William Michael Rossetti on Elizabeth Siddal

I’ve also posted this at LizzieSiddal.com, so if you are subscribed to both through RSS then I apologize for the repetition:

Portrait of William Michael Rossetti by Ford Madox Brown

Portrait of William Michael Rossetti by Ford Madox Brown

William Michael Rossetti was the brother of Dante Gabriel and an original member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 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 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 Dante Rossetti speak for it better than I could do. One could not have seen a woman in whose whole demeanour maidenly and feminine purity was more markedly apparent. She maintained an attitude of reserve, self-con-trolling and alien from approach. Without being prudish, and along with a decided inclination to order her mode of life according to her own liking, whether conformable or not to the views of the British matron, she was certainly distant.

It is interesting that some who knew Lizzie describe her as distant, while others (like Swinburne) describe her as anything but. Might it be that she is like all of us? Talkative and at ease with one group, while more wuite and reserved with another?

WMR goes on to say: “Her talk was, in my experience, scanty; slight and
scattered, with some amusing turns, and little to seize hold upon—little clue to her
real self or to anything determinate.”
Might it be that she was reserved around her in-laws? She certainly would not be the first female to suffer from such an affliction! Why were the Victorian’s so hard on what the termed “the fairer sex”. Had she been a male, WMR might have applauded her for her discretion and the fact that she didn’t “run on so” or babble. But instead, he writes about her quietness of speech as an insult and also seems to call into question her intellect.

WMR goes on to discuss Lizzie’s discovery by Deverell and mentions other paintings that she posed for. He shares with us that in his opinion, Ophelia by Millais resembles Lizzie the most. “the Ophelia is the truest likeness, and is indeed a close one, only that the peculiar poise of the head thwarts the resemblance to some extent”

I enjoy his description of Lizzie and Gabriel as a couple. He creates a cozy picture and I can imagine them quietly ensconced at Chatham Place in artistic solitude drawing and sketching away the hours:

At what precise date Dante and Elizabeth were definitely engaged I am not able to say: it may probably have been before the end of 1851, and I presume that about the same time she finally gave up any attendance in the bonnet-shop. The name Elizabeth was never on Dante’s lips, but Lizzie or Liz; or fully as often Guggums, Guggum,or Gug. Mrs. Hueffer, the younger daughter of Ford Madox Brown, tells an amusing anecdote how, when she was a small child in 1854, she saw Rossetti at his easel in her father’s house, uttering momently, in the absence of the beloved one, “Guggum, Guggum.” Lizzie was continually in Rossetti’s studio, 14, Chatham Place, Blackfriars, tête-à-tête. Sometimes she was sitting to him, but they were often together without any intention or pretence of a sitting; as time advanced she was frequently also drawing or painting there for her own behoof. This may have begun some considerable while before July 1854; but it seems to have been only about that date that Rossetti thought expressly that she would do well to turn to professional account the gifts for art which, though not cultivated up to
the regulated standard, she manifestly possessed and clearly exemplified. After a while “Guggum” became so much of a settled institution in the Chatham Place chambers that other people understood that they were not wanted there in and out—and I may include myself in this category. The reader will understand that this continual association of an engaged couple, while it may have gone beyond the conventional fence-line, had nothing in it suspicious or ambiguous, or conjectured by any one to be so. They chose to be together because of mutual attachment, and because Dante was constantly drawing from Guggum, and she designing under his tuition.

Useful indeed is his next passage which shares details of Lizzie’s artwork:

Nothing, I suppose, was more distant from Miss Siddal’s ideas in her earlier girlhood than the notion of drawing or painting; but, under incitement from Rossetti, she began towards the close of 1852. The first design of hers which I find mentioned was from Wordsworth’s We are Seven, January 1853. In 1853–4 she painted a portrait of herself—the most competent piece of execution that she ever produced, an excellent and graceful likeness, and truly good: it is her very self. This work remains in my possession, and there are few things I should be sorrier to lose. Other early designs are—a pen-and-ink drawing of Pippa and the Women of Loose Life , from Browning’s drama; a water- colour of the Ladies’ Lament, from the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens; two watercolours from Tennyson, St. Agnes’ Eve and Lady Clare; a spectral subject, watercolour, The Haunted Tree. All these are in my hands, except the Patrick Spens, which belongs to Mr. Watts-Dunton. There was an idea that she, along with Rossetti, would illustrate a ballad-book compiled by William Allingham. This project lapsed; but she produced (May 1854) a design of Clerk Saunders, which afterwards she developed into a water-colour, about her completest thing except the portrait. It was purchased by the American scholar Professor Eliot Norton; later on in 1869 Rossetti got it back, and it is now in the fine collection of Mr. Fairfax Murray. “It even surprised me,” Rossetti wrote to Professor Norton, “by its great merit of feeling and execution.” By 1854 she had also produced designs of Rossetti’s Sister Helen, The Nativity , The Lass of Lochroyan, and The Gay Gos-hawk—the latter two for the Ballad-book. Two water-colours, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and the old design of We are Seven, were in hand at the beginning of 1855. There was also a design, penand-ink, of Two Lovers seated al fresco, and singing to the music of two dark Malay-looking women, while a little girl listens. This properly belonged by gift to Allingham, but got sold inadvertently to Ruskin.
She made some designs to be executed in carving in Trinity College, Dublin, a building carried out by Benjamin Woodward (the architect of the Oxford Museum). One of the designs represented “an angel with some children and all manner of other things,” and it was supposed to be in situ in 1855, but I see it stated that no such work is now traceable there. She began late in 1856 an oil-picture from one of the ballad-subjects, probably The Lass of Lochroyan. This I think is not now extant, but there is a water-colour of it. The total of designs made by Lizzie, coloured and uncoloured, was somewhat considerable, allowing for the short duration of her artistic activity. I question whether she produced much at a date later than 1857; but she certainly produced something after as well as before her marriage—she was at work at the end of November 1860, and probably later.

He then describes the home of Dante Gabriel and Lizzie, after their marriage. He also discusses the quality of her work and expounds upon DGR’s method of teaching Lizzie. I love this part: “Have you an idea in your head? Is it an idea which can be expressed in the shape of a design? Can you express it with refinement, and with a sentiment of nature, even if not with searching realism?

In January 1862 the drawing-room at 14 Chatham Place was entirely hung round with her water-colours of poetic subjects; and there must at that time have been several others in the possession of Ruskin, and not of him alone. This drawing-room was papered from a design made by Rossetti; trees standing the whole height of the wall, conventionally treated, with stems and fruit of Venetian red, and leaves black, and with yellow stars within a white ring: “the effect of the whole,” he said, “will be rather sombre, but I think rich also.” As to the quality of her work, it may be admitted at once that she never attained to anything like masterliness—her portrait shows more
competence than other productions; and in the present day, when vigorous brush-work and calculated “values” are more thought of than inventiveness or sentiment, her performances would secure little beyond a sneer first, a glance afterwards, and a silent passing by. But in those early “Preraphaelite” days, and in the Preraphaelite environment,
which was small, and ringed round by hostile forces, things were estimated differently. The first question which my brother would have put to an aspirant is, “Have you an idea in your head?” This would have been followed by other questions, such as: “Is it an idea which can be expressed in the shape of a design? Can you express it with refinement, and with a sentiment of nature, even if not with searching realism?” He must have put these queries to Miss Siddal practically, if not vivâ voce; and he found the response on her part such as to qualify her to begin, with a good prospect of her progressing. She had much facility of invention and composition, with eminent purity of feeling, dignified simplicity, and grace; little mastery of form, whether in the human figure or in drapery and other materials;
a right intention in colouring, though neither rich nor deep. Her designs resembled those of Dante Rossetti at the same date: he had his defects, and she had the deficiencies of those defects. He guided her with the utmost attention, but I doubt whether he ever required her to study drawing with rigorous patience and apply herself to the realizing of realities. It should be added that her health was so constantly shaky, and often so extremely bad, that she was really not well capable of going through the toils of a thorough artist-student.

Enter John Ruskin:

Ruskin made himself personally known to Rossetti in April 1854, by calling at his studio: he had some little while before seen and praised some of the painter’s works. He struck up a close friendship with my brother, and
undertook to buy, in a general way, whatever the latter might have to offer him from time to time: the prices to be paid were not lavish, but they were such as Rossetti, at that stage of his practice and repute, was highly pleased to accept. Through Rossetti, Ruskin knew Miss Siddal before the end of
1854. He took the greatest pleasure in her art-work, present and prospective. She visited at his house, with Rossetti, in April 1855. He “said she was a noble, glorious creature, and his father said that by her look and manner she might have been a countess.” In March of this year John Ruskin (as Rossetti wrote) “saw and bought on the spot every scrap of design hitherto produced by Miss Siddal. He declared that they were far better than mine, or almost than anyone’s, and seemed quite wild with delight at getting them. He is going to have them
splendidly mounted, and bound together in gold.” The price which Dante Gabriel named for the lot was certainly modest, £25: Ruskin made it £30. In May of this same year Ruskin settled £150 per annum on Miss Siddal, taking, up to that value, any works which she might produce. This arrangement held good, if I am not mistaken, up to 1857, but was then allowed to lapse, with reluctance on the generous writer’s part, upon the ground that the state of her health
did not admit of her meeting her share in the engagement in a continuous and adequate manner. Ruskin called Miss Siddal Ida (from Tennyson’s “Princess”), and befriended her to the utmost of his power in various ways—getting her to visit Oxford, and place herself under the advice of Dr. Acland who pronounced (and I fancy with a good deal of truth) that the essence of her malady was “mental power long pent up and lately overtaxed.” It is too clear, however, that the germs of consumption were present, with neuralgia, and (according to one opinion) curvature of the spine. One result of Ruskin’s admiration of Miss Siddal’s designs was that Tennyson and his wife heard of the matter at the time when the well-known “Illustrated Tennyson” was in preparation; and they both “wished her exceedingly to join” in the work: “Mrs. Tennyson wrote immediately to Moxon about it, declaring that she had rather pay for Miss Siddal’s designs herself than not have them in the book.” Her drawings, reasonably controlled by Rossetti,
would really have been a credit to the undertaking; but, whatever the reason, she was not enlisted by Moxon. Perhaps he thought the fastidiousness of Rossetti over his wood-blocks was quite enough without being reinforced by that of an unknown female ally.

I confess, I adore the idea of Lizzie’s work “splendidly mounted, and bound together in gold”.

Next, the only public exhibition in which Lizzie’s work was shown and we have a glimpse of who Lizzie met socially. Also, he touches upon when Lizzie met his mother and Lizzie’s famed ill-health:

I hardly think that Miss Siddal ever exhibited any of her paintings or drawings, except in the summer of 1857, when a small semi-public collection was got together by various artists in Russell Place, Fitzroy Square. People came to call this “the Preraphaelite Exhibition,” although no such name was put forward by the exhibiting artists. Miss Siddal sent Clerk Saunders, Sketches from Browning and Tennyson, We are Seven, The Haunted Tree, and a Study of a Head (I think her own portrait). Madox Brown, Holman-Hunt, Millais, Rossetti, C. Allston Collins, William Davis, Arthur Hughes, Windus, Joseph Wolf, Boyce, and some
others, were contributors. Clerk Saunders was also included in an American Exhibition of British Art, New York, in the same year, 1857.
Rossetti made Miss Siddal known to several friends of his, all of whom treated her with the utmost cordiality or even affection: William and Mary Howitt, and their daughter Anna Mary (then a painter of whom high hopes were entertained); Miss Barbara Leigh Smith (Mrs. Bodichon); Miss Bessie Parkes (Madame
Belloc); William Allingham; the sculptor, Alexander Munro; Madox Brown and his family. Mrs. Brown, who had previously had some knowledge of Mrs. Siddal, naturally became very intimate with Lizzie. At a later date there were Burne-Jones, William Morris, and Alexander Gilchrist, and their respective wives. In Paris, in the autumn of 1855, she met for a few minutes Robert Browning: and Rossetti showed him the design from “Pippa Passes,” with which the poet “was delighted beyond measure.” My mother did not meet Lizzie in person until April 1855: between that date and the time when my brother’s marriage took place,
they encountered from time to time, not frequently. Dante Gabriel had at one period a fancy that Christina was not well affected to the unparagoned Guggum: in this there was in fact next to nothing, or indeed nothing.

All this while Miss Siddal’s health was extremely delicate—at times wofully bad. One recurring symptom was want of appetite and inability to retain food on the stomach. She went to a number of health
resorts: Hastings, Bath, Matlock, Clevedon. The most important expedition was in the autumn of 1855, when she journeyed to Nice, passing through Paris: this last was the place that seemed to suit her the
best of all. At Nice in December she had weather “as warm as the best English May,”but the improvement to her health, after a somewhat prolonged sojourn, did not turn out to be considerable. She was accompanied in this instance by a Mrs. Kincaid, a married lady related to my mother, but
of whom we did not know very much; but they had, I think, separated before the experiment at Nice came to a conclusion. Between Ruskin’s subvention and funds supplied by my brother Miss Siddal was kept
while abroad free from money straits: a sum of £80 was in her hands, partly at the date of starting and partly soon afterwards.
Rossetti made a rather long stay with Miss Siddal at Matlock, where she tried the hydropathic cure: this may, I think, have been in the later months of 1857 and the earlier of 1858. It appears to me—but I
speak with uncertainty—that during the rest of 1858 and the whole of 1859 he did
not see her so constantly as in preceding years. For this, apart from anything savouring of neglectfulness on his part, there may have been various causes, dubious for me to estimate at the present distance of time. Her own ill-health would have been partly accountable for such a result; and, again, the fact that Rossetti, increasingly employed as a painter, had by this time some other sitters for his pictures—Miss Burden (Mrs. Morris), Mrs. Crabb (stage name Miss Herbert), and two whose heads appear respectively in the Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee and in Bocca Baciata.

WMR’s account of how Lizzie and Gabriel came to be married, complete with portions of Gabriel’s communications with his mother, WMR, and Ford Madox Brown announcing the nuptials:

In April I 860 Miss Siddal was staying at Hastings, and was desperately ill. She may possibly in some previous instances have been equally brought down: more so she cannot have been, for she seemed now at
the very gates of the tomb. Dante Rossetti joined her at this place; and some expressions in his letters may be worth quoting (I condense ad libitum):— To his mother, April 13, 1860: “I write you this word to
say that Lizzie and I are going to be married at last, in as few days as possible. 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 Lizzie 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 in deed.”
To myself, April 17: “You will be grieved to hear that poor dear Lizzie’s health has been in such a broken and failing state for the last few days as to render me more miserable than I can possibly say. She gets no nourishment, and what can be reasonably hoped when this is added to her dreadful state of health in other respects? If I were to lose her now, I do not know what effect it might have on my mind, added to the responsibility of much work, commissioned and already paid for, which still has to be done. The ordinary licence we already have, and I still trust to God we may be
enabled to use it. If not, I should have so much to grieve for, and (what is worse) so
much to reproach myself with, that I do not know how it might end for me.”
To
Madox Brown, April 22: “I have been, almost without respite, since I saw you, in the most agonizing anxiety about poor dear Lizzie’s health. Indeed, it has been that kind of pain which one can never remember at its full, as she has seemed ready to die daily and more than once a day. Since
yesterday there has certainly been a reaction for the better. It makes me feel as if I had been dug out of a vault, so many times lately has it seemed to me that she could never lift her head again.”

He does not dwell on their marriage for long, for soon we have the sad accounts of their stillborn daughter and that of Lizzie’s demise:

The last instance, only a few days before her death, was for a head of the Princess in the subject called St. George and the Princess Sabra . Ill-health did not induce her to seclude herself beyond what was actually necessary: every now and then she stayed on a visit in the house of the
Madox Browns near Highgate Rise, or in that which the Morrises had been building at Upton, near Bexley. In May 1861 she was confined of a stillborn female infant;her recovery was rapid enough. In all cases
she was, as her 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, 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 Cordium;
1862, St. George and the Princess Sabra ;
1863, Beata Beatrix.

Then, Lizzie’s art:

As to Miss Siddal’s own designs, I may mention, besides those already specified, Jephthah’s Daughter, The Deposition from the Cross, The Maries at the Sepulchre, The Madonna and Child with an Angel, Macbeth taking the Dagger from his Wife who meditates Suicide, The Lady of Shalott, St. Cecilia, The Woful Victory. The St. Cecilia was evidently intended to illustrate Tennyson’s poem The Palace of Art. It is a different
composition from the same subject as treated by Dante Rossetti, but, like that, it certainly indicates the death of the saint (a point which does not appertain to the poem), and I have no doubt it preceded Rossetti’s design, and therefore this detail of invention properly belongs to Miss Siddal. The Woful Victory is an incident which was to be introduced into Rossetti’s poem The Bride’s Prelude ; that work, however, was
not brought to completion, and the incident was never put into verse, but it appears in the published prose argument of the poem. I must not beguile the reader into supposing that these designs by Miss Siddal are works of any developed execution: some of them are extremely, and all comparatively, slight. But there is right thought in all of them, and a right intention as to how the thought should be conveyed in the structure of the composition.
Specimens of Elizabeth Siddal’s art are to be found in four books known to me—perhaps not in any others. These are “Tennyson and his Preraphaelite Illustra-
tors,” by G. Somes Layard, 1894; “Dante Rossetti’s Letters to William Allingham,” edited by Dr. Birkbeck Hill, 1897; “The English Preraphaelite Painters,” by Percy H. Bate, 1899; and Marillier’s book previously named, “ Dante Gabriel Rossetti,” 1899. There is likewise her portrait of herself in my Memoir of Dante Rossetti publishedalong with his Family letters, 1895.

And his concluding comment:

I will conclude this brief account of Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal by saying that, without overrating her actual performances in either painting or poetry, one must fairly pronounce her to have been a woman of unusual capacities, and worthy of being espoused to a painter and poet.

On the whole, a favorable article. I do wonder why he mistakes her age and the death of her father, but perhaps these were not intentional changes on his part. I will continue to add more writings of WMR here, in effort to create a better account of Lizzie’s life, as written by those who knew her.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Leave a Reply

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