These hand studies are for the abandoned wing compartments of Brown's triptych 'The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry.' The wings contained the figures of famous poets and the central panel deopicted Chaucer reciting his poetry to Edward III. Brown never completed the triptych. The central panel became 'Chaucer at the Court of Edward III' (1851, oil on canvas, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney) and the only existing painting of the original composition is an oil study now at the Ashmolean, Oxford.
These hand studies are for several of the poets in the wings. The top two hands are for the figure of Lord Byron, the bottom left one is for the figure of Robert Burns and the bottom right one is for William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616). An entry in Brown's diary may well refer to this sheet of drawings: '31st [May 1848] up at 1/1 past 5, Worked at study from Mendoes at 1/2 past 9 till 1/2 past 6. Drew at 4 hands from Fry the Model' (Virginia Surtees, ed., 'The Diary of Ford Madox Brown,' p. 42).