Saturday, January 29, 2011

Introduction to a facsimile of The Germ


Of late years it has been my fate or my whim to write a good deal
about the early days of the Praeraphaelite movement, the members of
the Praeraphaelite Brotherhood, and especially my brother Dante
Gabriel Rossetti, and my sister Christina Georgina Rossetti. I am now
invited to write something further on the subject, with immediate
reference to the Praeraphaelite magazine "The Germ," republished in
this volume. I know of no particular reason why I should not do this,
for certain it is that few people living know, or ever knew, so much
as I do about "The Germ,"; and if some press-critics who regarded
previous writings of mine as superfluous or ill-judged should
entertain a like opinion now, in equal or increased measure, I
willingly leave them to say so, while I pursue my own course none the

"The Germ" is here my direct theme, not the Praeraphaelite
Brotherhood; but it seems requisite to say in the first instance
something about the Brotherhood--its members, allies, and ideas--so
as to exhibit a raison d'ĂȘtre for the magazine. In doing this I must
necessarily repeat some things which I have set forth before, and
which, from the writings of others as well as myself, are well enough
known to many. I can vary my form of expression, but cannot introduce
much novelty into my statements of fact.

In 1848 the British School of Painting was in anything but a vital or
a lively condition. One very great and incomparable genius, Turner,
belonged to it. He was old and past his executive prime. There were
some other highly able men--Etty and David Scott, then both very near
their death; Maclise, Dyce, Cope, Mulready, Linnell, Poole, William
Henry Hunt, Landseer, Leslie, Watts, Cox, J.F. Lewis, and some
others. There were also some distinctly clever men, such as Ward,
Frith, and Egg. Paton, Gilbert, Ford Madox Brown, Mark Anthony, had
given sufficient indication of their powers, but were all in an early
stage. On the whole the school had sunk very far below what it had
been in the days of Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Blake, and
its ordinary average had come to be something for which commonplace
is a laudatory term, and imbecility a not excessive one.

There were in the late summer of 1848, in the Schools of the Royal
Academy or barely emergent from them, four young men to whom this
condition of the art seemed offensive, contemptible, and even
scandalous. Their names were William Holman-Hunt, John Everett
Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painters, and Thomas Woolner,
sculptor. Their ages varied from twenty-two to nineteen--Woolner
being the eldest, and Millais the youngest. Being little more than
lads, these young men were naturally not very deep in either the
theory or the practice of art: but they had open eyes and minds, and
could discern that some things were good and other bad--that some
things they liked, and others they hated. They hated the lack of
ideas in art, and the lack of character; the silliness and vacuity
which belong to the one, the flimsiness and make-believe which result
from the other. They hated those forms of execution which are merely
smooth and prettyish, and those which, pretending to mastery, are
nothing better than slovenly and slapdash, or what the P.R.B.'s
called "sloshy." Still more did they hate the notion that each artist
should not obey his own individual impulse, act upon his own
perception and study of Nature, and scrutinize and work at his
objective material with assiduity before he could attempt to display
and interpret it; but that, instead of all this, he should try to be
"like somebody else," imitating some extant style and manner, and
applying the cut-and-dry rules enunciated by A from the practice of B
or C. They determined to do the exact contrary. The temper of these
striplings, after some years of the current academic training, was
the temper of rebels: they meant revolt, and produced revolution. It
would be a mistake to suppose, because the called themselves
Praeraphaelites, that they seriously disliked the works produced by
Raphael; but they disliked the works produced by Raphael's uninspired
satellites, and were resolved to find out, by personal study and
practice, what their own several faculties and adaptabilities might
be, without being bound by rules and big-wiggeries founded upon the
performance of Raphael or of any one. They were to have no master
except their own powers of mind and hand, and their own first-hand
study of Nature. Their minds were to furnish them with subjects for
works of art, and with the general scheme of treatment; Nature was to
be their one or their paramount storehouse of materials for objects
to be represented; the study of her was to be deep, and the
representation (at any rate in the earlier stages of self-discipline
and work) in the highest degree exact; executive methods were to be
learned partly from precept and example, but most essentially from
practice and experiment. As their minds were very different in range
and direction, their products also, from the first, differed greatly;
and these soon ceased to have any link of resemblance.

The Praeraphaelite Brothers entertained a deep respect and a sincere
affection for the works of some of the artists who had preceded
Raphael; and they thought that they should more or less be following
the lead of those artists if they themselves were to develop their
own individuality, disregarding school-rules. This was really the sum
and substance of their "Praeraphaelitism." It may freely be allowed
that, as they were very young, and fired by certain ideas impressive
to their own spirits, they unduly ignored some other ideas and
theories which have none the less a deal to say for themselves. They
contemned some things and some practitioners of art not at all
contemptible, and, in speech still more than in thought, they at
times wilfully heaped up the scorn. You cannot have a youthful rebel
with a faculty who is also a model head-boy in a school.

The P.R.B. was completed by the accession of three members to the
four already mentioned. These were James Collinson, a domestic
painter; Frederic George Stephens, an Academy-student of painting;
and myself, a Government-clerk. These again, when the P.R.B. was
formed towards September 1848, were all young, aged respectively
about twenty-three, twenty-one, and nineteen.

This Praeraphaelite Brotherhood was the independent creation of
Holman-Hunt, Millais, Rossetti, and (in perhaps a somewhat minor
degree) Woolner: it cannot be said that they were prompted or abetted
by any one. Ruskin, whose name has been sometimes inaccurately mixed
up in the matter, and who had as yet published only the first two
volumes of "Modern Painters," was wholly unknown to them personally,
and in his writings was probably known only to Holman-Hunt. Ford
Madox Brown had been an intimate of Rossetti since March 1848, and he
sympathized, fully as much as any of these younger men, with some
old-world developments of art preceding its ripeness or
over-ripeness: but he had no inclination to join any organization for
protest and reform, and he followed his own course--more influenced,
for four or five years ensuing, by what the P.R.B.'s were doing than
influencing them. Among the persons who were most intimate with the
members of the Brotherhood towards the date of its formation, and
onwards till the inception of "The Germ," I may mention the
following. For Holman-Hunt, the sculptor John Lucas Tupper, who had
been a fellow Academy-student, and was now an anatomical designer at
Guy's Hospital: he and his family were equally well acquainted with
Mr. Stephens. For Millais, the painter Charles Allston Collins, son
of the well-known painter of domestic life and coast-scenes
William Collins; the painter Arthur Hughes; also his own brother,
William Henry Millais, who had musical aptitudes and became a
landscape-painter. For Rossetti, William Bell Scott (brother of David
Scott), painter, poet, and Master of the Government School of Design
in Newcastle-on-Tyne; Major Calder Campbell, a retired Officer of the
Indian army, and a somewhat popular writer of tales, verses, etc.;
Alexander Munro the sculptor; Walter Howell Deverell, a young
painter, son of the Secretary to the Government Schools of Design;
James Hannay, the novelist, satirical writer, and journalist; and
(known through Madox Brown) William Cave Thomas, a painter who had
studied in the severe classical school of Germany, and had earned a
name in the Westminster Hall competitions for frescoes in Parliament.
For Woolner, John Hancock and Bernhard Smith, sculptors; Coventry
Patmore the poet, with his connections the Orme family and Professor
Masson; also William North, an eccentric young literary man, of much
effervescence and some talent, author of "Anti-Coningsby" and other
novels. For Collinson, the prominent painter of romantic and biblical
subjects John Rogers Herbert, who was, like Collinson himself, a
Roman Catholic convert.

The Praeraphaelite Brotherhood having been founded in September 1848,
the members exhibited in 1849 works conceived in the new spirit.
These were received by critics and by the public with more than
moderate though certainly not unmixed favour: it had not as yet
transpired that there was a league of unquiet and ambitious young
spirits, bent upon making a fresh start of their own, and a clean
sweep of some effete respectabilities. It was not until after the
exhibitions were near closing in 1849 that any idea of bringing out a
magazine came to be discussed. The author of the project was Dante
Gabriel Rossetti. He alone among the P.R.B.'s had already cultivated
the art of writing in verse and in prose to some noticeable extent
("The Blessed Damozel" had been produced before May 1847), and he was
better acquainted than any other member with British and foreign
literature. There need be no self-conceit in saying that in these
respects I came next to him. Holman-Hunt, Woolner, and Stephens, were
all reading men (in British literature only) within straiter bounds
than Rossetti: not any one of them, I think, had as yet done in
writing anything worth mentioning. Millais and Collinson, more
especially the former, were men of the brush, not the pen, yet both
of them capable of writing with point, and even in verse. By July 13
and 14, 1849, some steps were taken towards discussing the project of
a magazine. The price, as at first proposed, was to be sixpence; the
title, "Monthly Thoughts in Literature, Poetry, and Art"; each number
was to have an etching. Soon afterwards a price of one shilling was
decided upon, and two etchings per number: but this latter intention
was not carried out.{1} All the P.R.B.'s were to be proprietors of
the magazine: I question however whether Collinson was ever persuaded
to assume this responsibility, entailing payment of an eventual
deficit. We were quite ready also to have some other proprietors. Mr.
Herbert was addressed by Collinson, and at one time was regarded as
pretty safe. Mr. Hancock the sculptor did not resist the pressure put
upon him; but after all he contributed nothing to "The Germ," either
in work or in money. Walter Deverell assented, and paid when the time
came. Thus there seem to have been eight, or else seven,
proprietors--not one of them having any spare cash, and not all of
them much steadiness of interest in the scheme set going by Dante

{1} Many of the particulars here given regarding "The Germ" appear in
the so-called "P.R.B. Journal," which was published towards December
1899, in the volume named "Preraphaelite Diaries and Letters, edited
by W.M. Rossetti." At the date when I wrote the present introduction,
that volume had not been offered for publication.

With so many persons having a kind of co-equal right to decide what
should be done with the magazine, it soon became apparent that
somebody ought to be appointed Editor, and assume the control. I,
during an absence from London, was fixed upon for this purpose by
Woolner and my brother--with the express or tacit assent, so far as I
know, of all the others, I received notice of my new dignity on
September 23, 1849, being just under twenty years of age, and I
forthwith applied myself to the task. It had at first been proposed
to print upon the prospectus and wrappers of the magazine the words
"Conducted by Artists," and also (just about this time) to entitle it
"The P.R.B. Journal." I called attention to the first of these points
as running counter to my assuming the editorship, and to the second
as in itself inappropriate: both had in fact been already set aside.
My brother had ere this been introduced to Messrs. Aylott and Jones,
publishers in Paternoster Row (principally concerned, I believe, with
books of evangelical religion), and had entered into terms with them,
and got them to print a prospectus. "P.R.B." was at first printed on
the latter, but to this Mr. Holman-Hunt objected in November, and it
was omitted. The printers were to be Messrs. Tupper and Sons, a firm
of lithographic and general printers in the City, the same family to
which John Lucas Tupper belonged. The then title, invented by my
brother, was "Thoughts towards Nature," a phrase which, though
somewhat extra-peculiar, indicated accurately enough the predominant
conception of the Praeraphaelite Brotherhood, that an artist, whether
painter or writer, ought to be bent upon defining and expressing his
own personal thoughts, and that these ought to be based upon a direct
study of Nature, and harmonized with her manifestations. It was not
until December 19, when the issue of our No. 1 was closely impending,
that a different title, "The Germ," was proposed. On that evening
there was a rather large gathering at Dante Rossetti's studio, 72
Newman Street; the seven P.R.B.'s, Madox Brown, Cave Thomas,
Deverell, Hancock, and John and George Tupper. Mr. Thomas had drawn
up a list of no less than sixty-five possible titles (a facsimile of
his MS. of some of them appears in the "Letters of Dante Gabriel
Rossetti to William Allingham," edited by George Birkbeck
Hill--Unwin, 1897). Only a few of them met with favour; and one of
them, "The Germ," going to the vote along with "The Seed" and "The
Scroll," was approved by a vote of six to four. The next best were, I
think, "The Harbinger," "First Thoughts," "The Sower," "The
Truth-Seeker," and "The Acorn." Appended to the new title we
retained, as a sub-title, something of what had been previously
proposed; and the serial appeared as "The Germ. Thoughts towards
Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art." At this same meeting Mr.
Woolner suggested that authors' names should not be published in the
magazine. I alone opposed him, and his motion was carried. I cannot
at this distance of time remember with any precision what his reasons
were; but I think that he, and all the other artists concerned,
entertained a general feeling that to appear publicly as writers, and
especially as writers opposing the ordinary current of opinions on
fine art, would damage their professional position, which already
involved uphill work more than enough

"The Germ," No. 1, came out on or about January 1, 1850. The number
of copies printed was 700. Something like 200 were sold, in about
equal proportions by the publishers, and by ourselves among
acquaintances and well-wishers. This was not encouraging, so we
reduced the issue of No. 2 to 500 copies. It sold less well than No.
1. With this number was introduced the change of printing on the
wrapper the names of most of the contributors: not of all, for some
still preferred to remain unnamed, or to figure under a fancy
designation. Had we been left to our own resources, we must now have
dropped the magazine. But the printing-firm--or Mr. George I.F.
Tupper as representing it--came forward, and undertook to try the
chance of two numbers more. The title was altered (at Mr. Alexander
Tupper's suggestion) to "Art and Poetry, being Thoughts towards
Nature, conducted principally by Artists"; and Messrs. Dickinson and
Co., of New Bond Street, the printsellers, consented to join their
name as publishers to that of Messrs. Aylott and Jones. Mr. Robert
Dickinson, the head of this firm, and more especially his brother,
the able portrait-painter Mr. Lowes Dickinson, were well known to
Madox Brown, and through him to members of the P.R.B. I continued to
be editor; but, as the money stake of myself and my colleagues in the
publication had now ceased, I naturally accommodated myself more than
before to any wish evinced by the Tupper family. No. 3, which ought
to have appeared March 1, was delayed by these uncertainties and
changes till March 31. No. 4 came out on April 30. Some small amount
of advertising was done, more particularly by posters carried about
in front of the Royal Academy (then in Trafalgar Square), which
opened at the beginning of May. All efforts proved useless. People
would not buy "The Germ," and would scarcely consent to know of its
existence. So the magazine breathed its last, and its obsequies were
conducted in the strictest privacy. Its debts exceeded its assets,
and a sum of £33 odd, due on Nos. 1 and 2, had to be cleared off by
the seven (or eight) proprietors, conscientious against the grain.
What may have been the loss of Messrs. Tupper on Nos. 3 and 4 I am
unable to say. It is hardly worth specifying that neither the editor,
nor any of the contributors whether literary or artistic, received
any sort of payment. This was foreseen from the first as being "in
the bond," and was no grievance to anybody.

"The Germ," as we have seen, was a most decided failure, yet it would
be a mistake to suppose that it excited no amount of literary
attention whatsoever. There were laudatory notices in "The Dispatch,"
"The Guardian," "Howitt's Standard of Freedom," "John Bull," "The
Critic," "Bell's Weekly Messenger," "The Morning Chronicle," and I
dare say some other papers. A pat on the back, with a very lukewarm
hand, was bestowed by "The Art Journal." There were notices also--not
eulogistic--in "The Spectator" and elsewhere. The editor of "The
Critic," Mr. (afterwards Serjeant) Cox, on the faith of doings in
"The Germ," invited me, or some other of the art-writers there, to
undertake the fine-art department--picture-exhibitions, etc.--of his
weekly review. This I did for a short time, and, on getting
transferred to "The Spectator," I was succeeded on "The Critic" by
Mr. F.G. Stephens. I also received some letters consequent upon "The
Germ," and made some acquaintances among authors; Horne, Clough,
Heraud, Westland Marston, also Miss Glyn the actress. I as editor
came in for this; but of course the attractiveness of "The Germ"
depended upon the writings of others, chiefly Messrs. Woolner,
Patmore, and Orchard, my sister, and above all my brother, and, among
the artist-etchers, Mr. Holman-Hunt.

I happen to be still in possession of the notices which appeared in
"The Critic," "Bell's Weekly Messenger," and "The Guardian," and of
extracts (as given in our present facsimile) from those in "John
Bull," "The Morning Chronicle," and "The Standard of Freedom": I here
reproduce the first three for the curious reader's perusal. First
comes the review which appeared in "The Critic" on February 15, 1850,
followed by a second review on June 1. The former was (as shown by
the initials) written by Mr. Cox, and I presume the latter also.
Major Calder Campbell must have called the particular attention of
Mr. Cox to "The Germ." My own first personal acquaintance with this
gentleman may have been intermediate between 15 February and 1 June.

_The Germ. Thoughts towards Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art._
Nos. I. and II. London: Aylott and Jones.

We depart from our usual plan of noticing the periodicals under one
heading, for the purpose of introducing to our readers a new aspirant
for public favour, which has peculiar and uncommon claims to
attention, for in design and execution it differs from all other
periodicals. _The Germ_ is the somewhat affected and unpromising
title give to a small monthly journal, which is devoted almost
entirely to poetry and art, and is the production of a party of young
persons. This statement is of itself, as we are well aware, enough to
cause it to be looked upon with shyness. A periodical largely
occupied with poetry wears an unpromising aspect to readers who have
learned from experience what nonsensical stuff most fugitive
magazine-poetry is; nor is this natural prejudice diminished by the
knowledge that it is the production of young gentlemen and ladies.
But, when they have read a few extracts which we propose to make, we
think they will own that for once appearances are deceitful, and that
an affected title and an unpromising theme really hides a great deal
of genius; mingled however, we must also admit, with many conceits
which youth is prone to, but which time and experience will assuredly

That the contents of _The Germ_ are the production of no common minds
the following extracts will sufficiently prove, and we may add that
these are but a small portion of the contents which might prefer
equal claims to applause.

"My Beautiful Lady," and "Of my Lady in Death," are two poems
in a quaint metre, full of true poetry, marred by not a few
affectations--the genuine metal, but wanting to be purified from its
dross. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to find the precious ore anywhere
in these unpoetical times.

To our taste the following is replete with poetry. What a _picture_
it is! A poet's tongue has told what an artist's eye has seen. It is
the first of a series to be entitled "Songs of One Household." [Here
comes Dante Rossetti's poem, "My Sister's Sleep," followed by
Patmore's "Seasons," and Christina Rossetti's "Testimony."] We have
not space to take any specimens of the prose, but the essays on art
are conceived with an equal appreciation of its _meaning_ and
requirements. Being such, _The Germ_ has our heartiest wishes for its
success; but we scarcely dare to _hope_ that it may win the
popularity it deserves. The truth is that it is too good for the
time. It is not _material_ enough for the age.

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