The Journal Of The Pre-raphaelite Brotherhood

In this Journal, kept by its literary member, William Michael Rossetti, from 1849 to 1853, and edited by him in 1900, we have the most authentic record, although not the most graphic picture, of the work the Pre-Raphaelites did. The secretary writes:

“In 1848 there were four young students in the Royal Academy Schools, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt in the Life-School, Thomas Woolner in the Sculpture-School, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the Antique-School. Woolner, born in 1825, was the eldest; Millais, born in 1829, the youngest. These young men were all capable and ambitious; they had all, except Rossetti, exhibited something, to which (more especially in the case of Millais) the Art authorities and the public had proved not wholly indifferent. They entertained a hearty contempt for much of the Art—flimsy, frivolous, and conventional — which they saw in practice around them; and they wanted to shew what was in them in the way of solid and fresh thought or invention, personal observation, and the intimate study of, and strict observance to Nature. The young men came together, interchanged ideas, and were joined by two other youthful painter-students, James Collin-son and Frederick George Stephens, and also myself, who was not an artist. So there were seven men forming the Pre-Raphaelite Brother-hood. * * * There was not much defiance in it, some banter, some sense, a great deal of resolute purpose, a large opening for misrepresentations, and a carte-blanche invitation for abuse. After thus constituting themselves, what they had to do was to design, paint, and model, and one of them in especial, Dante Rossetti, to write poetry; and they did it with a will.

Some little while having elapsed, it was deter-mined that one of the Pre-Raphaelite Brothers should be Secretary, and should keep a Journal; and I, as not being taken up by art-work, was pitched upon for the purpose. I accordingly began the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Journal.

This journal was entirely my own affair, and was compiled without pre-consulting any of my fellow-members, and without afterwards submitting it to them. * * * It was not in any sense a diary personal to myself, and was producible to any member who might choose to ask for it. I don’t think anyone ever did.

The extracts here presented are something like a half of the extant MS. It is a highly authentic account of the early stages in a move-ment which proved of great importance.”

The following is a sample of the contents of this journal.

“Sunday, 20th May, 1849. * * * Woolner came in the evening and shewed us two verses of a new Song he has begun (the first beginning of My Beautiful Lady).

“Monday, 21st. * * * Gabriel recited lots of Patmore, Browning, Mrs. Browning, etc.

“23rd, Millais said he had thoughts of painting a hedge (as a subject) to the closest point of imitation, with a bird’s nest – a thing which has never been attempted. Another subject he has in his eye is a river sparrow’s nest, built (as he says they are) between three reeds.”

” July 14th. A contemplated Magazine discussed (that afterwards issued as The Germ). The title first suggested, Monthly Thoughts in Literature and Art. Other titles thought of were The Seed, The Scroll, The Artist, Art and Poetry.

“Nov. 22nd. * * * Patmore said that Tennyson is the greatest man he ever came in contact with, far greater in his life than in his writing, perfectly sincere and frank, never paying uncandid compliments. Browning takes more pains to please and is altogether much more a man of the world. Patmore thinks that Browning does not value himself so highly as he is rated by Gabriel and me.”

“Dec. 8th. Gabriel read The Princess through, and both Woolner and he pronounced it the finest poem since Shakespeare, superior even to Sordello. To this I demur.”

“Tuesday 18th. Tennyson’s poem of King Arthur is not yet commenced, though he has been for years past maturing the conception of it; and he intends that it should occupy him some fifteen years.” * * *

“Feb. 26th, 1850. * * * Marston says that Browning, before publishing Sordello, sent it to him to read, saying that this time, at any rate, the public should not accuse him of being unintelligible!

“Sunday 9th March, 1851. We voted to keep, under the same obligation as a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood meeting, the birthday of Shakespeare.

“May 13th. Ruskin’s explanation of the name `Pre-Raphaelite’ is very sensible.

” `They intend to return to early days in this point only; that, as far as in them lies, they will draw either what they see, or what they suppose might have been the actual facts of the scene they desire to represent, irrespective of any conventional rules of picture-making; and they have chosen their name because all artists did this before Raphael’s time and after Raphael’s time they did not this, but sought to paint fair pictures rather than represent stern facts; of which the consequence has been that, from Raphael’s time to this day, historical art has been in decadence.’ * * * “Carlyle the other night, in talking with Woolner, was speaking of Alfred (as he calls Tennyson) and Browning in reference to their embodying their thoughts in verse, when there is so great need of doing things in the directest way possible. `Alfred,’ he said, `knows how to jingle, but Browning does not.’ He spoke, however, of Browning’s intellect in the highest terms. He then referred to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: `These Pre-Raphaelites they talk of are said to copy the thing as it is, or invent it as they believe it must have been: now there’s some sense, and hearty sincerity, in this. It’s the only way of doing anything fit to be seen.’” So much for a sample of the entries in this journal.