As Sydney Cockerell's inscription in this very rare book
confirms, Burne-Jones later disowned this first attempt
at book illustration, as he did all his juvenilia; its authorship
was never publicly disclosed in his lifetime. Archibald
Maclaren (1819-1884) was a man of many interests who ran a
gymnasium in Oxford popular with undergraduates/ He
became a friend of both William Morris and Burne-Jones,
who recorded that "his talk was admirable and his tastes
inclin[ed] greatly to poetry." 2 The introduction to The Fairy
Family reveals a wide knowledge of literary sources, such as Sir
Walter Scott's essay "Fairies of Popular Superstition" in Border
Minstrelsy (1802-3) an d Thomas Keightley's Fairy Mythology,
first published in 1828 and reissued in 1850.
The frontispiece to the later edition of Keightley s book, by
George Cruikshank, combines several scenes and includes
myriad small figures in strange landscape settings. This may
have served as an initial inspiration to Burne-Jones when
Maclaren asked him in 1854 to illustrate the twenty-three bal-
lads that make up the book, beginning with "The Elf- Folk,"
for which "Whisper, Whisper" (cat. no. 2) is the main design.
This and the title page (together with a tailpiece depicting a
river spirit) were the only subjects eventually used as illustra-
tions when the book was published in 1857. Over a period of
two years Burne-Jones made no fewer than eighty-eight pen-
and-ink drawings for the book, ranging from slight sketches
and animated initial letters to further full-page designs such as
the dramatic shipwreck in "Fata Morgana" shown here: 3
On rushed the ship: from every cloud
A quivering tongue of lightning flashed,
And, hissing, traced each stay and shroud,
While all around the thunder crashed.
The later drawings show a clearly detectable stylistic influ-
ence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose work Burne-Jones first
encountered in 1855. Personal acquaintance with Rossetti in the
following year, and the decision to become a professional
artist, led to the abandonment of what must have seemed
embarrassingly naive and faltering first attempts as a drafts-
man, which nonetheless underline Burne-Jones's innate
romanticism and fertile imagination.
1. For a thorough account of Maclaren and the background to the Fairy
Family illustrations, see Christian 1985.
2. Memorials, vol. 1, p. 81.
3. The majority of the designs remained together in an album, whose con-
tents are now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, together with
six additional drawings; seven others remain in a private collection.