Viscomi, “Playing with the Toy
Theatre. An Essay on the Toy and the Theatre it Illustrates” (1977)
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Princeton Library Manuscript.
DGR seems never to have published this request for information about the
so-called “Toy Theatres” that were such an influence upon
his own work, drawing him away from conventions of realistic representation to
the dramatic and abstract forms that characterize these popular art productions.
Nearly all of DGR's artistic juvenilia are drawn in the style of this popular art form
that occupied the attention of the entire Rossetti household when DGR was a boy.
This public letter was written about the same time that DGR was working with the
Gilchrists on the biography of Blake that he helped to fashion and get published. Blake's own
work has much in common with these popular graphical forms, nor is it at all surprising
that DGR should have been arrested by Blake's work as soon as he came in contact with it. Indeed,
the continuity between Blake and DGR can be nicely traced through DGR's early interest
in these popular graphical productions.
While the date is not absolutely certain, it seems clear that the letter was written around 1863.
The best treatment of the subject of these toy theatre materials is the
long essay on the subject by Viscomi (see bibliography below). The prints were published
throughout the nineteenth-century, but the early heyday began in 1811 and continued, as DGR's
unpublished letter indicates, until around 1831. Besides the stationers mentioned by DGR in his
letter, other publishers included J. Reddington, J. Wood, W. Webb, B. Pollock, J. K. Green,
and O. Hodgson.
This document has never been published.