Letters of D. G. Rossetti: Ii. 1855
ROSSETTI, in his letter of June 26,1854, as the readers of the last number of The Atlantic Monthly may remember, describing how “ the mighty MacCracken ” had come to town “ on purpose to sell his Hunt, his Millais, his Brown, his Hughes, and several other pictures,” continues : “ The Brown he sold privately to White of Madox Street. The rest he put into a sale at Christie’s, after taking my advice as to the reserve he ought to put on the Hunt, which I fixed at 500 guineas. It reached 300 in real biddings, after which Mac’s touters ran it up to 430, trying to revive it, but of course it remains with him.” What the picture was that met with such unworthy treatment I did not learn in time to mention in my notes. Mr. Holman Hunt has been kind enough to send me the information requited. It is with much pleasure that I quote the following letter from this great painter : —
DRAYCOTT LODGE, FULHAM, February 27, 1896.
DEAR MR. BIRKBECK HILL, — I trust that I am not now too late — although so very much so, owing to a variety of causes — in giving you the information you desired. The only picture that Mr. MacCracken bought of me was The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It was painted in 1850-51, and was assailed by the critics in the R. A., together with works by Millais, in the most violent manner, until Ruskin came forward quite unexpectedly and assailed the critics, to the lasting confusion of one or two of the craft. The picture did not, however, sell in London, and I sent it to Liverpool, when again it was attacked most acrimoniously ; hut the committee of the exhibition, to my surprise, ended by giving me the £50 prize awarded to the best picture in the exhibition, and yet it did not sell there : but from Belfast Mr. MacC. wrote, saying he very much wanted to get to Liverpool to see it. He could not, however, get away, and at last asked whether I would take a painting by young Danby as payment for £50 or £60 of the price, which was, I think, £157. (It might, however, have been 200 guineas.) Eventually I agreed, and he paid me the money, part in installments of £10 at the time.
The picture was bought at Christie’s by Sir T. Fairbairn for 500 guineas, and he sold it about eight years since for £1000 to the Birmingham Art Gallery, where it now is.
I am yours ever truly,
W. HOLMAN HUNT.
MacCracken, as will be seen later on, made another attempt to sell the picture, but in vain. The day of the great Preraphaelite painter was still in its dawn. It was, no doubt, some years later that Sir T. Fairbairn made his purchase.
From this digression about Holman Hunt I will now return to the letters of his Preraphaelite Brother.
BLACKFRIAKS BRIDGE. Tuesday Evening, 23 January, 1855.
. . . The other day Moxon called on me, wanting me to do some of the blocks for the new Tennyson. The artists already engaged are Millais, Hunt, Landseer, Stanfield, Maclise, Creswick. Mulready, and Horsley. The right names would have been Millais, Hunt, Madox Brown, Hughes, a certain lady, and myself. No OTHERS. What do you think ? Stanfield is to do “ Break, break,” because there is the sea in it, and Ulysses, too, because there are ships. Landseer has Lady Godiva, and all in that way. Each artist, it seems, is to do about half a dozen, but I hardly expect to manage so many, as I find the work of drawing on wood particularly trying to the eyes. I have not begun even designing for them yet, but fancy I shall try the Vision of Sin and Palace of Art, etc., — those where one can allegorize on one’s own hook on the subject of the poem, without killing for one’s self and every one a distinct idea of the poet’s. This, I fancy, is always the upshot of illustrated editions, — Tennyson, Allingham. or any one, — unless where the poetry is so absolutely narrative as in the old ballads, for instance. Are we to try the experiment ever in their regard ? There are one or two or more of Tennyson’s in narrative, but generally the worst, I think, — Lady Clare, Lord of Burleigh, to wit.
News must have grown so old since I wrote to you that most likely I shall forget the most of it. For myself, I gotnearly finished (and shall make it do for quite, I think) with my calf and cart at Finchley, when I was laid up all of a sudden for some little time, through the wind blowing my picture down on my leg, which caused it to gather and create a nuisance. Since I got over this I have been water-coloring again. — somewhat against the grain, — and have not yet got my picture to London. I began my class last night at the Working Men’s College : it is for the figure, quite a separate thing from Ruskin’s, who teaches foliage. I have set one of them as a model to the rest, till they can find themselves another model. I intend them to draw only from nature, and some of them — two or three —showed unmistakable aptitude, almost all more than one could ever have looked for. Ruskin’s class has progressed astonishingly, and I must try to keep pace with him. The class proceeds quite on a family footing, and, I feel sure, will prove amusing. . . .
You asked me how I liked The Angel in the House. Of course it is very good indeed, yet will one ever want to read it again ? The best passages I can recollect now are the one about “ coming where women are,” for the simile of the frozen ship, and the part concerning the “ brute of a husband.” From what I hear, I should judge that, in spite of idiots in the Athenæum and elsewhere, the book will be of use to the author’s reputation, — a resolute poet, whom I saw a little while back, and who means to make his book bigger than the Divina Commedia, he tells me. . . .
I am awfully sleepy and stupid, or should try to say something about the only book I have read for a long while back, Crabbe, whose poems were known to me long ago. but not at all familiarly till now. I fancy one might read him much oftener and much later than Wordsworth, — than almost anyone.
I must try and fill this paper, so I substitute one of my “ clever ” moments for the present helpless one, and copy you my last sonnet: —
Is like the drops that strike the traveller’s brow
Who knows not, darkling, if they menace now
Fresh storm, or be old rain the covert bears.
Ah ! bodes this hour its harvest of new tares’?
Or keeps remembrance of that day whose plough
Sowed hunger once, — that night at last when thou,
O prayer found vain ! didst fall from out my prayers ?
How prickly were the growths which yet how smooth.
On cobwebbed hedgerows of this journey shed.
Lie here and there till night and sleep may soothe !
Even as the thistledown from pathways dead
Gleaned by a girl in autumns of her youth,
Which one new year makes soft her marriage bed.
Does it smack, though, of Tupper at all ? It seems to, in copying. The last, simile I heard as a fact common in some parts of the country. . . .
The “ certain lady ” referred to in connection with the new Tennyson was, of course, Miss Siddal. About the time the new volume appeared, many of the Preraphaelite artists were staying in Oxford. I well remember how they scorned the illustrations of some of these men whom Rossetti would have excluded. One of them even encouraged me to scribble over the feeblest of the pictures in my copy of the work, promising to supply their places with designs of his own. I left the volume with him for many weeks, but nothing came of it. My book is still disfigured, and his promise is still unkept.
How much Rossetti “ allegorized on his own hook ” in illustrating Tennyson is shown by his brother, who writes : “ It must be said that himself only, and not Tennyson, was his guide. He drew just what he chose, tailing from his author’s text nothing more than a hint and an opportunity. The illustration of St. Cecilia puzzled Tennyson not a little, and he had to give up the problem of what it had to do with his verses.” In an autograph letter of Rossetti’s, in my collection, he says, “ T. loathes mine [my designs].”
Allingham wrote to W. M. Rossetti on August 17, 1857 : “ I spent one day with Clough near Ambleside, and two or three with Tennyson at Coniston, who is cheerful. His chief affliction now is the bad poetry which keeps showering on his head very fast. He ought to put up the umbrella of utter neglect, and talks of doing so. He praised the P. R. B. designs to his poems in a general way, but cares nothing about the whole affair.” This mention of Coniston reminds me how, when a boy, I heard the vicar of that village tell some brother clergymen that he could not think of knowing Mr. Tennyson, as the poet never went to church.
The first of the two passages in The Angel in the House, which Rossetti praised, is the following : —
How sad soever I was before,
Though like a ship frost-bound and far
Withheld in ice from the ocean’s roar.
Third-wintered in that dreadful dock
With stiffen’d cordage, sails decay’d,
And Crew that care for calm and shock
Alike, too dull to be dismay’d,
Yet if I come where ladies are,
How sad soever I was before,
Then is my sadness banish’d far,
And I am like that ship no more ;
Or like that ship if the ice-field splits,
Burst by the sudden Polar spring,
And all thank God with their warming wits,
And kiss each other, and dance and sing,
And hoist fresh sails, that make the breeze
Blow them along the liquid sea,
Out of the North, where life did freeze,
Into the haven where they would he.”
The sonnet, under the title of A Dark Day, is No. LXVIII. in Ballads and Sonnets. The only important alterations are in the tenth and eleventh lines, which now stand : —
“ Along the hedgerows of this journey shed. Lie by Time’s grace till night and sleep may soothe.”
Saturday, March 18, 1855.
. . . Let me try to devote the rest of this second sheet to more pleasant news, — news which would compensate me for a hundred bothers, and will, I am sure, go far to put you in a good temper, even after I have gone so far to try it.
About a week ago, Ruskin saw and bought on the spot every scrap of designs hitherto produced by Miss Siddal. He declared that they were far better than mine, or almost than any one’s, and seemed quite wild with delight at getting them. He asked me to name a price for them, after asking and hearing that they were for sale ; and I, of course, considering the immense advantage of getting them into his hands, named a very low price, £25, which he declared to be too low even for a low price, and increased to £30. He is going to have them splendidly mounted and bound together in gold ; and no doubt this will be a real opening for her, as it is already a great assistance and encouragement. He has since written her a letter, which I inclose, and which, as you see, promises further usefulness. She is now doing the designs wanted. Pray, after reading it, inclose it and return it to me at once, as I want much to have it by me and show to one or two friends ; and accompany it with a word or two, as I want to know that you are not quite disgusted with me on account of that unlucky job. Ruskin’s praise is beginning to hear fruit already. I wrote about it to Woolner, who has been staying for a week or two with the Tennysons ; and they, hearing that several of Miss Siddal’s designs were from Tennyson, and being told about Ruskin, etc., wish her exceedingly to join in the illustrated edition; and Mrs. T. wrote immediately to Moxon about it, declaring that she had rather pay for Miss S.’s designs herself than not to have them in the book. There is only one damper in this affair, and that is the lesson as to the difficulty of wood-drawing which I am still wincing under ; but she and I must adopt a simpler method, and then I hope for better luck. All this will, I know, give you real pleasure, so I write it at such length. . . .
W. M. Rossetti, writing of a period a few weeks later than the date of this letter, says: “ Mr. Ruskin committed one of those unnumbered acts of generosity by which he will be remembered hardly less long than by his vivid insight into many things, and by his heroic prose. He wanted to effect one of two plans for Miss Siddal’s advantage : either to purchase all her drawings one by one, as they should be produced, or else to settle on her an annual £150, he taking in exchange her various works up to that value. . . . This latter plan was carried into actual effect by May 3. It will easily and rightly be supposed that Rossetti used to find funds for Miss Siddal whenever required ; but his means were both small and fitful.”
“ ‘ That unlucky job ’ is, I believe, Rossetti’s design to The Maids of Elfin-Mere. He was exceedingly (I think overmuch) dissatisfied with the wood-cutting of this design by Dalziel.” (W. M. R.) A few months later, writing about it, Rossetti said : “ It used to be by me till it became the exclusive work of Dalziel, who cut it. I was resolved to cut it out, but Ailingham would not, so I can only wish Dalziel had the credit as well as the authorship.” Dalziel said to Mr. Hughes: “ How is one to engrave a drawing that is partly in ink. partly in pencil, and partly in red chalk ? ” “ He took,” Mr. Hughes tells me, “ a great deal of trouble ; but Rossetti was as impatient as a genius usually is. He wanted to crowd more into a picture than it could hold.”
Wednesday, BLACKFRIARS BRIDGE, March 22, 1855.
. . . Now to answer your question about Dr. Polidori. The fact of his suicide does not, unfortunately, admit of a doubt, though the verdict on the inquest was one of natural death ; but this was partly pardonable insincerity, arising from pity for my grandfather’s great grief, and from a schoolfellow of my uncle’s happening to be, strangely enough, on the jury. This death happened in the year ’21, and he was only in his twentysixth year. I believe that, though his poems and tales give an impression only of a cultivated mind, he showed more than common talent both for medicine, and afterwards for law, which pursuit he took to, in a restless mood, after he returned from Italy. The pecuniary difficulties were only owing, I believe, to sudden losses and liabilities incurred at the gaming-table, whither, in his last feverish days, he had been drawn by some false friend, though such tastes had always, in a healthy state, been quite foreign to him. I have met accidentally, from time to time, persons who knew him, and he seems always to have excited admiration by his talents, and with those who knew him well affection and respect for his honorable nature ; but I have no doubt that vanity was one of his failings, and should think he might have been in some degree of unsound mind. He was my mother’s favorite brother, and I feel certain her love for him is a proof that his memory deserves some respect. In Medwin. in Moore, and in Leigh Hunt, and elsewhere, I have seen allusions to him which dwelt on nothing but his faults, and therefore I have filled this sheet on the subject, though of course, as far as your proposed criticism goes, I am only telling you that the book tells truth in this particular.
Write soon, and believe me,
D. G. ROSSETTI.
By the bye, I am delighted at your appreciation of Scott. I shrewdly suspect that the last time I heard you talk of him there “ was nothing in him.” [Allingham grates a little.] I think myself that Mary Anne, with all its faults, is better worth writing than The Angel in the House. As exemplified in the poem, as well as in other respects, Scott is a man something of Browning’s order, as regards his place among poets, though with less range and even much greater incompleteness, but also, on the other hand, quite without affectation ever to be found among his faults, and I think, too, with a more commonly appreciable sort of melody in his best moments. . . .
John William Polidori, brother of Rossetti’s mother, an Englishman by birth, took his degree at Edinburgh as doctor of medicine at the early age of nineteen. A year later, in 1816, he accompanied Lord Byron as his traveling-physician. In less than six months they parted company. Polidori returned to England. Abandoning medicine, he studied for the bar. He published two volumes of verse and two of prose. "In August, 1821, the end came in a melancholy way : he committed suicide with poison, having, through losses in gambling, incurred a debt of honor which he had no present means of clearing off. The jury returned a verdict of ‘ Died by the visitation of God.’ ”
Moore, in his Life of Byron, describes “ the strange sallies of this eccentric young man. whose vanity made him a constant butt to Lord Byron’s sarcasm and merriment.” Moore allows that “ he seems to have possessed both talents and disposition which, had he lived, might have rendered him a useful member of his profession and of society.” One day, after an altercation with Byron, thinking his dismissal inevitable, “ retiring to his room, he had already drawn forth the poison from his medicine-chest, when Lord Byron tapped at the door, and entered with his hand held forth in sign of reconciliation. The sudden revulsion was too much for poor Polidori, who burst into tears. He afterwards declared that nothing could exceed the gentle kindness of Lord Byron in soothing his mind.”
Byron, writing of him, said : “ I know no great harm of him ; but he had an alacrity of getting into scrapes, and was too young and heedless ; and having enough to attend to in my own concerns, and without time to become his tutor, I thought it much better to give him his congé”
What could have been expected of a clever young fellow who had been turned by a university into a doctor of medicine at the age of nineteen, and then had had entrusted to his care the health of the most famous poet of the age ?
“Scott” is William Bell Scott. Rossetti wrote on July 1, 1853: “ Scott and I have looked through his poems together, and have made some very advantageous amendments between us. Rosabell, especially, is quite another thing, and is now called Mary Anne.”
Holman Hunt, describing Rossetti’s “ storehouse of treasures,” says : “If he read twice or thrice a long poem, it was literally at his tongue’s end ; and he had a voice rarely equaled for simple recitations. Sordello and Paracelsus he would give by forty and fifty pages at a time. Then would come the pathetic strains of W. B. Scott’s Rosabell.”
W. M. Rossetti has shown how groundless was Scott’s assertion that the subject of Found was taken from Mary Anne.
It will be seen in a later letter how highly Browning’s genius was valued by Rossetti. — far more highly than the comparison with W. B. Scott indicates. “ Browning,” he wrote in 1871. “seems likely to remain, with all his sins, the most original and varied mind, by long odds, which betakes itself to poetry in our time.”
May 11, 1855.
. . . Yesterday I took the MSS. to Ruskin, who, on hearing that they came from you, said you were one to whom he owed and would yet pay a letter of thanks, which he was sorry remained so long unwritten ; and therewith spoke again with great delight of your poems. He was not delighted, by the bye, with that design beyond designation which your readers are to suppose I did; and he even saw it to great advantage, as I had been over the proof with white, to get Dalziel to alter parts of it. I have since given it him to do so, and have seen it in part done. Well! I have supped full with horrors, served (out) in three courses, which, as Hood says, can’t be helped. I wish D. only had his desert as a finish.
Meanwhile, how is Millais’s design which I have not yet seen ? I hope it is only as good as his picture at the Royal Academy, the most wonderful thing he has done, except perhaps the Huguenot. He had air awful row with the hanging committee, who had put it above the level of the eye ; but J. E. M. yelled for several hours and threatened to resign, till they put it right. They have been running wilder than ever this year in insolence and dishonesty; have actually turned out a drawing by Hunt (his pictures have not reached England ; I heard from him the other day, and he is likely to be back in two or three months) ; put the four best landscapes in the place — three by Inchbold, one by some new Davis — quite out of sight; kicked out two pictures by one Arthur Hughes, — Orlando, and a most admirable little full-length of a child in a flannel nightgown ; and played “ warious games of that sort.” There is a big picture of Cimabue one of his works in procession, by a new man, living abroad, named Leighton, — a huge thing, which the Queen has bought, and of which every one talks. The Royal Academicians have been gasping for five years for some one to back against Hunt and Millais, and here they have him. — a fact which makes some people do the picture injustice in return. It was very uninteresting to me at first sight; but on looking more at it, I think there is great richness of arrangement, — a quality which, when really existing, as it does in the best old masters, and perhaps hitherto in no living man, at any rate English, ranks among the great qualities.
But I am not quite sure yet either of this or of the faculty for color, which I suspect exists very strongly, but is certainly at present under a thick veil of paint; owing, I fancy, to too much Continental study. One undoubted excellence it has, — facility without much neatness or ultra-cleverness in the execution, which is greatly like that of Paul Veronese ; and the color may mature in future works to the same resemblance, I fancy. There is much feeling for beauty, too, in the women. As for purely intellectual qualities, expression, intention, etc., there is little as yet of them ; but I think that in art, richness of arrangement is so nearly allied to these that where it exists (in an earnest man) they will probably supervene. However, the choice of the subject, though interesting in a certain way, leaves one quite in the dark as to what faculty the man may have for representing incident or passionate emotion. But I believe, as far as this showing goes, that he possesses qualities which the mass of our artists aim at, chiefly, and only seem to possess ; whether he have those of which neither they nor he give sign, I cannot yet tell ; but he is said to be only twenty-four years old. There is something very French in his work, at present, which is the most disagreeable thing about, it; but this I dare say would leave him if he came to England.
I suppose there is no chance of your having written an unrhymed elegy on Currer Bell, called Haworth Churchyard, in this Fraser, and signed “ A ” ? There is some thorough appreciation of poor Wuthering Heights in it, but then the same stanza raves of Byron, so you can’t have done it; not to add that it. would n’t be up to any known mark of yours, I think.
You heard, I suppose, that MacCracken was going finally to sell his pictures in a lump at Christie’s, but perhaps I wrote to you since the event. The utmost offered for the Hunt was 220 guineas, so he retains it still, having put a reserve of £300 on it. My Annunciation, 76 guineas ; water-color Dante, 50. These are both sold : first to one Pearse, I hear ; second to Combe of Oxford. Collins’ St. Elizabeth only had 31 guineas bid, so he keeps that too. None of the other pictures went well, but I think the Bernal humbug has been settling all other sales lately. Hunt’s father, who was at the sale, called on me with the above information, which I suppose is right. . . .
I would greatly like the walking tour you propose this summer, and better with you than any one, — now in good sooth, la! But I don’t know well yet what my abilities and advisabilities may be ; will write you of my probable movements as soon as I know them.
Good-morning. I am just told very loudly that it is three A. M. ; and lo! it is horridly light. Write soon, and I’ll write soon.
By the bye, this morning (12 May), through the first two hours of which I have slept over this letter, is the very morning on which I first woke up, or fell a-dreaming, or began to be, or was transported for life, or what is it ? — twenty-seven years ago ! It is n’t your birthday, so I can wish you many happy returns of it.
D. G. ROSSETTI.
“ The MSS.,” as I infer from the next letter, were Rossetti’s translations entitled The Early Italian Poets. “ Selfreliant though he was when he made the translations,” writes his brother, “and still more so when he was preparing to publish them, he was nevertheless extremely ready to consult well-qualified friends as to this book. In this way he showed his MS. to Mr. Allingham, Mr. Raskin, Mr. Patmore, Count Aurelio Saffi, and no doubt to Mr. Swinburne and some others as well.”
Millais’s design is entitled The Fireside Story. It illustrates the following stanza of Frost in the Highlands, in the second series of Day and Night Songs:
Ranged in a ringto our heart’s desire.
And who is to tell some wondrous tale,
Almost to turn the warm cheeks pale,
Set chin on hands, make grave eyes stare,
Draw slowly nearer each stool and chair ? ”
His picture in the Royal Academy was The Rescue. On November 8, 1853, Rossetti wrote to his sister Christina: “ Millais, I just hear, was last night elected Associate. ‘ So now the whole Round Table is dissolved.’ ”
The drawing by Hunt turned out of the Academy was “ a life-size crayon of his father, admirably finished.”
“‘Some new Davis’ was William Davis, an Irish landscape-painter, settled in Liverpool.” (W. M. R.)
The two pictures “kicked out,” of the Academy had been painted by Arthur Hughes in Rossetti’s studio. He had long been working at scenes from As You Like It. This Orlando, he tells me, was painted before he had attained sufficient mastery. How well he succeeded in the end is seen in the beautiful triptych illustrating scenes from Shakespeare’s play, in Mr. Sing’s collection in Aigburth, Liverpool. The “ child in a flannel nightgown “ was his nephew, Edward Hughes, now well known as an artist.
The “ new man named Leighton ” was Lord Leighton, the late president of the Royal Academy. His picture was entitled Cimabue’s Madonna carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence. Twenty-seven years later, at the Academy banquet, speaking of two artists lately dead, after mentioning one, he continued : “ The other was a strangely interesting man, who, living in almost jealous seclusion as far as the general world was concerned, wielded, nevertheless, at one period of his life, a considerable influence in the world of art and poetry, — Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet.”
Haworth Churchyard, in Fraser’s Magazine, “ signed ‘ A,’ ” was not by Allingham, but by Matthew Arnold, who wrote to his mother on April 25 of this year: “ There will be some lines of mine in the next Fraser (without name) on poor Charlotte Brontë.” The stanza which contains “ some thorough appreciation of poor Wuthering Heights, but raves of Byron,” is the following : —
Blows from their graves to thy own !
She, whose genius, though not
Puissant like thine, was yet
Sweet and graceful; — and she
(How shall I sing her ?) whose soul
Knew no fellow for might,
Passion, vehemence, grief,
Daring, since Byron died,
That world-famed son of fire, — she, who sank
Baffled, unknown, self-consumed ;
Whose too bold dying song
Stirr’d, like a clarion-blast, my soul.”
In his boyhood Rossetti had delighted in Byron. When he was sixteen years old, “some one told him,” writes W. M. Rossetti, “ that there was another poet of the Byronic epoch, Shelley, even greater than Byron. I do not think that he ever afterwards read much of Byron.”
Rossetti’s Annunciation was his Ecce Ancilla Domini; the “water-color Dante” was Dante drawing an Angel in Memory of Beatrice. On May 11, 1854, Rossetti wrote to his brother: “I heard from MacCrac, who offers £50 for the water-color, with all manner of soap and sawder into the bargain, — a princely style of thing.” On this W. M. Rossetti remarks : “ That my brother should have regarded £50 for the water-color as ‘a princely style of thing’ shows how scanty was then the market for his productions.”
“ Combe of Oxford ” was the printer to the Clarendon Press. He made a collection of Preraphaelite paintings; among them was Holman Hunt’s Light of the World, which his widow gave to Keble College, Oxford, and this water-color of Rossetti’s, which, with other pictures, she bequeathed to the University Gallery.
“ Charles Alston Collins was a young painter much under Millais’s influence, and though not a member of the ‘Brotherhood,’ practically a Preraphaelite.” He died early.
“ The Bernal humbug ” was the sale for nearly £71,000 of Ralph Bernal’s collection of glass, plate, china, and miniatures.
To sit up till three in the morning was no uncommon thing with Rossetti. One of his comrades in his student days describes how “ his cheeks were roseless and hollow enough to indicate the waste of life and midnight oil to which the youth was addicted.”
CLEVEDON, SOMERSETSHIRE, June 25 .
... I have such a strong idea that I am to see you soon that I shan’t enter so much into the poems as I otherwise should now, but my favorites among the new ones are the two Harps, The Pilot’s Daughter, St. Margaret’s Eve, The Girl’s Lamentation, The Sailor (both these last most admirable), and Would I Knew! The Nobleman’s Wedding I really don’t think at all improved [Ah! it is! W. A.], and am not at all sure about the close of The Pilot’s Daughter. The Music Master is full of beauty and nobility, but I ’m not sure it is not too noble or too resolutely healthy. . . .
LONDON, July 4.
I had to break off in the above, and go on with it to-day, instead of beginning afresh, to prove that I was not waiting for you to write, as I remembered well owing you two or three, though one of mine had been lost for some time. Yours was very welcome on Monday. Going on about The Music Master, I see the sentence already written looks very iniquitous, and perhaps is ; but one can only speak of one’s own needs and cravings : and I must confess to a need, in narrative dramatic poetry (unless so simple in structure as Auld Robin Gray, for instance), of something rather “exciting,” and indeed I believe something of the “ romantic ” element, to rouse my mind to anything like the moods produced by personal emotion in my own life. That sentence is shockingly ill worded, but Keats’s narratives would be of the kind I mean. Not that I would place the expressions of pure love and life, or of any calm, gradual feeling or experience, one step below their place, — the very highest ; but I think them better conveyed at less length, and chiefly as from one’s self. Were I speaking to any one else, I might instance (as indeed I often do) the best of your own lyrics as examples ; and these will always have for me much more attraction than The Music Master. The latter, I think, by its calm subject and course during a longish reading, chiefly awakens contemplation, like a walk on a fine day with a churchyard in it, instead of rousing one like a part of one’s own life, and leaving one to walk it off as one might live it off. The only part where I remember being much affected was at the old woman’s narrative of Milly’s gradual decline. Of course the poem has artistic beauties constantly, though I think it flags a little at some of its joints, and am not sure that its turning-point would not have turned in vain for me at first reading, if I had not in time remembered your account of the story one day on a walk. After all, I fancy its chief want is that it should accompany a few more stories of deeper incident and passion from the same hand, when what seem to me its shortcomings might, I believe, as a leavening of the mass, become des qualités. As I have stated them, too, they are merely matters of feeling, and those who felt differently (as Patmore, who thinks the poem perfect) might probably be at the higher point of view. P. was here last night with Cayley and one or two more. We sat all the evening on my balcony, and had ice and strawberries there, and I wished for you many times, and meanwhile put in your book as a substitute (having, you may be sure, torn out that thing of Dalziel’s). ... I’m glad you have heard from Ruskin, and hope that you may find time in your week to arrange somehow a meeting with him. He has been into the country, and unwell part of the time, but is now set up again and very hard at work. I have no more valued friend than he, and shall have much to say of him and other friends, you ‘ll find. . . . Ruskin has been reading those translations since you, and says he could wish no better than to ink your pencil-marks as his criticisms. He sent here, the other day, a “stunner,” called the Marchioness of Waterford, who had expressed a wish to see me paint in water-colors, it seems, she herself being really first-rate as a designer in that medium. I think I am going to call on her this afternoon. There, sir ! R. has asked to be introduced to ray sister, who, accordingly, will accompany Miss S. and myself to dinner there on Friday. . . .
I have n’t seen Owen Meredith, and don’t feel the least curiosity about him. There is an interestingish article on the three “ Bells ” in Tait this month, where Wuthering Heights is placed above Currer for dramatic individuality, and it seems C. B. herself quite thought so. . . .
Rossetti had been at Clevedon with Miss Siddal, who had gone there for the sake of her health.
The poems mentioned by him are in Day and Night Songs. “ Throughout his life,” writes his brother, “ the poetry of sentimental or reflective description had a very minor attraction for him.” To Mr. Gosse Rossetti wrote in 1873: “It seems to me that all poetry, to be really enduring, is bound to be as amusing (however trivial the word may sound) as any other class of literature; and I do not think that enough amusement to keep it alive can ever be got out of incidents not amounting to events.”
Charles Bagot Cayley was the translator of Dante.
From his balcony Rossetti had a fine outlook on the Thames. The house was swept away when the river was embanked. It stood in front of the site now occupied by the eastern end of Kaiser’s Royal Hotel, so near to Blackfriars Bridge that a stone could have been pitched on to it from the balcony. One of the rooms facing southwards was very sunny. At the window he would loll sometimes for hours together, looking at the people passing over the bridge. To watch this living stream flow by had an endless fascination for him. He used to tell the story that, one day, he and another of the Brotherhood were thus lolling, when they both cried out, “ Why, there goes Deverell ! ” At that hour Deverell died.
The friendship between Rossetti and Ruskin did not last. For some years, says W. M. Rossetti, “they were heartily friendly, and indeed heartily affectionate.” Later on, “ominous discrepancies began to appear, and gradually these became irremediable, or at any rate they remained unremedied.”
Three days before the date of the above letter Rossetti wrote to bis mother : “ An astounding event is to come off to-morrow. The Marchioness of Waterford has expressed a wish to Ruskin to see me paint in water-color, as she says my method is inscrutable to her. She is herself an excellent artist, and would have been really great. I believe, if not born such a swell and such a stunner.” In my undergraduate days, when not unfrequently I was in Rossetti’s company, I one day heard him maintain that a beautiful young woman, who was on her trial on a charge of murdering her lover, ought not to be hanged, even if found guilty, as she was “such a stunner.” When I ventured to assert that I would have her hanged, beautiful or ugly, there was a general outcry of the artistic set. One of them, now famous as a painter, cried out, “ Oh, Hill, you would never hang a stunner ! ”
The second Lord Lytton, under the name of Owen Meredith, published this year Clytemnestra, The Earl’s Return, and Other Poems.
There is one more letter written by Rossetti to Allingham in 1855. Owing to its great length I must separate it from its companions of that year. It will grace the opening of my third paper, containing as it does a criticism of Browning’s Men and Women, and a boast of Rossetti’s “ intimacy with the glorious Robert.”
George Birkbeck Hill.