were subsequently dismantled and plundered for their contents. Rossetti himself used his notebooks in this way when he was putting together the work that would eventually appear as the 1870 Poems. The notebooks are important for the considerable light they shed on less public areas of Rossetti's life and work. Being workbooks rather than diaries, however, they are rarely sources for information about or insight into Rossetti's (often strange and tormented) private life.

1830s 1840s 1850s 1860s 1870s 1880s 1900s
sort alphabetically

1830s

Page Images Available for Miscellaneous Bound Volumes



1830-1880

Miscellaneous Bound Volumes
Page Images Available for The Slave



1835

The Slave

Page Images Available for Aladdin



1835

Aladdin
Page Images Available for The Letters



1835-1882

The Letters

1840s

Page Images Available for Roderick and Rosalba



1840, 1843

Roderick and Rosalba

aka The Free Companions. A Tale of the Days of King Stephen
Page Images Available for Sorrentino



1843

Sorrentino
Page Images Available for Words for Poetry



1847

Words for Poetry
Page Images Available for Translation from Mamiani



1847 or 1848

Translation from Mamiani
Page Images Available for The New Life



1848; 1861

The New Life

aka Dante Alighieri. The New Life (La Vita Nuova).
Page Images Available for The devil has gone right



1848?

The devil has gone right

The devil has gone
Page Images Available for Poetical Scraps (from Note Books)



1848-1881

Poetical Scraps (from Note Books)

and passionate youth
Page Images Available for Verse Fragment from the Continent



1849

Verse Fragment from the Continent

This Squat cut[?] hedge continues to the Common with/along the Road
Page Images Available for Hand and Soul



1849

Hand and Soul
Page Images Available for Phrenograph of Thomas Woolner



1849 November 2

Phrenograph of Thomas Woolner

1850s

Page Images Available for Narrative Fragment



1850?

Narrative Fragment
Page Images Available for St. Agnes of Intercession



1850 1860 1850

St. Agnes of Intercession
Page Images Available for Prefatory Note to John Orchard's “A Dialogue on Art”



1850 April

Prefatory Note to John Orchard's “A Dialogue on Art”
Page Images Available for Exhibition of Modern British Art at the Old 
Water-Colour Gallery



1850 December 1

Exhibition of Modern British Art at the Old Water-Colour Gallery
Page Images Available for Frank Stone: Sympathy (British Institution Exhibition,1850



1850 December 15

Frank Stone: Sympathy (British Institution Exhibition,1850
Page Images Available for J. C. Hook British Institution Exhibition, 1850)



1850 February 15

J. C. Hook British Institution Exhibition, 1850)
Page Images Available for Anthony: The Rival's Wedding (British Institution Exhibition,1850)



1850 February 15

Anthony: The Rival's Wedding (British Institution Exhibition,1850)
Page Images Available for Branwhite



1850 February 15

Branwhite
Page Images Available for Landseer (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)



1850 July 1

Landseer (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)
Page Images Available for Cope (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)



1850 July 1

Cope (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)
Page Images Available for Marochetti (1850)



1850 July 15

Marochetti (1850)
Page Images Available for F. R. Pickersgill (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)



1850 June 1

F. R. Pickersgill (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)
Page Images Available for C. H. Lear (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)



1850 June 1

C. H. Lear (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)
Page Images Available for Kennedy (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)



1850 June 1

Kennedy (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)
Page Images Available for Charles Lucy (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)



1850 May 15

Charles Lucy (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1850)
Page Images Available for Deuced Odd; or The Devil's In It



1851

Deuced Odd; or The Devil's In It
Page Images Available for On W. H. Deverell's The Banishment of Hamlet



1851 April

On W. H. Deverell's The Banishment of Hamlet
Page Images Available for The Modern Pictures of All Countries, at Lichfield 
House, 1851



1851 August 30

The Modern Pictures of All Countries, at Lichfield House, 1851
Page Images Available for Madox Brown (Royal Academy, 1851)



1851 May 10

Madox Brown (Royal Academy, 1851)
Page Images Available for Poole (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1851)



1851 May 17

Poole (Royal Academy Exhibition, 1851)
Page Images Available for Holman Hunt (Royal Academy,1851)



1851 May 31

Holman Hunt (Royal Academy,1851)
Page Images Available for Exhibition of Sketches and Drawings in Pall Mall 
East, 1851



1851 September 6

Exhibition of Sketches and Drawings in Pall Mall East, 1851
Page Images Available for The Subject of Imitative Painting



1852?

The Subject of Imitative Painting
Page Images Available for The Return of Tibullus to Delia



1853-1855 1867

The Return of Tibullus to Delia
Page Images Available for Poems by Francesco and Gaetano Polidori



1853 April 1

Poems by Francesco and Gaetano Polidori
Page Images Available for Miching Mallecho—It Means Mischief



1854 August

Miching Mallecho—It Means Mischief
Page Images Available for Mr. Madox Brown's Pictures--The Liverpool Academy:



1856 September 6

Mr. Madox Brown's Pictures--The Liverpool Academy:
Page Images Available for Ford Madox Brown (biographical notice in Men of the
Time)



1857

Ford Madox Brown (biographical notice in Men of the Time)
Page Images Available for Lancelot and Guenevere



1858?

Lancelot and Guenevere

1860s

Page Images Available for Preface to The Early Italian Poets



1861

Preface to The Early Italian Poets
Page Images Available for Table of Poets in Part I [introduction to Part I of The 
Early Italian Poets]



1861

Table of Poets in Part I [introduction to Part I of The Early Italian Poets]

aka Poets Chiefly Before Dante
Page Images Available for Introduction to Dante and His Circle [introduction to Part II 
of The Early Italian Poets, Part I of Dante and His Circle]



1861

Introduction to Dante and His Circle [introduction to Part II of The Early Italian Poets, Part I of Dante and His Circle]

aka Dante and his Circle
Page Images Available for I. Forese Donati. Cecco d'Ascoli [introduction to first 
section of the Appendix to Part II of The Early Italian Poets]



1861

I. Forese Donati. Cecco d'Ascoli [introduction to first section of the Appendix to Part II of The Early Italian Poets]
Page Images Available for II. Giovanni Boccaccio [Introduction to second section of 
the Appendix to Part II of The Early Italian Poets]



1861

II. Giovanni Boccaccio [Introduction to second section of the Appendix to Part II of The Early Italian Poets]
Page Images Available for II. Cecco D'Ascoli



1861

II. Cecco D'Ascoli
Page Images Available for Excerpt from Giovanni Villani's “History of Florence”



1861

Excerpt from Giovanni Villani's “History of Florence”
Page Images Available for Excerpt from the Ninth Tale of the Sixth Day of Boccaccio's 
Decameron



1861

Excerpt from the Ninth Tale of the Sixth Day of Boccaccio's Decameron
Page Images Available for The Wife's Tragedy



1862

The Wife's Tragedy
Page Images Available for Life of William Blake, ‘Pictor Ignotus’



1863

Life of William Blake, ‘Pictor Ignotus’
Page Images Available for Theatrical Prints



1863?

Theatrical Prints
Page Images Available for Paint Mixing Instructions



1867? 1862?

Paint Mixing Instructions
Page Images Available for Dinner at Queens Square, 1868



1868 October 12

Dinner at Queens Square, 1868
Page Images Available for A Ground-Swell



1869

A Ground-Swell
Page Images Available for The Doom of the Sirens



1869

The Doom of the Sirens
Page Images Available for The Orchard-pit



1869 1869 1869

The Orchard-pit

aka The Orchard Pits

1870s

Page Images Available for Walter H. Deverell--A Raffle



1870

Walter H. Deverell--A Raffle
Page Images Available for The Cup of Water



1870

The Cup of Water
Page Images Available for The Palimpsest. (Subject for Tale or Humorous Poem)



1870

The Palimpsest. (Subject for Tale or Humorous Poem)
Page Images Available for The Love Philtre



1870

The Love Philtre

aka The Philtre
Page Images Available for Hake's Madeline, and Other Poems



1870

Hake's Madeline, and Other Poems
Page Images Available for Ebenezer Jones



1870 February 5

Ebenezer Jones
Page Images Available for Note on William Allingham's “The Ruined Chapel”



1870 June 4

Note on William Allingham's “The Ruined Chapel”
Page Images Available for The Fleshly School of Poetry. Mr. D. G. Rossetti



1871

The Fleshly School of Poetry. Mr. D. G. Rossetti
Page Images Available for The British Library Notebooks



1871-1881

The British Library Notebooks
Page Images Available for Maclise's Character-Portraits



1871 April 15

Maclise's Character-Portraits
Page Images Available for The Stealthy School of Criticism



1871 October - 1871 November

The Stealthy School of Criticism
Page Images Available for From The Letters of Girolamo Ridolfi (spurious)



1872 (circa)

From The Letters of Girolamo Ridolfi (spurious)
Page Images Available for Hake's Parables and Tales



1873 April

Hake's Parables and Tales
Page Images Available for Dante and His Circle



1874

Dante and His Circle

Page Images Available for Advertisement to the Edition of 1874



1874

Advertisement to the Edition of 1874
Page Images Available for Samuel Palmer (1875-81)



1875

Samuel Palmer (1875-81)
Page Images Available for The Death of Topsy



1875? 1878?

The Death of Topsy
Page Images Available for A Dream of the Moon



1876 October 8

A Dream of the Moon
Page Images Available for Notes Upon a Life of David Scott, R.S.A.



1878

Notes Upon a Life of David Scott, R.S.A.
Page Images Available for A Warning [Note to The Athenaeum]



1878 July 16

A Warning [Note to The Athenaeum]
Page Images Available for Review of John Payne's Lautrec



1878 November

Review of John Payne's Lautrec