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Mentions of Lizzie in Rossetti’s letters to his family:

A full textual transcription of Rossetti’s family letters can be found at The Rossetti Archive.  For the purposes of this post, I have only selected letters that mention Elizabeth Siddal in an effort to see how Gabriel communicated with his family in regards to his relationship with her. Taken from Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His Family-Letters with a Memoir (Volume Two)

The first letter is prefaced with a description by William Michael Rosseti:

“The Sid,” first mentioned in this letter, and more frequently afterwards under her name Lizzy, was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal.
My brother’s things sent “from Highgate” must have been forwarded, I think, from a house rented by Mr. Bateman, a decorative artist, who had emigrated to Australia with Mr. Woolner and others. Mrs. and Miss Howitt (the late Mrs. Howitt-Watts) were then staying in the house, and were on very cordial terms both with my brother and with Miss Siddal. My brother’s proposed trip to Hastings was for the purpose of rejoining Miss Siddal, who stayed there on various occasions for health’s sake.”
[London.4 August 1852.]
My Dear Christina,

Maria has just shown me a letter of yours by which I find that you have been perpetrating portraits of some kind. If you answer this note, will you enclose a specimen, as I should like to see some of your handiwork? You must take care however not to rival the Sid, but keep within respectful limits. Since you went away, I have had sent me, among my things from Highgate, a lock of hair shorn from the beloved head of that dear, and radiant as the tresses of Aurora, a sight of which may perhaps dazzle you on your return. . . .

I am rejoiced to hear of your improved health, and hope it may prove lasting. I was lately in company with Mrs. and Miss Howitt, with whom you are a considerable topic. I believe Mamma forwarded you an intelligent Magazine by Mrs. H[owitt] to which you are at liberty to contribute. That lady was much delighted with your printed performances, and wishes greatly to know you. Her daughter . . . has by her, singularly enough, a drawing which she calls The End of the Pilgrimage , made by her some years back, which furnishes an exact illustration of your Ruined Cross.

On the opposite page is an attempt to record, though faintly, that privileged period of your life during which you have sat at the feet of one for whom the ages have probably been waiting. The cartoon has that vagueness which attends all true poetry. On his countenance is a calm serenity, unchangeable, unmistakable. In yours I think I read awe, mingled however with something of that noble pride which even the companionship of greatness has been known to bestow. Are you here transcribing from his very lips the title-deeds of his immortality, or rather perpetuating by a sister art the aspect of that brow where Poetry has set-up her throne? I know not. The expression of Shakespear’s genial features is also perhaps ambiguous, though doubtless not to him. Westminster Abbey, I see, looms in the distance, though with rather an airy character.

I shall very possibly be going to Hastings in a few days. Meanwhile, till I hear from you or see you again, believe me, dear Christina,
Your affectionate Brother,
D. G. Rossetti.

I forgot to say that Mamma considers 2 s. 6 d. sufficient to give the maid—in which, I may add, I do not coincide. Mamma however says you must judge.

In this letter Gabriel writes to his brother and is appears eager to facilitate a friendship between Lizzie and his sister, poet Christina Rossetti:

14 Chatham Place.
Tuesday [28 March 1854].
My Dear William,

Tell Christina that, if she will come here on Thursday, Lizzy will be here. . . . I shall be glad if she will come, as I have told Lizzy she mentioned her wish to do so.

Allingham has been looking over her poems, and is delighted with many of them. I am going to lend them him (trusting in her permission to do so), that he may give his opinion as to which will be the best for the volume. Lizzy will illustrate, and I have no doubt we shall get a publisher.

In this letter, Gabriel writes of Lizzie to his mother.  He discusses Lizzie’s health with ease and familiarity.  This was written during their stay in Hastings:

( My address will be) 5 High Street, Hastings.
[ May 1854].
My Dear Mamma,

I found Lizzie apparently rather better than otherwise; at any rate not worse, either by her own account or by appearances. Some of her bad symptoms are certainly abating, and her spirits, she says, are much better. I have been staying at the Inn here; but move to-day to Mrs. Elphick’s, 5 High Street, where Guggum

Letter from Rossetti to his brother while his pupil uses his studio

In 1853, while Lizzie was known as Gabriel’s pupil, she painted in his studio while he was visiting the Scott (William Bell Scott)  family in Newcastle-on-Tyne.  Gabriel mentions this in a letter to his brother, William Michael Rossetti.  I believe that this was when Lizzie painted her only self portrait.  If you look at all of the drawings Gabriel made of Lizzie, I’m sure you’ll find her self portrait significant in that she actually seems to make eye contact with the viewer.  She also has depicted herself in a less glamorized form than any of the Pre-Raphaelites that painted her.

Her self portrait:

The letter by Gabriel:

Newcastle-On-Tyne.20 June [1853].
My Dear William,

I have been here since Friday, and do not exactly know what I mean to do. Let me know what your moves are to be, how long your holiday is, etc., in case we should be able to combine at all—and whether you have any plans about the rent, which is due on the 24th. I think I shall not stay here long, as I find the general stagnation too like the spirit of Banquo, except for a strenuous dog, from whom also I suffer much. David Scott is a tremendous lark.

I want to tell you that Lizzy is painting at Blackfriars while I am away. Do not therefore encourage any one to go near the place. I have told her to keep the doors locked, and she will probably sleep there sometimes.

Tell me any news; I have none to tell. I suppose you are probably at Frome. . . .

I have heard several of Scott’s poems, some very fine, and am going to do the etching for his Rosabell, as I proposed. By-the-bye, I mentioned to him that affair of The Artist, and that they would have etchings; that Brown was doing one, etc.; and he asked me yesterday whether I thought it could be managed to get them to buy some of those Commonwealth etchings of his. They are really very good, but I do not know whether you could mention it at any time. You will know best.
Your affectionate Brother,
D. G. Rossetti.

I suppose, if you write to me here, it can be sent on in case I have left.

Letters Written by Elizabeth Siddal


Drawing of Elizabeth Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. On a personal note, this is one of my favorite drawings of Lizzie by D.G.R.

I find that reading Lizzie’s letters, although they are brief, gives a happy glimpse into her life. She no longer seems as distant or remote. As we read her words and feel her voice, she is no longer silent on the canvas as a doomed Ophelia or an exalted Beatrice.
A Letter from Lizzie to Rossetti (regarding her trip to Nice)
(Published in Ruskin, Rossetti, and‚ Pre-Raphaelitism by William Michael Rossetti (London, George Allen 1899)

Except some verses, scarcely a scrap of Miss Siddal’s writing is extant in my hands. The following rather amusing account of passport experiences in Nice (which was then Piedmontese, not French) formed part of a letter addressed to Dante Rossetti; the remainder of the letter has disappeared. “Alice Gray” was a good-looking woman of swindling proclivities, who had for years victimized people in various parts of the United Kingdom, as notified in newspapers. She was more particularly addicted to bringing forward false charges of robbery committed to her detriment. [William Michael Rossetti 1899.]

[NICE, Christmas-time 1855]On your leaving the boat, your passport is taken from you to the Police Station, and there taken charge of till you leave Nice. If a letter is sent to you containing money, the letter is detained at the Post Office, and another written to you by the postmaster ordering you to present yourself and passport for his inspection. You have then to go to the Police Station and beg the loan of your passport for half-an-hour, and are again looked upon as a felon of the first order before passport is returned to you. Looking very much like a transport, you make your way to the Post Office, and there present yourself before a grating, which makes the man behind it look like an overdone mutton-chop sticking to a gridiron. On asking for a letter containing money, Mutton-chop sees at once that you are a murderer, and makes up its mind not to let you off alive; and, treating you as Cain and Alice Gray in one, demands your passport. After glaring at this and your face (which by this time becomes scarlet, and is taken at once as a token of guilt), a book is pushed through the bars of gridiron, and you are expected to sign your death-warrant by writing something which does not answer to the writing on the passport. Meanwhile Mutton-chop has been looking as much like doom as overdone mutton can look, fizzing in French, not one word of which is understood by Alice Gray. But now comes the reward of merit. Mutton sees at once that no two people living and at large could write so badly as the writing on the passport and that in the book; so takes me for Alice, but gives me the money, and wonders whether I shall be let off from hard labour the next time I am taken, on account of my thinness. When you enter the Police Station to return the passport. You are glared at through wooden bars with marked surprise at not returning in company of two cocked-hats, and your fainting look is put down to your having been found out in something. They are forced, however, to content themselves by expecting to have a job in a day or so. This is really what one has to put up with, and its not at all comic when one is ill. I will write again when boil is better, or tell you about lodgings if we are able to get any.There was an English dinner here on Christmas Day, ending with plum-pudding, which was really very good indeed, and an honour to the country. I dined up in my room, where I have dined for the last three weeks on account of bores. First class, one can get to the end of the world; but one can never be let alone or left at rest.But believe me
Yours most affectionately,Lizzy

In this next letter, Lizzie writes about her summer holiday in Clevedon, where donkey rides were an
attraction (1855)
Note that she writes in satire and makes fun of the boys speech. Reading this, you can picture the boy and his enthusiasm.
Source: Doughty, O. and Wahl, J.R. The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti .

Also appears in Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood by Jan Marsh (Quartet Books, 1985)

The donkey-boy opened a conversation by asking if there was any lions in the parts she comed from. Hearing no, he seemed disappointed, and asked her if she had ever ridden on an elephant there. He had last year when the beastesses was here, and on mounting the elephant for a penny, he felt so joyful that he was obliged to give the man his other two-pence, so he couldn’t see the rest of the fair. He wished to know whether boys had to work for a living there, and said that a gentleman had told him that in his country the boys were so wicked that they had to be shut up in large prisons. He never knew hisself no boy what stole anything, but he supposed in that country there was nothing but fruit-trees. He pulled a little
blue flower growing out of a rock, and said he liked to let flowers grow in the fields, but he liked to catch one when it grew there and take it away, because it looked like such a poor little thing. He had a project for leading
donkeys without beating, which consisted of holding a grass within an inch of their noses, and inducing them to follow it. Being asked whether that would not be the crueler plan of the two, he said he had noticed that donkeys would always eat even when they were full, so he had only to fill the donkey first. All that could be got in an explanation of why he thought Lizzie some outlandish native was that he was sure that she comed very far, much farther than he could see.

A Letter from Lizzie to Georgiana Burne-Jones
(Kindly contributed to this site by Gary Attlesey)
Published in Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones by Georgiana Burne-Jones (London, Macmillan & Co. Limited 1904).

My Dear Little Georgie,
I hope you intend coming over with Ned to-morrow evening like a sweetmeat, it seems so long since I saw you dear. Janey will be here I hope to meet you.
With a willow-pattern dish full of love to you and Ned,

Georgiana Burne-Jones : wife of Edward Coley Burne-Jones.
Ned : Edward Coley Burne-Jones, artist

Letter from Lizzie to Gabriel shortly after their marriage while she is visiting friends. Source: Troxell, J. C. Three Rossetti’s: Unpublished Letters to and from
Dante Gabriel, Christina, William, 1937. This letter also appears in Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, by Jan Marsh (Quartet Books, 1985) The letter is dated by Troxell as ‘October, 1861’. Siddal was known to be a guest at Red House at that time.

My dear Gabriel,
I am sorry to think of your picture going at that low price but
of course there was nothing else to be done. I wish you would put aside or send on to me the
money for those knives, as I do not wish those people to think
I am unable to pay for them.

The price of the knives is two shillings each.
Your affectionate