Essay on The Newcomes

Edward Burne-Jones

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Georgiana Burne–Jones, Memorials.

◦ Doughty and Wahl, Letters, vol. 1.

◦ Fredeman, Pre-Raphaelitism

◦ Kelvin, The Collected Letters of William Morris, vol. I.

◦ Mackail, Life of William Morris.

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) reviewed Thackeray’s The Newcomes for the first issue of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine. His praise of Thackeray’s “wonderfully faithful picture of the great world as it passes daily before us, many-sided, deeply intricate” (51) echoes the principles espoused by the PRB, which Burne-Jones would have been familiar with from his and Morris’s reading of The Germ. In this review, Burne-Jones expresses “deepest reverence for such great names as Tennyson and Holman Hunt, Ruskin and Carlyle, and Kingsley” (53) all of whom, with the exception of Hunt, would be the subject of separate essays in later issues of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine.

Burne-Jones’s praise of Rossetti in this essay would have far-reaching consequences for the Magazine. Burne-Jones calls Rossetti’s illustration for Allingham’s “The Maids of Elfen-mere” “the most beautiful drawing for an illustration I have ever seen”, and asks “Why is the author of the Blessed Damozel, and the story of Chiaro, so seldom on the lips of men? If only we could hear him oftener, live in the light of his power a little longer” (60). Rossetti wrote to Allingham in March to say “That notice in The Oxford and Cambridge Mag. was the most gratifying thing by far that ever happened to me—being unmistakably genuine” (Letters, 292). Although all contributions to the magazine were anonymous, by March Rossetti knew who had written this piece, and it was Burne-Jones’s praise that led directly to Rossetti’s involvement with the Magazine. While copies of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine were sent to Tennyson and Ruskin, Rossetti’s response was unsolicited.

Textual History: Composition

Burne-Jones must have written this essay in the fall of 1855. He and Morris had first heard of Rossetti in 1854, in Ruskin’s “Edinburgh Lectures,” and they saw several PRB works in Paris on their trip to the continent in 1855 (Mackail 39). They had read The Germ before the trip, and delighted particularly in “The Blessed Damozel” and “Hand and Soul,” the two works mentioned in this essay. During the same trip, Morris wrote to Cormell Price, saying he had bought a copy of The Newcomes (Kelvin 22), though possibly Burne-Jones was already familiar with the novel, which had been serialzed in 1853-1855.

Burne-Jones met Rossetti following a meeting of the Working Men’s College in London in December, 1855, but the essay would certainly have gone to press by that time.

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , January, 1856. Reprinted in Bibelot, IV (October 1898), 321-359 (Fredeman 155).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1