Jan Van Hunks

Alternately titled: The Dutchman's Wager

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1846-1847; 1881-1882 (completed)
Rhyme: a4b3c4b3d4b3
Meter: iambic
Genre: ballad


◦ Baum, Manuscripts in the Duke University Library (1931), 17-25

◦ Keane, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (2002), 195-202

◦ Lewis, The Trial Book Fallacy (1995), 160-164

◦ Wahl, ed., Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Jan Van Hunks (1952)

Scholarly Commentary


In this by no means insignificant piece, DGR mingles comical and superstitious Gothic materials in a leaner and more direct version of his source text. As Wahl remarks, DGR “seized upon the central dramatic situation, and trimmed that of all irrelevancies” (15). Whereas Chorley's tale has an involved structure with two narrators and two smoking contests (one with the devil), DGR focuses his narrative tightly in order to sharpen the effect at all points. The ballad demonstrates that DGR had lost none of his skill with the ballad form. By comparison with “The White Ship” and “The King's Tragedy”, this work is more pointed and dramatic.

The ballad was begun early, in the period when DGR was composing prose works like “St. Agnes of Intercession” and “Deuced Odd; or, The Devil's In It”. The latter seems especially close in spirit to this ballad.

Textual History: Composition

Begun and nearly completed in 1846, according to WMR, DGR took the ballad up again in late 1881 and finished it in March 1882, shortly before he died. Three substantial manuscripts of this work survive. The Duke Library manuscript contains an initial leaf with text dating from the poem's composition in 1846 or 1847. This composite manuscript has other texts that were written later—some leaves seem to date from the early 1870s, others from 1880-1881. The two other major manuscripts are the working copy in pencil that DGR wrote in a notebook during his final illness (now in the Arents Collection, New York Public Library); and the fair copy DGR gave just before he died to Watts-Dunton, and that subsequently passed to T. J. Wise and the Ashley Library.

Printing History

Wahl (see bibliography) summarizes the publication history of the poem in a somewhat polemical fashion. WMR did not include the ballad in any of his collected editions because he knew that Watts-Dunton wanted to issue a separate printing himself from his manuscript. This publication finally came about in 1909 in The English Review text (January 1909), and Wise republished it shortly thereafter (1912) in a private printing of 30 copies—a printing dedicated to Watts-Dunton. Mackenzie Bell published the work yet again in an edition in 1929, his text deriving from a copy of the privately printed Wise text of 1912. All of these works print the Ashley Library text; Wahl's edition (1952) published the Arendts manuscript with a collation of the other texts included.


The ballad is based upon a tale DGR read as a youth in a collection titled Tales of Chivalry. The author of the tale was John Rutter Chorley, who published it under the title “Henkerwyssel's Challenge”. The story was reprinted in the annual The Winter's Wreathe for 1829, which is the text Wahl prints in his edition.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 3-1846.raw.xml