Coventry Patmore

(1823-1896)

Contributions to The Germ:

I.
"The Seasons"

II.
"Stars and Moon"

III.
"Macbeth"

Patmore was born in Woodford, Essex, to Peter George Patmore and Eliza Robertson. As his father's private pupil, young Coventry experienced an unconventional upbringing, during which his paternal grandmother trained him to recite "Coventry is a clever boy." When his parents were forced to leave England for speculations in railway shares, Patmore was forced to support himself by writing.

His 1844 Poems received mixed reviews, but caused quite a stir among the PRB, who "admired the poems enormously, and . . . read every one of them through 20 or 30 times." The volume convinced Thomas Woolner to seek his friendship, executing his medallion portrait in October of 1849. From this collection, "The Woodman's Daughter"--which he accused Elizabeth Barrett Browning of plagiarizing in "Maud at her Spinning-Wheel"--inspired designs by Millais and even William Michael Rossetti. Late in 1849 Patmore proposed that his next volume would feature illustrations by Millais, and even projected a joint edition with the PRB. Furthermore, the PRB awarded him one star on their "List of Immortals." Only Jesus Christ received four stars on this list, but among those sharing Patmore's one-star distinction were Boccaccio, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Raphael, and Tennyson.

In his association with the PRB he passed judgment on nearly everything written by its members. Aside from his crucial role in urging Ruskin to defend the Pre-Raphaelites, Patmore was apparently not entirely pleasant to work with, insisting on "the proviso that his name shall not transpire" in The Germ. He also pointed out typographical errors in "The Seasons," which appeared in Germ 1, occasioning considerable contrition from William Michael Rossetti for "a mistake of mine in copying it," in the form of the errata page appearing at the end of Germ 3 and a promise to "have half a dozen copies printed with the correction, and take care that all persons the copies in whose hands Patmore is likely to come across should have one of these" (PRB Journal, 27 December 1849). These "half a dozen copies" were never printed.

Still a fairly obscure poet during the lifetime of The Germ, Patmore had already begun work on his most famous poem, The Angel in the House. He had apparently discussed with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood his "poem on Marriage," the first volume of which appeared in 1854, entitled The Betrothal. By the time the fourth volume, The Victories of Love, was published in 1861, the sequence had enjoyed critical acclaim as well as sales upward of 250,000 copies, rivaling Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1859). Still, its cloying sentiment and bourgeois banality inspired mockery from Swinburne and Edmund Gosse, who dubbed him "laureate of the tea-table, with his hum-drum stories of girls that smell of bread and butter."

Yet Patmore insisted on styling himself "the psychologist of love" through Angel, as justified by his oft-stated ability to "discern sexual impurity and virginal purity, the one as the tangible blackness and horror of hell, and the other as the very blessed of heaven, and the flower and consummation of love between man and woman." This supposed insight enjoyed tremendous approval among the Victorian public, and exerted some degree of influence on later generations, as Virginia Woolf's 1931 lecture on "Professions for Women" attests.