Pre-Raphaelites in The City: Unidentified Christina Rossetti Poem - Calling All Literary Detectives!

Dinah Roe

Unidentified Christina Rossetti Poem - Calling All Literary Detectives!

The Victorian era saw the rise of the private detective in both real life and in fiction. Long before Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in ‘The Strand Magazine’ kept London’s commuters on the edges of their seats, Ignatius Paul Pollaky’s real-life investigations caught the city’s imagination. Known as ‘Paddington’ Pollaky after his office at Paddington Green, the Hungarian-born detective became famous in the 1860s when he began to use the London Times ‘Agony’ column to publish cryptic communiqués such as ‘Marquise, have patience; 10 minutes after midnight – POLLAKY’. He was immortalised in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience in the lyric: ‘the keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky’.

If Pollaky were with us today he would almost certainly use the internet to post his messages, and so in that spirit, I would like ask for help from any aspiring literary detectives out there. I’ve received an enquiry from the British Library about a Christina Rossetti poem which has gone missing. The poem was last seen in the first Christmas special of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’. But enquiries to the BBC as to the poem’s source have so far gone unanswered. The British Library have only TWO clues to the identity of this Christina Rossetti poem:

Title: ‘The Hidden Heart’
One line: ‘I looked this morn upon my face’

I have been unable to trace it so far in any published collection of Rossetti’s poems. If you recognise this poem, approach it with caution. Then send it on to me, or post your discovery in the ‘Comments’ beneath this post. Any and all clues will be much appreciated! Even if your search proves fruitless, let me know your methods, as they may help bring us closer to solving the mystery. As Mr. Holmes might say, ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’.


  1. I heard this poem on the Vicar of Dibley and have been trying to find it.  Have you had any luck?

    Diana Howell responded at 11:11pm on 07/29/2012
  2. Hello Diana.
    I’m very sorry to say there has not been ONE SINGLE LEAD in the case of the unidentified Rossetti poem. The search continues ... Let me know if you pick up the trail.

    Dinah responded at 02:34pm on 08/01/2012
  3. Funny I’m searching for the same reason as Diana; I heard it referenced on the Vicar of dibley.

    Pam Fridgen responded at 05:31pm on 08/18/2012
  4. Ha! I just have the Vicar of Dibley paused right now so I could go look up that poem.

    Sarah Williams responded at 05:42am on 07/08/2013
  5. The phrase “hidden heart” occurs in the poem “Rose Mary” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Though the line quoted above does not appear, and “Hidden Heart” is not the title, many lines scan in the same way and the following passages appear.

    The lady held her breath for a space,
    And then she looked in her daughter’s face

    To clasp her round in a close embrace,
    Because she dared not see her face.

    Bryan Kesselman responded at 04:42pm on 08/14/2013
  6. Thank you Bryan. That does indeed seem suggestive. I wonder if the programme makers somehow conflated the 2 poems. Any thoughts from other blog readers?

    Dinah responded at 12:53pm on 08/17/2013

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.