The Germ. Thoughts towards Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art

Alternately titled: Art and Poetry: Being Thoughts towards Nature Conducted Principally by Artists

William Michael Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1850


◦ Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism, 128-152.

◦ Carl Dowson, Victorian Noon.

◦ Martha L. Laurent, Tennyson and the Poetry of The Germ: A Study of Early Pre-Raphaelite Poets, Ph. D. Thesis 1965.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 27-31.

◦ McAlpine, Heather. “Pre-Raphaelite Emblematics in The GermJournal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies N.S. 20 (Fall 2011): 5–24

◦ James Ashcroft Noble, “A Pre-Raphaelite Magazine,” Fraser's Magazine (May 1882), 568-580.

◦ Ernest Radford, “The Life and Death of The Germ,” Idler 13 (1898), 227-233.

◦ Stephens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 23-28.

◦ WMR, DGR. Memoir.

◦ WMR, Preface to the 1901 facsimile edition of The Germ.

◦ WMR, The P.R.B. Journal.

◦ WMR, Preraphaelite Diaries and Letters.

Scholarly Commentary


The Germ was the organ for disseminating the work and ideas of the initial Pre-Raphaelite circle. Not everyone agrees about the founding of the PRB movement—who was most responsible, who should be regarded as its intellectual center. WMR, the chief record-keeper and historian of the movement, assigned those roles to his brother in his many later writings. But Holman Hunt vigorously disputed that view of the matter in his autobiography, where the main agents of the movement are Hunt and Millais.

However that may be, no one disputes the fact that it was DGR who initiated the idea of The Germ. The venture was sustained by his energy and programmatic goals “towards Art” and literature. The contents of each number reflect his ideas and influence, nor are we surprised to learn, from surviving early documents, that he was the chief agent working to secure material for publication.

The key persons involved in founding the periodical were DGR, his brother WMR, and William Holman Hunt, although the whole of the PRB circle discussed the journal and how it should be constituted. This initial circle also included James Collinson (1825?-1881), Millais, Frederic George Stephens (1828-1907), and Thomas Woolner (1825-1892). Others more or less closely associated with the PRB circle contributed to the periodical but were not involved with its production. At first the idea was to call it The P. R. B. Journal, a title that emphasized the desire to preserve a certain integrity of thought. This plan was abandoned, however, and the decision was explicitly made to enlarge the scope of the contributions to include material that could not be called Pre-Raphaelite in any strict sense.

Nonetheless, for all its heterogeneity The Germ does sustain certain consistent attachments. Most apparent is its anti-secular attitude. Pervading the journal is a loosely defined but unmistakeable set of religious goals, as well as a closely related conviction that art and literature are the vehicles that can be most relied upon to secure those goals. The journal recurs to subjects like early Italian painting, medieval topoi of various kinds, and discussions of the relation between early and contemporary art and literature. The latter are particularly revealing. DGR and his friends were much interested in how works of imagination once served both devotional and social functions, and how at certain times—the medieval period was paradigmatic here—religious and secular work seemed undivorced, as if formed in a tense double-helix. How such a state of affairs might be recovered in the mid- and late 19th-century was a question to be explored as well as a goal to be gained.

The Germ was an instrument toward those ends. It consisted of both verse and prose (the latter both fictional and expository). Only four numbers were published (January, February, March, and May, 1850). Discontinued when it proved a financial failure, it was critically noticed, it had a significant influence, and eventually its importance came to be widely recognized.

Textual History: Composition

WMR was the person who handled virtually all the administrative and editorial chores for the journal. Contributions from persons outside the immediate PRB circle were secured by different means, and while some of these materials are extremely interesting, the journal's most important texts are the contributions from DGR.

Textual History: Revision

The title of The Germ was changed after the first two numbers to Art and Poetry: Being Thoughts towards Nature Conducted Principally by Artists. Each of the four published issues carries an engraving as frontispiece. On the cover of each number appears a sonnet composed by WMR.

Printing History

The first number appeared in 1 January 1850 with Holman Hunt's etching (700 copies printed; 50 had etchings on India paper). Only 70 were sold. The second issue appeared on 31 January (500 copies printed, 40 sold by 9 February). Number 3 appeared on 31 March, number 4 on 30 April (print runs for both are uncertain, and apparently only 106 copies of number 4 were sold). The poor sales forced the journal to close down. Most of the expenses for the financial failure of the magazine were borne by George Tupper.

After the fame of the PRB was established, The Germ was reprinted first by Thomas Mosher (1898: Portland, Maine) and again as a close facsimile in 1901 with an introductory Preface by William Michael Rossetti giving historical and bibliographical particulars about the magazine. A recent reprint was put out by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (1992), with a Preface by Andrea Rose.


Each of the four issues began with an etching, a device that clearly established the artistic focus of the journal. The gothic types that were used for the cover sheets (which also served as title pages) and for the printed texts also contributed to the tone if not the arguments of the work. These types give a vaguely Puseyite cast to the work and locate its spiritual inspiration in an earlier, medieval world.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
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