Elizabeth Siddal and the Pre-Raphaelites,  william michael rossetti

William Micheal Rossetti on Elizabeth Siddal

husband wrote, “obstinately plucky in illness.” The then very youthful poet, Algernon Swinburne, just at the very beginning of his shining career, was often in her company: he delighted in her society, and she in his. I have already quoted some words of his, a tribute to her memory: he went on to speak “of all her marvellous charms of mind and person—her matchless grace, loveliness, courage, endurance, wit, humour, heroism, and sweetness.” Mr. Swinburne also once wrote something to me, expressing a wish that it might be published at some opportunity. I will here only cite one sentence, in which he says that, with a single exception, “I never knew so brilliant and appreciative a woman
—so quick to see and so keen to enjoy that are and delightful fusion of wit, humour, character-painting, and dramatic poetry—poetry subdued to dramatic effect—which is only less wonderful and delightful than
the highest works of genius. She was a wonderful as well as a most lovable creature.” Mr. Swinburne is very well known to be a munificent praiser: but it would be childish to imagine that, when an intellect
such as his discerns certain intellectual and personal merits in another person, nothing
of the sort was really there. Lizzie Rossetti has more claims than one to sympathetic and respectful memory: no testimony to them tells out so impressively as the record of her from the hand of Algernon Swinburne.
Of her life there is little more for me to say—only of her death. Her consumptive malady, accompanied by wearing neuralgia, continued its fatal course, and her days could at best, to all appearance, have only
been prolonged for some very few years. For the neuralgia she took, under medical authority, frequent doses of laudanum—sometimes as much as 100 drops at a time; she could not sleep nor take food without it; stimulants were also in requisition. On February 10, 1862, she dined at the Sablloniére Hotel, Leicester Square, with her husband and Mr. Swinburne; it was no uncommon thing for her to go out thus, as a variation from dining at home. The Rossettis returned to Chatham Place about eight o’clock; she was about to go to bed at nine, when Dante Gabriel went out
again. He did not re-enter till half-past eleven, when the room was in darkness, and, calling to his wife, he received no reply. He found her in bed, utterly unconscious; there was a phial on the table by the bed-
side—it had contained laudanum, but was now empty. Dr. Hutchinson (who had
attended her in her confinement) was called in, and three other medical men, one of them the eminent surgeon John Marshall, well known to Madox Brown and to Rossetti. The stomach-pump and other remedies were tried—all without avail. Lizzie Rossetti expired about a quarter past seven in the morning of February 11. An inquest was held on the 12th at Bridewell Hospital; I was present, but had no evidence to give. The witnesses, besides Dr. Hutchinson, were Dante Rossetti, Swinburne, and Mrs. Birrell, the housekeeper for the various Chambers at 14, Chatham Place. She testified, among other things, to uniformly affectionate relations between the husband and wife. There was but one inference to be formed from the evidence, namely, that Mrs. Rossetti had, by misadventure, taken an overdose of laudanum, and the jury at once returned a verdict of accidental death.

She lies buried in Highgate Cemetery, in the grave where my father had already been interred; my mother and my sister Christina have joined them there. Dante Rossetti, as it has often been recorded, buried in her coffin the mass of his poems, which had then recently been announced for publication. He chose to make this sacrifice to her memory, and for more than seven years thereafter he was unable to bring out the intended volume. At last, in October 1869, the manuscript was uncoffined, and the publication ensued.

WMR glosses over Lizzie’s exhumation a bit, but then again it is not an entirely pleasant subject. I enjoy reading Swinburne’s comments about Lizzie, which are always favorable and one can sense that they had a happy friendship. Next, WMR shares a few quotes from letters in order to shed light on Lizzie’s character:

With the aim of throwing a little light on Lizzie’s character and demeanour, I will extract here a few sentences from letters written by Ruskin to Rossetti, and by Rossetti to Allingham.
Ruskin.—April 30, 1855:—“My feeling at the first reading is that it would be best for you to marry, for the sake of giving Miss Siddal complete protection and care, and putting an end to the peculiar sadness, and want of you hardly know what, that there is in both of you.”
1860.—“It is not possible you should care much for me, seeing me so seldom. I wish Lizzie and you liked me enough to—say—put on a dressing-gown and run in for a minute rather than not see me. Perhaps you both like me better than I suppose you do,

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One Comment

  • mark stevens

    Fascinating article,thanks for bringing it to our attention.Anything that adds to my knowledge of this wonderful woman is so gratefully received.

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