Tag Archives: Lizzie & Gabriel

Memories of Elizabeth Siddal from Georgiana Burne-Jones

memorials-burne-jonesIn her Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, Georgiana Burne-Jones writes of Elizabeth Siddal fondly. Reading contemporary accounts of Lizzie is a thrill for me and I enjoy a small glimpse into these moments.

Lizzie is first mentioned, briefly, in the chapter discussing the early days of the Rossetti/Burne-Jones friendship.  This is during the happy days of their collaborating on the Oxford murals:

p.168: “Other interruptions the workers had of a more welcome kind, when Ruskin or Madox Brown came down from London to look at what they were doing.  There is a reflection of Ruskin’s visit in a letter of mine written to Miss Charlotte Salt at the beginning of November, where it says, “Edward is still at Oxford, painting away busily,” and adds that Ruskin had been down there the week before and pronounced Rossetti’s picture to be “the finest piece of colour in the world.”  Then–under seal of secrecy–I whisper that “he chooses Edward’s next to Rossetti’s.”  About ten days later another letter breathes in awe-stricken distress the fact that Miss Siddal is “ill again”.  The news had reached me through Edward, who had never even seen her, but so lived in Gabriel’s life at that time as not only to share any trouble that Gabriel had, but also to impress real sadness for it upon another.

In Mr. Price’s diary of November 14th, there is the following entry: “Rossetti unhappily called away through Miss Siddal’s illness at Matlock”; and that was the end of the Oxford companionship, for he did not return.”

lizzie-burn-jones-memorialsp. 178 The next mention of Lizzie is a brief sentence saying “It was a bad time for several of the little circle.  Miss Siddal continued wretchedly out of health, and a long illness of Mrs. Madox Brown’s was weighing heavily on her husband”.

In the next chapter, Gabriel and Lizzie marry:

p. 204: “Since the time that Rossetti was called away from Oxford, in October, 1857, by the illness of Miss Siddal, he and Edward had been less together, but there had been no decrease of affection between them, and so it was of the most vital interest to us when we learnt that Gabriel was to be married about the same time as ourselves.  He and Edward at once built up a plan for our all four meeting in Paris as soon as possible afterwards; I went home to Manchester to make my preparations, and it was decided that the fourth anniversary of our engagement, the 9th of June, should be our wedding day.”

Shortly after their wedding, Burne-Jones fell ill.  Due to the illness, the foursome had to change their plans:

p. 204-205 “It was quite clear that we must give up Paris and get to our own home as soon as the doctor gave Edward leave to travel; so ruefully enough I wrote to Gabriel and told him how things were; and his answer was a comfort to us, for he reported that they were both tired of “dragging about,” and looked forward with pleasure to sitting down again with their friends in London as soon as possible. “Lizzie and I are likely to come back with two dogs,” he continues,”a big one and a little one.  We have called the latter Punch in memory partly of a passage in Pepys’s Diary, ‘But in the street, Lord, how I did laugh to hear poor common persons call their fat child Punch, which name I do perceive to be good for all that is short and thick.’  We have got the book from Mudie’s, and meant to have yelled over it in company if you had come to Paris.  We are now reading Boswell’s Johnson, which is almost as rich in some parts.”  This reading of Boswell resulted in the water-colour drawing of “Dr. Johnson at the Mitre” which Rossetti brought back with him from Paris. ”

p.208 “Rossetti and his wife, after their return from Paris, took a lodging at Hampstead, but she was so ill at first that we never saw her till the end of July, when to our great delight a day was fixed for the deferred meeting, and Gabriel suggested that it should take place at the Zoological Gardens. “The Wombat’s Lair” was the assignation that he gave to the Madox Browns and to us.  A mention of this meeting in a letter that I wrote next day gives the impression of the actual time: “She was well enough to see us, and I find her as beautiful as imagination, poor thing.”

“I wish I could recall more details of that day — of the wombat’s reception of us, and of the other beasts we visited–but can only remember a passing call on the owls, between one of whom and Gabriel there was a feud.  The moment their eyes met they seemed to rush at each other, Gabriel rattling his stick between the cage bars furiously and the owl almost barking with rage.  Lizzie’s slender, elegant figure — tall for those days, but I never knew her actual height–comes back to me, in a graceful and simple dress, the incarnate opposite of the “tailor-made” young lady.  We went home with them to their rooms at Hampstead, and I know that I then received an impression which never wore away, of romance and tragedy between her and her husband.  I see her in the little upstairs bedroom with its lattice window, to which she carried me when we arrived, and the mass of her beautiful deep-red hair as she took off her bonnet: she wore her hair very loosely fastened up, so that it fell in soft, heavy wings.  Her complexion looked as if a rose tint lay beneath the white skin, producing a most soft and delicate pink for the darkest flesh-tone.  Her eyes were of a kind of golden brown–agate colour is the only word I can think of to describe them– and wonderfully luminous:  in all of Gabriel’s drawings of her and in the type she created in his mind this is to be seen.  The eyelids were deep, but without any languor or drowsiness, and had the peculiarity of seeming scarcely to veil the light in her eyes when she was looking down.”

“Whilst we were in her room she shewed me a design she had just made, called “The Woeful Victory” –then the vision passes.”

swinburne-burne-jones-memorialsp. 216: “Dear Lizzie Rossetti laughed to find that she and Swinburne had such locks of the same coloured hair, and one night when we went in our thousands to see “Colleen Bawn”, she declared that as she sat at one end of the row we filled and he at another, a boy who was selling books of the play looked at Swinburne and took fright, and then, when he came round to where she was, started again with terror, muttering to himself “There’s another of ‘em!”  Gabriel commemorated one view of her appearance in his rhyme beginning “There is a poor creature named Lizzie, Whose aspect is meagre and frizzy,” and there, so far as I remember, his muse halted; but he completed another verse on her to her great satisfaction, thus:

“There is a poor creature named Lizzie

Whose  pictures are dear at a tizzy;

And of this great proof

Is that all stand aloof

From paying that sum unto Lizzie”

p. 218:  “Morris was a pleased man when he found that his wife could embroider any design that he made, and did not allow her talent to remain idle.  With Mrs. Rossetti it was a different matter, for I think she had original power, but with her, too, art was a plant that grew in the garden of love, and strong personal feeling was at the root of it; one sees in her black-and-white designs and beautiful little water-colours Gabriel always looking over her shoulder, and sometimes taking pencil or brush from her hand to complete the thing she had begun.

“The question of her long years of ill-health has often puzzled me; as to how it was possible for her to suffer so much without ever developing a specific disease; and after putting together what I knew of her and what I have learnt in passing through life, it seems to me that Dr. Acland’s diagnosis of her condition in 1855 must have been shrewed, sympathetic, and true.  He is reported by Gabriel as saying, after careful examination and many professional visits, that her lungs, if at all affected, were only slightly so, and that he thought the leading cause of her illness lay in “mental power long pent up and lately overtaxed”; which words seem to me a clue to the whole matter.  This delicately organized creature, who had spent the first sixteen years of her life in circumstances that practically forbade the unfolding of her powers, had been suddenly brought into the warmth and light of Gabriel’s genius and love, under which her whole inner nature had quickened and expanded until her bodily strength gave way; but Rossetti himself did not realize this so as to spare her the forcing influence, or restrict his demands upon her imagination and sympathy.  It is a tragic enough thought that, but one is driven to believe that if such a simple remedy as what is now called a “rest-cure” had been known of and sought for her then, her life might have been preserved.  However, let us follow what we know.”

“Gabriel dreaded bringing her to live in  London, where she was so often ill, but after vainly seeking for a house that would suit them at Hampstead or Highgate they resolved, as she seemed to have gained a little strength since her marriage, to try the experiment of wintering at Blackfriars.  The landlord of Chatham Place offered them the second floor of the next house in addition to the one that Rossetti already had, and by making a communication between the two houses they gained an excellent set of rooms.  All seemed to promise well, and for a brief time I think it was so.  We received a note from Gabriel telling us they had “hung up their Japanese brooms,” — a kind of yard-long whisk of peacock’s feathers–and made a home for themselves.  He was happy and proud in putting his wife’s drawings round one of the rooms, and in a letter to Allingham says: “Her last designs would I am sure surprise and delight you, and I hope she is going to do better now–if she can only add a little more of the precision in carrying out which it so much needs health and strength to attain, she will, I am sure, paint such pictures as no woman has painted yet.”

“We used to go and see them occasionally in the evenings, when the two men would spend much of the time in Gabriel’s studio, and Lizzie and I began to make friends.  She did not talk happily when we were alone, but was excited and melancholy, though with much humour and tenderness as well; and Gabriel’s presence seemed needed to set her jarring nerves straight, for her whole manner changed when he came into the room.  I see them now as he took his place by her on the sofa and her excitement sank back into peace.”

siddal2-burne-jones“One evening our errand to Chatham Place was to borrow a lay-figure, and we gaily carried it off without any wrapper in a four-wheeled cab, whose driver soon drew up a a brilliantly lighted public-house, saying that he could go no further, and under the glare of the gas lamps we had to decant our strange companion into a fresh cab.”

“I never had but one note from Lizzie, and I kept it for love of her even then.  Let it stand here in its whole short length as a memento of the Blackfriars evenings, and in the hope that some one beside myself may feel the pathos of its tender playfulness:

“My Dear Little Georgie,

I hope you intend coming over with Ned tomorrow 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,

“Lizzie”

p. 222:  ‘Hostages to Fortune: 1861-1862′  “This was a year of wonders quite different from those of 1856, for all its marvels were visible to others beside ourselves.  Let who will smile, but to most people the sight of a first child is one of the miracles of life, and it is noteworthy that Morris, Rossetti, and Edward now went through this experience within a few months of each other.  First came the owner of the little garment that was being fashioned for her when we were at Red House the summer before, and then, just as we were taking it for granted that all would go as well in one household as another, there was illness and anxiety and suspense at Chatham Place, and poor Lizzie was only given back to us with empty arms.  This was not a light thing to Gabriel, and though he wrote about it, “She herself is so far the most important that I can feel nothing but thankfulness,” the dead child certainly lived in its father’s heart. “I ought to have had a little girl older than she is,” he once said wistfully as he looked at a friend’s young daughter of seven years.”

“When we went to see Lizzie for the first time after her recovery, we found her sitting in a low chair with the child-less cradle on the floor beside her, and she looked like Gabriel’s “Ophelia” when she cried with a kind of soft wildness as we came in, “Hush, Ned, you’ll waken it!”  How often it seemed to us that if the little baby had lived she, too, might have done so, and Gabriel’s terrible melancholy would never have mastered him.”

“Lizzie’s nurse was a delightful old country woman, whose words and ways we quoted for years afterwards; her native wit and simple wisdom endeared her to both Gabriel and Lizzie, and were the best possible medicine for their over-strained feelings.  Naturally, after meeting her at Blackfriars, we invited her to come to us.”

p. 228: [Rossetti sends GBJ a note after the birth of her child]  “To these early days in Great Russell Street belongs a note I received from Gabriel, one part of which I can never read unmoved:  “By the bye, Lizzie has been talking to me of parting with a certain small wardrobe to you.  But don’t let her, please.  It looks such a bad omen for us.”  Seldom did I come so near the real Gabriel as this.

p. 231: [Together, Lizzie and Jane Morris visit GBJ and her new baby] “To this time belongs a clear recollection of the appearance of Janey and Lizzie as they sat side by side one day when in a good hour it had occurred to them to come together to see the mother and child.  They were as unlike as possible and quite perfect as a contrast to each other; also, at the moment neither of them was under the cloud of ill-health, so that, as an Oriental might say, the purpose of the Creator was manifest in them.  The difference between the two women may be typified broadly as that between sculpture and painting, Mrs. Morris being the statue and Mrs. Rossetti the picture:  the grave nobility and colourless perfection of feature in the one was made human by kindness that looked from “her great eyes standing far apart,” while a wistfulness that often accompanied the brilliant loveliness and grace of the other gave an unearthly character to her beauty. “Was there ever two such ladies!” said dame Wheeler, with a distinct sense of ownership in one of them, as soon as they were gone.” [Wheeler had been Lizzie's nurse]

p. 237:  [Death of Elizabeth Siddal] “One morning in February — a dark and cold one — Edward had settled as usual to such work as the light permitted, when there came a tap at the door, and to our surprise Red Lion Mary entered.  How she told her tale I do not know, but first we heard the words “Mrs. Rossetti”, and then we found that she had come to bring us the dreadful news that our poor, lovely Lizzie was dead, from an overdose of Laudanum.  There was nothing we could do–all was over–so, begging Edward not to risk going out on such a day, I hastened to Blackfriars to bring him any word I could learn about the unhappy Gabriel.”

“The story can never lose its sadness.  To try to tell it afresh now, with a knowledge of its disastrous effect upon one of the greatest of men, would be for me impossible.  I will simply transcribe something I wrote about it the next day to one of my sisters: “I am sure you will feel for Gabriel and all of us when I tell you poor Lizzie died yesterday morning.  I scarcely believe the words as I write them, but yesterday I saw her dead.  The evening before she was in good health (for her) and very good spirits–she dined with her husband and Swinburne and made very merry with them–Gabriel took her home, saw her prepare for bed, went out to the Working Men’s College, and on his return found her insensible from the effects of an overdose of laudanum which she was used to take medicinally.  She never knew him or anyone else for a second–four physicians and a surgeon did everything human skill could devise, but in spite of them all she died, poor darling, soon after seven in the morning.  The shock was so great and sudden that we are only beginning to believe it today–I wonder at myself for writing about it so coolly.  I went down directly I heard it and saw her poor body laid in the very bed where I have seen her lie and laugh in the midst of illness, but even though I did this I keep thinking it is all a dreadful dream,  Brown was with Gabriel and is exactly the man to see to all the sad business arrangements, for of course under such circumstances an inquest has to be held.  Of course I did not see Gabriel.  Edward is greatly troubled as you will believe, and all the men.  I leave you to imagine the awful feeling there is upon us all.  Pray God to Comfort Gabriel.”

“The Chatham Place days were ended now, and Rossetti in his sorrow turned to his mother, whose grave tenderness must have been a refuge for his wounded heart, and went for a time to live in Albany Street with her and his sisters and brother.  Poor Lizzie’s bullfinch went there too, and sang as sweetly and looked as sleek and cheerful as ever.”

p.281:  “When Gabriel heard that Mrs. Wheeler was in Great Russell Street, he wrote asking me to tell her that she would soon receive from him a photograph of his wife which he had long intended her to have.  Naturally I enquired at once what photograph he meant, for I did not know there were any and was eager to have one; but he answered, “The photographs of Lizzie are only from two of my sketches.  On several occasions when attempts were made to photograph her from life, they were all so bad that none have been retained.” He said also that he would send them both for me to see and choose whichever I preferred.  The one I kept was from a drawing made shortly after their marriage, when Lizzie was ill, but it is extremely like her and gives the peculiar lustre of her downcast eyes.”

p. 292: [This is the final mention of Lizzie. GBJ writes of a party given by Rossetti at Cheyne Walk] “No Thames Embankment had reached Chelsea then, and only a narrow road lay between the tall iron gates of the forecourt of 16, Cheyne Walk, and the wide river which was lit up that evening by a full moon.  Gabriel had hung Lizzie’s beautiful pen-and-ink and water-colour designs in the long drawing-room with its seven windows looking south, where if ever a ghost returned to earth hers must have come to seek him: but we did not sit in that room, the studio was the centre of the house.”

Georgiana_Burne-Jones

Georgiana Burne-Jones

Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers: Rossetti and Siddal

I recently happened upon a 14 volume set of Little Journeys at a local second-hand bookshop.  I was practically giddy with excitement to find these, especially the volume that includes Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal.  I’ve scanned the book and transcribed the text.  Other volumes include Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and John Ruskin.  I plan on transcribing these as well.

Little Journeys was a series written by Elbert Hubbard.  I was not familiar with him prior to purchasing his works, but I was interested to see on his wikipedia entry that he founded an Arts and Crafts community in Aurora, New York and that his printing press was inspired by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

I know that  reading a large chunk of text online is a different experience than reading a book.  It can seem tedious.  But I felt it would be an important addition to this website to be able to offer the transcribed text for anyone who would care to read it.  And, as always, I look forward to reading your comments should you choose to post one!

Scans of the book, transcription below the images:

Little Journeys, Elbert Hubbard

Little Journeys frontispiece

Little Journeys, Rossetti intro








DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI AND ELIZABETH ELEANOR SIDDAL

LOVE’S LOVERS

Some ladies love the jewels in Love’s zone,
And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play
In idle, scornful hours he flings away;
And some that listen to his lute’s soft tone
Do love to vaunt the silver praise their own;
Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they
Who kissed the wings which brought him yesterday
And thank his wings today that he is flown.

My lady only loves the heart of Love:
Therefore Love’s heart, my lady, hath for thee
His bower of unimagined flower and tree.
There kneels he now, and all a-hungered of
Thine eyes gray-lit in shadowing hair above,
Seals with thy mouth his immortality.

–Dante Gabriel Rossetti

When an ambitious young man from the “provinces” signified his intention
to Colonel Ingersoll of coming to Peoria and earning an honest
livelihood, he was encouraged by the Bishop of Agnosticism with the
assurance that he would find no competition.

Personally, speaking for my single self, I should say that no man is in
so dangerous a position as he who has no competition in well-doing.
Competition is not only the life of trade, but of everything else. There
have been times when I have thought that I had no competition in
truth-telling, and then to prevent complacency I entered into
competition with myself and endeavored to outdo my record.

The natural concentration of business concerns in one line, in one
locality, suggests the many advantages that accrue from attrition and
propinquity. Everybody is stirred to increased endeavor; everybody knows
the scheme which will not work, for elimination is a great factor in
success; the knowledge that one has is the acquirement of all. Strong
men must match themselves against strong men: good wrestlers will need
only good wrestlers. And so in a match of wit rivals outclassed go
unnoticed, and there is always an effort to go the adversary one better.

Our socialist comrades tell us that “emulation” is the better word, and
that “competition” will have to go. The fact is that the thing itself
will ever remain the same–what you call it matters little. We have,
however, shifted the battle from the purely physical to the mental and
psychic plane. But it is competition still, and the reason competition
will remain is because it is beautiful, beneficent and right. It is the
desire to excel. Lovers are always in competition with each other to see
who can love most.

The best results are obtained where competition is the most free and
most severe–read history. The orator speaks and the man who rises to
reply had better have something to say. If your studio is next door to
that of a great painter, you had better get you to your easel, and
quickly, too.

The alternating current gives power: only an obstructed current gives
either heat or light; all good things require difficulty. The Mutual
Admiration Society is largely given up to criticism.

Wit is progressive. Cheap jokes go with cheap people; but when you are
with those of subtle insight, who make close mental distinctions, you
should muzzle your mood, if perchance you are a bumpkin.

Conversation with good people is progressive, and progressive inversely,
usually, where only one sex is present. Excellent people feel the
necessity of saying something better than has been said, otherwise
silence is more becoming. He who launches a commonplace where high
thoughts prevail is quickly labeled as one who is with the yesterdays
that lighted fools adown their way to dusty death.

Genius has always come in groups, because groups produce the friction
that generates light. Competition with fools is not bad–fools teach the
imbecility of repeating their performances. A man learns from this one,
and that; he lops off absurdity, strengthens here and bolsters there,
until in his soul there grows up an ideal, which he materializes in
stone or bronze, on canvas, by spoken word, or with the twenty-odd
little symbols of Cadmus.

Greece had her group when the wit of Aristophanes sought to overtop the
stately lines of AEschylus; Praxiteles outdid Ictinus; and wayside words
uttered by Socrates were to outlast them all.

Rome had her group when all the arts sought to rival the silver speech
of Cicero. One art never flourishes alone–they go together, each man
doing the thing he can do best. All the arts are really one, and this
one art is simply Expression–the expression of Mind speaking through
its highest instrument, Man.

Happy is the child who is born into a family where there is a
competition of ideas, and where the recurring theme is truth. This
problem of education is not so very much of a problem after all.
Educated people have educated children, and the best recipe for
educating your child is this: Educate yourself.

—–

The Rossettis were educated people: each was educated by all and all by
each.

Individuality was never ironed out, for no two were alike, and between
them all were constantly little skirmishes of wit, and any one who
tacked a thesis on the door had to fight for it. Luther Burbank rightly
says that children should not be taught religious dogma. The souls of
the Rossettis were not water-logged by religious belief formulated by
men with less insight and faith than they.

In this way they were free. And so we find the father and the mother,
blessed by exile in the cause of liberty, living hard, plain lives, in
clean yet dingy poverty, with never an endeavor to “shine” in society or
to pass for anything different than what they were, and never in debt a
penny to the haberdasher, the dressmaker, the milliner or the grocer.
When they had no money to buy a thing they wanted, they went without it.

Just the religion of paying your way and being kind would be a pretty
good sort of religion–don’t you think so?

So now, behold this little Republic of Letters, father and mother and
four children: Maria, Christina, Dante Gabriel and William Michael.

The father was a poet, musician and teacher. The mother was a
housekeeper, adviser and critic, and supplied the necessary ballast of
commonsense, without which the domestic dory would surely have turned
turtle.

Once we hear this good mother saying, “I always had a passion for
intellect, and my desire was that my husband and my children might be
distinguished for intellect; but now I wish they had a little less
intellect, so as to allow for a little more commonsense.”

This not only proves that this mother of four very extraordinary and
superior children had wit, but it also seems to show that even intellect
has to be bought with a price.

I have read about all that has been written concerning Rossetti and the
Preraphaelite Brotherhood by those with right and license to speak. And
among all those who have set themselves down and dipped pen in ink, no
one that I have found has emphasized the very patent truth that it was a
woman who evolved the “Preraphaelite Idea,” and first exemplified it in
her life and housekeeping.

It was Frances Polidora Rossetti who supplied Emerson that fine phrase,
“Plain living and high thinking.” Of course, it might have been original
also with Emerson, but probably it reached him via the Ruskin and
Carlyle route.

Emerson also said, “A few plain rules suffice,” but Mrs. Rossetti ten
years before put it this way, “A few plain things suffice.” She had a
horror of debt which her husband did not fully share. She preferred
cleanly poverty and honest sparsity to luxury on credit. In her
household she had her way. Possibly it was making a virtue of
necessity, but she did it so sincerely and gracefully that prenatally
her children accepted the simplicity of their Preraphaelite home as its
chief charm.

Without the Rossettis the Preraphaelite Brotherhood would never have
existed. It will be remembered that the first protest of the Brotherhood
was directed against “Wilton carpets, gaudy hangings, and ornate,
strange and peculiar furniture.”

Christina Rossetti once told William Morris that when she was but seven
years old her mother and she congratulated themselves on the fact that
all the furniture they had was built on straight and simple lines, that
it might be easily cleaned with a damp cloth. They had no carpets, but
they possessed one fine rug in the “other room” which was daily brought
out to air and admire. The floors were finished in hard oil, and on the
walls were simply the few pictures that they themselves produced, and
the mother usually insisted on having only “one picture in a room at a
time, so as to have time to study it.”

So here we get the very quintessence of the entire philosophy of William
Morris: a philosophy which, it has well been said, has tinted the entire
housekeeping world.

In his magazine, called, somewhat ironically, “Good Words,” Dickens
ridiculed, reviled and berated the Preraphaelite Idea. Of course,
Dickens didn’t understand what the Rossettis were trying to express.

He called it pagan, anti-Christian, and the glorification of pauperism.
Dickens was born in a debtor’s prison–constructively–and he leaped
from squalor into fussy opulence. He wrote for the rabble, and he who
writes for the rabble has a ticket to Limbus one way. The Rossettis made
their appeal to the Elect Few. Dickens was sired by Wilkins Micawber and
dammed by Mrs. Nickleby. He wallowed in the cheap and tawdry, and the
gospel of sterling simplicity was absolutely outside his orbit. Dickens
knew no more about art than did the prosperous beefeater, who, being
partial to the hard sound of the letter, asked Rossetti for a copy of
“The Gurm,” and thus supplied the Preraphaelites a title they
thenceforth gleefully used.

But the abuse of Dickens had its advantages–it called the attention of
Ruskin to the little group. Ruskin came, he saw, and was conquered. He
sent forth such a ringing defense of the truths for which they stood
that the thinking people of London stopped and listened. And this caused
Holman Hunt to say, “Alas! I fear me we are getting respectable.”

Ruskin’s unstinted praise of this little band of artists was so great
that he convinced even his wife of the truth of his view; and as we
know, she fell in love with Millais, “the prize-taking cub,” and they
were married and lived happily ever after.

Ruskin and Morris were both born into rich families, where every luxury
that wealth could buy was provided. Having much, they knew the
worthlessness of things: they realized what Walter Pater has called “the
poverty of riches.” Dickens had only taken an imaginary correspondence
course in luxury, and so Wilton carpets and marble mantels gave him a
peace which religion could not lend. A Wilton carpet was to him a
Christian prayer-rug.

The joy of discovery was Ruskin’s: he found the Rossettis and gave them
to the world. Ruskin was a professor at Oxford, and in his classes were
two inseparables, William Morris and Burne-Jones. They became infected
with the simplicity virus; and when Burne-Jones went up to London, which
is down from Oxford, he sought out the man who had painted “The Girlhood
of the Virgin,” the picture Charles Dickens had advertised by declaring
it to be “blasphemously idolatrous.”

Burne-Jones was so delighted with Rossetti’s work that he insisted upon
Rossetti giving him lessons; and then he wrote such a glowing account of
the Rossettis to his chum, William Morris, that Morris came up to see
for himself whether these things were true.

Morris met the Rossettis, spent the evening at their home, and went back
to Oxford filled with the idea of Utopia, and that the old world would
not find rest until it accepted the dictum of Mrs. Rossetti, “A few
plain things suffice.”

It was a woman who brought about the Epoch.

—–

The year Eighteen Hundred Fifty was certainly rich in gifts for Gabriel
Rossetti. He was twenty-two, gifted, handsome, intellectual, the adored
pet and pride of his mother and two sisters, and also the hero of the
little art group to which he belonged. I am not sure but that the lavish
love his friends had for him made him a bit smug and self-satisfied, for
we hear of Ruskin saying, “Thank God he is young,” which remark means
all that you can read into it.

At this time Rossetti had written many poems, and at least one great
one, “The Blessed Damozel.” He had also painted at least one great
picture, “The Girlhood of the Virgin,” a canvas he vainly tried to sell
for forty pounds, and which later was to be bought by the nation for the
tidy sum of eight hundred guineas, and now can not be bought for any
price–but which, nevertheless, may be seen by all, on the walls of the
National Gallery.

But four numbers of “The Germ” had been printed, and then the venture
had sunk into the realm of things that were, weighted with a debt of one
hundred twenty pounds. Of the fifty-one contributions to “The Germ”
twenty-six had been by the Rossettis. Dante Gabriel, always a bit
superstitious, felt sure that the gods were trying to turn him from
literature to art, but Christina felt no comfort in the failure.

Then came the championship of Ruskin, and this gave much courage to the
little group. Doubtless none knew they stood for so much until they had
themselves explained to themselves by Ruskin.

Then best of all came Burne-Jones and Morris, adding their faith to the
common fund and proving by cash purchases that their admiration was
genuine.

Rossetti’s poem, “The Blessed Damozel,” was without doubt inspired by
Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” but with this difference, that while
Rossetti carried the sorrow clear to Paradise, Poe was content to leave
his sorrow on earth.

Being a painter of pictures as well as picturing things by means of
words, Rossetti had constantly in his mind some one who might pose for
the Damozel. She must be stately, sober, serious, tall, and possess “a
wondrous length of limb.” Her features must be strong, individual, and
she must have personality rather than beauty.

A pretty woman would, of course, never, never do. Where was such a model
woman to be found?

Christina wrote a beautiful sonnet about this Ideal Woman. Here it is:

One face looks out from all his canvases;
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest Summer-greens,
A saint, an angel–every canvas means
The one same meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true, kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Dante Gabriel was becoming moody, dreamy and melancholy; but not quite
so melancholy as he thought he was, since the divine joy was his of
expressing his melancholy in art. People submerged in melancholy are not
creative.

Rossetti was quite sure that Nature had never made as lovely a woman as
he could imagine, and his drawings almost proved it. But being a man he
never gave up the quest.

One day, Walter Deverell, one of the Brotherhood, came into Rossetti’s
studio and proceeded to stand on his head and then jump over the
furniture. After being reprimanded, and then interrogated as to reasons,
he told what he was dying to tell–that is, “I have found her!” Her name
was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, and she was an assistant to a milliner and
dressmaker in Oxford Street. She was seventeen years old, five feet
eight inches high, and weighed one hundred twenty pounds. Her hair was
of a marvelous, coppery, low tone, and her features were those of
Sappho. None of the assembled Brotherhood had ever seen Sappho, but they
had their ideas about her. Whether the dressmaker’s wonderful assistant
had intellect and soul did not trouble the young man. Dante Gabriel, the
Nestor of the group, twenty-two and wise, was not to be swept off his
feet by the young and impressible enthusiasm of Deverell, aged nineteen.

He sneezed and calmly continued his work at the easel, merely making
inward note of the location of the shop where the “find” was located.

Two hours later, Rossetti, perceiving himself alone, laid aside his
brushes and palette, put on his hat, and walked rapidly toward Oxford
Street. He located the shop, straggled past it, first on one side of the
street, then on the other, and finally boldly entered on a fictitious
errand.

Miss Siddal was there. He stared at her; she looked at him in
half-disdain. Suddenly his knees grew weak: he turned and fled.

Deverell boldly stalked the quarry the next day in company with his
mother, who was a customer of the shop. He failed to get an interview. A
little later, the mother went back alone, and put the matter before Miss
Siddal in a purely business light.

Elizabeth Eleanor was from a very poor family.

Her father was an auctioneer who had lost his voice, and she was glad to
increase the meager pay she was receiving by posing for the artists. She
was already a model, setting off bonnets and gowns, and her first idea
was that they wanted her for fashion-plates. Mrs. Deverell did not
disabuse her of this idea.

And so she posed for the class at Rossetti’s studio, duly gowned as
angels are supposed to be draped and dressed in Paradise.

Mrs. Deverell was present to give assurance, and all went well. The
young woman was dignified, proud, with a fine but untrained mind. As to
her knowledge of literature, she explained that she had read Tennyson’s
poems because she had found them on some sheets of paper that were
wrapped around a pat of butter she had bought to take home to her
mother.

Her general mood was one of silent good-nature, flavored with a dash of
pride, and an innocent curiosity to know how the picture was getting
along. It has been said that people who talk but little are quiet either
because they are too full for utterance, or because they have nothing to
utter. Miss Siddal was reserved, because she realized that she could
never talk as picturesquely as she could look. People who know their
limitations are in the line of evolution. The girl was eager and anxious
to learn, and Rossetti set about to educate her. In the operation he
found himself loving her with a mad devotion.

The other members of the Brotherhood respected this very frank devotion
and did not enter into competition with it, as they surely would have
done had it been merely admiration. They did not even make gentle fun
of it–it was too serious a matter with Rossetti: it was to him a
religion, and was to remain so to the day of his death. Within a week
after their meeting, “The House of Life” began to find form. He wrote to
her and for her, and always and forever she was his model. The color of
her hair got into his brush, and her features were enshrined in his
heart.

He called her “Guggums” or “Gug.” Occasionally, he showed impatience if
any one by even the lifting of an eyebrow seemed to doubt the divinity
of the Guggums.

There was no time for ardent wooing on his part, no vacillation nor
coyness on hers. He loved her with an absorbing passion–loved her for
her wonderful physical beauty, and what she may have lacked in mind he
was able to make good.

And she accepted his love as if it were her due, and as if it had always
been hers. She was not agitated under the burning impetus; no, she just
calmly and placidly accepted it as a matter of course.

It will hardly do to say that she was indifferent, but Burne-Jones was
led by Miss Siddal’s beautiful calm to say, “Love is never mutual–one
loves and the other consents to be loved.”

The family of Rossetti, his mother and sisters, must have known how much
of the ideal was in his passion. Mentally, Miss Siddal was not on their
plane; but the joy of Dante Gabriel was their joy, and so they never
opposed the inevitable. He, however, acknowledged Christina’s mental
superiority by somewhat imperiously demanding that Christina should
converse with Miss Siddal on “great themes.”

Ruskin has added his endorsement to Miss Siddal’s worth by calling her
“a glorious creature.”

Dante Gabriel’s own descriptions of Elizabeth Eleanor are too much
retouched to be accurate; but William Rossetti, who viewed her with a
critical eye, describes her as “tall, finely formed, with lofty neck;
regular, yet uncommon, features; greenish-blue, unsparkling eyes; large,
perfect eyelids; brilliant complexion, and a lavish wealth of dark
molten-gold hair.”

In the diary of Madox Brown for October Sixth, Eighteen Hundred
Fifty-four, is this: “Called on Dante Rossetti. Saw Miss Siddal, looking
thinner and more death-like, and more beautiful and more ragged than
ever; a real artist, a woman without parallel for many a long year.
Gabriel as usual diffuse and inconsequent in his work. Drawing wonderful
and lovely Guggums one after another, each one a fresh charm, each one
stamped with immortality, and his picture never advancing. However, he
is at the wall and I am to get him a white calf and a cart to paint
here; would he but study the Golden One a little more. Poor Gabriello!”

In Elizabeth Eleanor’s manner there was a morbid languor and dreaminess,
put on, some said, for her lover like a Greek gown, and surely
encouraged by him and pictured in his Dantesque creations.

Always and forever for him she was the Beata Beatrix. His days were
consumed in writing poems to her or painting her, and if they were
separated for a single day he wrote her a letter, and demanded that she
should write one in return, to which we once hear of her gently
demurring. She, however, took lessons in drawing, and often while posing
would work with her pencil and paper.

Ruskin was so pleased with her work that he offered to buy everything
she did, and finally a bargain was struck and he paid her one hundred
pounds a year and took everything she drew.

Possibly this does not so much prove the worth of her work as the
generosity of Ruskin. The dressmaker’s shop had been able to get along
without its lovely model, and art had been the gainer. At one time a
slight cloud appeared on the horizon: another “find” had been located.
Rossetti saw her at the theater, ascertained her name and called on her
the next day and asked for sittings. Her name was Miss Burden. She was
very much like Miss Siddal, only her face was pale and her hair wavy and
black. She was statuesque, picturesque, of good family, and had a
wondrous poise. Rossetti straightway sent for William Morris to come and
admire her. William Morris came, and married her in what Rossetti
resentfully called “an unbecoming and insufficiently short space of
time.”

For some months there was a marked coldness between Morris and
Rossetti, but if Miss Siddal was ever disturbed by the advent of Miss
Burden we do not know it. Whistler has said that it was Mrs. Morris who
gave immortality to the Preraphaelites by supplying them stained-glass
attitudes. She posed as Saint Michael, Gabriel, and Saint John the
Beloved, and did service for the types that required a little more
sturdiness than Miss Siddal could supply.

The Burne-Jones dream-women are very largely composite studies of Miss
Siddal and Mrs. Morris; as for Rossetti, he painted their portraits
before he saw them, and loved them on sight because they looked like his
Ideal.

—–

After Dante Gabriel and Elizabeth Eleanor had been engaged for more than
five years–that is, in the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five–Madox
Brown asked Rossetti this very obvious question: “Why do you not marry
her?” One reason was that Rossetti was afraid if he married her he would
lose her. He doted on her, fed on her, still wrote sonnets just for her,
and counted the hours when they parted until he could see her again.
Miss Siddal was not quite firm enough in moral and mental fiber to cut
out her own career. She deferred constantly to her lover, adopted his
likes and dislikes, and went partners with him even in his prejudices.
They dwelt in Bohemia, which is a good place to camp, but a very poor
place in which to settle down.

The precarious ways of Bohemia do not make for length of days. Miss
Siddal seemed to fall into a decline, her spirits lost their buoyancy,
she grew nervous when required to pose for several hours at a time.
Rossetti scraped together all his funds and sent her on a trip alone
through France. She fell sick there, and we hear of Rossetti working
like mad on a canvas, so as to sell the picture and send her money.

When she returned, a good deal of her old-time beauty seemed to have
vanished: the fine disdain, that noble touch of scorn, was gone–and
Rossetti wrote a sonnet declaring her more beautiful than ever. Ruskin
thought he saw the hectic flush of death upon her cheek.

Sorrow, love, ill-health, poverty, tamed her spirit, and Swinburne
telling of her, years after, speaks of “her matchless loveliness,
courage, endurance, humor and sweetness–too dear and sacred to be
profaned by any attempt at expression.”

Rossetti writing to Allingham says: “It seems to me when I look at her
working, or too ill to work, and think of how many without one tithe of
her genius or greatness of spirit have granted them abundant health and
opportunity to labor through the little they can or will do, while
perhaps her soul is never to bloom, nor her bright hair to fade; but
after hardly escaping from degradation and corruption, all she might
have been must sink again unprofitably in that dark house where she was
born. How truly she may say, ‘No man cared for my soul.’ I do not mean
to make myself an exception, for how long have I known her, and not
thought of this till so late–perhaps too late.”

In Rossetti’s love for this beautiful human lily there was something
very selfish, the selfishness of the artist who sacrifices everything
and everybody, even himself, to get the work done.

Rossetti’s love for Miss Siddal was sincere in its insincerity. The art
impulse was supreme in him and love was secondary. The nine years’
engagement, with the uncertain, vacillating, forgetful, absent-minded
habits of erratic genius to deal with, wore out the life of this
beautiful creature.

The mother-instinct in her had been denied: Nature had been set at
naught, and art enthroned. When the physician told Rossetti that the
lovely lily was to fade and die, he straightway abruptly married her,
swearing he would nurse her back to life. He then gave her the “home”
they had so long talked of; three little rooms, one all hung with her
own drawings and none other. He petted her, invited in the folks she
liked best, gave little entertainments, and both declared that never
were they so happy.

She suffered much from neuralgia, and the laudanum taken to relieve the
pain had grown into a necessity.

On the Tenth of February, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, she dined with her
husband and Mr. Swinburne at a nearby hotel. Rossetti then accompanied
her to their home, and leaving her there went alone to give his weekly
lecture at the Working Men’s College. When he returned in two hours, he
found her unconscious from an overdose of laudanum. She never regained
consciousness, breathing her last but a few short hours later.

—–

The grief of Rossetti on the death of his wife was pitiable. His friends
feared for his sanity, and had he not been closely watched it is quite
possible that one grave would have held the lovers. He reproached
himself for neglecting her. He cursed art and literature for having
seduced him away from her, and thus allowed her to grope her way alone.
He prophesied what she might have been had he only devoted himself to
her as a teacher, and by encouragement allowed her soul to bloom and
blossom. “I should have worked through her hand and brain,” he cried.

He gathered all the poems he had written to her, including “The House of
Life,” and tying them up with one of the ribbons she had worn, placed
the precious package by stealth in her coffin, close to the cold heart
that had forever stopped pulsing. And so the poems were buried with the
woman who had inspired them.

Was it vanity that prompted Rossetti after seven years to have the body
exhumed and recover the poems that they might be given to the world? I
do not think so, else all men who print the things they write are
inspired by vanity. Rossetti was simply unfortunate in being placed
before the public in a moment of spiritual undress. Everybody is
ridiculous and preposterous every day, only the public does not see it,
and therefore the acts are not ridiculous and preposterous. The conduct
of the lovers is always absurd to the onlooker, but the onlooker has no
business to look on–he is a false note in a beautiful symphony, and
should be eliminated.

Rossetti in the transport of his grief, filled with bitter regret, and
with a welling heart for one who had done so much for him, gave into her
keeping, as if she were just going on a journey, the finest of his
possessions. It was no sacrifice–the poems were hers.

At such a time do you think a man is revolving in his mind business
arrangements with Barabbas?

The years passed, and Rossetti again began to write–for God is good.

The grief that can express itself is well diluted; in fact, grief often
is a beneficent stimulus of the ganglionic cells. The sorrow that is
dumb before men, and which, if it ever cries aloud, seeks first the
sanctity of solitude, is the only sorrow to which Christ in pity turns
his eye or lends his ear.

The paroxysms of grief had given way to calm reflection. The river of
his love was just as deep, but the current was not so turbulent.
Expression came bringing balm and myrrh. And so on the advice of his
friends, endorsed by his own promptings, the grave was opened and the
package of poems recovered.

It was an act that does not bear the close scrutiny of the unknowing
mob. And I do not wonder at the fierce hate that sprang up in the breast
of Rossetti when a hounding penny-a-liner in London sought to picture
the stealthy, ghoul-like digging in a grave at midnight, and the
recovery of what he called “a literary bauble.” As if the man’s vanity
had gotten the better of his love, or as if he had changed his mind! Men
who know, know that Rossetti had not changed his mind–he had only
changed his mood.

The suggestion that gentlemen poets about to deposit poems in the
coffins of their lady-loves should have copies of the originals
carefully made before so doing, was scandalous. However, when this was
followed up with the idea that Rossetti should, after exhuming the
poems, have copies made and place these back in the coffin, and that the
performance of midnight digging was nothing less than petit larceny from
a dead woman, witnessed by the Blessed Damozel leaning over the bar of
Heaven–in all this we get an offense in literature and good taste which
in Kentucky or Arizona would surely have cost the penny-a-liner his
life.

If these poems had not been recovered, the world would have lost “The
House of Life,” a sonnet series second not even to the “Sonnets From the
Portuguese,” and the immortal sonnets of Shakespeare.

The way Rossetti kept the clothing and all the little nothings that had
once belonged to his wife revealed the depths of love–or the
foolishness of it, all depending upon your point of view. Mrs. Millais
tells of calling at Rossetti’s house in Cheyne Walk in Eighteen Hundred
Seventy, nearly ten years after the death of Elizabeth Eleanor, and
having occasion to hang her wraps in a wardrobe, perceived the dresses
that had once belonged to Mrs. Rossetti hanging there on the same hooks
with Rossetti’s raiment. Rossetti made apology for the seeming confusion
and said, “You see, if I did not find traces of her all over the house I
should surely die.”

A year after the death of his wife Rossetti painted the wonderful “Beata
Beatrix,” a portrait of Beatrice sitting in a balcony overlooking
Florence. The beautiful eyes filled with ache, dream and expectation are
closed as if in a transport of calm delight. An hourglass is at hand and
a dove is just dropping a poppy, the flower of sleep and death, into her
open hands. Of course the picture is a portrait of the dear, dead wife,
and so in all the pictures thereafter painted by Dante Gabriel for the
twenty years that he lived, you perceive that while he had various
models, in them all he traced resemblances to this first, last and only
passion of his life.

—–

In William Sharp’s fine little book, “A Record and a Study,” I find
this:

As to the personality of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a great deal has
been written since his death, and it is now widely known that he was
a man who exercised an almost irresistible charm over those with
whom he was brought in contact. His manner could be peculiarly
winning, especially with those much younger than himself, and his
voice was alike notable for its sonorous beauty and for the magnetic
quality that made the ear alert when the speaker was engaged in
conversation, recitation or reading. I have heard him read, some of
them over and over again, all the poems in the “Ballads and
Sonnets,” and especially in such productions as “The Cloud Confines”
was his voice as stirring as a trumpet-note; but where he excelled
was in some of the pathetic portions of “The Vita Nuova” or the
terrible and sonorous passages of “L’Inferno,” when the music of the
Italian language found full expression indeed. His conversational
powers I am unable adequately to describe, for during the four or
five years of my intimacy with him he suffered too much to be a
brilliant talker, but again and again I have seen instances of that
marvelous gift that made him at one time a Sydney Smith in wit and a
Coleridge in eloquence.

In appearance he was, if anything, rather above middle height, and,
especially latterly, somewhat stout; his forehead was of splendid
proportions, recalling instantaneously the Stratford bust of
Shakespeare; and his gray-blue eyes were clear and piercing, and
characterized by that rapid, penetrative gaze so noticeable in
Emerson.

He seemed always to me an unmistakable Englishman, yet the Italian
element frequently was recognizable; as far as his own opinion was
concerned, he was wholly English. Possessing a thorough knowledge of
French and Italian, he was the fortunate appreciator of many great
works in their native tongue, and his sympathies in religion, as in
literature, were truly catholic. To meet him even once was to be the
better for it ever after; those who obtained his friendship can not
well say all it meant and means to them; but they know they are not
again in the least likely to meet with such another as Dante Gabriel
Rossetti.

In Walter Hamilton’s book, “AEsthetic England,” is this bit of most vivid
prose:

Naturally the sale of Rossetti’s effects attracted a large number of
persons to the gloomy, old-fashioned residence in Cheyne Walk,
Chelsea, and many of the articles sold went for prices very far in
excess of their intrinsic value, the total sum realized being over
three thousand pounds. But during the sale of the books, on that
fine July afternoon, in the dingy study hung round with the lovely
but melancholy faces of Proserpine and Pandora, despite the noise of
the throng and the witticisms of the auctioneer, a sad feeling of
desecration must have crept over many of those who were present at
the dispersion of the household goods and gods of that man who so
hated the vulgar crowd. Gazing through the open windows they could
see the tall trees waving their heads in a sorrowful sort of way in
the summer breeze, throwing their shifty shadows over the neglected
grass-grown paths, once the haunt of the stately peacocks, whose
medieval beauty had such a strange fascination for Rossetti, and
whose feathers are now the accepted favors of his apostles and
admirers. And so their gaze would wander back again to that
mysterious face upon the wall, that face as some say the grandest in
the world, a lovely one in truth, with its wistful, woeful,
passionate eyes, its sweet, sad mouth with the full red lips; a face
that seemed to say the sad old lines:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.

And then would come the monotonous cry of the auctioneer to disturb
the reverie, and call one back to the matter-of-fact world which
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet, has left
forever–Going!–Going!–Gone!

——————————————

I made a few slap-dash notes while reading Little Journeys for the first time:

-I’ve always assumed that C. Rossetti’s poem In An Artist’s Studio is about Lizzie, and I still believe this, so I was a bit surprised that Hubbard wrote about it as if it was about a generic “Ideal Woman”.

-According to Hubbard’s account of Lizzie’s discovery, Gabriel made his way to the shop where Lizzie worked after Deverell told him of her–I love how Hubbard dramatizes this with Lizzie looking at Gabriel in “half-disdain” and Gabriel going weak in the knees.

-Hubbard states Lizzie’s father was an auctioneer who had lost his voice?

-But I loved this sentence.  I don’t know why, it just made me chuckle. “They dwelt in Bohemia, which is a good place to camp, but a very poor place in which to settle down.”

-Hmm.  States that Rossetti scraped together funds to send Lizzie to France when it was in fact Ruskin.  But he is correct that Rossetti hurried to finish a picture while she was away in order to send her more money.  The picture was Paolo and Francesca de Rimini.

-No mention of their stillborn child.

-I’d like to find the two books mentioned at the end:  William Sharp’s A Record and a Study, and Walter Hamilton’s Aesthetic England.

Commemoration of Siddal and Rossetti’s marriage

Via Hasting’s Art Forum:  150 years ago on May 23rd 1860 the Pre Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti married his lover and model Lizzie Siddal in St. Clements Church Hastings. Lizzie later became a fine artist and poet in her own right. Sadly just two years later she died. To commemorate the wedding there will be an exhibition by local artists in St Clements Church from 10.00am until 4.00pm daily from Sunday 23rd – Monday 31st May. Exhibiting artists include Ron Nicola, Jane Marriner, Mike Williams, Alan Wright, Simon Hookey, Bruce Williams and Beth Boorman. Exhibits include paintings, stained glass, photography and wood carving. Local children will also exhibit. The works of art already in the church will also be on display including the brasses (which are usually covered) and the Sanctuary Light given to commemorate the wedding. On the evening of Saturday May 22nd there will be a concert of song and prose inspired by the Pre Raphaelites given by Susannah Appleyard and members of the Hastings Arts Forum poetry group. On Sunday May 23rd there will be a sung evensong at 7.00pm to commemorate the anniversary itself. Sitters are also needed to look after the exhibition so we can keep it open all week. Contact Keith Leech on 01424 716576 or bogiekeef@tiscali.co.uk
[Keith Leech]

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.

Letter Gabriel wrote to his mother announcing his marriage to Lizzie

12 East Parade, Hastings.
Friday [13 April 1860].
My Dear Mother,

I write you this word to say that Lizzy and I are going to be married at last, in as few days as possible. I may be in town again first, but am not certain. If so, I shall be sure to see you; but write this as I should be sorry that new news should reach you first from any other quarter.

Like all the important things I ever meant to do—to fulfil duty or secure happiness—this one has been deferred almost beyond possibility. I have hardly deserved that Lizzy should still consent to it, but she has done so, and I trust I may still have time to prove my thankfulness to her. The constantly failing state of her health is a terrible anxiety indeed; but I must still hope for the best, and am at any rate at this moment in a better position to take the step, as regards money prospects, than I have ever been before. I shall either see you or write again soon, and meanwhile and ever am
Your most affectionate Son,
D. G. Rossetti.

William Micheal Rossetti on Elizabeth Siddal

William Michael Rossetti, portrait by Ford Madox Brown

William Michael Rossetti, portrait by Ford Madox Brown

William Michael Rossetti was not only the brother of Dante Gabriel and an original member  of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he was also their chronicler.  Read his contributions to the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ here.   He was considered a “secretary of the PRB” and it is because of him that much is known about Elizabeth Siddal.  It is equally because of him that much is misunderstood about Elizabeth Siddal.  WMR took a revisionist view of his sister-in-law.  He changes her age, making her younger.  He is unclear about when his brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Siddal became engaged.  Keeping these flaws in mind, he did know Lizzie and I assume that he loved his brother so it is important to take his words into account if we want to further explore the tale of Elizabeth Siddal.

In order to study WMR’s account of Elizabeth Siddal and her relationship with her brother, I’ve chosen to begin with a document written by WMR and titled Dante Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal which was published in 1903 and published by The Burlington Magazine for Connoiseurs, The Savile Publishing Company, Limited, 14, New Burlington Street, W.  The full article can be read here at the Rossetti Archive. I do not share the entire text here, just portions that I feel are pertinent and my own impressions.  I do, however, welcome your comments and input so feel free to converse with me through the comments section.

He begins in a complimentary manner, saying that

“I think she is well entitled to something in the nature of express biographic record. Her life was short, and her performances restricted in both quantity and development; but they were far from undeserving of notice, even apart from that relation which she bore to Dante Rossetti, and in a very minor degree to other leaders in the “Pre-raphaelite” movement. I need hardly say that I myself knew her and remember her very well…”

Then he shares a bit of background of her last name( which I think we all know to be true) and which explains why he continues with the same spelling.  He also shares a bit of her background:

I may begin by mentioning that the correct spelling of the surname appears to be Siddall: but Dante Rossetti constantly wrote Siddal, and I follow his practice. Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal was the daughter of a Sheffield cutler, and was born in or about 1834; as my brother was born in May 1828, she was some six years his junior. The family came to London—New-ington Butts or its neighbourhood; this, I take it, was before the birth of Elizabeth. I do not know when the father died; it must have been prior to the time when Elizabeth was known in any artistic circle.

We know that WMR is wrong in saying that Lizzie was six years younger than DGR, this has already been proven with records and Lizzie’s birth year has been established as 1829.

But wait! Did he just state that he did not know when her father died and that it must have been “prior to the time when Elizabeth was known in any artistic circle”? That’s quite a mistake when we consider that after Lizzie’s experience modeling for Ophelia by Millais that Lizzie’s litigious father threatened to sue the artist, an event that must have been well known in their circle.  The incident is described by the artist’s son:  “She herself never complained of this, but the result was that she contracted a severe cold, and her father wrote to Millais, threatening with an action of 50 lbs. for his carelessness. Eventually the matter was satisfactorily compromised. Millais paid the doctor’s bill, and Miss Siddal, quickly recovering, was none the worse for her cold bath.”The son of the artist, John Guille Millais, describing the incident. One wonders how WMR  could have forgotten or overlooked such an incident.  Was it an honest mistake or a deliberate attempt to rewrite Lizzie’s circumstances?

Next, he describes her physical appearance:

Elizabeth was truly a beautiful girl; tall, with a stately throat and fine carriage, pink and white complexion, and massive straight coppery- golden hair. Her large greenish-blue eyes, large-lidded, were peculiarly noticeable. I need not, however, here say much about her appearance, as the designs of

Handwriting Analysis of Lizzie Siddal & Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Author Jack  Challem, who was kind enough to share his photo of Lizzie’s grave, has also been gracious enough to mail me an article he co-wrote for The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies in 1987. This is an analysis of the handwriting of both Elizabeth Siddal and her husband, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Thank you Jack.

It is in a pdf file and studies the personalities of Siddal and Rossetti through their handwriting. It includes the methods they used, emotional make-up of Rossetti and Siddal, thinking processes, potential for achievement, sources of anxiety, social conduct, personal integrity, special aptitudes, etc.

rossetti-handwriting


Click here to read the handwriting analysis of Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (PDF)

(you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader and depending on the speed of your connection and your computer, the article may take a while to load.)


William Bell Scott on Lizzie and Rossetti’s Marriage

William Bell Scott on Lizzie and Rossetti’s Marriage

Published in Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott (New York, Harper & Brothers 1892)

W. M. R. next asks me if I knew that Gabriel is about to marry or perhaps, is now married to Miss Siddal, whom you have heard about and possibly seen? The family had been a little taken by surprise at receiving from him at Hastings, about a month before, the definite announcement of the following event, then to be enacted as soon as possible. Still later he had determined that it might possibly be on last Saturday, his thirty-second birthday. She is in the opinion of every one a beautiful creature with fine powers and sweet character. If only her health should become firmer after marriage, William thinks it will be a happy match. At all events he is glad that Gabriel is settled upon it. He leaves Blackfriars, but I think has not yet managed to suit himself elsewhere. This sudden news was the first I heard of Gabriel’s marriage; nor did either I or his own family hear directly from him for some little time after. Instead of leaving Blackfriars he at last appeared there with his wife, where he fitted up another room or two and continued to live till her death.

Notes:

1) W. M. R.: William Michael Rossetti, art critic and younger brother of Rossetti
LizzieSiddal.com recommends: Poems, by William Bell Scott