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Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1883
by T. Hall Caine
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RECOLLECTIONS OF DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI

By T. Hall Caine

Roberts Brothers - 1883



PREFACE.

One day towards the close of 1881 Rossetti, who was then very ill, said to me:

"How well I remember the beginning of our correspondence, and how little did I think it would lead to such relations between us as have ensued! I was at the time very solitary and depressed from various causes, and the letters of so young and ardent a well-wisher, though unknown to me personally, brought solace."

"Yours," I said, "were very valuable to me."

"Mine to you were among the largest bodies of literary letters I ever wrote, others being often letters of personal interest."

"And so admirable in themselves," I added, "and so free from the discussion of any but literary subjects that many of them would bear to be printed exactly as you penned them."

"That," he said, "will be for you some day to decide."

This was the first hint of any intention upon my part of publishing the letters he had written to me; indeed, this was the first moment at which I had conceived the idea of doing so. Nothing further on the subject was said down to the morning of the Thursday preceding the Sunday on which he died, when we talked together for the last time on subjects of general interest,—subsequent interviews being concerned wholly with solicitous inquiries upon my part, in common with other anxious friends, as to the nature of his sufferings, and the briefest answers from him.

"How long have we been friends?" he said.

I replied, between three and four years from my first corresponding with him.

"And how long did we correspond?"

"Three years, nearly."

"What numbers of my letters you must possess! They may perhaps even yet be useful to you."

From this moment I regarded the publication of his letters as in some sort a trust; and though I must have withheld them for some years if I had consulted my own wishes simply, I yielded to the necessity that they should be published at once, rather than run any risk of their not been published at all.

What I have just said will account for the circumstance that I, the youngest and latest of Rossetti's friends, should be the first to seem to stand towards him in the relation of a biographer. I say seem to stand, for this is not a biography. It was always known to be Rossetti's wish that if at any moment after his death it should appear that the story of his life required to be written, the one friend who during many of his later years knew him most intimately, and to whom he unlocked the most sacred secrets of his heart, Mr. Theodore Watts, should write it, unless indeed it were undertaken by his brother William. But though I know that whenever Mr. Watts sets pen to paper in pursuance of such purpose, and in fulfilment of such charge, he will afford us a recognisable portrait of the man, vivified by picturesque illustration, the like of which few other writers could compass, I also know from what Rossetti often told me of his friend's immersion in all kinds and varieties of life, that years (perhaps many years) may elapse before such a biography is given to the world. My own book is, I trust, exactly what it purports to be: a volume of Recollections, interwoven with letters and criticism, and preceded by such a summary of the leading facts in Rossetti's life as seems necessary for the elucidation of subsequent records. I have drawn Rossetti precisely as I found him in each stage of our friendship, exhibiting his many contradictions of character, extenuating nothing, and, I need hardly add, setting down naught in malice. Up to this moment I have never inquired of myself whether to those who have known little or nothing of Rossetti hitherto, mine will seem to be on the whole favourable or unfavourable portraiture; but I have trusted my admiration of the poet and affection for the friend to penetrate with kindly and appreciative feeling every comment I have had to offer. I was attracted to Rossetti in the first case by ardent love of his genius, and retained to him ultimately by love of the man. As I have said in the course of these Recollections, it was largely his unhappiness that held me, with others, as by a spell, and only too sadly in this particular did he in his last year realise his own picture of Dante at Verona:

Yet of the twofold life he led In chainless thought and fettered will Some glimpses reach us,—somewhat still Of the steep stairs and bitter bread,— Of the soul's quest whose stern avow For years had made him haggard now.

I am sensible of the difficulty and delicacy of the task I have undertaken, involving, as it does, many interests and issues; and in every reference to surviving relatives as well as to other persons now living, with whom Rossetti was in any way allied, I have exercised in all friendliness the best judgment at my command.

Clement's Inn, October 1882.

*** It has not been thought necessary to attach dates to the letters printed in this volume, for not only would the difficulty of doing so be great, owing to the fact that Rossetti rarely dated his letters, but the utility of dates in such a case would be doubtful, because the substance of what is said is often quite impersonal, and, where otherwise, is almost independent of the time of production. It may be sufficient to say that the letters were written in the years 1879,1880, and 1881.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I.

Gabriele Rossetti—Boyhood—The pre-Raphaelite Movement—Early Manhood—The Blessed Damozel—Jenny—Sister Helen—The Translations—The House of Life—The Germ—Oxford and Cambridge Magazine—Blackfriars Bridge—Married Life

CHAPTER II.

Chelsea—Chloral—Dante's Dream—Recovery of the Poems—Poems—The Contemporary Controversy—Mr. Theodore Watts—Rose Mary—The White Ship—The King's Tragedy—Poetic Continuations—Cloud Confines—Journalistic Slanders

CHAPTER III.

Early Intercourse—Poetic Impulses—Beginning of Correspondence—Early Letters

CHAPTER IV.

Inedited Poems—Inedited Ballads—Additions to Sister Helen—Hand and Soul—St. Agnes of Intercession—Catholic Opinion—Rossetti's Catholicism—Cloud Confines—The Portrait

CHAPTER V.

Coleridge—Wordsworth—Lamb and Coleridge—Charles Wells—Keats—Leigh Hunt and Keats—Keats's Sister

CHAPTER VI.

Chatterton—Oliver Madox Brown—Gilchrist's Blake—George Gilfillan—Old Periodicals—A Rustic Poet—Art and Politics—Letters in Biography

CHAPTER VII.

Cheyne Walk—The House—First Meeting—Rossetti's Personality—His Reading—The Painter's Craft—Mr. Ruskin—Rossetti's Sensitiveness—His Garden—His Library

CHAPTER VIII.

English Sonnets—Sonnet Structure—Shakspeare's Sonnets—Wells's Sonnet—Charles Whitehead—Ebenezer Jones—Mr. W. M. Rossetti—A New Sonnet—Mr. W. Davies—Canon Dixon—Miss Christina Rossetti—The Bride's Prelude—The Supernatural in Poetry

CHAPTER IX.

Last Days—Vale of St John—In the Lake Country—Return to London—London—Birchington



RECOLLECTIONS OF DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI



CHAPTER I.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the eldest son of Gabriele Rossetti and Frances Polidori, daughter of Alfieri's secretary, and sister of the young physician who travelled with Lord Byron. Gabriele Rossetti was a native of Yasto, in the district of the Abruzzi, kingdom of Naples. He was a patriotic poet of very considerable distinction; and, as a politician, took a part in extorting from Ferdinand I. the Constitution of 1820. After the failure of the Neapolitan insurrection, owing to the treachery of the King (who asked leave of absence on a pretext of ill-health, and returned with an overwhelming Austrian army), the insurrectionists were compelled to fly. Some of them fell victims; others lay long in concealment. Rossetti was one of the latter; and, while he was in hiding, Sir Graham Moore, the English admiral, was lying with an English fleet in the bay. The wife of the admiral had long been a warm admirer of the patriotic hymns of Rossetti, and, when she learned his danger, she prevailed with her husband to make efforts to save him. Sir Graham thereupon set out with another English officer to the place of concealment, habited the poet in an English uniform, placed him between them in a carriage, and put him aboard a ship that sailed next day to Malta, where he obtained the friendship of the governor, John Hookham Frere, by whose agency valuable introductions were procured, and ultimately Rossetti established himself in England. Arrived in London about 1823, he lived a cheerful life as an exile, though deprived of the advantages of his Italian reputation. He married in 1826, and his eldest son was born May 12, 1828, in Charlotte Street, Portland Place, London. He was appointed Professor of Italian at King's College, and died in 1854. His house was for years the constant resort of Italian refugees; and the son used to say that it was from observation of these visitors of his father that he depicted the principal personage of his Last Confession. He did not live to see the returning glories of his country or the consummation we have witnessed of that great movement founded upon the principles for which he fought and suffered. His present position in Italy as a poet and patriot is a high one, a medal having been struck in his honour. An effort is even now afoot to erect a statue to him in his native place, and one of the last occasions upon which the son put pen to paper was when trying to make a reminiscent rough portrait for the use of the sculptor. Gabriele Rossetti spent his last years in the study of Dante, and his works on the subject are unique, exhibiting a peculiar view of Dante's conception of Beatrice, which he believed to be purely ideal, and employed solely for purposes of speculative and political disquisition. Something of this interpretation was fixed undoubtedly upon the personage by Dante himself in his later writings, but whether the change were the result of a maturer and more complicated state of thought, and whether the real and ideal characters of Beatrice may not be compatible, are questions which the poetic mind will not consider it possible to decide. Coleridge, no doubt, took a fair view of Rossetti's theory when he said: "Rossetti's view of Dante's meaning is in great part just, but he has pushed it beyond all bounds of common sense. How could a poet—and such a poet as Dante—have written the details of the allegory as conjectured by Rossetti? The boundaries between his allegory and his pure picturesque are plain enough, I think, at first reading." It was, doubtless, due to his devotion to studies of the Florentine that Gabriele Rossetti named after him his eldest son.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose full baptismal name was Gabriel Charles Dante, was educated principally at King's College School, London, and there attained to a moderate proficiency in the ordinary classical school-learning, besides a knowledge of French, which throughout life he spoke well. He learned at home some rudimentary German; Italian he had acquired at a very early age. There has always been some playful mention of certain tragedies and translations upon which he exercised himself from the ages of five to fifteen years; but it is hardly necessary to say that he himself never attached value to these efforts of his precocity; he even displayed, occasionally, a little irritation upon hearing them spoken of as remarkable youthful achievements.

One of these productions of his adolescence, Sir Hugh the Heron, has been so frequently alluded to, that it seems necessary to tell the story of it, as the author himself, in conversation, was accustomed to do. At about twelve years of age, the young poet wrote a scrap of a poem under this title, and then cast it aside. His grandfather, Polidori, had seen the fragment, however, and had conceived a much higher opinion of its merits than even the natural vanity of the young author himself permitted him to entertain. It had then become one of the grandfather's amusements to set up an amateur printing-press in his own house, and occupy his leisure in publishing little volumes of original verse for semi-public circulation. He urged his grandson to finish the poem in question, promising it, in a completed state, the dignity and distinction of type. Prompted by hope of this hitherto unexpected reward, Rossetti—then thirteen to fourteen years of age—finished the juvenile epic, and some bound copies of it got abroad. No more was thought of the matter, and in due time the little bard had forgotten that he had ever done it. But when a genuine distinction had been earned by poetry that was in no way immature, Rossetti discovered, by the gratuitous revelation of a friend, that a copy of the youthful production—privately printed and never published—was actually in the library of the British Museum. Amazed, and indeed appalled as he was by this disclosure, he was powerless to remedy the evil, which he foresaw would some day lead to the poem being unearthed to his injury, and printed as a part of his work. The utmost he could do to avert the threatened mischief he did, and this was to make an entry in a commonplace-book which he kept for such uses, explaining the origin and history of the poem, and expressing a conviction that it seemed to him to be remarkable only from its entire paucity of even ordinary poetic promise. But while this was indubitably a just estimate of these boyish efforts, it is no doubt true, as we shall presently see, that Rossetti's genius matured itself early in life.

Whilst still a child, his love of literature exhibited itself, and a story is told of a disaster occurring to him, when rather less than nine years of age, which affords amusing proof of the ardour of his poetic nature. Upon going with his brother and sisters to the house of his grandfather, where as children they occupied themselves with sports appropriate to their years, he proposed to improvise a part of a scene from Othello, and cast himself for the principal role. The scene selected was the closing one of the play, and began with the speech delivered to Lodovico, Montano, and Gratiano, when they are about to take Othello prisoner. Rossetti used to say that he delivered the lines in a frenzy of boyish excitement, and coming to the words—

Set you down this: And say, besides,—that in Aleppo once, Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk Beat a Venetian, and traduced the state, I took by the throat the circumcised dog, And smote him—thus!—

he snatched up an iron chisel, that lay somewhere at hand, and, to the consternation of his companions, smote himself with all his might on the chest, inflicting a wound from which he bled and fainted.

He is described by those who remember him, at this period, as a boy of a gentle and affectionate nature, albeit prone to outbursts of masterfulness. The earliest existent portraits represent a comely youth, having redundant auburn hair curling all round the head, and eyes and forehead of extraordinary beauty. It is said that he was brave and manly of temperament, courageous as to personal suffering, eminently solicitous of the welfare of others, and kind and considerate to*such as he had claims upon. This is no doubt true portraiture, but it must be stated (however open to explanation, on grounds of laudable self-depreciation), that it is not the picture which he himself used to paint of his character as a boy. He often described himself as being destitute of personal courage when at school, as shrinking from the amusements of schoolfellows, and fearful of their quarrels; not wholly without generous impulses, but, in the main, selfish of nature and reclusive in habit of life. He was certainly free from the meaningless affectation—for such it too frequently is—of representing his school-days as the happiest of his life. If, after so much undervaluing of himself, it were possible to trust his estimate of his youthful character, he would have had you believe that school was to him a place of semi-purgatorial probation,—which nothing but love of his mother, and desire to meet her wishes, prevented him, as an irreclaimable antischoliast, from obstinately renouncing at a time when he had learned little Latin, and less Greek.

Having from childhood shown a propensity towards painting, the strong inclination was fostered by his parents, and art was looked upon as his future profession. Upon leaving school about 1843, he studied first at an art academy near Bedford Square, and afterwards at the Eoyal Academy Antique School, never, however, going to the Eoyal Academy Life School. He appears to have been an assiduous student. In after life when his habit of late rising had become a stock subject of banter among his intimate friends, he would tell with unwonted pride how in earlier years he used to rise at six A.M. once a week in order to attend a life-class held before breakfast. On such occasions he was accustomed, he would say, to purchase a buttered roll and cup of coffee at some stall at a street corner, so as not to dislocate domestic arrangements by requiring the servants to get up in the middle of the night. He left the Academy about 1848 or 1849, and in the latter year exhibited his picture entitled the Girlhood of Mary Virgin. This painting is an admirable example of his early art, before the Gothicism of the early Italian painters became his quest. Better known to the public than the picture is the sonnet written upon it, containing the beautiful lines—

An angel-watered lily, that near God Grows and is quiet.

While Rossetti was still under age he associated with J. E. Millais, Holman Hunt, Thomas Woolner, James Collinson, F. G. Stephens, and his brother, W. M. Rossetti, in the movement called pre-Raphaelite. At the beginning of his career he recognised, in common with his associates, that the contemporary classicism had run to seed, and that, beyond an effort after perfection of technique, the art of the period was all but devoid of purpose, of thought, imagination, or spirituality. At such a moment it was matter for little surprise that ardent young intellects should go back for inspiration to the Gothicism of Giotto and the early painters. There, at least, lay feeling, aim, aspiration, such as did not concern itself primarily with any question of whether a subject were painted well or ill, if only it were first of all a subject at all—a subject involving manipulative excellence, perhaps, but feeling and invention certainly. This, then, stated briefly, was the meaning of pre-Raphaelitism. The name (as shall hereafter appear) was subsequently given to the movement more than half in jest. It has sometimes been stated that Mr. Ruskin was an initiator, but this is not strictly the case. The company of young painters and writers are said to have been ignorant of Mr. Ruskin's writings when they began their revolt against the current classicism. It is a fact however, that, after perhaps a couple of years, Mr. Ruskin came to the rescue of the little brotherhood (then much maligned) by writing in their defence a letter in the Times. It is easy to make too much of these early endeavours of a company of young men, exceptionally gifted though the reformers undoubtedly were, and inspired by an ennobling enthusiasm. In later years Rossetti was not the most prominent of those who kept these beginnings of a movement constantly in view; indeed, it is hardly rash to say that there were moments when he seemed almost to resent the intrusion of them upon the maturity of aim and handling which, in common with his brother artists, he ultimately compassed. But it would be folly not to recognise the essential germs of a right aspiration which grew out of that interchange of feeling and opinion which, in its concrete shape, came to be termed pre-Raphaelitism. Rossetti is acknowledged to have taken the most prominent part in the movement, supplying, it is alleged, much of the poetic impulse as well as knowledge of mediaeval art. He occupied himself in these and following years mainly in the making of designs for pictures—the most important of them being Dante's Dream, Hamlet and Ophelia, Cassandra, Lucretia Borgia, Giotto painting Dante's Portrait, The First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee, The Death of Lady Macbeth, Desdemona's Death-song and a great subject entitled Found, designed and begun at twenty-five, but left incomplete at death.

All this occurred between the years 1849-1856, but three years before the earlier of these dates Rossetti, as a painter, had come under an influence which he was never slow to acknowledge operated powerfully on his art. In 1846, Mr. Ford Madox Brown exhibited designs in the Westminster competition, and his cartoons deeply impressed Rossetti The young painter, then nineteen years of age, wrote to the elder one, his senior by no more than seven years, begging to be permitted to become a pupil. An intimacy sprang up between the two, and for a while Rossetti worked in Brown's studio; but though the friendship lasted throughout life the professional relationship soon terminated. The ardour of the younger man led him into the-brotherhood just referred to, but Brown never joined the pre-Raphaelites, mainly, it is said, from dislike of coterie tendencies.

About 1856, Rossetti, with two or three other young painters, gratuitously undertook to paint designs on the walls of the Union Debating Hall at Oxford, and about the time he was engaged upon this task he made the acquaintance of Mr. William Morris, Mr. Burne Jones, and Mr. Swinburne, who were undergraduates at the University. Mr. Burne Jones was intended for a clerical career, but due to Rossett's intercession Holy Orders were abandoned, to the great gain of English art. He has more than once generously allowed that he owed much to Rossetti at the beginning of his career, find regarded him to the last as leader of the movement with which his own name is now so eminently and distinctively associated. Together, and with the co-operation of Mr. William Morris and Canon Dixon, they started and carried on for about a year a monthly periodical called The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, of which Canon Dixon, as one of the projectors, shall presently tell the history. At a subsequent period Mr. Burne Jones and Rossetti, together with Mr. Madox Brown and some three others, associated with Mr. Morris in establishing, from the smallest of all possible beginnings, the trading firm now so well known as Morris and Co., and they remained partners in this enterprise down to the year 1874, when a dissolution took place, leaving the business in the hands of the gentleman whose name it bore, and whose energy had from the first been mainly instrumental in securing its success.

It may be said that almost from the outset Rossetti viewed the public exhibition of pictures as a distracting practice. Except the Girlhood of Mary Virgin, the Annunciation was almost the only picture he exhibited in London, though three or four water-colour drawings were at an early period exhibited in Liverpool, and of these, by a curious coincidence, one was the first study for the Dante's Dream, which was purchased by the corporation of the city within a few months of the painter's death. To sum up all that remains at this stage to say of Rossetti as a pictorial artist down to his thirtieth year, we may describe him (as he liked best to hear himself described) simply as a poetic painter. If he had a special method, it might be called a distinct poetic abstraction, together with a choice of mediaeval subject, and an effort after no less vivid rendering of nature than was found in other painters. With his early designs (the outcome of such a quest as has been indicated) there came, perchance, artistic crudities enough, but assuredly there came a great spirituality also. By and by Rossetti perceived that he must make narrower the stream of his effort if he would have it flow deeper; and then, throughout many years, he perfected his technical methods by abandoning complex subject-designs, and confining himself to simple three-quarter-length pictures. More shall be said on this point in due course. Already, although unknown through the medium of the public picture-gallery, he was recognised as the leader of a school of rising young artists whose eccentricities were frequently a theme of discussion. He never invited publicity, yet he was rapidly attaining to a prominent position among painters.

His personal character in early manhood is described by friends as one of peculiar manliness, geniality, and unselfishness. It is said that, on one occasion, he put aside important work of his own in order to spend several days in the studio of a friend, whose gifts were quite inconsiderable compared with his, and whose prospects were all but hopeless,—helping forward certain pictures, which were backward, for forthcoming exhibition. Many similar acts of self-sacrifice are still remembered with gratitude by those who were the recipients of them. Rossetti was king of his circle, and it must be said, that in all that properly constituted kingship, he took care to rule. There was then a certain determination of purpose which occasionally had the look of arbitrariness, and sometimes, it is alleged, a disregard of opposing opinion which partook of tyranny: but where heart and not head were in question, he was assuredly the most urbane and amiable of monarchs. In matters of taste in art, or criticism in poetry, he would brook no opposition from any quarter; nor did he ever seem to be conscious of the unreasonableness of compelling his associates to swallow his opinions as being absolute and final. This disposition to govern his circle co-existed, however, with the most lavish appreciation of every good quality displayed by the members of it, and all the little uneasiness to which his absolutism may sometimes have given rise was much more than removed by constantly recurring acts of good-fellowship,—indeed it was forgotten in the presence of them.

A photograph which exists of Rossetti at twenty-seven conveys the idea of a nature rather austere and taciturn than genial and outspoken. The face is long and the cheeks sunken, the whole figure being attenuated and slightly stooping; the eyes have the inward look which belonged to them in later life, but the mouth, which is free from the concealment of moustache or beard, is severe. The impression conveyed is of a powerful intellect and ambitious nature at war with surroundings and not wholly satisfied with the results. It ought to be added that, at the period in question, health was uncertain with Rossetti: and this fact, added to the circumstance of his being at the time in the very throes of those difficulties with his art which he was soon to surmount, must be understood to account for the austerity of his early portrait. Rossetti was not in a distinct sense a humourist, but there came to him at intervals, in earlier manhood, those outbursts of volatility, which, to serious natures, act as safety-valves after prolonged tension of all the powers of the mind. At such moments of levity he is described as almost boyish in recklessness, plunging into any madcap escapade that might be afoot with heedlessness of all consequences. Stories of misadventures, quips and quiddities of every kind, were then his delight, and of these he possessed a fund which no man knew better how to use. He would tell a funny story with wonderful spirit and freshness of resource, always leading up to the point with watchful care of the finest shades of covert suggestion or innuendo, and, when the climax was reached, never denying himself a hearty share in the universal laughter. One of his choicest pleasures at a dinner or other such gathering was to improvise rhymes on his friends, and of these the fun usually lay in the improvisatore's audacious ascription of just those qualities which his subject did not possess. Though far from devoid of worldly wisdom, and indeed possessed of not a little shrewdness in his dealings with his buyers (often exhibiting that rarest quality of the successful trader, the art of linking one transaction with another), he was sometimes amusingly deficient in what is known as common sense. In later life he used to tell with infinite zest a story of a blunder of earlier years which might easily have led to serious if not fatal results. He had been suffering from nervous exhaustion and had been ordered to take a preparation of nux vomica. The dose was to be taken three times daily: in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. One afternoon he was about to start out for the house of a friend with whom he had promised to lunch, when he remembered that he had not taken his first daily dose of medicine. He forthwith took it, and upon setting down the glass, reflected that the second dose was due, and so he took that also. Putting on his hat and preparing to sally forth he further reflected that before he could return the third dose ought in ordinary course to be taken, and so without more deliberation he poured himself a final portion and drank it off. He had thereupon scarcely turned himself about, when to his horror he discovered that his limbs were growing rigid and his jaw stiff. In the utmost agitation he tried to walk across the studio and found himself almost incapable of the effort. His eyes seemed to leap out of their sockets and his sight grew dim. Appalled and in agony, he at length sprang up from the couch upon which he had dropped down a moment before, and fled out of the house. The violent action speedily induced a copious perspiration, and this being by much the best thing that could have happened to him, carried off the poison and so saved his life. He could never afterwards be induced to return to the drug in question, and in the last year of his life was probably more fearfully aghast at seeing the present writer take a harmless dose of it than he would have been at learning that 50 grains of chloral had been taken.

He had, in early manhood, the keenest relish of a funny prank, and one such he used to act over again in after life with the greatest vivacity of manner. Every one remembers the story told by Jefferson Hogg how Shelley got rid of the old woman with the onion basket who took a place beside him in a stage coach in Sussex, by seating himself on the floor and fixing a tearful, woful face upon his companion, addressing her in thrilling accents thus—

For heaven's sake, let us sit upon the ground, And tell sad stories of the death of kings.

Rossetti's frolic was akin to this, though the results were amusingly different. It would appear that when in early years, Mr. William Morris and Mr. Burne Jones occupied a studio together, they had a young servant maid whose manners were perennially vivacious, whose good spirits no disaster could damp, and whose pertness nothing could banish or check. Rossetti conceived the idea of frightening the girl out of her complacency, and calling one day on his friends, he affected the direst madness, strutted ominously up to her and with the wildest glare of his wild eyes, the firmest and fiercest setting of his lower lip, and began in measured and resonant accents to recite the lines—

Shall the hide of a fierce lion Be stretched on a couch of wood, For a daughter's foot to lie on, Stained with a father's blood?

The poet's response is a soft "Ah, no!" but the girl, ignorant of course of this, and wholly undisturbed by the bloodthirsty tone of the question addressed to her, calmly fixed her eyes on the frenzied eyes before her, and answered with a swift light accent and rippling laugh, "It shall if you like, sir!" Rossetti's enjoyment of his discomfiture on this occasion seemed never to grow less.

His life was twofold in intellectual effort, and of the directions in which his energy went out the artistic alone has thus far been dealt with. It has been said that he early displayed talent for writing as well as painting, and, in truth, the poems that he wrote in early youth are even more remarkable than the pictures that he painted. His poetic genius developed rapidly after sixteen, and sprang at once to a singular and perfect maturity. It is difficult to say whether it will add to the marvel of mature achievement or deduct from the sense of reality of personal experience, to make public the fact that The Blessed Damozel was written when the poet was no more than nineteen. That poem is a creation so pure and simple in the higher imagination, as to support the contention that the author was electively related to Fra Angelico. Described briefly, it may be said to embody the meditations of a beautiful girl in Paradise, whose lover is in the same hour dreaming of her on earth. How the poet lighted upon the conception shall be told by himself in that portion of this book devoted to the writer's personal recollections.

The Blessed Damozel is a conception dilated to such spiritual loveliness that it seems not to exist within things substantially beautiful, or yet by aid of images that coalesce out of the evolving memory of them, but outside of everything actual It is not merely that the dream itself is one of ideal purity; the wave of impulse is pure, and flows without taint of media that seem almost to know it not. The lady says:—

We two will lie i' the shadow of That living mystic tree Within whose secret growth the Dove Is sometimes felt to be, While every leaf that His plumes touch Saith His Name audibly.

Here the love involved is so etherealised as scarcely to be called human, save only on the part of the mortal dreamer, in whose yearning ecstasy the ear thinks it recognises a more earthly note. The lover rejoins.—

(Alas! We two, we two, thou say'st! Yea, one wast thou with me That once of old. But shall God lift To endless unity The soul whose likeness with thy soul Was but its love for thee?)

It is said of the few existent examples of the art of Giorgione that, around some central realisation of human passion gathers always a landscape which is not merely harmonised to it, but a part of it, sharing the joy or the anguish, lying silent to the breathless adoration, or echoing the rapturous voice of the full pleasure of those who are beyond all height and depth more than it. Something of this passive sympathy of environing objects comes out in the poem:

Around her, lovers, newly met 'Mid deathless love's acclaims, Spoke evermore among themselves Their rapturous new names; And the souls mounting up to God Went by her like thin flames.

And still she bowed herself and stooped Out of the circling charm; Until her bosom must have made The bar she leaned on warm, And the lilies lay as if asleep Along her bended arm.

The sense induced by such imagery is akin to that which comes of rapt contemplation of the deep em-blazonings of a fine stained window when the sun's warm gules glides off before the dim twilight. And this sense as of a thing existent, yet passing stealthily out of all sight away, the metre of the poem helps to foster. Other metres of Rossetti's have a strenuous reality, and rejoice in their self-assertiveness, and seem, almost, in their resonant strength, to tell themselves they are very good; but this may almost be said to be a disembodied voice, that lives only on the air, and, like the song of a bird, is gone before its accents have been caught. Of the four-and-twenty stanzas of the poem, none is more calmly musical than this:

When round his head the aureole clings, And he is clothed in white, I 'll take his hand and go with him To the deep wells of light; We will step down as to a stream, And bathe there in God's sight.

Perhaps Rossetti never did anything more beautiful and spiritual than this little work of his twentieth year; and more than once in later life he painted the beautiful lady who is the subject of it, with the lilies lying along her arm.

A first draft of Jenny was struck off when the poet was scarcely more than a boy, and taken up again years afterwards, and almost entirely re-written—the only notable passage of the early poem that now remains being the passage on lust. It is best described in the simplest phrase, as a man's meditations on the life of a courtesan whom he has met at a dancing-garden and accompanied home. While he sits on a couch, she lies at his feet with her head on his knee and sleeps. When the morning dawns he rises, places cushions beneath her head, puts some gold among her hair, and leaves her. It is wisest to hazard at the outset all unfavourable comment by the frankest statement of the story of the poem. But the motif of it is a much higher thing. Jenny embodies an entirely distinct phase of feeling, yet the poet's root impulse is therein the same as in the case of The Blessed Damozel. No two creations could stand more widely apart as to outward features than the dream of the sainted maiden and the reality of the frail and fallen girl; yet the primary prompting and the ultimate outcome are the same. The ardent longing after ideal purity in womanhood, which in the one gave birth to a conception whereof the very sorrow is but excess of joy found expression in the other through a vivid presentment of the nameless misery of unwomanly dishonour:—

Behold the lilies of the field, They toil not neither do they spin; (So doth the ancient text begin,— Not of such rest as one of these Can share.) Another rest and ease Along each summer-sated path From its new lord the garden hath, Than that whose spring in blessings ran Which praised the bounteous husbandman, Ere yet, in days of hankering breath, The lilies sickened unto death.

It was indeed a daring thing the author proposed to himself to do, and assuredly no man could have essayed it who had not consciously united to an unfailing and unshrinking insight, a relativeness of mind such as right-hearted people might approve. To take a fallen woman, a cipher of man's sum of lust, befouled with the shameful knowledge of the streets, yet young, delicate, "apparelled beyond parallel," unblessed, with a beauty which, if copied by a Da Vinci's hand, might stand whole ages long "for preachings of what God can do," and then to endow such a one with the sensitiveness of a poet's own mind, make her read afresh as though by lightning, and in a dream, that story of the old pure days—

Much older than any history That is written in any book,

and lastly, to gather about her an overwhelming sense of infinite solace for the wronged and lost, and of the retributive justice with which man's transgressions will be visited—this is, indeed, to hazard all things in the certainty of an upright purpose and true reward.

Shall no man hold his pride forewarn'd Till in the end, the Day of Days, At Judgment, one of his own race, As frail and lost as you, shall rise,— His daughter with his mother's eyes!

Yet Rossetti made no treaty with puritanism, and in this respect his Jenny has something in common with Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter—than which nothing, perhaps, that is so pure, without being puritanical, has reached us even from the land that gave Evangeline to the English tongue. The guilty love of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale is never for an instant condoned, but, on the other hand, the rigorous severity of the old puritan community is not dwelt upon with favour. Relentless remorse must spend itself upon the man before the whole measure of his misery is full, and on the woman the brand of a public shame must be borne meekly to the end. But though no rancour is shown towards the austere and blind morality which puts to open discharge the guilty mother whilst unconsciously nourishing the yet more guilty father, we see the tenderness of a love that palliates the baseness of the amour, and the bitter depths of a penitence that cannot be complete until it can no longer be concealed. And so with Jenny. She may have transient flashes of remorseful consciousness, such as reveal to her the trackless leagues that separate what she was from what she is, but no effort is made to hide the plain truth that she is a courtesan, skilled only in the lures and artifices peculiar to her shameful function. No reformatory promptings fit her for a place at the footstool of the puritan. Nothing tells of winter yet; on the other hand, no virulent diatribes are cast forth against the society that shuts this woman out, as the puritan settlement turned its back on Hester Prynne. But we see her and know her for what she is, a woman like unto other women: desecrated but akin.

This dramatic quality of sitting half-passively above their creations and of leaving their ethics to find their own channels (once assured that their impulses are pure), the poet and the romancer possess in common. If there is a point of difference between their attitudes of mind, it is where Rossetti seems to reserve his whole personal feeling for the impeachment of lust;—

Like a toad within a stone Seated while Time crumbles on; Which sits there since the earth was cursed For Man's transgression at the first; Which, living through all centuries, Not once has seen the sun arise; Whose life, to its cold circle charmed, The earth's whole summers have not warmed; Which always—whitherso the stone Be flung—sits there, deaf, blind, alone;— Ay, and shall not be driven out Till that which shuts him round about Break at the very Master's stroke, And the dust thereof vanish as smoke, And the seed of Man vanish as dust:— Even so within this world is Lust.

Sister Helen was written somewhat later than The Blessed Damozel and the first draft of Jenny, and probably belonged to the poet's twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth year. The ballad involves a story of witchcraft A girl has been first betrayed and then deserted by her lover; so, to revenge herself upon him and his newly-married bride, she burns his waxen image three days over a fire, and during that time he dies in torment In Sister Helen we touch the key-note of Rossetti's creative gift. Even the superstition which forms the basis of the ballad owes something of its individual character to the invention and poetic bias of the poet. The popular superstitions of the Middle Ages were usually of two kinds only. First, there were those that arose out of a jealous Catholicism, always glancing towards heresy; and next there were those that laid their account neither with orthodoxy nor unbelief, and were purely pagan. The former were the offspring of fanaticism; the latter of an appeal to appetite or passion, or fancy, or perhaps intuitive reason directed blindly or unconsciously towards natural phenomena. The superstition involved in Sister Helen partakes wholly of neither character, but partly of both, with an added element of demonology. The groundwork is essentially catholic, the burden of the ballad showing that the tragic event lies between Hell and Heaven:—

(O Mother, Mary Mother, Three days to-day, between Hell and Heaven!)

But the superstructural overgrowth is totally undisturbed by any animosity against heresy, and is concerned only with a certain ultimate demoniacal justice visiting the wrongdoer. Thus far the elemental tissue of the superstition has something in common with that of the German secret tribunal of the steel and cord; with this difference, however, that whereas the latter punishes in secret, even as the deity, the former makes conscious compact with the powers of evil, that whatever justice shall be administered upon the wicked shall first be purchased by sacrifice of the good. Sister Helen may burn, alive, the body and soul of her betrayer, but the dying knell that tells of the false soul's untimely flight, tolls the loss of her own soul also:—

"Ah! what white thing at the door has cross'd, Sister Helen? Ah! what is this that sighs in the frost!" "A soul that's lost as mine is lost, Little brother!" (O Mother, Mary Mother, Lost, lost, all lost, between Hell and Heaven!)

Here lies the divergence between the lines of this and other compacts with evil powers; this is the point of Rossetti's departure from the scheme that forms the underplot of Goethe's Faust, and of Marlowe's Faustus, and was intended to constitute the plan of Coleridge's Michael Scott. It has been well said that the theme of the Faust is the consequence of a misology, or hatred of knowledge, resulting upon an original thirst for knowledge baffled. Faust never does from the beginning love knowledge for itself, but he loves it for the means it affords for the acquisition of power. This base purpose defeats itself; and when Faust finds that learning fails to yield him the domination he craves, he hates and contemns it. Away, henceforth, with all pretence to knowledge! Then follows the compact, the articles to which are absolute servility of the Devil on the one part, and complete possession of the soul of Faust on the other. Faust is little better than a wizard from the first, for if knowledge had given him what he: sought, he had never had recourse to witchcraft! Helen, however, partakes in some sort of the triumphant nobility of an avenging deity who has cozened hell itself, and not in vain. In the whole majesty of her great wrong, she loses the originally vulgar character of the witch. It is not as the consequence of a poison-speck in her own heart that she has recourse to sorcery. She does not love witchery for its own sake; she loves it only as the retributive channel for the requital of a terrible offence. It is throughout the last hour of her three-days' conflict, merely, that we see her, but we know her then not more for the revengeful woman she is than for the trustful maiden she has been. When she becomes conscious of the treason wrought against her, we feel that she suffers change. In the eyes of others we can see her, and in our vision of her she is beautiful; but hers is the beauty of fair cheeks, from which the canker frets the soft tenderness of colour, the loveliness of golden hair that has lost its radiance, the sweetness of eyes once dripping with the dews of the spirit, now pale, and cold, and lustreless. Very soon the wrongdoer shall reap the harvest of a twofold injury: this day another bride shall stand by his side. Is there, then, no way to wreak the just revenge of a broken heart? That suggests sorcery. Yes, the body and soul of the false lover may melt as before a flame; but the price of vengeance is horrible. Yet why? Has not love become devilish? Is not life a curse? Then wherefore shrink? The resolute wronged woman must go through with it. And when the last hour comes, nature itself is portentous of the virulent ill. In the wind's wake, the moon flies through a rack of night clouds. One after one the suppliants crave pardon for the distant dying lover, and last of these comes the three-days' bride.

In addition to the three great poems just traversed, Rossetti had written, before the completion of his twenty-sixth year, The Staff and Scrip, The Burden of Nineveh, Troy Town, Eden Bower and The Last Confession, as well as a fragment of The Bride's Prelude, to which it will be necessary to return. But, with a single exception, the poems just named may be said to exist beside the three that have been analysed, without being radically distinct from them, or touching higher or other levels, and hence it is not considered needful to dwell upon them at length. The Last Confession covers another range of feeling, it is true, whereof it may be said that the nobler part is akin to that which finds expression in the pure and shattered love of Othello; but it is a range of feeling less characteristical, perhaps less indigenous and appreciable.

In the years 1845-49 inclusive, Rossetti made the larger part of his translations (published in 1861) from the early Italian poets, and though he afterwards spoke of them as having been the work of the leisure moments of many years, of their subsequent revision alone, perhaps, could this be altogether true. The Vita Nuova, together with the many among Dante's Lyrics and those of his contemporaries which elucidate their personal intercourse; were translated, as well as a great body of the sonnets of poets later than Dante. {*} This early and indirect apprenticeship to the sonnet, as a form of composition, led to his becoming, in the end, perhaps the most perfect of English sonnet-writers. In youth, it was one of his pleasures to engage in exercises of sonnet-skill with his brother William and his sister Christina, and, even then, he attained to such proficiency, in the mere mechanism of sonnet structure, that he could sometimes dash off a sonnet in ten minutes—rivalling, in this particular, the impromptu productions of Hartley Coleridge. It is hardly necessary to say that the poems produced, under such conditions of time and other tests, were rarely, if ever, adjudged worthy of publication, by the side of work to which he gave adequate deliberation. But several of the sonnets on pictures—as, for example, the fine one on a Venetian pastoral by Giorgione—and the political sonnet, Miltonic in spirit, On the Refusal of Aid between Nations, were written contemporaneously with the experimental sonnets in question.

* Rossetti often remarked that he had intended to translate the sonnets of Michael Angelo, until he saw Mr. Symonds's translation, when he was so much impressed by its excellence that he forthwith abandoned the purpose.

As The House of Life was composed in great part at the period with which we are now dealing (though published in the complete sequence nearly twenty-five years later), it may be best to traverse it at this stage. Though called a full series of sonnets, there is no intimation that it is not fragmentary as to design; the title is an astronomical, not an architectural figure. The work is at once Shakspearean and Dantesque. Whilst electively akin to the Vita Nuova, it is broader in range, the life involved being life idealised in all phases. What Rossetti's idea was of the mission of the sonnet, as associated with life, and exhibiting a similitude of it, may best be learned from his prefatory sonnet:—

A Sonnet is a moment's monument,— Memorial from the Soul's eternity To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be, Whether for lustral rite or dire portent, Of its own arduous fulness reverent: Carve it in ivory or in ebony, As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see Its flowering crest impearled and orient. A Sonnet is a coin; its face reveals The soul,—its converse, to what Power 'tis due:— Whether for tribute to the august appeals Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue, It serve; or 'mid the dark wharfs cavernous breath, In Charon's palm it pay the toll to Death.

Rossetti's sonnets are of varied metrical structure; but their intellectual structure is uniform, comprising in each case a flow and ebb of thought within the limits of a single conception. In this latter respect they have a character almost peculiar to themselves among English sonnets. Rossetti was not the first English writer who deliberatively separated octave and sestet, but he was the first who obeyed throughout a series of sonnets the canon of the contemporary structure requiring that a sonnet shall present the twofold facet of a single thought or emotion. This form of the sonnet Rossetti was at least the first among English writers entirely to achieve and perfectly to render. The House of Life does not contain a sonnet which is not to some degree informed by such an intellectual and musical wave; but the following is an example more than usually emphatic:

Even as a child, of sorrow that we give dead, but little in his heart can find, Since without need of thought to his clear mind Their turn it is to die and his to live:— Even so the winged New Love smiles to receive Along his eddying plumes the auroral wind, Nor, forward glorying, casts one look behind Where night-rack shrouds the Old Love fugitive.

There is a change in every hour's recall, And the last cowslip in the fields we see On the same day with the first corn-poppy. Alas for hourly change! Alas for all The loves that from his hand proud youth lets fall, Even as the beads of a told rosary!

The distinguishing excellence of craftsmanship in Rossetti's sonnets was early recognised; but the fertility of thought, and range of emotion compassed by this part of his work constitute an excellence far higher than any that belongs to perfection of form, rhythm, or metre. Mr. Palgrave has well said that a poet's story differs from a narrative in being in itself a creation; that it brings its own facts; that what we have to ask is not the true life of Laura, but how far Petrarch has truly drawn the life of love. So with Rossetti's sonnets. They may or may not be "occasional." Many readers who enter with sympathy into the series of feelings they present will doubtless insist upon regarding them as autobiographical. Others, who think they see the stamp of reality upon them, will perhaps accept them (as Hallam accepted the Sonnets of Shakspeare) as witnesses of excessive affection, redeemed sometimes by touches of nobler sentiments—if affection, however excessive, needs to be redeemed. Others again will receive them as artistic embodiments of ideal love upon which is placed the imprint of a passion as mythical as they believe to be attached to the autobiography of Dante's early days. But the genesis and history of these sonnets (whether the emotion with which they are pervaded be actual or imagined) must be looked for within. Do they realise vividly Life representative in its many phases of love, joy, sorrow, and death? It must be conceded that he House of Life touches many passions and depicts life in most of its changeful aspects. It would afford an adequate test of its comprehensiveness to note how rarely a mind in general sympathy with the author could come to its perusal without alighting upon something that would be in harmony with its mood. To traverse the work through its aspiration and foreboding, joy, grief, remorse, despair, and final resignation, would involve a task too long and difficult to be attempted here. Two sonnets only need be quoted as at once indicative of the range of thought and feeling covered, and of the sequent relation these poems bear each to each.

By thine own tears thy song must tears beget, Singer! Magic mirror thou hast none Except thy manifest heart; and save thine own Anguish or ardour, else no amulet.

Cisterned in Pride, verse is the feathery jet Of soulless air-flung fountains; nay, more dry Than the Dead Sea for throats that thirst and sigh, That song o'er which no singer's lids grew wet.

The Song-god—He the Sun-god—is no slave Of thine: thy Hunter he, who for thy soul Fledges his shaft: to the august control Of thy skilled hand his quivered store he gave: But if thy lips' loud cry leap to his smart, The inspired record shall pierce thy brother's heart.

This is not meant to convey the same idea as Shelley's "learn in suffering," etc., but merely that a poem must move the writer in its composition if it is to move the reader.

With the following The House of Life is made to close:

When vain desire at last and vain regret Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain, What shall assuage the unforgotten pain And teach the unforgetful to forget?

Shall Peace be still a sunk stream long unmet,— Or may the soul at once in a green plain Stoop through the spray of some sweet life-fountain, And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?

Ah! when the wan soul in that golden air Between the scriptured petals softly blown Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown,— Ah! let none other alien spell soe'er But only the one Hope's one name be there,— Not less nor more, but even that word alone.

A writer must needs be loath to part from this section of Rossett's work without naming some few sonnets that seem to be in all respects on a level with those to which attention has been drawn. Of such, perhaps, the most conspicuous are:—A Day of Love; Mid-Rapture; Her Gifts; The Dark Glass; True Woman; Without Her; Known in Vain; The Heart of the Night; The Landmark; Stillborn Love; Lost Days. But it would be difficult to formulate a critical opinion in support of the superiority of almost any of these' sonnets over the others,—so balanced is their merit, so equal their appeal to the imagination and heart. Indeed, it were scarcely rash to say that in the language (outside Shakspeare) there exists no single body of sonnets characterised by such sustained excellence of vision and presentment. It must have been strange enough if the all but unexampled ardour and constancy with which Rossetti pursued the art of the sonnet-writer had not resulted in absolute mastery.

In 1850 The Germ was started under the editorship of Mr. William Michael Rossetti, and to the four issues, which were all that were published of this monthly magazine (designed to advocate the views of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood), Rossetti contributed certain of his early poems—The Blessed Damozel among the number. In 1856 he contributed many of the same poems, together with others, to The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, of which Canon Dixon has kindly undertaken to tell the history. He says:

My knowledge of Dante Gabriel Rossetti was begun in connection with The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, a monthly periodical, which was started in January 1856, and lasted a year. The projectors of this periodical were Mr. William Morris, Mr. Ed. Burne Jones, and myself. The editor was Mr. (now the Rev.) William Fulford. Among the original contributors were the late Mr. Wilfred Heeley of Cambridge, Mr. Faulkner, now Fellow of University College, Oxford, and Mr. Cormel Price. We were all undergraduates. The publishers of the magazine were the late firm of Bell and Daldy. We gradually associated with ourselves several other contributors: above all, D. G. Rossetti.

Of this undertaking the central notion was, I think, to advocate moral earnestness and purpose in literature, art, and society. It was founded much on Mr. Ruskin's teaching: it sprang out of youthful impatience, and exhibited many signs of immaturity and ignorance: but perhaps it was not without value as a protest against some things. The pre-Raphaelite movement was then in vigour: and this Magazine came to be considered as the organ of those who accepted the ideas which were brought into art at that time; and, as in a manner, the successor of The Germ, a small periodical which had been published previously by the first beginners of the movement. Rossetti, in many respects the most memorable of the pre-Raphaelites, became connected with our Magazine when it had been in existence about six months: and he contributed to it several of the finest of the poems that were afterwards collected in the former of his two volumes of poems: namely, The Burden of Nineveh, The Blessed Damozel, and The Staff and Scrip. I think that one of them, The Blessed Damozel, had appeared previously in The Germ. All these poems, as they now stand in the author's volume, have been greatly altered from what they were in the Magazine: and, in being altered, not always improved, at least in the verbal changes. The first of them, a sublime meditation of peculiar metrical power, has been much altered, and in general happily, as to the arrangement of stanzas: but not always so happily as to the words. It is, however, pleasing to notice that in the alterations some touches of bitterness have been effaced. The second of these pieces has been brought with great skill into regular form by transposition: but again one repines to find several touches gone that once were there. The last of them, The Staff and Scrip, is, in my judgment, the finest of all Rossetti's poems, and one of the most glorious writings in the language. It exhibits in flawless perfection the gift that he had above all other writers, absolute beauty and pure action. Here again it is not possible to see without regret some of the verbal alterations that have been made in the poem as it now stands, although the chief emendation, the omission of one stanza and the insertion of another, adds clearness, and was all that was wanted to make the poem perfect in structure.

I saw Rossetti for the first time in his lodgings over Blackfriars Bridge. It was impossible not to be impressed with the freedom and kindness of his manner, not less than by his personal appearance. His frank greeting, bold, but gentle glance, his whole presence, produced a feeling of confidence and pleasure. His voice had a great charm, both in tone, and from the peculiar cadences that belonged to it I think that the leading features of his character struck me more at first than the characteristics of his genius; or rather, that my notion of the character of the man was formed first, and was then applied to his works, and identified with them. The main features of his character were, in my apprehension, fearlessness, kindliness, a decision that sometimes made him seem somewhat arbitrary, and condensation or concentration. He was wonderfully self-reliant. These moral qualities, guiding an artistic temperament as exquisite as was ever bestowed on man, made him what he was, the greatest inventor of abstract beauty, both in form and colour, that this age, perhaps that the world, has seen. They would also account for some peculiarities that must be admitted in some of his works, want of nature, for instance. I heard him once remark that it was "astonishing how much the least bit of nature helped if one put it in;" which seemed like an acknowledgment that he might have gone more to nature. Hence, however, his works always seem abstract, always seem to embody some kind of typical aim, and acquire a sort of sacred character.

I saw a good deal of Rossetti in London, and afterwards in Oxford, during the painting of the Union debating-room. In later years our personal intercourse was broken off through distance; though I saw him occasionally almost to the time of his lamented death, and we had some correspondence. My recollection of him is that of greatness, as might be expected of one of the few who have been "illustrious in two arts," and who stands by himself and has earned an independent name in both. His work was great: the man was greater. His conversation had a wonderful ease, precision, and felicity of expression. He produced thoughts perfectly enunciated with a deliberate happiness that was indescribable, though it was always simple conversation, never haranguing or declamation. He was a natural leader because he was a natural teacher. When he chose to be interested in anything that was brought before him, no pains were too great for him to take. His advice was always given warmly and freely, and when he spoke of the works of others it was always in the most generous spirit of praise. It was in fact impossible to have been more free from captiousness, jealousy, envy, or any other form of pettiness than this truly noble man. The great painter who first took me to him said, "We shall see the greatest man in Europe." I have it on the same authority that Rossetti's aptitude for art was considered amongst painters to be no less extraordinary than his imagination. For example, that he could take hold of the extremity of the brush, and be as certain of his touch as if it had been held in the usual way; that he never painted a picture without doing something in colour that had never been done before; and, in particular, that he had a command of the features of the human face such as no other painter ever possessed. I also remember some observations by the same assuredly competent judge, to the effect that Rossetti might be set against the great painters of the fifteenth century, as equal to them, though unlike them: the difference being that while they represented the characters, whom they painted, in their ordinary and unmoved mood, he represented his characters under emotion, and yet gave them wholly. It may be added, perhaps, that he had a lofty standard of beauty of his own invention, and that he both elevated and subjected all to beauty. Such a man was not likely to be ignorant of the great root of power in art, and I once saw him very indignant on hearing that he had been accused of irreligion, or rather of not being a Christian. He asked with great earnestness, "Do not my works testify to my Christianity?" I wish that these imperfect recollections may be of any avail to those who cherish the memory of an extraordinary genius.

Besides his contributions to The Germ, and to The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, Rossetti contributed Sister Helen, in 1853, to a German Annual. Beyond this he made little attempt to publish his poetry. He had written it for the love of writing, or in obedience to the inherent impulse compelling him to do so, but of actual hope of achieving by virtue of it a place among English poets he seems to have had none, or next to none. In later life he used to say that Mr. Browning's greatness and the splendour of Mr. Tennyson's merited renown seemed to him in those early years to render all attempt on his part to secure rank by their side as hopeless as presumptuous. This, he asserted, was the cause that operated to restrain him from publication between 1853 and 1862, and after that (as will presently be seen), another and more serious obstacle than self-depreciation intervened. But in putting aside all hope of the reward of poetic achievement, he did not wholly banish the memory of the work he had done. He made two or more copies of the most noticeable of the poems he had written, and sent them to friends eminent in letters. To Leigh Hunt he sent The Blessed Damozel, and received in acknowledgment a letter full of appreciative comment, and foretelling a brilliant future. His literary friends at this time were Mr. Ruskin, Mr. and Mrs. Browning; he used to see Mr. Tennyson and Carlyle at intervals, and was in constant intercourse with the younger writers, Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Morris, whose reputations had then to be made; Mr. Arnold, Sir Henry Taylor, Mr. Aubrey de Vere, Mr. E. Brough, Mr. J. Hannay, and Mr. Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton), he met occasionally; Dobell he knew only by correspondence. Though unpublished, his poems were not unknown, for besides the semi-publicity they obtained by circulation "among his private friends," he was nothing loath to read or recite them at request, and by such means a few of them secured a celebrity akin in kind and almost equal in extent to that enjoyed by Coleridge's Christabel during the many years preceding 1816 in which it lay in manuscript. Like Coleridge's poem in another important particular, certain of Rossetti's ballads, whilst still unknown to the public, so far influenced contemporary poetry that when they did at length appear they had all the appearance to the uninitiated of work imitated from contemporary models, instead of being, as in fact they were, the primary source of inspiration for writers whose names were earlier established.

Towards the beginning of his artistic career Rossetti occupied a studio, with residential chambers, at Black-friars Bridge. The rooms overlooked the river, and the tide rose almost to the walls of the house, which, with nearly all its old surroundings, has long disappeared.

A story is told of Rossetti amidst these environments which aptly illustrates almost every trait of his character: his impetuosity, and superstition especially. It was his daily habit to ransack old book-stalls, and carry off to his studio whatever treasures he unearthed, but when, upon further investigation, he found he had been deceived as to the value of a book that at first looked promising, he usually revenged himself by throwing the volume through a window into the river running below—a habit which he discovered (to his amusement, and occasionally to his distress), that his friends, Mr. Swinburne especially, imitated from him and practised at his rooms on his behalf. On one occasion he discovered in some odd nook a volume long sought for, and having inscribed it with his name and address, he bore it off joyfully to his chambers; but finding a few days later that in some respects it disappointed his expectations, he flung it through the window, and banished all further thought of it. The tide had been at the flood when the book disappeared, and when it ebbed, the offending volume was found by a little mud-lark imbedded in the refuse of the river. The boy washed it and took it back to the address it contained, expecting to find it eagerly reclaimed; but, impatient and angry at sight of what he thought he had destroyed, Rossetti snatched the book out of the muddy hand that proffered it and flung it again into the Thames, with rather less than the courtesy which might have been looked for as the reward of an act that was meant so well. But the haunting volume was not even yet done with. Next morning, an old man of the riverside labourer class knocked at the door, bearing in his hands a small parcel rudely made up in a piece of newspaper that was greasy enough to have previously contained his morning's breakfast. He had come from where he was working below London Bridge: he had found something that might have been lost by Mr. Rossetti. It was the tormenting volume: the indestructible, unrelenting phantom that would not be laid! Rossetti now perceived that higher agencies were at work: it was not meant that he should get rid of the book: why should he contend against the inevitable? Reverently and with both hands he took the besoiled parcel from the brown palm of the labourer, placed half-a-crown there instead, and restored the fearful book to its place on his shelf.

And now we come to incidents in Rossetti's career of which it is necessary to treat as briefly as tenderly. Among the models who sat to him was Miss Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, a young lady of great personal beauty, in whom he discovered a natural genius for painting and a noticeable love of the higher poetic literature. He felt impelled to give her lessons, and she became as much his pupil as model. Her water-colour drawings done under his tuition gave proof of a wonderful eye for colour, and displayed a marked tendency to style. The subjects, too, were admirably composed and often exhibited unusual poetic feeling. It was very natural that such a connection between persons of kindred aspirations should lead to friendship and finally to love.

Rossetti and Miss Siddal were married in 1860. They visited France and Belgium; and this journey, together with a similar one undertaken in the company of Mr. Holman Hunt in 1849, and again another in 1863, when his brother was his companion, and a short residence on the Continent when a boy, may be said to constitute almost the whole sum of Rossetti's travelling. Very soon the lady's health began to fail, and she became the victim of neuralgia. To meet this dread enemy she resorted to laudanum, taking it at first in small quantities, but eventually in excess. Her spirits drooped, her art was laid aside, and much of the cheerfulness of home was lost to her. There was a child, but it was stillborn, and not long after this disaster, it was found that Mrs. Rossetti had taken an overdose of her accustomed sleeping potion and was lying dead in her bed. This was in 1862, and after two years only of married life. The blow was a terrible one to Rossetti, who was the first to discover what fate had reserved for him. It was some days before he seemed fully to realise the loss that had befallen him, and then his grief knew no bounds. The poems he had written, so far as they were poems of love, were chiefly inspired by and addressed to her. At her request he had copied them into a little book presented to him for the purpose, and on the day of the funeral he walked into the room where the body lay, and, unmindful of the presence of friends, he spoke to his dead wife as though she heard, saying, as he held the book, that the words it contained were written to her and for her, and she must take them with her for they could not remain when she had gone. Then he put the volume into the coffin between her cheek and beautiful hair, and it was that day buried with her in Highgate Cemetery.



CHAPTER II.

It was long before Rossetti recovered from the shock of his wife's sudden death. The loss sustained appeared to change the whole course of his life. Previously he had been of a cheerful temperament, and accustomed to go abroad at frequent intervals to visit friends; but after this event he seemed to become for a time morose, and by nature reclusive. Not a great while afterwards he removed from Blackfriars Bridge, and after a temporary residence in Lincoln's Inn Fields, he took up his abode in the house he occupied during the twenty remaining years of his life, at 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. This home of Rossetti's shall be fully described in subsequent personal recollections. It was called Tudor House when he became its tenant, from the tradition that Elizabeth Tudor had lived in it, and it is understood to be the same that Thackeray describes in Esmond as the home of the old Countess of Chelsey. A large garden, which recently has been cut off for building purposes, lay at the back, and, doubtless, it was as much due to the attractions of this piece of pleasant ground, dotted over with lime-trees, and enclosed by a high wall, that Rossetti went so far afield, for at that period Chelsea was not the rallying ground of artists and men of letters. He wished to live a life of retirement, and thought the possession of a garden in which he could take sufficient daily exercise would enable him to do so. In leaving Blackfriars he destroyed many things associated with his residence there, and calculated to remind him of his life's great loss. He burnt a great body of letters, and among them were many valuable ones from almost all the men and women then eminent in literature and art. His great grief notwithstanding, upon settling at Chelsea he began almost insensibly to interest himself in furnishing the house in a beautiful and novel style. Old oak then became for a time his passion, and in hunting it up he rummaged the brokers' shops round London for miles, buying for trifles what would eventually (when the fashion he started grew to be general) have fetched large sums. Cabinets of all conceivable superannuated designs—so old in material or pattern that no one else would look at them—were unearthed in obscure corners, bolstered up by a joiner, and consigned to their places in the new residence. Following old oak, Japanese furniture became Rossetti's quest, and following this came blue china ware (of which he had perhaps the first fine collection made), and then ecclesiastical and other brasses, incense-burners, sacramental cups, crucifixes, Indian spice boxes, mediaeval lamps, antique bronzes, and the like. In a few years he had filled his house with so much curious and beautiful furniture that there grew up a widespread desire to imitate his methods; and very soon artists, authors, and men of fortune having no other occupation, were found rummaging, as he had rummaged, for the neglected articles of the centuries gone by. What he did was done, as he used to say, less from love of the things hunted for, than from love of the pursuit, which, from its difficulty, gave rise to a pleasurable excitement. Thus did he grieve down his loss, and little did they think who afterwards followed the fashion he set them, and carried his passion for antique furniture to an excess at which he must have laughed, that his' primary impulse was so far from a desire to "live up to his blue ware," that it was more like an effort to live down to it.

It was during the earlier years of his residence at Chelsea that Rossetti formed a habit of life which clung to him almost to the last, and did more than aught else to blight his happiness. What his intimate friend has lately characterised in The Daily News as that great curse of the literary and artistic temperament, insomnia, had been hanging about him since the death of his wife, and was becoming each year more and more alarming. He had tried opiates, but in sparing quantities, for had he not the most serious cause to eschew them? Towards 1868 he heard of the then newly found drug chloral, which was accredited with all the virtues and none of the vices of other known narcotics. Here then was the thing he wanted; this was the blessed discovery that was to save him from days of weariness and nights of misery and tears. Eagerly he procured it, took it nightly in single small doses of ten grains each, and from it he received pleasant and refreshing sleep. He made no concealment of his habit; like Coleridge under similar conditions, he preferred to talk of it. Not yet had he learned the sad truth, too soon to force itself upon him, that the fumes of this dreadful drug would one day wither up his hopes and joys in life: deluding him with a short-lived surcease of pain only to impose a terrible legacy of suffering from which there was to be no respite. Had Rossetti been master of the drug and not mastered by it, perhaps he might have turned it to account at a critical juncture, and laid it aside when the necessity to employ it had gradually been removed. But, alas! he gave way little by little to the encroachments of an evil power with which, when once it had gained the ascendant, he fought down to his dying day a single-handed and losing fight.

It was not, however, for some years after he began the use of it that chloral produced any sensible effects of an injurious kind, and meantime he pursued as usual his avocation as a painter. Mention has been made of the fact that Rossetti abandoned at an early age subject designs for three-quarter-length figures. Of the latter, in the period of which we are now treating, he painted great numbers: among them, produced at this time and later, were Sibylla Palmifera and The Beloved (the property of Mr. George Rae), La Pia and The Salutation of Beatrice (Mr. F. E. Leyland), The Dying Beatrice (Lord Mount Temple), Venus Astarte (Mr. Fry), Fiammetta (Mr. Turner), Proserpina (Mr. Graham). Of these works, solidity may be said to be the prominent characteristic. The drapery of Rossetti's pictures is wonderfully powerful and solid; his colour may be said to be at times almost matchable with that of certain of the Venetian painters, though different in kind. He hated beyond most things the "varnishy" look of some modern work; and his own oil pictures had so much of the manner of frescoes in their lustreless depth, that they were sometimes mistaken for water-colours, while, on the other hand, his water-colours had often so much depth and brilliancy as sometimes to be mistaken for oil. It is alleged in certain quarters that Rossetti was deficient in some qualities of drawing, and this is no doubt a just allegation; but it is beyond question that no English painter has ever been a greater master of the human face, which in his works (especially those painted in later years) acquires a splendid solemnity and spiritual beauty and significance all but peculiar to himself. It seems proper to say in such a connexion, that his success in this direction was always attributed by him to the fact that the most memorable of his faces were painted from a well-known friend.

Only one of his early designs, the Dante's Dream, was ever painted by Rossetti on a scale commensurate with its importance, and the solemnity and massive grandeur of that work leave only a feeling of regret that, whether from personal indisposition on the part of the painter or lack of adequate recognition on that of the public, the three or four other finest designs made in youth were never carried out. As the picture in question stands alone among Rossetti's pictorial works as a completed conception, it may be well to devote a few pages to a description of it.

It is essential to an appreciation of Dante's Dream, that we should not only fully understand the nature of the particular incident depicted in the picture, but also possess a general knowledge of the lives and relations of the two principal personages concerned in it. What we know, to most purpose, of the early life and love of Dante, we learn from the autobiography which he entitled La Vita Nuova. Boccaccio, however, writing fifty years after the death of the great Florentine, affords a more detailed statement than is furnished by Dante himself of the circumstances of the poets first meeting with the lady he called Beatrice. He says that it was the custom of citizens in Florence, when the time of spring came round, to form social gatherings in their own quarters for purposes of merry-making; that in this way Folco Portinari, a citizen of mark, had collected his neighbours at his house upon the first of May, 1274, for pastime and rejoicing: that amongst those who came to him was Alighiero Alighieri, father of Dante Alighieri, who lived within fifty yards; that it was common for children to accompany their parents at such merrymakings, and that Dante, then scarce nine years old, was in the house on the day in question engaged in sports, appropriate to his years, with other children, amongst whom was a little daughter of Folco Portinari, eight years old. The child is described as being, even at this period, in aspect extremely beautiful, and winning and graceful in her ways. Not to dwell upon these passages of childhood, it may be sufficient to say that the boy, young as he was, is said to have then conceived so deep a passion for the child that maturer attachments proved powerless to efface it. Such was the origin of a love that grew from childlike tenderness to manly ardour, and, surviving all the buffetings of an untoward fate, is known to us now and for all time in a record of so much reality and purity, as seems to every right-hearted nature to be equally the story of his personal attachment as the history of a passion that in Florence, six centuries ago, for its mortal put on immortality.

The Portinari and Alighieri were immediate neighbours, yet it does not appear that the young Dante encountered the lady in any marked way until nine years later, and then, in the first bloom of a gracious womanhood, she is described as affording him in the street a salutation of such unspeakable courtesy that he left the place where for the instant he had stood sorely abashed, as one intoxicated with a love that now at first knew itself for what it was. The incidents of the attachment are few in facts; numerous only in emotions, and therein too uncertain and liable to change to be counted. In order not to disclose a passion, which other reasons than those given by the poet may have tempted him to conceal, Dante affects an attachment to another lady of the city, and the rumour of this brings about an estrangement with the real object of his desires, which reduces the poet to such an abject condition of mind, as finally results in his laying aside all counterfeiting. Portinari, the father, now dies, and witnessing the tenderness with which the beautiful Beatrice mourns him, Dante becomes affected with a painful infirmity, wherein his mind broods over his enfeebled body, and, perceiving how frail a thing life is, even though health keep with it, his brain begins to travail in many imaginings, and he says within himself, "Certainly it must some time come to pass that the very gentle Beatrice will die." Feeling bewildered, he closes his eyes, and, in a trance, he conceives that a friend comes to him, and says, "Hast thou not heard? She that was thine excellent lady has been taken out of life." Then as he looks towards Heaven in imagination, he beholds a multitude of angels who are returning upwards, having before them an exceedingly white cloud; and these angels are singing, and the words of their song are, "Osanna in excelsis." So strong is his imagining, that it seems to him that he goes to look upon the body where it has its abiding-place.

The sun ceased, and the stars began to gather, And each wept at the other; And birds dropp'd at midflight out of the sky; And earth shook suddenly; And I was 'ware of one, hoarse and tired out, Who ask'd of me: 'Hast thou not heard it said— Thy lady, she that was so fair, is dead?

Then lifting up mine eyes, as the tears came, I saw the angels, like a rain of manna In a long flight flying back Heavenward, Having a little cloud in front of them, After the which they went, and said 'Hosanna;' And if they had said more, you should have heard.

Then Love said, 'Now shall all things be made clear: Come, and behold our lady where she lies These 'wildering phantasies Then carried me to see my lady dead. Even as I there was led, Her ladies with a veil were covering her; And with her was such very humbleness That she appeared to say, 'I am at peace.' (Dante and his Circle.)

The trance proves to be a premonition of the event, for, shortly after writing the poem in which his imaginings find record, Dante says, "The Lord God of Justice called my most gracious lady unto Himself."

It is with the incidents of the dream that Rossetti has dealt. The principal personage in the picture is, of course, Dante himself. Of the poet's face, two old and accredited witnesses remain to us—the portrait of Giotto and the mask supposed to be copied from a similar one taken after death. Giotto's portrait represents Dante at the age of twenty-seven. The face has a feminine delicacy of outline, yet is full of manly beauty; strength and tenderness are seen blended in its lineaments. It might be that of a poet, a scholar, a courtier, or yet a soldier; and in Dante it is all combined.

Such, as seen in Giotto, was the great Florentine when Beatrice beheld him. The familiar mask represents that youthful beauty as somewhat saddened by years of exile, by the accidents of an unequal fortune, and by the long brooding memory of his life's one, deep, irreparable loss. We see in it the warrior who served in the great battle of Campaldino: the mourner who sought refuge from grief in the action and danger of the war waged by Florence upon Pisa: the magistrate whose justice proved his ruin: the exile who ate bitter bread when Florence banished the greatest of her sons. The mask is as full as the portrait of intellect and feeling, of strength and character, but it lacks something of the early sweetness and sensibility. Rossetti's portraiture retains the salient qualities of both portrait and mask. It represents Dante in his twenty-seventh year; the face gives hint of both poet and soldier, for behind clear-cut features capable of strengthening into resolve and rigour lie whole depths of tenderest sympathy. The abstracted air, the self-centred look, the eyes that seem to see only what the mind conceives and casts forward from itself; the slow, uncertain, half-reluctant gait,—these are profoundly true to the man and the dream.

Of Beatrice, no such description is given either in the Vita Nuova or the Commedia as could afford an artist a definite suggestion. Dante's love was an idealised passion; it concerned itself with spiritual beauty, whereof the emotions excited absorbed every merely physical consideration. The beauty of Beatrice in the Vita Nuova is like a ray of sunshine flooding a landscape—we see it only in the effect it produces. All we know with certainty is that her hair was light, that her face was pale, and that her smile was one of thoughtful sweetness. These hints of a beautiful person Rossetti has wrought into a creation of such purity that, lovely as she is in death, as in life, we think less of her loveliness than of her loveableness.

The personage of Love, who plays throughout the Vita Nuova a mystical part is not the Pagan Love, but a youth and Christian Master, as Dante terms him, sometimes of severe and terrible aspect. He is represented in the picture as clad in a flame-coloured garment (for it is in a mist of the colour of fire that he appears to the lover), and he wears the pilgrim's scallop-shell on his shoulder as emblem of that pilgrimage on earth which Love is.

The chamber wherein the body of Beatrice has its abiding-place is, to Dante's imaginings, a chamber of dreams. Visionary as the mind of the dreamer, it discloses at once all that goes forward within its own narrow compass, together with the desolate streets of the city of Florence, which, to his fancy, sits silent for his loss, and the long flight of angels above that bear away the little cloud, to which is given a vague semblance of the beatified Beatrice. As if just fallen back in sleep, the beautiful lady lies in death, her hands folded across her breast, and a glory of golden hair flowing over her shoulders. With measured tread Dante approaches the couch led by the winged and scarlet Love, but, as though fearful of so near and unaccustomed an approach, draws slowly backward on his half-raised foot, while the mystical emblem of his earthly passion stands droopingly between him the living, and his lady the dead, and takes the kiss that he himself might never have. In life they must needs be apart, but thus in death they are united, for the hand of the pilgrim, who is the embodiment of his love, holds his hand even as the master's lips touch her lips. Two ladies of the chamber are covering her with a pall, and on the dreamer they fix sympathetic eyes. The floor is strewn with poppies—emblems equally of the sleep in which the lover walks, and of the sleep that is the sleep of death. The may-bloom in the pall, the apple-blossom in the hand of Love, the violets and roses in the frieze of the alcove, symbolise purity and virginity, the life that is cut off in its spring, the love that is consummated in death before the coming of fruit. Suspended from the roof is a scroll, bearing the first words of the wail from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, quoted by Dante himself:—"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations!" In the ascending and descending staircase on either iand fly doves of the same glowing colour as Love, and these are emblems of his presence in the house. Over all flickers the last beam of a lamp which has burnt through the long night, and which the dawn of a new day sees die away—fit symbol of the life that has now taken flight with the heavenly host, leaving behind it only the burnt-out socket where the live flame lived.

Full of symbol as this picture is, it is furthermore permeated by a significance that is not occult. It bears witness to the possible strength of a passion that is so spiritual as to be without taint of sense; and to a confident belief in an immortality wherein the utmost limits of a blessedness not of this world may be compassed. Such are in this picture the simpler, yet deeper, symbols, that all who look may read. Sir Noel Paton has written of this work:

I was so dumbfounded by the beauty of that great picture of Rosetti's, called Dante's Dream, that I was usable to give any expression to the emotions it excited—emotions such as I do not think any other picture, except the Madonna di San Sisto at Dresden, ever stirred within me. The memory of such a picture is like the memory of sublime and perfect music; it makes any one who fully feels it—silent. Fifty years hence it will be named among the half-dozen supreme pictures of the world.

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