Introduction to The Germ

A Brotherhood of Artists

The Germ, published in four numbers in 1850, was the first literary vehicle for the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Yet there are strong circumstances to suggest that the magazine was not strictly representative of the aims and ideas of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which had been meeting since 1848. For instance, although the Brotherhood itself was rigorously opposed to expanding beyond its original seven members, The Germ featured numerous articles by non-members, such as Christina Rossetti, Coventry Patmore, and Ford Madox Brown. None of the poetic works reviewed in the four issues of The Germ were produced by Pre-Raphaelite writers, yet the reviews (written by William Rossetti) were, as a matter of policy, highly favorable. All of this points to an ethos of inclusion associated with The Germ uncharacteristic of the P. R. B. to that point. In addition, William Rossetti was later to emphasize repeatedly that the various theoretical pieces in The Germ were at best incomplete expressions of Pre-Raphaelite ideas. Most significant was the fact that The Germ never mentioned, in its contents or on its wrappers, the term "Pre-Raphaelite." We might therefore question whether The Germ was the original signature work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Its rival for that distinction would be the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1849, for the Brotherhood, considered separately and in toto, won their first and greatest fame as artists. The fact that Millais never contributed to The Germ (as noted by one reviewer), combined with the fact that two of the magazine's chief contributors--William and Christina Rossetti--were not visual artists at all, suggests a peculiar inflection to The Germ's subtitle, "A Magazine Conducted Principally by Artists."

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was born days after William Holman Hunt introduced Dante Rossetti to John Millais. Rossetti had developed an uneasiness with the Royal Academy, cultivated by an appreciation for a more Catholic continental art and a prolonged technical struggle at Sass's preparatory school. Madox Brown, an artist of rising popularity whose career was divorced from the Academy, was a natural role model for Rossetti. But Rossetti shortly came to favor Holman Hunt as his mentor, a fellow Academy student who received his first art instruction independently and was gaining public acclaim for his work. In 1848 Hunt sold The Eve of St. Agnes and, with the profits, rented a studio, where Rossetti was to paint The Girlhood of Mary Virgin . Millais, a friend of Hunt's and one of the Royal Academy's most prodigious students, was taken with Rossetti, and in the spring of 1849, the fruits of the three men's acquaintance appeared at the Royal Exhibition. These included Hunt's Rienzi and Eve of St. Agnes, Millais's Isabella and Christ in the House of his Parents, and Rossetti's Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini. These paintings bore the Brotherhood's initials, "P. R. B." By this time, the Brotherhood had swelled to seven members: Dante Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt, James Collinson, Frederick Stephens, Thomas Woolner, and William Rossetti. Collinson's Italian Image Makers at a Roadside Alehouse appeared at the 1849 Exhibition with the works of the original three "Brothers." Besides having impressed Rossetti and Hunt with The Charity Boy's Debut in 1847, Collinson was an expected suitor of Christina Rossetti's, and had been a natural candidate for the Brotherhood. The other Pre-Raphaelite Brothers did not participate in the exhibition; they were as yet public nonentities. Woolner's hatred for the Academy unfortunately translated into a lackluster sculpting career, or perhaps the translation was in the opposite direction. Stephens had not even completed a painting by 1849. And William Rossetti, editor of The Germ and the movement's chief bibliographer, dealt exclusively in letters.

Perhaps the greatest influence on the Pre-Raphaelite artists was Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first President of the Royal Academy. The artistic techniques described in his Discourses became the formulaic prescription for Royal Academy paintings, a prescription the Pre-Raphaelites found too limiting. They began painting on a wet, white ground in order to produce striking colors that traversed the entire canvas, as in Holman Hunt's A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids (1850), rather than conform to the reigning rules of chiaroscuro followed by Sir "Sloshua's" adherents. Many of their paintings, such as Millais's Isabella of 1849, broke from the prevalent pyramidic or triangular placement of figures which draws the viewer's attention to a central figure. In viewing Millais's painting, the eye follows a jolting path down one row of profiles and up another even more jagged one, then travels across the painting following the horizontal line created by the man's leg which awkwardly kicks the dog whose head rests on Isabella's lap. Only after following this circuitous path does the viewer come to focus on Isabella and Lorenzo. This painting also exhibits another element of the Pre-Raphaelite break with Academy conventions, the skewed or flattened perspective most characteristic of Dante Rossetti's paintings, notably Ecce Ancilla Domini (March 1850) (Exhibited at the Free Exhibition in April 1850). But the techniques and artistic decisions of the PRB painters were not based solely on their desire to break from artistic conventions. They admired the Nazarenes, a group of German artists who imitated (with nationalistic aims) an earlier style of German and Italian religious painting. John Ruskin, an influential public advocate of the movement who had written the first favorable review of the PRB in 1849, had already had an impact on their production. Holman Hunt (who argued that the Pre-Raphaelite Movement owed its best ideas to himself) had been an avid reader of Ruskin before his entrance into the Academy. He took from Ruskin, and disseminated to the rest of the PRB, the idea of sincerity in art, and an attention to nature and detail as can be seen in Christ in the House of his Parents. This painting came under attack by critics after it appeared beside Hunt's A Converted Family in the 1850 Royal Academy exhibit. Charles Dickens loathed the painting for its attention to detail, truth to nature, and treatment of the religious subject, complaining in Household Words that the figure of the young Christ was "a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed-gown..." the Virgin Mary was a "woman so hideous in her ugliness... she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest gin shop in England."

The Germ: From Brotherhood to Syndicate

Although the paintings of the 1849 Exhibition all carried the initials P.R.B., their first viewers may not have found much beyond those three letters linking the works to one another. But, many later critics' attempts to emphasize other linking features can be misleading, as Fredeman writes in his introduction to the P.R.B. Journal:

"It is easy to overemphasize the relevance of their coalition by isolating in their productions common elements which are too vague to be critically useful, such as their reliance on the maxim to follow nature in all things; but it is equally erroneous to dismiss casually the real benefits which each gained from participation in a shared enterprise" (xviii).

Fredeman's focus here is on interpersonal, rather than stylistic, bonds among the brothers, an emphasis consonant with William Michael Rossetti's P.R.B. Journal, which highlights the collaboration among the brothers and the "real benefits" of their connections. WMR intended the PRBJ to a record of the brotherhood's meetings and developments, but along with the factual details comes a sense of the brothers as co-workers in "intimate friendly relations" (11/5/50). For example, they valued their personal and professional bonds enough to consider living together: "We talked a good deal of the chances of establishing a PRB household, where three or four could live and paint in common" (12/2/50). "'P.R.B.' might be written on the bell, and stand for 'please ring the bell' to the profane" (11/6/49).

Even though financial difficulties kept them from communal dwelling, they nevertheless furthered each other's work. For instance, they read and critiqued each other's poems ("A letter came from Gabriel, who gives me an elaborate criticism of my blank-verse poem, and sends me 5 sonnets he has written" [10/10/49]) and sat for each other's paintings ("For this morning I was engaged to sit to Hunt...I did not get home till too late to sit to Gabriel, who had wanted me for a final retouching of the Angel's head" [4/7/50]). They also gave, on occasion, a more active, hands-on kind of help: "Stephens...offers to draw in the perspective scale in Gabriel's picture" (11/19/49), and "The gilding of Gabriel's picture was not brought to a satisfactory termination, and he will get Hunt's aid for its accomplishment" (12/17/49). Such friendly collaborations continued despite the brothers' disagreements over matters like their list of "Immortals," the individual merit of poets, and the title of their magazine.

The magazine first known as The Germ, and then as Art and Poetry, is a product of P.R.B. collaboration (both financial and artistic) on an even larger scale, for although non-brothers contributed to the project, it would not have existed wit hout the energy, hard work, and dedication of the P.R.B. But, much like the paintings in the 1849 exhibition, the work in The Germ defies strict ideas of unity and evades a readily accessible Pre-Raphaelite definition.

In the PRBJ, WMR first mentions the idea of a literary magazine in his entry for 8/13/49: "In the evening Gabriel and I went to Woolner's with the view of seeing North...about a project for a monthly 6d. magazine for which 4 or 5 of us could write, and one make an etching each subscribing a guinea and thus becoming a proprietor. The full discussion of the subject is fixed for to-morrow at Woolner's." When they brought up the subject the next day, they decided on a title, "Monthly Thoughts in literature , poetry and art"; however, this title was heavily debated and others such as "Thoughts towards Nature" (9/23/49), "The PRB Journal" (9/27/49), and "The Seed" (12/10/49) were suggested. On 12/19/49 "'The Seed' was set aside in favor of 'The Germ', and this was near being superseded by 'The Scroll'...but was finally fixed on by 6 to 4." Also during this meeting "it was proposed by Woolner, and carried without opposition except a very strong one by myself, that our names should not be published." (In later numbers, when contributors are named, some are given pseudonyms.)

The group's initial difficulties did not end with their naming of The Germ and their resolving upon anonymity; they still had to find material to fill--and money to pay for--the Germ numbers. As it turned out, the content of each issue was subject to change because of unmet deadlines and other problems. During the preparation of The Germ 2, for example, WMR notes that

"Woolner saw Gabriel, and explained that 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. Nor will Thomas, as I learned by calling on him, have his Essay ready for this Number. We are thus reduced to shift as we may with what we have by us, and that is all poetry, except my review of The Strayed Reveller, which will fill up part of the gap" (1/23/50).

In addition, the brothers had to settle matters of advertising and distribution:

"I discussed with the Tuppers the mode that ought to be adopted in supplying our private subscribers with their copies of The Germ. On the one hand, if we were to send them direct, we should obtain the full price for each number, and need not, says George Tupper, according to established usage, pay percentage to the Publisher on more than at the utmost trade-price; on the other hand, if the subscribers order it thro'newsman, it will tend to make the thing know, and will obviate all trouble or uncertainty to ourselves; besides which, many have already requested to do so. It seems therefore that we must abide by this latter mode. A stroke of genius of the Robert Macguire school suggested itself to my mind for ensuring the sale and extended shop window publicity of the thing; viz., to order a copy of each among 700 stationers, and of course forget to call for it, thereby they would be apt to expose them advantageously for chance sale in addition to buying up the whole edition in the first instance. Perhaps, nevertheless, this would be a little too strong; besides which, George Tupper expresses great doubt as to whether a stationer would order the magazine for a stranger, without exacting the deposit of the price" (12/29/49).

WMR's "stroke of genius," while evidence of his sense of humor and mischief, also attests to the brothers' very real financial stake in the project. After all, all the participating brothers and many other literary contributors were also proprietors, having shared initial printing and publishing costs despite their (for the most part) limited artistic incomes. Indeed, their financial losses on The Germ made it impossible for them to continue after the second number: "Calculating the number of copies sold among ourselves as 95 (not, I think, more than in fact) and by the Publisher as 70, from which profits we shall have to deduct some few personal expenses . . . it seems that the expense to each of us beyond the receipts will be (pounds)" (2/2/50). After The Germ 2 the Tuppers took responsibility for printing expenses, extending the life of the magazine for two more issues, but "the 'Gurm' died with its fourth number--leaving us a legacy of Tupper's bill--#33 odd, of which the greater part, I take it, remains still unpaid" (7/21/50).

The Germ was begun at the height of the P.R.B., but its failure did not trigger the demise of the brotherhood. In fact, at the death of The Germ, the P.R.B. was better recognized than before its publication: "Our position is greatly altered. We have emerged from reckless abuse to a position of general and high recognition just so much qualified by adverse criticism as suffices to keep our once would-be anihilators in countenance" (January 1853). Financial difficulties may have ruined The Germ, but it was ultimately diversity and explosive energy--present since the P.R.B.'s inception--which propelled each brother towards his (and her) individual pursuits.

Textual History

The Germ was originally published in four monthly numbers from January 1850 to April 1850 by Aylott and Jones (London). The first two numbers were entitled The Germ: Thoughts towards Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art, while the second two bore the title Art and Poetry: Being Thoughts towards Nature Conducted Principally by Artists. The magazine was first reprinted (with reset type) in 1898 by Thomas Bird Mosher. The next and most significant reprint was a line-by-line type facsimile by Elliot Stock in 1901. This century has seen four more editions of The Germ: Frank Cass's photo-facsimile of the original magazine (1967), the AMS photo-facsimile of the Stock reprint (1968), the Wheaton and Co. photo-facsimile of the S tock reprint (1979; reprinted in 1984 by Paradigm Print, and in 1992 by The Bath Press), and the University of Miami Press edition (1971), which combines features of the Aylott and Jones and the Stock editions. Because every edition of The Germ has been a facsimile of the 1850 original and/or the 1901 reprint, it will be useful to distinguish between the features of these two editions.

The Stock reprint is so similar to the original Germ that, according to Fredeman, it has frequently been confused for the original by scholars and collectors. Within the text itself, several errors were corrected for the Stock edition, while some new errors were introduced. [Go here to see the textual variants between the two editions.] The most obvious differences between the editions, though, involve features "external" to the text. Whereas the original magazine came out in four numbers, the Stock edition was printed in five parts, one for each monthly number of The Germ and one containing an introduction written by William Michael Rossetti. The paper of the Stock edition is thicker and more heavily calendered than that of the original, and the wrappers of the Stock facsimile were printed on a cheaper, lower quality paper. The typeface of the Stock edition is slightly smaller than the original type. Most importantly, both the inside and outside back wrappers of nos. 2 and 3 have been transposed in the Stock reprint, so that the magazine is advertised as Art and Poetry in the second number and The Germ in the third. As Fredeman points out, though, the wrappers can be easily rearranged, so that it becomes important to be aware of other differences between the editions in order to tell them apart with certainty.

A Periodical Context for The Germ

Upon publication, The Germ entered the complex environment of the nineteenth-century British periodical press. To understand either the nature of The Germ itself or its public reception, it is crucial to situate this periodical in its proper context. The P.R.B. intentionally introduced their journal into a specific position in this environment: The Germ is a monthly, illustrated, one shilling literary magazine. The Brotherhood conducted The Germ in such a way as to challenge several of the conventions of their genre and to affirm others. In particular, the format of The Germ situates it in opposition to the literary gift-book, or annual, which dominated the market for poetry during the earlier part of the century. [Click here to find out more about the annuals.]

Victorian periodicals can be usefully classified according to the frequency of their publication. The weekly and monthly magazines and the quarterly reviews constitute three categories of periodicals, each with its own standard format. To some degree, these categories also determine the subject matter appropriate to their exemplars, either through conventions (like the quarterlies' tendency to engage primarily in political debate) or through inherent formal characteristics. However, none of the categories of periodicals exists in isolation, and understanding The Germ requires a comprehension of the scene as a whole, as well as the conventions of the monthly magazine in particular.

To establish the character of magazines from each of these categories, it will be useful to consider several of their successful representatives. The Edinburgh Review, The Quarterly Review, and The Westminster Review together provide a balanced picture of the quarterlies. Weeklies may be represented by The Literary Gazette and The Athenaeum, The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal and Bentley's Miscellany illustrate many typical features of the monthlies.

Quarterly Reviews

The "big three" nineteenth-century reviews were the Edinburgh, Quarterly, and Westminster Reviews. Founded in 1802, the Edinburgh Review was set up as an organ to champion the Whig Party. The editors made no attempt to review most or all of the flood of newly published books; rather, they picked between eight and ten books whose subjects would give them the opportunity to discuss topical issues. Literary criticism was only one of many topics covered, including economics, science, education, medicine, and travel.

Francis Jeffrey, who wrote the majority of the reviews during the first three decades of the century, was largely unsympathetic to the "new poets." His attack on Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads was typical--he called the poems "superfluities" which the public "might have done very tolerably without." He became more tolerant as time went on, however, praising Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage highly, and favorably reviewed volumes by Leigh Hunt and Keats. Over its long run, the Edinburgh Review published critical articles by Hazlitt, Macaulay, Carlyle, and Thomas Arnold. Walter Scott also wrote for the journal in its earliest years, then left to help found the Quarterly Review.

The Quarterly Review was founded in 1808 as the Tory answer to the Whiggish politics of the Edinburgh Review. Like its prime adversary, the Edinburgh concerned itself more with politics than with literary concerns, and its articles frequently demonstrated a fervent support for the interests of the Church of England, the monarchy, and the aristocracy. In contrast to the Edinburgh, however, the Quarterly Review was largely sympathetic to the first generation of Romantic poets. Byron and Southey were also highly praised; the latter gained considerable notoriety in 1816 when he published an essay in the Quarterly recommending censorship of the press. Shelley and Keats, however, were too radical for the Quarterly's Tory sensibility, and the "Cockney School" was a frequent subject of attack in its book reviews section.

Though literature and literary matters were secondary concerns of these two periodicals, their importance in the development of these fields can hardly be overemphasized. During the height of their success, each of these two reviews sold over 12,000 subscription copies per issue. This number is misleading, since copies were shared, loaned, and borrowed; and it has been estimated that between eighty and one hundred thousand people were reading the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews. They provided opportunities for many important writers of the era to express their views on contemporary literature, and their literary reviews set the standard for criticism for the better part of the nineteenth century. Their practice of preserving the anonymity of reviewers and contributors was emulated almost universally by literary periodicals up until mid-century. They spawned countless imitators and competitors.

One of the most important journals produced as a reaction to the two major reviews was the Westminster Review, founded by James Mill in 1824. A champion of Benthamism and Radical politics, the Westminster often condemned poetry for being a frivolous activity, one that did not substantially promote the welfare of society. There are some exceptions to this generalization: insightful articles on Coleridge, Tennyson, Byron, and Carlyle appeared during the run of the Westminster. John Stuart Mill, a frequent contributor, broke with Benthamite rhetoric to express admiration for poetry in non-Utilitarian language. (He began the revolutionary practice of identifying reviewers and contributors by name, which did not, however, continue after he left the periodical.) George Eliot contributed reviews and served as assistant editor from 1852-54. As in the two major reviews, however, in the Westminster literature played second fiddle to party politics. It was far less successful than the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, selling at its peak approximately two thousand copies per issue. Nevertheless, its long run (ending in 1914) is evidence of its successful battle with the two major reviews.

Weekly Journals

Though it made no attempt to disguise its sympathies with radical politics, The Examiner, founded in 1808 by Leigh Hunt, was the first truly literary weekly periodical. It was here that Keats first appeared in print, and where many of Shelley's most important poems were first published or reviewed. The Examiner repeatedly defended the poetry of Byron, Keats, and Shelley with astutely written critical and appreciative articles by Hunt. Poems by Wordsworth and essays by Hazlitt and Lamb were also featured in early issues. In the 1830s, the editorship passed to Albany Fonblanque, who largely steered away from radical politics, focusing instead on purely literary matters. Circulation increased to six thousand a week, and important writers such as John Stuart Mill contributed articles. During the 1830s and 40s, The Examiner was one of the first to review favorably the early works of Browning and Tennyson, and opened up their poetry to a broader audience. After the 1850s, however, its reviews shrunk in size and quality as the periodical tried to imitate The Athenaeum by reviewing large quantities of newly published books; its importance to the field of belles-lettres rapidly diminished.

Though not well known today, the Literary Gazette (1817-62) commanded unprecedented power and influence from the 1820s through the 1840s. Unlike the quarterlies, whose "book reviewers" generally ignored the book they were supposedly reviewing in favor of writing political tracts, the Literary Gazette provided the reader with copious quotes from the book under review. William Jerdan, the editor for most of the Gazette's run, was a professional journalist who cared little for disseminating political ideology. The weekly format, which provided "a spontaneity which the monthlies and quarterlies could not acquire" (Sullivan 242), the promise of abundant chunks of newly published reading matter, and the low price of eight pence ensured its success with a mass audience. At its height, the Gazette sold four thousand papers a week; writers and publishers knew that a favorable review in the Gazette all but guaranteed a successful run, while a mixed review could produce disastrous consequences. Though the reviews were what sold copy, the Gazette strove to provide a wide range of information through features ranging from original poetry to theatre reviews to new developments in architecture and the sc iences.

The founding of The Athenaeum in 1828 ensured the slow death of the Literary Gazette. Charles Dilke, its editor during the 1830s and 40s, adopted the Gazette's practice of avoiding blatant political commentary and providing long book reviews. Dilke's target was a mass audience, as demonstrated by his lowering the price of his weekly from eight pence to four in 1831; circulation soon increased to over eighteen thousand. The Athenaeum was even more successful than the Gazette in providing a literary and quasi-intellectual alternative to the quarterlies, covering the fields of foreign literature, science, music, drama, opera, and gossip more thoroughly than any contemporary periodical. Its art and literary criticism were competent, but popularized; as befitting a magazine aimed at mass circulation, The Athenaeum focused on traditional works to the exclusion of vanguard movements in the arts. The quality of its literary criticism, especially, was comparably low between the time of its founding and mid-century. Later in the century, however, important figures like Carlyle, Leigh Hunt, Lamb, Landor, Browning, Watts-Dunton, Gosse, and Pater wrote articles for its pages; Dante Rossetti furnished several poems for publication.

Monthly Magazines

The notion of a periodical devoted primarily to original compositions of literature is an innovation of the nineteenth century. Prior to that, the "magazine" tended to reflect its etymological meaning as a storehouse of miscellaneous information. Eighteenth century magazines tended to present a random assortment of interesting facts, without specialization or even strict separation according to subject matter. As the nineteenth century progressed, however, magazines began to develop which devoted themselves to areas of specialized interest.

Among all literary monthlies which preceded The Germ, The Liberal was probably closest to it in spirit. The brain-child of Byron, Shelley, and Leigh Hunt, it was unique among nineteenth century periodicals for emphasizing literature over politics, which it consciously avoided. Though the overall quality of its poems and articles was rather uneven, it produced a number of stupendously important works, including Byron's "The Vision of Judgment" and Heaven and Earth, Shelley's translation of Faust, and Hazlitt's essay "My First Acquaintance with Poets."

Unfortunately, like the Pre-Raphaelite journal, it was plagued with problems from the beginning. Uneasy about the effect of Byron's and Shelley's radicalism on a mass audience, conservative periodicals lambasted the magazine before the first issue had even been printed. Soon after production on The Liberal began in 1822, Shelley drowned. When the first number was published in October of that year, the response was explosive. Byron's "Vision of Judgment" was almost universally condemned as a vicious attack upon the recently deceased monarch, George III, and the magazine's publisher, John Hunt, was subsequently prosecuted for printing the poem. Though sales were encouraging (the first number sold over four thousand copies), the damage from the barrage of negative publicity was irreparable. The Liberal ended after only four numbers.

Other literary monthlies of the era did not share the misfortunes suffered by The Liberal. The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register was set up in 1814 as a Tory magazine, a counterpart to the Quarterly Review. When Thomas Campbell became editor six years later, however, he changed the magazine's title to The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, and significantly shifted its focus. Hazlitt contributed essays on major figures of the era, and Mary Shelley submitted book reviews. During the next decades, thoughtful criticism of Wordsworth, Lamb, and Keats were found in its pages. The New Monthly's poetry section was unusual in that many of its pieces included the names of the authors. Selling for three shillings, sixpence, The New Monthly enjoyed a long, successful run, not halting production until 1884.

Bentley's Miscellany, which began in 1837, was a magazine whose contents were consistently literary: politics, gossip, and other mainstays of the magazine format were largely discarded in favor of fiction, verse, and essays. Dickens edited the magazine for its first three years, and serialized Oliver Twist in its pages. Many poems of Longfellow appeared in Bentley's, as well as critical essays on important writers of the era. It enjoyed a successful run until 1869. Dickens gave up the editorship and later founded Household Words in 1850. Much shorter than Bentley's one-hundred-page length, it usually consisted of twenty-odd pages of fiction, poetry, and anecdotes. It was aimed at a lower- to middle-class audience, and largely avoided any material that might be construed as too "highbrow." It lasted until the end of the decade, when Dickens replaced it with a magazine virtually identical in format, All The Year Round, which had a much more successful run, continuing until 1895.

Though the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood broke up not long after The Germ ceased publication, in 1856 a new periodical was founded to promote "Pre-Raphaelitism." The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine lasted only a year, but its content was of the highest quality, including poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris, reviews and poetry by Edward Burne-Jones, and insightful criticism of important artists like Tennyson, Ruskin, Browning, Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, and Macaulay.

The Germ left a substantial legacy to the world of literary periodicals. Inspired by the work of the Brotherhood, eight American painters and writers founded the Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art in 1863 and published a journal, The New Path, which was intended to be the American counterpart of The Germ. Discussions of Pre-Raphaelite artistic principles and promotion of naturalism in painting occurred frequently in its pages. Unfortunately, like The Germ, it did not last long, halting production only two years after it began. In 1855, an art journal, The Crayon, began publication in New York, and regularly defended Ruskinian and Pre-Raphaelite ideology during its six-year run. In large part, it was The Crayon which brought Pre-Raphaelite artwork to the attention of American audiences, stirring up enough enthusiasm that Dante Rossetti and others organized an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in America in 1857-58. Rossetti demonstrated his support for both periodicals by contributing poems for publication. The Germ paved the way for many similar enterprises by groups of amateur writers, including the Decadent Yellow Book of the 1890s, and the numerous "little magazines" of the twentieth century.

Contemporary Reviews of The Germ

In the year of its publication, The Germ was reviewed by over a dozen newspapers and journals. Unlike the reviews of the 1849 Free Exhibition, in almost all of which the paintings of the "Pre-Raffaellite Brotherhood" were execrated in consistent terms, reviews of The Germ were diverse and tentative. Even the most critical reviews of The Germ tended to mitigate their fierceness with complimentary concessions to the magazine's occasional brilliancies, while the most laudatory reviews tempered their praise with advice to the "young and clever artists" (Guardian). The thoughtfulness and confusion which characterize reviews of The Germ, as opposed to the scorn which is common to reviews of the Free Exhibition, make an argument for the public significance of the magazine as a defining work of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, despite the fact that most of its contributors never afterwards attained the prominence of Millais and Holman Hunt.

A common strain to reviews of The Germ involves an identification of a talent and enthusiasm in the magazine which vindicated its technical or programmatic deficiencies. Basically, the magazine showed promise; it was "edited by some young artists who, if their powers be equal to their enthusiasm and desire, will one day be in the first rank" (Builder). Art Journal condescended to announce that "we wish so well to [The Germ's] projectors that we will gladly doff the critic, cheering them on their path, and begging their readers to encourage right aspirations by pardoning little errors, lest The Germ should not fructify." The reviewer for the Morning Chronicle encouraged the "intellectual life" in the magazine to "burst through, and discard the crust or skin of the fantastic quaintness which characterizes most of the poems and essays." Similarly, The Critic review explained that "an affected title and an unpromising theme really hide 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 tame."

Germ reviewers were for the most part suspicious of the magazine's aesthetic project. Having strongly deplored the hit-or-miss pursuit of nature "which thinks nothing of incongruities or anomalies," and after saying that the magazine's "standard is hoisted in the clouds, and out of ken of reason and the rational world," the Literary Gazette seems mysteriously to recant: "Indeed, where there is the greatest obscurity, there seems to be the claim for the most admirable poetry." The Critic is sensitive to likely suspicions among its readers, who "have learned from experience what nonsensical stuff most fugitive-magazine poetry is." One reviewer questions the natural simplicity of one of Hunt's etchings:"[The artist] fixes the creatures of his imagination in all the intensity of action, or passion, due to 'High Art'. He now remembers that he had a previous idea that art should copy the simplicity of nature; so, to balance his exalted conception of the principal figures, he jots in two or three daisies, prim as ancient martens; a circular grove of trees, trim as a box flower border; and lambs which suggest to the beholder the expressive monosyllable Bah!" (Hastings and St. Leonard's News) This tirade was answered years later in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, where Hunt's etching is defended in the most lyrical terms.

While some reviewers spoke of The Germ's originality in dismayed tones, others thought "it must lead to a new era" (Critic), and to others still The Germ upheld a traditional social responsibility: "[Our young artists] are high priests or guardians of the sacred fire" (Art Journal). This last comment leads to perhaps the most common trend in these reviews: the tendency to use The Germ as an occasion to launch an attack against modern society. Cox declares wistfully that "The truth is that [The Germ] is too good for the time. It is not material enough for the age" (Critic). The Guardian elaborates: ". . . Voluptuous and seductive figures, recommended only by a soft effeminacy, swarm our shop windows, and defile our drawing rooms. It is impossible to over-state the extent to which they minister to, and increase the foul sins of, a corrupt and luxurious age. A school of artists who attempt to bring back the popular taste to the severe draperies and pure forms of early art, are at least deserving of encouragement. Success in their attempt would be a national blessing."


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