Michael Scott's Wooing (For a Drawing)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869-1871, 1875-1876
Date: 1853, 1869-1871
Rhyme: a4b3b4a3b4a3
Meter: iambic
Genre: ballad (fragment)
DGR sketched both a 4 and a six line stanza for the poem.


◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 124 (no. 222).


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Poem: Fitzwilliam Museum manuscript; Prose: Duke Library draft manuscript.

Scholarly Commentary


DGR told Watts-Dunton in 1875 (see Doughty and Wahl, Letters IV. 1392 ) that the story of Michael Scott was “one of the best supernatural tales I know” and he toyed for many years with completing a ballad. His efforts to compose this ballad began in 1869 but was then left hanging fire. His interest was renewed in late 1875 when Watts-Dunton supplied him with a new version of the tale (see his letters to Watts-Dunton of 10 and 12 December 1875, Fredeman, Correspondence, 75. 213, 215 ).

DGR only drafted some preliminary stanzas for this projected ballad—stanzas that modelled the possible stanzaic forms (which would have been either in 4 or in 6 lines, or perhaps in alternating stanzas of 4 and 6 lines). Two documents exhibit this prosodic trial effort: one in the Fitzwilliam Museum (dating from about 1869), the other part of a letter to Watts-Dunton of 4 January 1876 in the Ashley Library. DGR made a prose sketch of the ballad but he never worked out the verse text beyond the experimental fragments. The prose sketch for the ballad dates from 1869-71.

Textual History: Composition

The draft manuscript text of DGR's prose sketch is part of the Duke Library's Notebook IV. Besides the fragment at the Fitzwilliam, which dates from around 1869, and the Ashley Library document, the notebooks have some fragments connected to this unconsummated project. Another fragment intended for the work is the piece titled (posthumously) by WMR A Ground-Swell.

Production History

At least two different pictorial treatments were undertaken, once in 1853 and again, as for the present work, in 1869-1871. Frederick Craven commissioned a watercolour in 1867 and Leyland an oil in 1871, but neither commission was even begun. The red chalk drawing in the William Morris Gallery is the most finished of the studies DGR made for the work.

We know that in late 1870 DGR was at least contemplating work on “a picture I am proposing to paint to be called Michael Scott's Wooing”, as he wrote to Alice Boyd on 1 November asking for an example of a Scotch girl's clothing to copy (see Fredeman, Correspondence 70. 248 ). He was still negotiating with Craven in 1871 about that commission, and he seems to have backed away from Leyland's work late in that year, when he told Leyland “that on tackling the Michael Scott subject, I find there are points in it which present unexpected difficulties for so large and important a work, and I want to substitute a Dante subject I have long had in contemplation” (see Fredeman, Correspondence 71. 44, 216 ).

Printing History

WMR printed examples of both the poetry and the prose in his 1911 edition, taking the former from the Fitzwilliam manuscript and the latter from the Duke notebook.


Michael Scott (or Scot) (ca. 1175-1274), the celebrated scholar and astrologer sent by Frederic II to spread Aristotelian ideas to the various courts of Europe. A semi-legendary figure, he was celebrated for his supposed magical powers.


The ballad would have treated an incident from James Hogg's short novel Mary Burnet (see Doughty and Wahl, Letters, II. 911n ). But DGR was familar with the many treatments of Michael Scott's life, in particular the most celebrated of all from Walter Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel (see Canto II in particular).

In December 1870 DGR told Thomas Hake that the latter's poem “Madeline” afforded “a curiously close parallel to the general notion of my Michael Scott design” (see Fredeman, Correspondence 70. 273 ).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1