Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869-1881
Rhyme: a3a3b2b2a3
Meter: iambic


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1911.

Scholarly Commentary


WMR gathered a group of DGR's limericks in his posthumous collected editions—DGR did not publish any himself. They were directed at friends, acquaintances, enemies, and himself. As William Bell Scott later observed, “The dearest friends and most intimate acquaintances came in for the severest treatment; but as truth was the last thing intended—though sometimes slyly implied—nobody minded. Of course I came in for a few. When I at once lost all my hair after a severe ilness, he began one: ‘There's that foolish old Scotchman called Scott,/ Who thinks he has hair but has not.’” (see Scott's Autobiographical Notes, II. 188 ). The brilliance of DGR's facility with the form is nowhere better illustrated than in the limerick fragment that WMR quotes in his Memoir (328) of his brother, “There is a young female named Olive”.

WMR's 1911 selection can be found in his 1911 edition (pages 273-275). Other uncollected limericks were written on William Morris, on Watts-Dunton, on Tennyson, on Buchanan, and Enneas Sweetland Dallas. Other nonsense rhymes to be noted are his 1869 doggerel poem to May Morris sent with a copy of Alice in Wonderland, his Nine Tailors limerick, and of course the incomparable “Parted Love!”.

Textual History: Composition

Most of DGR's limericks were composed ex tempore at the dinners he hosted at Cheyne Walk, and according to WMR, the principal period came between 1869-1871 (see WMR, 1911). Some were clearly written at other times, however, a few are quite late, and some must have been composed at other dinner parties. The truth is that DGR loved both epigram and nonsense verse and he used these forms often.

According to William Bell Scott, DGR “began the habit with us, the difficulty of finding a rhyme for the name being often the sole inducement. Swinburne assisted him and all of us; and every day for a year or two they used to fly about” (see Scott's Autobiographical Notes, II. 187 ).

When Hall Caine published the second edition of his Recollections in 1928, he augmented the text in many places, and notably in respect to the dinners at Cheyne Walk. Caine recalls DGR “rattling off” his limericks, “at the making of which nobody who ever attempted the form of amusement has been able to match him. He could turn them out as fast as he could talk, with such point, such humour, such building-up to a climax, that even when they verged on the personal, or yet the profane. . .it was impossible to receive the last word without a shout. . . . I should not wonder if the almost fatal facility he had in the writing of satirical doggerel sometimes cost the poet dear” (74).

DGR alludes to a limerick aimed at the Art dealers Thomas and William Agnew in a letter to Frederick Shields of 25 June 1870: “Do you know if the brothers Agnew have really got to hear of that blessed rhyme? I might wish to be writing them, but shouldn't if I thought they were riled” (see Fredeman, Correspondence 70. 181). Four of his known limericks are preserved in the Commonplace book of Alice Ramsden, in texts that vary significantly from the texts that descend to us from WMR's printed edition of 1911. There they are headed “Nonsense Rhymes. Composed by D. G. Rossetti taken from the pencil notes of Lady Burne-Jones who wrote them down as D. G. R. Composed them.”

Printing History

William Bell Scott was the first to print a few of DGR's nonsense limericks in his 1892 Autobiographical Notes, II. 187-189 . WMR later augmented those four with a selection of twenty additional limericks in his edition of 1911. Others that were included in letters have since been published and are included in the present archive, along with a few that have never been published at all. Scott's texts differ from those given by WMR. The limerick on Morris was first printed in 1975 in the special Morris number of Victorian Poetry 10 .


Scott says that Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense was the chief inspiration behind the flurry of limericks that DGR and his circle were producing. The book first appeared in 1846 and again in an augmented edition in 1861.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 37-1869.raw.xml