Elisabeth Luther Cary.

The Rossettis: Dante Gabriel and Christina; online

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^'l>ante Gabriel Rossetti, 1853.








? ^ KNICKE i


Copyright, iqoo



Set up and electrotyped, October, igoo

Reprinted January, iqoi ; April, igoi ; January, 1902

March, igo3

Xlbe ftntckerboctier (press. Dew li^orh



IN writing of Rossetti I have written of a man
who cannot by any possibility be known
through one biographer alone. Those who
came in contact with him received impressions as
various as strong, and he has been to a singular
extent the object of both eulogy and detraction.
In his letters he gives a presentation of himself
undoubtedly faithful so far as it goes, but it does
not go very far. In his poems and in his pictures
we fmd revelations of his attitude toward life which
to a large degree supplement the letters, and in the
numerous and frequently contradictory opinions ex-
pressed by his companions we have many glimpses
of an individuality that puzzled them despite the
frankness with which it was manifested to them,
or perhaps because of that frankness.

To trace the true Rossetti by these clues is a task
that could successfully be accomplished only by one
who could reinforce them by personal knowledge,
but to give an impression in which the striking
peculiarities of Rossetti's recorded actions shall not


iv Iprefacc.

take precedence over his essential qualities and dis-
cernible motives ought not to be impossible to any-
one with the already published material at hand,
and to this end 1 have directed my efforts. My
general estimate of his character and temperament
has been directly influenced, not merely by this
published material, but to a considerable degree by
a correspondence now in the possession of Mr.
Samuel Bancroft, Jr., of Wilmington, Delaware, to
whose cordial generosity 1 owe the opportunity of
thus seeing Rossetti as he appeared at moments of
absolute unreserve. To Mr. Bancroft 1 am also in-
debted for the invaluable privilege of studying
characteristic examples of Rossetti's work precisely
as he would have wished them to be studied ; in
the home, that is, of their owner, and among sur-
roundings suited to them.

In Mr. Bancroft's house hang the Lnij' Lilit/i,
the Found, the Magdalen, the Water Willow, the
Ruth Herbert study in gold and umber, the portrait
in coloured chalks of Mr. F. R. Leyland, and an
early study of still-life belonging to the years pre-
ceding Pre-Raphaelitism, — a collection representa-
tive of almost every period and style known to
Rossetti's art. By the courtesy of the owner, re-
productions of all these save the last two, have
been made for the present book directly from the
originals which in two cases (the Ruth Herbert and
the Magdalen) have never before been reproduced.
The drawing by Frederick Shields of Rossetti after

(preface. v

death is also reproduced from the original pencil
sketch in the possession of Mr. Bancroft to whom
thanks are due as well for the loan of many valuable
autotypes by which comparatively satisfactory illus-
trations of Rossetti's work were insured.

Upon these contributions the greater part of the
interest of the book beyond that of other Rossetti
books depends. In taking this opportunity for
special acknowledgment of the debt, I realise that
no acknowledgment can adequately measure the
extent to which my work has thus been furthered.

I wish also to express my obligation to Mr. W.
J. Stillman and to Mr. P. B. Wight for their full
and prompt response to my inquiries, and to Mr.
Russell Sturgis for the loan of The Crayon and The
New Path.

The two chapters on Christina Rossetti bear to
the rest of the text much the proportion borne,
perhaps, by her limited life and product to her
brother's more complicated career. In laying stress
upon elements of her character not much dwelt
upon by previous writers, I have not, I trust, over-
stepped the bounds of reasonable inference, and
have not to my own mind, certainly, lessened the
appeal of her peculiar charm and distinction.


I. — The Family ....

II. — The Pre-Raphaelites, English and Amer

III. — The Germ

IV. — Miss Siddal

V. — The Middle Years

VI. — Translations and Original Poems
VII. — Life at Cheyne Walk and Kelmscott
VIII. — Painting from 1862 to 1870

IX. — The Closing Years

X. — Character and Temperament

XI. — Christina Rossetti
XII. — Christina Rossetti : Her Poetry

1 16


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 185^



The Girlhood of Mary J/irgin . ... 32

Rossetti' s first important painting.

Carved Stone Ornaments 48

From the National Academy of Design.

Found . j6

Photographed from the original, with isochromatic plate, by
courtesy of Mr. Samuel Bancroft, Jr.

Beat a Beatrix 90

The Seed of David 96

Centre of Triptych, Llandaff Cathedral.

The Damsel of the San Gra el . . . .102

Mrs. Stillman (Miss Marie Spartali) ■ . . 106

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1861 .... 108

Dr. Johnson and the Methodist Ladies at The
Mitre no

Algernon Charles Swinburne . . . .112

From water-colour by Rossetti.

Study for ''Dante's Dream " Scarf holder . . 124

Mrs. IV. J. Stillman (Miss Spartali. J

Study for Head of Dante 132

Drawn from Mr. IV. J. Stillman.

X miustrations.


Rosa Triplex 148

National Gallerv, London.

Dilute Gabriel Rossetti 164

From a photograph, Cheyne IValk, 1864.

Lady Lilitli ib8

Photographed from original by courtesy of the owner,
Mr. Samuel Bancroft, Jr.

Joan of Arc 772

From the painting in possession of Mr. S. T. Peters, New York.

Da life Gabriel Rossetti . . . . . 1S6

By G. F. IVatts. By permission of Mr. Frederick Holly er.

Fiammetta 1^4

Painted from Mrs. Stillmaii.

Mary Magdalen with the Alabaster Box . . 196

Photographed from original painting, hitherto unphotographed, by
courtesy of the owner, Mr. Samuel Bancroft, Jr.

The Loving Cup 204


Sketch of Ruth Herbert 210

An experiment in itiethod. The high lights are the
bare paper ; the colour is gold poicder mixed on
the palette in gtini ; the shadows accentnaied in
timber ; the lips slightly reddened : the eyes blue.

Photographed from the original, 2vhich has not before been repro-
duced, by the courtesy of Mr. Samuel Bancroft, Jr.

Pencil Drawing by Frederic li Shields of ^^ The
Dead Rossetti" the Morning after his
Death at Birchington . . . .214

Photographed from the original by courtesy of the owner,
Mr. Samuel Bancroft , Jr.

Rossetti Fountain 2i(y

Designed by J. P. Seddon. Bust by Ford Madox Brown.

■[Illustrations. xi


Memorial Foimtain to Dante Gabriel Rossetti . 218

Designed by John P. Seddon, Architect.
(Bust of Rossetti by Ford Madox Brown.)

Proserpine 226

Christina G. Rossetti 228

Christina Rossetti 2)0

(Early sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.)
From " New Poems," etc., Macmillan &• Co.

Mrs. and Miss Christina Rossetti, i8jy . . 2^4

Rossetti s Tombstone in Birchington Churchyard, 246

Title-page to " The Prince's Progress " . . 261


IN the case of the Rossettis the biography of any
one individual may very well seem ''only an
episode in the epic of the family," so striking is
the character of each generation that we can trace.
The name itself indicates that somewhere among the
Delia Guardias, from whom the family are descended,
occurred a blond branch to which the nickname Ros-
setti, or " reddish people," was attached and clung.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti himself retained a suggestion
of this ruddy tinge in the colour of his hair, which
was dark, but with a certain auburn brightness, slow
to fade out of it.

Mr. Knight has described Dante Gabriel's grand-
father, Nicola Rossetti, as "connected with the iron
trade," but Mr. William Rossetti speaks of him sim-
pl y as a blacksmith of very moderate means and a
''somewhat severe and irascible nature," living in
the little Italian town of Vasto on the Adriatic coast,
about eighteen miles from Termoli. In this artisan
of remote Abruzzo we get a forewarning of the

2 Jlbc 1Ro90etti0.

polgnar.t sensibility that caused more than one tur-
bulent epoch in the career of his gifted grandson.
He died, in fact, from wounded feelings, shortly after
the French-republican invasion of the Kingdom of
Naples in 1799, when the French put some affront
upon him. " 1 believe," Mr. William Rossetti writes,
" they gave him a sound beating for failing or neglect-
ing to furnish required provisions, and, being unable
to stomach this, or to resent it as he would have
liked, his health declined, and soon he was no

As a mortuary inscription to him reads, he " poor
and honourable, lovingly sent in boyhood to their
first studies his sons, carefully nurtured in child-

Of these sons there were four, all of whom earned
some degree of notice in verse-making, and three of
whom became more or less distinguished, Gabriele
(father of Dante Gabriel), the most so, showing from
his youth extraordinary aptitude in writing, in draw-
ing, and in music. His beautiful tenor voice made
his companions feel that he was putting aside an
obvious career in declining to train himself for the
operatic stage. His fine little drawings in the sepia
which he himself extracted from the cuttlefish seem
to his son William, who has spent his life among
artists, of surpassing merit in their especial line. His
writing procured him in his own country and in
England a fame not lasting, perhaps, but genuine.

While he was in Italy and very young he wrote

^he Jfamil^. 3

largely in verse, and the following little poems will
show something of the quality of his lyrical gift,
which was more agreeable than impressive.


Gemelli in petto a noi
Nascono Amore e Speme,
Vivono sempre insieme,
Muoiono insieme ancor.

Troppo ne' vezzi tuoi,
Troppo, o crudel, ti fidi,
Se ni me la Speme uccidi,
Con essa uccidi Amor.


Like twins in our bosom are born
The passions of Love and Hope,
They know no separate scope,
Together they live and die.

Cruel Lady, beware, to scorn,
Too much you confide in your charm,
If the hope in my heart you should harm
Love, stricken, beside it must lie.


Qui la vidi ; e si specchiava
Su' quest' onda si tranquilla :
Qui s'accorse ch' io guardava,
E si tinse di rossor :

Ah, d'allor che se mi piacque
Quella languidor pupilla,
I susurri di quest' acque

Par che parlino d'amor. '

' See article on " The Rossettis," by William Sharp, in the Fortnightly Review for

4 ITbc IRossettis.


Here I saw her bending over,
Mirrored on the tranquil stream :
Here she saw me look and love her,
And a ruddy red she grew.

Since, that lingering glance recalling.
As it pleased my lover's dream,
I hear the waters speak in falling,

Murmuring Love — and Love, anew.

His poems were chiefly, however, of a patriotic
order and stirring to the popular mind, so much so
that they brought him into difficulties with the king,
against whom they were not perhaps directed but to
whom they proved extremely offensive. When, for
example, Ferdinand 1. granted a constitution to Naples
in 1820, Rossetti hailed the dawn of the fortunate
day with an ode commencing " Sei pur bella cogli
astri sul crine" (Lovely art thou with stars in hair)
which charmed the Neapolitans. As the brief period
of independence closed in 1821 with the king's aboli-
tion of the constitution, Rossetti, then occupying the
postof Curator of Ancient Marbles and Bronzes in the
Museum of Naples, was denounced and proscribed
with his fellow constitutionalists. He succeeded by
the aid of Sir Graham Moore in getting to Malta,
whence, after a stay of two years and a half, he went
to England, to remain there for the rest of his life.

Shortly after his arrival in England he became
acquainted with the Polidori family, the same to
which Byron's erratic physician belonged, and other-
wise notable for a tendency to long life on the part

^be ifainilv?. 5

of its members, nine of them attaining an average
age of eighty-eight years, and for their bookish tastes
and aptitude in learning languages.

Falling in love with the second daughter, Frances
Mary Lavinia, Rossetti married her in 1826. By the
end of 1830 they had four children ; Maria Francesca,
born on the 17th of February, 1S27 ; Gabriel Charles
Dante, later called Dante Gabriel, on the 12th of May,
1828 ; William Michael, on the 2=;th of September,
1829; and Christina Georgina, on the 5th of De-
cember, 1830.

Both Rossetti and his wife were keenly alive to
the obligations of family life, and these children, so
nearly of an age that the four, according to their
mother's notion, were no more trouble than one to
rear, were provided with all the comforts necessary
to their well-being. A good physician and more
books than usually appear in households of small
means were counted among the necessities. A com-
fortable scale of living adapted to hearty appetites
was maintained through all variations of income, and
no butcher or baker or candle-stick maker, says Mr.
William Rossetti, had ever a claim upon them for six-
pence unpaid. An honourable dinginess and thread-
bare aspect were much preferable to debt, and there
were no absurd devices for "keeping up appear-
ances," a hearty contentment with very simple ways
of living characterising parents and children.

Teaching was the most available means of liveli-
hood for one in Rossetti's position, and from 1831

6 Zbc TRoseettis.

until 1844 he occupied the Italian Professorship in
Kings College, London. He also wrote from a curi-
ous point of view a number of books on Dante Ali-
ghieri, whose " darkness of the exiled years " he
shared, adding to it the pathetic physical darkness
of f:iiling sight, but never wholly losing the lightness
of heart that keeps the most serious Italian as a lit-
tle child in certain ways of thinking and behaving.
Lowell quotes from his D/sjiuiiij the following pas-
sage that shows, despite its touch of grandiloquence,
the gallant ideal by which he shaped his course of
passionate study :

" My Italy, my sweetest Italy, for having loved
thee too much I have lost thee, and perhaps — ah !
may God avert the omen ! But more proud than
sorrowful for an evil endured for thee alone, I con-
tinue to consecrate m\' vigils to thee alone — An exile
full of anguish, perchance availed to sublime the
more in thy Alighieri that lofty soul which was a
beautiful gift of thy smiling sky ; and an exile equally
wearisome and undeserved now avails, perhaps, to
sharpen my small genius so that it may penetrate
into what he left written for thy instruction and for
his glory."

Lowell adds to this quotation the words, — " Ros-
setti is himself a proof that a noble mind need not
be narrowed by misfortune. His Comment (unhappily
incomplete) is one of the most valuable and sug-

National sentiment never waned or llickered with

this ardent-minded exile. Although he liked much
that was English, — the English standard of morality,
the English Constitution, the English people, Eng-
lish coal-tires and English beer, — the companions of
his choice, those who gathered in his plain rooms
and formed the circle of his daily interests, were his

"To be an Italian, was a passport to his good-
will," Mr. William Rossetti declares, "and whether
the Italian was a nobleman, a professional gentleman,
a small musical hanger-on, a maccaroni man, or a
mere waif and stray churned by the pitiless sea of
expatriation, he equally welcomed him, if only he
were an honest soul and not a spia (spy). Hardly
an organ-man or plaster-cast vender passed our street-
door without being interrogated by my f^ither, ' Di
che paese siete ? ' (' What part of Italy do you come

Thus the Rossetti children were brought early
into contact with an amazing number and variety of
people, — musicians, painters, writers, scholars, ven-
ders, teachers, politicians ; some of them singular
figures of heroic and unquiet aspect ; not all of them
wholly decent and reputable ; a few of them, as
Mazzini and members of the Bonaparte family, closely
connected with events that were to pass into history.

They thronged about Rossetti, chietly, it would
seem, for the satisfaction of discussing Italian poli-
tics and denouncing Louis Philippe, Rossetti taking
a vehement part and contributing to the zest of the

8 Zbc 1Ro66etti9.

occasion by reciting from his own patriotic poems
and keeping his visitors in a whirl of emotion. No
food for the physical man save " a cup or two of tea
or of coffee with a slice of bread and butter," either
stimulated or interfered with intellectual feasts, and,
in fact, a larger hospitality would have been dif-
ficult, as Rossetti's declining health and a preference
in the public mind for German in place of Italian
forced the f^imily to "a real tussle for the m?ans of
subsistence " during the latter part of his life.

The four children, busying themselves with their
own affairs, nevertheless took in much of the ani-
mated discourse that went on about them with the
result, on Dante Gabriel's part, at least, of a hearty
indifference to current politics as he grew up, and a
general tendency to depart from his father's opinions
regarding subjects on which they both spent thought
and feeling. How much unconscious influence was
exerted over them all by the dramatic, emotional at-
mosphere and the continual exchange of vehement
ideas, cannot in the least be estimated, as their
minds and characters developed along quite inde-
pendent lines despite the underlying family likeness
among them.

Where they were English and not Italian, how-
ever, they drew either from the single English strain
in their mother's family, or were shaped by their as-
sociations outside their homes. On their father's
tombstone is engraved the line from Jeremiah, " He
shall return no more to see his native country," nor

did he ever go back in the flesh, but he did all that
he could to surround himself and his children with
the very breath and spirit of Italy.

Their mother is described as having an English
rather than Italian aspect, but Dante Gabriel, in
drawing her, accentuated a few strikingly Italian
characteristics about the mouth and eyes. She was
religious in temperament, extremely domestic, fond
of reading, simple and dignified in manner, warm in
feeling, steady in action ; a fortress of defence for her
children and for her husband, against the difficulties
that assailed them. That she was not altogether
blinded by her affections is indicated by a remark
made in her old age and quoted with considerable
relish by her son William, to whom perhaps it ap-
plied as little as to any member of the family. " I
always had a passion for intellect," she said, "and
my wish was that my husband should be distin-
guished for intellect, and my children too. I have
had my wish, and I now wish that there were a little
less intellect in the family so as to allow for a little
more comm.on sense."

To her children she was always more or less a
heroine, the object of their unbounded admiration
as of their love. Christina resembled her in face,
as we can see from Dante Gabriel's portrait ot the
mother and daughter side by side, the one in ad-
vanced age, the other in middle life but looking in
certain marked respects the elder of the two. Of
the household these were the two inseparable ones,

lo ZTbe 1Ro66etti0.

who clung to eacli other in sickness and in health ;
hut that there was not in any case any harrier of
formality between mother and children is thoroughly
attested by Dante Gabriel's letters, in which a great
display of hlial tenderness goes with unconstrained
playfulness of address. " Good Antique,"" he writes,
or " Dearest Darling,"" or "I shall certainly see you
in an evening or two, you dear old thing," or,
"There is an aunt of Miss Boyd's — a year or two
younger than your funny old self ! "

Her long, careful management of a household dif-
ficult to manage under the best of circumstances
seems to have conhrmed in her habits of economy
that persevered long after they were strictly neces-
sary. Dante Gabriel writes to a friend in 1873 that
he is sending his "poor old Mummy"" a sealskin
cloak as a present, as she and Christina on a previous
visit "had only a small rug between them." " My
Mummy travels," he adds, "with a trunk all over
nails which she has had ever since she was sixteen.
It is covered with deerskin and is very curious. It
is still as good as new for all purposes, and has on it
her initials before she was married."

Up to the age of seven or eight all the children
got what teaching they had from their mother, and
the two girls were educated entirely by her. Her
methods could not have been lax or ineffective, as
Dante Gabriel, anything but a student by tempera-
ment, could read with ease, write legibly, and spell
with perfect correctness when at the age of five or

six he copied out his first poem, ''The Slave," in
which the blank verse also was correct in accent and
number of feet, a f^ict that does not seem to Mr.
William Rossetti particularly surprising, since he
cannot remember, he says, any time, when, know-
ing what a verse was, they did not also know and
feel what a correct verse was.

The prompt command of these "tools of the
mind " quickly resulted with all the children in fervent
literary and artistic interests. Dante Gabriel, who
''surged through the pages of his Shelley like a
tlame,'' at sixteen, was "ramping" through Scott's
poems at eight or nine, and before he was seven was
illustrating Hcury VI., Hamlet having been the chief
love of his fifth year, with Faust to follow it. Since
Mr. Watts-Dunton has written of him as the great
protagonist of the "Renascence of the Spirit of
Wonder in poetry and art," it is interesting to observe
his delight as a boy in works dealing with mysteries
beyond human experience. His taste for ghosts was
even stronger than that of the average child, and he
had a fine discrimination regarding them. He always
knew the difference, his brother tells us, between
the ghost in Hamlet and a ghost by Monk Lewis.
Brigands pleased him, also, and murderers, but the
romance of love with which he was later to be so
much occupied, he greeted with ecstasies of scorn.
" Often and f:ituously did they laugh " over Cole-
ridge's " Genevieve," the poem which Dante Gabriel
marked in one of his latest years with the word

12 iTbe 1Ro66Ctti6.

''Perfection,"" and for which he made in his twenty-
first year an exquisite illustration in pen and ink,
sitting up the whole of an August night to perfect it.
Christina Rossetti, who, " compared with the rest
of the family, read very little," also knew her Shakes-
peare and Scott at an early age, and became acquainted
with Keats when she was nine. Maria, whose dis-
position was studious, liked history and Grecian
mythology and had an "Iliad fit"" at twelve or

It is not surprising to find that with these tastes
the Rossettis were not game-loving or athletic child-
ren. Dante Gabriel in particular is described as hav-
ing no ambition whatever in these directions. Neither
did he take any delight whatever in the arts of handi-
craft, with all his heart disliking whatever required
mechanical skill or dexterity. "Not even Polidori"s
printing-press alluringly situated in a summer-house
tempted him to investigation of its too practical pro-
blems, and he tried few amusements that required
practice and exercise. He once joined Ford Madox
Brown for a time in rifle-shooting at a target, and by
a happy chance hit the bull's-eye with his tirst shot,
raising false hopes in the breast of his instructor.
After that, however, he never even hit the target. Mr.
Stephens declares that to call him a rower is certainly
an error, since when he was in his boat he proposed
to throw over one of the stretchers because it was
in his way. He never cared to swim, nor could
he ride.

This strain of incapacity accounts in a measure
for his inability to master the technical side of his
own beautiful art. To draw consummately demands,
as a basis at least, something of the constructive
power essential to a bridge-builder, and as much
persistent discipline as the average boy is willing to
give to his athletics ! Rossetti had little constructive

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