Letter to S. W.

William Holman Hunt

General Description

Date: 1848 August
Rhyme: couplets (with variations)
Meter: syllabic (varying length)
Genre: epistle


◦ Fredeman, The P. R. B. Journal, 108-112


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the South African National Gallery Manuscript text.

Scholarly Commentary


This spirited verse letter from Hunt to William Smith Williams (1800-1875), hitherto unknown, is important and interesting in a number of respects. It is one of several verse letters written by Hunt during the founding years of the PRB that are preserved in the Rossetti/Wahl collection in the library of the South African National Gallery.

The letter is a kind of genial aesthetic manifesto in which Hunt lays out his Pre-Raphaelite ideas about truth to nature. The mild paganism of the poem underscores what he always insisted, that the movement which he and DGR founded was not, in his mind, oriented toward Christianity. (His comments in the poem (lines 239-244) on Collinson's ascetic picture The Novitiate are mildly ironical.) The critical contrast Hunt draws between urban London and the mythologized ideal of nature is crucial, bearing both comparison and clear contrast with DGR's treatment in poems like “Jenny” , whose first version was composed at this time.

The concluding lines (204ff.) discuss the recent activities of the Cyclographic Society, the successor to the Sketching Club that DGR joined in 1843 and the precursor to the PRB that flourished briefly in 1848 until it fell apart in September. (As Hunt observes, “it flags/ Considerably” (204-205) in the August when Hunt wrote this poem.) The society was founded by Richard Burchett and N. E. Green (in Fredeman's words) “to supplement the instruction available in the various art schools and. . .training divisions of the Academy” ( Fredeman, The P. R. B. Journal, 108 ). Hunt discusses several of the drawings that the members brought to the group for criticism and evaluation, most notably DGR's Faust: Gretchen and Mephistopheles in the Church , Millais's drawing for Lear and Cordelia, and Collinson's The Novitiate.

Like his verse letter to Frederick Stephens composed in December 1848 and another verse letter of September, this poem is written in syllabic doggerel lines that rhyme in couplets with variations.

Printing History

The manuscript poem has never been printed.


The letter is clearly influenced by Hunt's reading of Keats, and especially early poems like “Sleep and Poetry” , “I Stood Tip-Toe” , and Endymion . The odes of Keats are variously echoed as well, especially around lines 88-96.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: hunt002.raw.xml