1. Rossetti wrote this sonnet on a cliff overlooking the sea at Boulogne, France in September 1849. He included a draft of the poem under the title "At Boulogne. Upon the Cliffs: Noon." in a letter to his brother William on September 28, 1849; this draft varies slightly in wording from the Germ version. [Click here to see "At Boulogne. Upon the Cliffs: Noon."] Later, he further revised the poem, added two stanzas, and republished it as the last of eleven "Songs" in his 1870 and 1881 volumes of poetry newly entitled "The Sea-Limits." [click here to see "The Sea-Limits"] William Michael Rossetti wrote of this piece: "the reader will readily perceive that the writer was bent on the Pre-Raphaelite plan -- that of sharply realizing an impression on the eye, and through the eye on the mind." (Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family Letters, London, 1895: I:56.)

2. Used in the word's original sense: an ancient Greco-Roman measure of length, approximately equal to 1/8 mile. (OED)


1. Rossetti wrote this poem during his tour of the continent with Holman Hunt from September - October 1849. He mailed a copy -- minus the final stanza -- to James Collinson from Bruges on October 24, 1849, noting: "The song is, of course, quite original; there is in particular a Yankee of the name of Longfellow with whose works it has no affinity." Rossetti alludes to Longfellow's "The Belfry of Bruges", written during his trip to Bruges in 1842 and published in 1845. Rossetti never republished this poem.

2. "Originally, carillons were watch towers whose bells rang to warn citizens of impending danger. They thus represent freedom and civic power."

3. Rossetti visited Antwerp just after leaving France, where he wrote "From the Cliffs: Noon." He began "The Carillon" here, completing it on his visit to Bruges the same year.

4. A now rare usage of this word, meaning 'A slow loitering pace.' (OED)

5. Antwerp's Cathedral of Notre Dame, the largest Gothic Church in Belgium, is a single tower standing over four hundred feet tall. Construction of the cathedral began in the mid-fourteenth century (1352), but it was not completed until 1616. It houses paintings by Rubens and other artists. [Click here and here to see two views of the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Antwerp]

6. Also spelled 'Schelde,' this river runs through France and Belgium to the North Sea. The oldest part of Antwerp lies on its eastern bank.

7. Bruges, where Rossetti completed this poem, was the final stop on Rossetti's and Holman Hunt's 1849 continental tour. In a letter to James Collinson on 24 October 1849, Rossetti wrote: "I believe we have seen to-day almost everything very remarkable at Bruges; but I assure you we shall want to see much of it again. This is a most stunning place, immeasurably the best we have come to.

8. The Belfry at Bruges stands 83 m tall, and dates from the beginning of the thirteenth century. 366 steps lead up to the 47 bells in its carillon, which have a four octave range, and weigh 27 tons altogether. The present bells were built in 1748. [Click here to see a picture of the Belfry at Bruges]

9. Turmoil, confusion, tangle. (OED)

10. Better known as Hans Memling (1430-94), a Late Gothic painter of the Bruges School who specialized in Madonnas and other religious subjects. Rossetti explains the unusual spelling of Memling's name in a letter to James Collinson on 24 October 1849: "I must inform you that Memmelinck is an authentic variation in the orthography of that stunner's name, and not of mine own evil devising." In the same letter, while describing the sights of Bruges, Rossetti writes:

But by far the best of all are the miraculous works of Memling and Van Eyck. The former is here in a strength that quite stunned us -- and perhaps proves himself to have been a greater man even than the latter. In fact, he was certainly so intellectually, and quite equal in mechanical power. His greatest production is a large triptych in the Hospital of St. John, representing in its three compartments: firstly, the Decollation of St. John Baptist; secondly, the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine to the Infant Saviour; and thirdly, the Vision of St. John Evangelist in Patmos. I shall not attempt any description; I assure you that the perfection of character and even drawing, the astounding finish, the glory of colour, and above all the pure religious sentiment and ecstatic poetry of these works, is not to be conceived or described. Even in seeing them, the mind is at first bewildered by such Godlike completeness; and only after some while has elapsed can at all analyse the causes of its awe and admiration; and then finds these feelings so much increased by analysis that the last impression left is mainly one of utter shame at its own inferiority. Van Eyck's picture at the Gallery may give you some idea of the style adopted by Memling in these great pictures; but the effect of light and colour is much less poetical in Van Eyck's; partly owing to his being a more sober subject and an interior, but partly also, I believe, to the intrinsic superiority of Memling's intellect. In the background of the first compartment there is a landscape more perfect in the abstract lofty feeling of nature than anything I have ever seen. The visions of the third compartment are wonderfully mystic and poetical.

The Royal Academy here possessed also some most stupendous works of Memling -- among them one of a Virgin and Child, quite astounding .... His pictures are not painted with oil -- he having preceded Van Eyck -- but with some vehicle of which brandy and white of egg are the principal components. They have cracked very slightly indeed; and one cannot conceive the colours to have been more brilliant on the day of their completion.

Rossetti wrote two poems about Memling's works, "Antwerp to Ghent" and "On Leaving Bruges," which were never published during his lifetime. Their first public appearance was in William Michael Rossetti's 1886 collected edition of his brother's work. [hypertext link to poems]

11. Better known as Jan van Eyck (1390-1441), founder of the Bruges (or Flemish) School of painting. His innovative lighting effects in painting and his refinement of oil painting techniques make him one of the most important Late Gothic painters. His realistic, naturalistic paintings often depicted religious symbols disguised as familiar objects. Van Eyck is buried in the Church of Saint-Donatian in Bruges. During his 1849 tour of the continent, Rossetti saw paintings by Van Eyck during his visits to the Louvre, Brussels, and Bruges."


1. "Coventry Patmore states that this essay 'was written by me when I was between fifteen and sixteen, and ... was published without a word of alteration, in the "Germ" -- a periodical issued by the 'Pre-Raphaelites' -- some years afterward." (Basil Champneys, Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore. London: George Bell & Sons, 1900. Vol 2: 43). William Michael Rossetti contradicts this account, noting in The P.R.B. Journal that "[Thomas Woolner] says that Patmore has offered us for The Germ an Essay of his on Macbeth, written a short while ago" (January 13, 1850 entry). W. M. Rossetti states that the essay was originally slated to appear in issue 2 of the Germ until "Patmore, on looking over his article, found that a page or two was wanting, which he would not be able to supply without much trouble." (January 23, 1850 entry).

Patmore's essay follows the nineteenth century Shakespearean critical tradition of treating Shakespeare's characters as fully realized human beings with thoughts and motives. Unlike most Shakespearean criticism of the period, Patmore privileges the overall moral perspective of Shakespeare as playwright over the individual moral perspectives represented by his characters. (For more information on nineteenth century critical treatments of Shakespeare, see Robert Langbaum, The Poetry of Experience (New York: Random, 1957): 160-82.) Other than Schlegel and Coleridge, whom Patmore mentions in his essay, other major Shakespeare critics roughly contemporary to Patmore include William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and Hermann Ulrici, whose Shakespeare's Dramatic Art (1846) strongly influenced the young Patmore. For a more general survey of Patmore's thoughts on Shakespeare, including a discussion of Macbeth see Patmore's article "Shakespere" in the November 1849 issue of North British Review, pp. 62-76.

2. "Shakspere" was an acceptable variant spelling of the Bard's name in the nineteenth century; it was not standardized until the beginning of the twentieth century. Shakespeare himself spelled his own name six different ways.

3. Patmore alludes to "Macbeth: -- Shakespearean Criticism and Acting," the opening article of the March 1844 Westminster Review, written by George Fletcher, author of Studies of Shakespeare in the Plays of King John, Cymbeline, Macbeth, As You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing, Romeo and Juliet (Longman, 1847). Ostensibly a review of the new Knight's Cabinet Edition of Macbeth, Fletcher's essay begins with what Patmore concludes: that Macbeth is an evil character who has already considered regicide before the weird sisters suggest the idea in Act I. (Patmore's essay differs by ascribing the origin of the idea to Lady Macbeth.) Patmore's surmise that the Westminster Review article "made no general impression at the time" is questionable, considering that the editor of Westminster Review deemed it successful enough to print a sequel, "Shakespearian Criticism and Acting," by the same author in the September 1845 Westminster Review. For another discussion of Macbeth that reaches many of the same conclusions as Patmore's, see "Dies Boreales, No. V. -- Christopher Under Canvass" in the November 1849 issue of Blackwood's Magazine.

4. Augustus Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767-1845), translator of Shakespeare's plays into German. His renowned Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, translated into English in 1846, was a major influence on Coleridge's Shakespearean criticism. Patmore's citation is incorrect: Schlegel's discussion of Macbeth comes on pp. 407-11 of the original 1846 English edition (the work is not divided into volumes) and vol. 2, p. 256 of the first German edition of Lectures [Click here to see Schlegel's discussion of Macbeth]

5. Click here to jump to the cited passage in ,Macbeth.

6. Macbeth 3.5.10-13; slightly altered from the original.

7. Shakespeare's primary source for Macbeth was a three-volume work entitled The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande ... faithfully gathered & set forth by Raphaell Holinshed," first published in 1577. [Click here to see pp. 170-1 of Volume 2 of Holinshed's Chronicles which relates the tale of Macbeth's encounter with the witches.]

8. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

9. link to annotation #7.

10. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

11. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

12. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

13. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

14. link to annotation #7

15. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

16. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

17. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth. 18. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

19. link to annotation #5

20. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

21. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

22. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

23. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

24. As William Michael Rossetti observed in his preface to the 1901 facsimile edition of _The Germ_, Patmore's commentary on the letter's contents is not postponed but nonexistent.

25. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

26. link to annotation #5

27. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

28. Click here to jump to the cited passage in Macbeth.

29. link to annotation #4

30. link to annotation #4

31. link to annotation #8

32. p. 110, line 18 ("The general ... ambitious thoughts."): "Coleridge's "Notes on Macbeth," first published in 1836 in _The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge, was first delivered as a lecture at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in London on January 14, 1819. The 1836 version includes this passage:

"In Macbeth, the poet's object was to raise the mind at once to the high tragic tone, that the audience might be ready for the precipitate consummation of guilt in the early part of the play. The true reason for the first appearance of the Witches is to strike the key-note of the character of the whole drama, as is proved by their re-appearance in the third scene, after such an order of the king's as establishes their supernatural power of imagination. I say information, -- for so it only is as to Glamis and Cawdor; the 'king hereafter' was still contingent, -- still in Macbeth's moral will; although, if he should yield to the temptation, and thus forfeit his free agency, the link of cause and effect more physico would then commence. I need not say, that the general idea is all that can be required from the poet, -- not a scholastic logical consistency in all the parts so as to meet metaphysical objectors. But O! how truly Shakspearian is the opening of Macbeth's character given in the unpossessedness of Banquo's mind, wholly present to the present object, -- and unsullied, unscarified mirror! -- And how strictly true to nature it is, that Banquo, and not Macbeth himself, directs our notice to the effect produced on Macbeth's mind, rendered temptible by previous dalliance of the fancy with ambitious thoughts:

     Good Sir, why do you start; and seem to fear
     Things that do sound so fair?

[Coleridge, Henry Nelson, ed. The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: William Pickering, 1836. New York: AMS, 1967: 238-9.]