William Michael Rossetti Papers

Scope and Content

Letters from William Michael Rossetti to his literary agent, William Morris Colles (1855-1926), and to the novelist Anna Steele (d. 1914). Rossetti's letters cover a wide variety of topics, revealing his interests and opinions. Many of them contain reminiscences of artists and writers and his evaluations of their work. Shelley, Tennyson and Meredith are among those mentioned, as well as others, like Swinburne, who were close associates of the Pre-Raphaelites. The Pre-Raphaelites themselves occur frequently throughout the correspondence, and most often, Dante Gabriel Rossetti; references to his work, and particularly his paintings and drawings, are especially detailed. William Michael Rossetti also writes of his own activities, for during these years he was engaged in the editorial and biographical work for which he is best remembered.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), art critic and literary editor, was born on 25 September 1829 at Portland Place, London. After attending King's College School, he entered the Excise Office in 1845 and remained a civil servant until his retirement in 1894. In 1848 his brother Dante Gabriel enrolled him into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was secretary of the Brotherhood between 1849 and 1853, and kept a record of their proceedings, known as the P.R.B. Journal. Rossetti also managed and edited The Germ, and wrote its cover sonnet. During the 1850s he promoted the work of the Pre-Raphaelite artists in The Critic and The Spectator. He was also secretary to the exhibition of British art shown in New York, Philadelphia and Boston in 1857-8.

Rossetti edited Shelley, with a Memoir (1870) and between 1878 and 1895 he wrote about sixty articles for The Athenaeum, mostly on Shelley and Italian literature. He was a chairman of the Shelley Society. He edited twenty-one volumes for Edward Moxon's series Popular Poets (1870-3), and contributed over fifty biographies on artists from Canaletto to Tintoretto to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-89).

After the deaths of Dante Gabriel (1882) and Christina Rossetti (1894) he published successive editions of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's collected works (1886-1911), Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer (1889), and Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his Family Letters with a Memoir (1895). He edited Christina's New Poems (1896), Poetical Works of Christina Rossetti with a Memoir (1904), and Family Letters (1908). He wrote of his own life in Some Reminiscences (1906). He died in London on 5 February 1919.

Source: Angela Thirlwell, 'Rossetti, William Michael (1829-1919)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35841.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.


Description compiled by Jo Humpleby, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on William Michael Rossetti.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MSS 1274,1277).

Related Material

See also related material about Victorian art and artists in the John Ruskin Papers, the Holman Hunt Papers and the Spielmann Collection at the JRUL.

Geographical Names