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  • The Goblin Men and the Flower Girl:New Sources for "Goblin Market"
  • Andrew M. Stauffer (bio)

Such is the weirdness of Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" that critics have directed considerable energy at the basic question, where is this coming from? Source studies of the poem by B. Ifor Evans, David Morrill, Barbara Gelpi, and others have adduced Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and Winter's Tale (Autolycus's song), the Arabian Nights, Percy Shelley's "Fiordispina" fragment, John William Polidori's The Vampyre, William Hone's Every-Day Book, Thomas Keightly's Fairy Mythology, William Allingham's The Fairies, and Archibald MacLaren's Fairy Family.1 Most recently, Megan Norcia has renewed and explored Evans's suggestion that the goblins' cry "alludes to the famous sounds of London cries by sellers of goods," vendors' chants that found their way into English poetry in various ways at least since Jonathan Swift's "Verses Made for Fruit Women."2 In this essay, I want to offer three new sources for this particular aspect of "Goblin Market": its reworking of the pedlar-cry microgenre as Rossetti could have known it in April 1859, when she wrote the poem. Most important of these is Elizabeth Cobbold's 1813 "Flower Girl," a popular lyric of the era that begins, "Come buy, come buy, my mystic flow'rs."3 In addition, Rossetti may also have known the song of the disguised perfumer and wig salesman in Isaac Brandon's melodrama Kais; or, Love in the Desert (1808) and the choral song "Merry Tunis ope thy mart" from William Balfe's opera Satanella (1858).4 In any case, these songs, along with "Flower Girl," share the goblins' well-known pitch, "come buy, come buy," and represent a type of persona-driven lyric or protodramatic monologue—the pedlar-cry poem—that would have informed the composition and reception of "Goblin Market" in significant ways. In "Goblin Market," Laura muses on the unknown origins of the goblin fruit: "Who knows upon what soil they fed / Their hungry thirsty roots?"; and while we cannot fully know the origins of Rossetti's poem, evidence suggests at least a partial grounding in the tradition of pedlar cries and the verses they inspired. [End Page 47]

In a recent book on Victorian women poets, Fabienne Moine mentions "Flower Girl," which she attributes to "Mrs. Corbold (dates unknown)," and says that "the poem directly alludes to Rossetti's 'Goblin Market,' published two years earlier."5 Moine mistakenly relies solely on the poem's appearance in the 1864 edition of H. Gardiner Adams's The Language and Poetry of Flowers, where it is ascribed to "Mrs. Corbold," but several earlier editions of this Adams anthology appeared from 1853 onward.6 Moreover, the poem itself was originally written and published by Elizabeth Cobbold in 1813 and had a wide Anglo-American circulation in the decades leading up to the composition of "Goblin Market." One can also find Cobbold's "Flower Girl" in Specimens of British Poetry, edited by Miss Elizabeth Scott (1823), Gleanings in Poetry, edited by Richard Batt (1836), The Cottage Garland; or, Poems on the Love of Flowers . . . (1848), Hogg's Weekly Instructor (1849), The Gift of Friendship: A Token of Remembrance for 1853 (1852), The Naturalist's Poetical Companion, edited by Edward Wilson (1846 and 1852); Ladies' Gems; or, Poems on the Love of Flowers . . . (1855), and The Floral Forget-Me-Not (1856).7 Doubtless the poem was reprinted in other venues, especially periodicals, and would have been fairly likely to meet Rossetti's eye. Certainly, plenty of the nineteenth-century readers of "Goblin Market" would have known "Flower Girl" and the tradition of pedlar-cry poems in which it stands.

In 1813, Elizabeth Cobbold published Cliff Valentines, a collection of Valentine's Day verses, meant to be inscribed on cut-paper designs and used as a jeu de société, as she and her husband (the brewer John Cobbold) had done for several years at their annual party at The Cliff, their home above the River Orwell in Ipswich: "the ladies' Valentines are placed in one basket, the gentlemen's in another, and . . . the Valentines are handed to the unmarried...


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