Letters Written by Elizabeth Siddal

Elizabeth Siddal, drawn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Elizabeth Siddal, drawn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Reading Lizzie’s letters, although they are quite brief, gives a happy glimpse into her life. 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 boy’s 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



4 responses to “Letters Written by Elizabeth Siddal”

  1. lisa ellen Avatar
    lisa ellen

    I recently acquired The Correspondence of DGR from
    his formative years and am shocked that there is not one
    letter to Lizzie among them? Is there any information out there
    on what happened to her letters from him? For such an avid letter writer i find it hard to beleive that he would nto have written even one letter to her for the first five years of their relationship!!!

    So many mysteries here!

    1. I have read that Rossetti burned items after her death. Perhaps letters were among them? Sounds like a horrible thing to do, though.

  2. Hello,
    Are there other known letters from Elizabeth?
    And, second question, is there a complete edition of Elizabteh’s writings (all types, letters, poems, etc.)?
    I’ve the 1978 edition of her poems, and 3 biographies (by Violet Hunt, Jan Marsh and Lucinda Hawksley), but there may be some new or on the contrary old editions I don’t know about.
    Thank you very much for your answer!

    1. I do not know of any other letters.
      There is not a complete edition of her writings. The 1978 edition of her poems is the only collection published thus far. Lizzie definitely needs more attention!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *