decorated initial 'C'oventry Patmore, who was well acquainted with the young men who formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood before they became famous, deserves a special place in the history of the movement because it was he who prompted John Ruskin to defend the paintings of Millais and Hunt against attacks by the newspapers. Even before Ruskin became their defender, Patmore was important to the members of the Brotherhood as a young poet who provided the subject of one of the first PRB pictures. In Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Hunt recalls that "Patmore's Woodsman's Daughter was a novel interest to all of us eager to find new poems" (I, 145), and he points out that it was one of the poems Dante Gabriel Rossetti liked to recite from memory. "The Woodman's Daughter" (text), a tale of a girl betrayed by her wealthier lover, is not as well known today as The Angel in the House, but it had particular appeal to the young members of the early Pre-Raphaelite circle, almost all of whom created works about betrayed lovers and their sad ends. Millais's painting with the same title, which depicts a childhood meeting of the young girl and the squire's son, represents Patmore's most obvious early direct influence on the PRB.

The poem also provided the occasion for the young men's meeting the poet himself and then being introduced by him to the major writers of the time. One day, "when Patmore's Woodsman's Daughter had been recited by Rossetti, Woolner expressed regret that it could no longer be obtained at the publishers, whereupon the reciter asked him to write to the author direct, and this led to the making of a valuable friend for us all, and of an introduction to the most important and interesting literary circle existing" (I,196).

One prominent member of this circle was John Ruskin, and it was the poet who asked the critic to come to the defense of the PRB. Patmore explains that the day The Times harshly attacked Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents, "Millais came to me in great agitation and anger, and begged me to ask Ruskin to take the matter up. I went at once to Ruskin, and the next day after there appeared in the Times a letter of great length and amazing quality, considering how short a time Ruskin had to examine the picture and make up his mind about it" (Champneys, I, 85; quoted in Ruskin's Works, 12.xlvi)

The John Rylands Library, Manchester, England, has Patmore's letter to Hunt of May 1851 in which he informed the artist,

I have been unspeakably disgusted with notices of you and Millais. I wrote to Ruskin to draw his attention to the case, thinking that if he would write to the "Times" or "Chronicle" it might do some good. This he has been kind enough to do, and I suppose his letter is in to day. He says in his answer to my note, "I wish Hunt would let me know his price for Valentine [rescuing Sylvia from Proteus] — I may perhaps be of service to him." [2 Rylands Eng. MS. 1216115]

The Library Edition of Ruskin's Works prints precisely this letter, which the critic wrote to Patmore on 10 May 1851, announcing: "I wrote to the Times yesterday; but the letter is not in it to-day; it went late, and might have been too late; but if it is not in Monday's, the letter shall go to the Chronicle, in a somewhat less polite form. My father has written to ask if the Ark picture be unsold, and what is its price. I wish Hunt would also let me know his price for Valentine. I may perhaps be of service to him" (12. xlvi). Ruskin in fact provided very material assistance to Hunt by encouraging Francis McCracken of Belfast, an early patron of both Millais and Hunt, to purchase his picture.

The Rylands also possesses Holman Hunt's reply to Patmore's good news. The artist told his friend:

I am delighted to hear that Ruskin has taken the field in defense of Millais and myself, for I had almost despaired of overcoming the evident opposition to our style which the example of the "Times" and other influential papers were breeding. If they had merely confined their remarks to a just spirit of criticism it would have been all fair, but, when they endeavoured to ruin our interest with the Academy and the patrons, it was necessary that some notice should be taken, and to have that by Ruskin is of all things what I could most desire. [Rylands Eng. MS. 1216116]

At Ruskin's urging, Francis McCracken of Belfast had purchased Hunt's Valentine Rescuing Sylvia from Proteus in November 1851. Although the following letter makes it appear that Ruskin had not seen Hunt's picture before recommending its purchase, other evidence suggests that he had examined it under Patmore's direction at the Royal Academy and now merely wanted to inspect it more closely.

Rossetti, who seems to have introduced Patmore's work to his friends, also had a continuing relationship with the poet. Rossetti also respected him enough to explain to him his approach to combining realistic fact and symbolic elements in The Passover in the Holy Family (platediscussion), a watercolor he painted for Ruskin. "Perhaps I dwelt too much, in describing it," he tells Patmore, "on the symbolic details . . . Its chief claim to interest, if successful when complete, would be as a subject which must have actually occurred every year of the life led by the Holy Family" (Letters, I, 276).

References

Champneys, Basil. Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore, 2 vols. London, 1900.

Hunt, William Holman. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1905.

Landow, George P. "'Your Good Influence on Me:' The Correspondence of John Ruskin and William Holman Hunt." Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 59 (1976-1977), 96-126, 367-96. Full text.

Ruskin, John. Works. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903-1912.


Victorian Overview Coventry Patmore Biography

Last updated 24 June 2004