Poems. A New Edition

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1881


◦ Fredeman, “The Shadow of Dante: Rossetti in the Final Years (Extracts from W. M. Rossetti's Unpublished Diaries, 1876-1882)” , Victorian Poetry (1982) 217-245

◦ Lewis, “The Making of Rossetti's Ballads and Sonnets and Poems (1881)” , Victorian Poetry (1982) 199-216

Scholarly Commentary


This is a revised and augmented “New Edition” of the book DGR published in 1870 under the same title. DGR was probably thinking toward such a publication from late in 1878 when he knew that copies of his 1870 Poems were exhausted. But the first explicit reference to the new edition comes in DGR's letter to Mrs. Morris of 26 November 1880, when he says that his publisher Ellis visited “to talk of publishing. He thinks the best plan is to put the old and new together, and this is what I think” ( Bryson 166 ). DGR may have been stimulated to the idea of a new edition partly because of an enthusiastic notice of DGR's poetry by Hall Caine in a lecture Caine gave in July 1879 (see Bryson 104-105, 159 ).

DGR seems not to have mentioned the idea of this edition to his brother until 15 December 1880, when WMR notes in his diary for that day: “His volume of Poems being out of print, he has some idea of reissuing it, along with all his poems subsequently composed, forming probably half as much again.” In fact, DGR must have been formulating general plans for a new edition throughout 1879, when he was seeking to obtain some copies of his 1873 Tauchnitz edition (see also the commentary for the 1881 companion Ballads and Sonnets volume). DGR had a good deal of new poetry both in hand and in train, for he had been writing again in a regular way all through 1880.

The large amount of verse eventually led to the decision to issue two volumes, one this “New Edition”, the other a volume containing the bulk of the new writing DGR had produced. The initial plan (in January 1881) was to include the augmented “House of Life” in the New Edition of the 1870 volume and to call the other volume “Poems 2nd Series” (recollecting Swinburne's Poems and Ballads, Second Series (1878). As his letter to Watts-Dunton of 3 March 1881 shows, DGR thought the latter volume would pivot around his three new long ballads, “Rose Mary”, “The White Ship”, and “The King's Tragedy”, which he looked to have set up in print to “see how far they go towards a new volume”. But by 21 March DGR had decided, against his brother's advice, to transfer the enlarged “House of Life” to the volume with the ballads and to include the long fragment of “The Bride's Prelude” in the New Edition. A week later he had the idea that the latter might be put into the volume containing his new ballads, but he eventually decided against that thought.

This New Edition is much less personal than the 1870 volume, not least because of the decision to remove “The House of Life” from the book (see also the commentary for the companion of this book, the Ballads and Sonnets, as well as the commentaries for the 1873 Tauchnitz edition).

Printing History

Printer's copy for this book was a set of corrected pages torn from a copy of the 1873 Tauchnitz edition, augmented by some manuscript material for poems that were not printed in the 1873 book. The vast majority of these corrected 1873 pages are now in the library of the Delaware Art Museum, which houses as well a large corpus of corrected and uncorrected proofs for the book. The printing was done by Strangeways.

DGR wrote to his publisher Ellis on 30 April 1881 that “we had better at once begin reprinting the old vol: with Strangeways [i.e., DGR's 1870 volume], that it may come out almost immediately after the new one [i.e., the Ballads and Sonnets volume, the printing of which had begun several weeks before and was still in train]. The whole copy is ready. Fifty-six pages will be removed from the old vol: and quite as much substituted to replace them— I mean as much if printed on the system of the old vol: which is closer than the new. Thus I suppose we had better print it as before, as it would otherwise come very thick.” (Fredeman, Correspondence 81. 199). DGR wanted Strangeways because he was unhappy with the slow progress Whittingham was making with his other volume. He wrote again to Ellis on 3 May that he would be immediately sending “the copy for the reissue of old vol. This will consist of a copy of the Tauchnitz edition which has my last amendments and is of the same pagination as your own edition—and of certain MS. additions in lieu of the withdrawn sonnets” (Fredeman, Correspondence 81. 203). On the 5th he sent Ellis the printer's copy manuscript of “The Bride's Prelude”, which he requested be set up in type immediately (as it was in the three sets of slip proofs that survive and that began coming to DGR on 9 May). During the next seven days DGR received from Strangeways his initial sets of proof signatures for this book (“Strangeways seems to get on fast”, he happily told Ellis on the 17th (Fredeman, Correspondence 81. 226).

As we see from the multiple surviving copies of the book's signatures, DGR had at least two copies printed of each signature, so that he told Watts-Dunton in a letter of 21 May that he could give him “an entire first set of the volume” when he would see him for dinner of 25 May. DGR also had a set of proofs of this volume made for his brother, who helped with the press correction for both volumes.

Though ready well before it finally first appeared on 10 Novemeber, the book was held back by DGR because he did not want it to appear before the Ballads and Sonnets volume, which was experiencing various difficulties as it passed through the press (see the commentaries for that volume). An American edition of this “New Edition” of DGR's poems was issued by Roberts Brothers from printed sheets provided by Ellis.

DGR's correspondence between 7 April and 25 May contains the basic extra-textual information about the book's printing process (see the letters in Fredeman, Correspondence 81.155-238). This material should be read in conjunction with the complex set of surviving manuscripts and proofs, the bulk of which are in the library of the Delaware Art Museum.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1881.raw.xml