Elizabeth Siddal and the Pre-Raphaelites,  william michael rossetti

William Micheal Rossetti on Elizabeth Siddal

but I have no power in general of believing much in people’s caring for me. I’ve a little more faith in Lizzie than in you—because, though she don’t see me, her bride’s kiss was so full and queenly-kind.”
Rossetti.—July 24,1854:—“I wish, and she wishes, that something should be done by her to make a beginning, and set her mind a little at ease about her pursuit of art; and we both think that this, more than
anything, would be likely to have a good effect on her health. It seems hard to me when I look at her sometimes, working or too ill to work; and think how many, without one tithe of her genius or greatness of spirit, have granted them abundant health and opportunity to labour 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 out 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 I have known her, and not thought of this till so late—perhaps too late!”
November 29, 1860.
—“Indeed, and of course, my wife does draw still. Her last designs would, I am
sure, surprise and delight you, and I hope she is going to do better than ever now. I feel surer every time she works that she has real genius—none of your make-believe—in conception and colour; and, 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. But it is no use hoping for too much
.”

WMR on Lizzie’s poetry:

Elizabeth Siddal developed a genuine faculty for verse as well as for painting—both assuredly under the stress of Rossetti’s prompting. Mr. Swinburne, in writing to me, expressed the quality of her verse with
equal intuition and precision. “Watts [Theodore Watts-Dunton] greatly admires her poem [“A Year and a Day”], which is as new to me as to him; I need not add that I agree with him. There is the same
note of originality in discipleship which distinguishes her work in art—Gabriel’s influence and example not more perceptible than her own independence and freshness of inspiration.” The amount of verse which
she produced was, I take it, very small; certainly what remains in my hands is scanty. In two of my publications I have printed nine specimens. Since then I have deciphered six others scrappily jotted down,
and I may one of these days publish all the six. I here extract one of them:—

A SILENT WOOD.

* O silent wood, I enter thee
* With a heart so full of misery,
* For all the voices from the trees
* And the ferns that cling about my knees.

* In thy darkest shadow let me sit,
* When the grey owls about thee flit;
* There I will ask of thee a boon,
* That I may not faint, or die, or swoon.

* Gazing through the gloom like one
* Whose life and hopes are also done,
* Frozen like a thing of stone,
* I sit in thy shadow—but not alone.

* Can God bring back the day when we two stood
* Beneath the clinging trees in that dark wood?

¶ When Christina Rossetti was putting together in 1865 her volume “The Prince’s Progress and other Poems,” she raised a suggestion that she might perhaps include two or three specimens of Lizzie’s verse, giving, of course, the authoress’s name. Christina then, for the first time, read the compositions sent to her by Dante Gabriel, and she wrote, “How full of beauty they are, but
how painful!” She thought them “almost too hopelessly sad for publication en masse.”
The poetry of Christina herself has often been arraigned for excessive melancholy, though not, I think, quite accurately, for what it really exhibits is in the main renunciation—a disregard for the beauties and
allurements of this world, in the effort to scale a steeper path, and in the light of ahigher hope. The proposed printing of Lizzie’s poems did not come to effect—probably both Dante and Christina agreed
in thinking it better that they should remain in manuscript for the present.

WMR makes a list of works of Rossetti’s in which we can see Lizzie’s face:

—1850, Rossovestita;
1851, Beatrice at a Marriage Feast Denying her Salutation to Dante ;
1852, The Meeting of Dante and Beatrice in Eden ;
1853, Dante Drawing an Angel in Memory of Beatrice ;
1855, The Annunciation (Mary washing clothes in a rivulet), Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, Dante’s
Vision of Rachel and Leah , The Maids of Elfen-Mere ;
1856, Passover in the Holy Family ;
1857, Designs for the Illustrated Tennyson, The Tune of Seven Towers, The
Blue Closet , Wedding of St. George;
1858, A Christmas Carol, Hamlet and Ophelia;
1860, Bonifazio’s Mistress, How they met Themselves ;
1861, The Rose Garden, Regina

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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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