Poems. (Privately Printed.), Penkill Proofs

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869 July - 1869 August


◦ Troxell, “The Trial Books”, 179, 182 .

◦ Fraser, “The Rossetti Collection of Janet Camp Troxell”, 160 .

◦ Lewis, The Trial Book Fallacy, 186 .

Scholarly Commentary


The Penkill Proofs (so-called) are the first integral set of proofs that were prepared for DGR as part of the printing process that would eventuate in the publication of the 1870 Poems in April 1870. They comprise Lewis's second Proof State (see The Trial Book Fallacy, 186 ). They are called the Penkill Proofs because they were completed and sent to DGR on 18 August 1869, two days after he arrived at Alice Boyd's home Penkill Castle, in Ayrshire. He stayed at Penkill until 20 September. The typesetting began in July, however, as DGR's letters to Jane Morris of 21 and 30 July 1869 show (see Fredeman, Correspondence 69. 91, 103 ).

DGR had been thinking about his poetry and its publication since 1868 but it is clear that he remained uncertain how best to proceed. Then came the publication in the March 1869 Fortnightly Review of a group of sixteen sonnets comprising an initial sketch of what would become “The House of Life” sequence. The event signalled his inclination to bring his writing before the public. But he remained hesitant about publishing a book. So he decided to undertake a “trial” printing process that began in July 1869 with these so-called Penkill proofs (and the related proofs that survive now as some galley proofs for Sister Helen and After the French Liberation of Italy). These texts mark DGR's tentative first steps toward further publications, though the number and form must have been as yet undecided. He began to decide upon a book publication after these proofs were printed off—in late August 1869 when he read a favorable review of his poetry by H. Buxton Forman in Tinsley's Magazine (September 1869). The review was responding to the sonnets he had published the previous March. DGR was so pleased with the review (see his letter to Frederick Shields, 27 August 1869: Fredeman, Correspondence 69. 140 ) that he began to think he should publish a volume of his work.

Two copies of the Penkill Proofs survive: the William Bell Scott copy, and another copy that DGR kept for himself. Both of these copies are preserved in the Princeton/Troxell Collection of Rossetti materials.

Printing History

These proofs were being set from texts that DGR supplied to his printers (Strangeways and Walden) before he left London on 17 August 1869 for a sojourn at Penkill Castle in Scotland (see his letters to Messrs. Strangeways of 7 August 1869, Fredeman, Correspondence 69. 116 ).

The printing process stretched between approximately 18 July and 18 August 1869. On 7 August DGR wrote to his publisher Ellis, who was overseeing the printing process, that the poems should each begin on a separate recto page, except for the longer poems. These he allowed to be printed on both sides of the page, though each new poem was to begin on a separate recto. As a consequence, poems that ran only one page or less all have blank versos. It has been suggested that this method of printing would allow DGR greater flexibility in shifting his poems about, as he experimented with the ordering of the different works. But it is not at all clear that such a procedure would have any significant impact on the printing process, at least for the printers who were preparing the works. On the other hand, such a format may well have facilitated the revision process DGR would be executing on the proofs.

The texts missing from this proof can be reconstructed from various documents. Most important is DGR's manuscript list (partial) of some of the poems he wanted printed in this first set of proofs. The list is contained in the notebook of materials in the Troxell Collection at Princeton headed MS Poetry 1869-71. (Also relevant is DGR's letter to his brother of 21 August 1869: see Fredeman, Correspondence 69. 130 ). Pages 66-67 carried “A Song and Music”, pages 85-86 printed “To Mary in Summer”, pages 91-92 had “Madonna” (printed under the title “Madonna Consolata”, and pages 137-138 had “Placata Venere”, which was the original title of “Nuptial Sleep”.

The half title for “The House of Life” in this Proof shows that DGR used as printer's copy a modified and corrected text of the Fortnightly Review text of sixteen sonnets for that material. The arrangement of the original Fortnightly Review texts is very different in this proof, however, clearly showing that DGR had already begun to think about new arrangements for the materials of the sequence.

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