The House of Life (composite manuscript posthumously arranged, Fitzwilliam Museum)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Production Description

Document Title: The House of Life Sonnets./ Dante Gabriel Rossetti M.S.
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of composition: 1845 - 1881
Type of Manuscript: Various, some draft, some fair copy, not all DGR holographs; see Introduction
Collation: 6 initial blank leaves, 119 numbered leaves comprising the text, five final blank leaves. Most of the versos are blank.
Scribe: DGR; May Morris; Charles Fairfax Murray
Corrector: DGR


Current Location: Fitzwilliam Museum
Note: The MSS were given to Charles Fairfax Murray by DGR; the volume was acquired by the Fitwilliam Museum from the Sotheby's sale of some of Murray's library in 1919.

Physical Description

Cover: green leather
Endpapers: marbled paper
Paper: 9x8 inch leaves (for the Murray notebook), but with various sizes for the individual MSS pasted into the notebook
Watermark: J. Whatman, dated 1883 and 1884 (for the Murray notebook), and with various other watermarks on individual MSS pasted into the notebook
Other Physical Features: For sizes of individual MS leaves see the page notes for the particular leaves.

Scholarly Commentary


This 119-page text of DGR's “ House of Life” sonnets is a composite construction. It consists mostly of original DGR MSS (draft and fair copy both) as well as copies made by May Morris and by Charles Fairfax Murray. Murray pasted the DGR and May Morris copies into a notebook sometime after 1883 (the notebook consists of paper watermarked 1883 and 1884), probably in the mid-1880s. Murray's copies of several sonnets are written on the notebook pages, while the DGR and May Morris copies are pasted in, usually on the stubs of notebook pages that have been cut away. The May Morris copies date from the period when DGR was preparing press copy of the 1881 volume of Ballads and Sonnets . Thus the text represents a process of construction that extends over many years. The notebook contains autograph MSS that were written as early as the late 1840s and as late as 1881. The book is a conscious attempt by Murray to reconstruct a MS text of the sonnet sequence out of the MSS that Murray had in his possession. Most had been given to him by DGR in 1869-70, when Murray helped DGR see the 1870 Poems volume through the press. But Murray received the May Morris copies after 1881 -- perhaps from Morris, perhaps from DGR.

Not all the texts in the manuscript are “House of Life” sonnets, however. A few other texts and text fragments are incorporated because they are written on “House of Life” sonnet manuscript pages. The collection is also notable for the three drawings it contains.

Textual History: Composition

The manuscripts date from many different periods. The earliest MSS are holograph and date from the late 1840s. Other holographs comprise three distinct groups: one from 1869-70, another from 1870-73, and a third from 1880-81. The May Morris copies were made in 1880-81 and the Charles Fairfax Murray copies were made when the volume was constructed by him (in the mid-1880s) from the MSS in his possession into a MS text of “The House of Life” sonnet sequence based on the 1881 text (but including sonnet 6a, “ Nuptial Sleep,” which was not included in the 1881 sequence). Many of the MSS were acquired by Murray when he was making copies of the poems for DGR in the fall of 1869. Later, in 1880, DGR worked with May Morris as copyist to construct a printer's copy for the 1881 text of “ The House of Life” as it appeared in his Ballads and Sonnets volume. The pagination (1-119) is uniformly given in small arabic numerals (upper right corner of each recto page); these appear to have been added by Murray. Many of the individual sonnet manuscripts bear other numbers which indicate DGR's efforts to define an order for the sonnets in the different printings of 1869, 1870, and 1881. Some of these numbers are by Charles Fairfax Murray, and others appear to be by the printers as they tried to keep up with DGR's evolving and changing order for the sonnets.

Textual History: Revision

The MS volume has numerous levels of revision that correspond to the heteroglot character of the MSS comprising the volume. Some date back to the 1840s, some are as late as 1881, and many others fall at various points in between those termini.

Production History

This bound notebook volume of 119 leaves has various manuscript and two printed (proof) texts either written directly on the notebook leaves or (as separate small pieces of paper) pasted on the notebook sheets. All are in the approximate order of the sonnets as they appeared in the 1881 volume Ballads and Sonnets . Most of the manuscripts are holograph, but there are copies by May Morris and by Charles Fairfax Murray, who put the volume together after DGR's death in the mid-1880s. The manuscripts are typically pasted on the recto pages, with the opposite versos of the previous leaves being left blank. But often these blank leaves have a manuscript or other material.

Of the DGR holographs, virtually all are gathered here from several notebooks of the kind that DGR typically used for his poetry. The texts of individual sonnets are on notebook leaves that were torn or cut away from these notebooks. Analysis of the paper reveals that four distinct notebooks were involved:

1. A notebook containing transcripts written in 1880-81, all DGR holograph. All are from paper watermarked “J. Allen & Sons/ Super Fine.” This comprises the following pages from the Murray MS: leaves 1-7, 10, 12, 31-33, 38, 42, 46, 49, 51, 68, 81, 103, 106, 110.
2. A different notebook of texts containing DGR transcripts made between 1870-1881. This notebook originally contained both DGR holographs as well as all of the May Morris copies made in 1880-81. The paper is watermarked “J. Allen & Sons/ Super Fine.” This comprises the following pages from the Murray MS: leaves 9, 16-18, 21-22, 24-25, 27, 29, 34-37, 39-40, 47-48, 50, 62-63, 65-67, 69-72, 74-75, 78, 80, 89(?), 90, 91, 93, 97-98, 107, 111-112, 114.
3. A notebook, all DGR holographs, containing texts written and transcribed mostly in 1869. The paper is watermarked “B & H/ Superfine/ Kent”. These texts comprise the following pages of the Murray MS: 44-45, 57-61, 76-77, 82, 87-88, 92, 94-95, 102, 104, 108, 113.
4. A notebook containing DGR holographs of (mostly) early poems. Paper unwatermarked; the transcripts are early, dating from the 1850s. The Murray MS pages corresponding to these texts are: leaves 8, 19, 55-56, 79, 83, 85, 86, 109, 117.

In addition, four other groups of poems can be distinguished by their paper. The first three are DGR copies, the fourth is the group of texts copied by Murray: (a). Leaves 54, 73, 84 (transcripts date from 1880-81); (b). Leaves 11, 14, 64, 99, 105 (all transcripts from 1869-70); (c). Leaves 13(?), 20, 23, 41, 43(?) -- all from 1880-81; (d). Leaves 15, 26, 30, 52-53, 96, 100, 115-116, 118-119 (Murray's fair copies).

The May Morris copies and DGR's fair copy holographs of post-1870 poems may well have been used in the printing of the 1881 volume Ballads and Sonnets .

Printing History

This MS has never been printed.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 44-1869.fizms.rad.xml
Copyright: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge