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Singer is Professional Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Excerpt from Dante Gabriel Rossetti
From an early age I was aware that I was descended from the Rossettis.” I was rather vague as to how, just as I didn't quite know how they had distinguished themselves, though I knew the connection was something to be proud of. Christina was fairly easy to place, for she was a poet, and some of her poems, such as Goblin Market and Sea-Horses, which we had been made to learn by heart, were in the anthologies we used at primary school. Then she had written the words (or rather the music had been written to her words) to a popular Christmas carol, In The Bleak Mid-Winter. Though I did not dare say so, I found it at little dismal and personally favored the more jolly carols.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was more difficult to gauge, for his name was altogether too exotic and foreign sounding, especially as my family insisted on pronouncing Rossetti with the soft s as the Italians do, instead of with the hard s favored by Anglo-Saxons. When out of hearing of the family, I naturally conformed to the English pronunciation: England was at war with Italy at the time, and anything or anybody in the slightest way connected with Italy was anathema to my schoolfellows. My illustrious ancestor earned me many a baiting.
Rossetti was a poet-painter or painter-poet, but his poems, except for one or two of the ballads, such as The White Ship and The King’s Tragedy, were much more difficult than Christina's to understand. At the time his paintings were unfamiliar to me, as I had seen no originals and very few reproductions. The various pictures that my grandmother Mrs. Rossetti Angeli had inherited from her father, William Michael Rossetti (Dante Gabriel's brother), were safely stored away in the vault of the Tate Gallery. They had been removed from 3 Saint Edmund's Terrace, the house that had belonged to William, because of the continual bombing that London was then being subjected to, and none too soon either, for shortly afterward the house was seriously damaged by a V-1 bomb a Doodlebug, as they were called. The volunteers who have the job of clearing the house of rubble and of all the books, china, furniture, and objects d'art asserted that in all their war experience this was by far the worst house they had encountered because there had been so much in it.
It was only later that I became familiar with my grandmother's various drawings, studies, and family portraits both by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and by her grandfather Ford Madox Brown. Hers was the haunting self-portrait by Lizzie Siddal, as was the small drawing of Dante Gabriel's rocking horse, which he had executed at the age of about four and thus surprised the milkman into exclaiming to the servant, I saw a baby making a picture.”
I must have been about ten or eleven when my grandmother confronted me with two photographs: one represented her father, William, as an elderly man and the other, her uncle Dante Gabriel. She asked me point-blank which of the two I preferred. As any child would have been, I was naturally drawn to the benign, gentle face of the patriarchal William and found Dante Gabriel (who at the time of the photograph was already a sick man) altogether too moody and forbidding. However, wanting to ingratiate myself with my grandmother, and not knowing her precise relationship to either but being aware that she thought highly of artistic and poetic ability, I lied and pointed to the photograph of Dante Gabriel. I was told that I was a fool, which serves me right for lying.
My grandmother spent much time, energy, and ink defending the memory of her uncle. As she wrote with much truth in her entertaining book, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Friends and Enemies, It is not excessive to say that no distinguished man of English art or letters of the nineteenth century has been so repeatedly and so unaccountably attacked as Dante Gabriel Rossetti.” This is all the more surprising since he had not openly flouted the moral code of his contemporaries. Moreover, apart from the notorious attack by Thomas Maitland (alias Robert Buchanan), who afterwards retracted, it is more recent biographers who have treated him most harshly.
One of my grandmother's last forays into the field of polemics on behalf of her uncle was a long letter to the London Times, in which she wittily and caustically trounced someone she thought guilty of having written a lot of lies” about her uncle. The director of the Times found her letter so entertaining that he exclaimed, This woman deserves a two-column obituary,” and forthwith sent someone to interview her. I was present on this occasion and found my grandmother in a state of great glee at the idea of being interviewed for her obituary. As she was eighty-seven at the time, the interview was soon to come in handy.
My grandmother did not remember her uncle personally, as she was a very young child when he died. Toward the end of his life he was a very sick man, almost a recluse, and the company of children would hardly have been welcomed by him. There's a letter to his assistant, Henry Treffry Dunn, and which he writes, There was an alarm of the Euston Square baby nurse and all being shot here, but I took prompt measures and it has blown over.” The child, my grandmother's eldest sister, Olive, was convalescing from some child's illness, and her parents must have asked if Dante Gabriel could house the child and her nurse, so that she could have the benefit of the sea air at Bognor Regis, considered a panacea in those days. But evidently Rossetti didn’t feel like putting up with her or putting her up.
This brings up the question of the relationship between Dante Gabriel and his brother, William. In Edith Sitwell’s not exaggerated description, William was that saintly and sweet character whose whole life was given to his family, to providing for their needs and bearing their worries, William who scarcely allowed himself the right individual happiness.” Dante Gabriel, on the other hand, had all the artist’s self-centeredness. As William tersely put it, The very core of his character was self-will, which easily shelved into willfulness.”
Then there were the money relations between them. Usually it was the generous and careful William, often with a much smaller income (first as an official and later as a pensioner of the Inland Revenue), who came to the rescue of his no less generous but improvident brother. It was young William who, when his income at the Excise Office was the family’s chief support, found the ten shillings for Dante Gabriel to buy a priceless William Blake notebook from an attendant at the British Museum. On the rare occasions of reciprocal need, Dante Gabriel did come to the rescue of his brother, as when William was robbed of all his money during a trip abroad. Moreover, Dante Gabriel was well aware of what he owed his brother. When William was about to marry, he wrote to his future sister-in-law, Lucy Madox Brown: What return can I ever make now for all that my dear brother gave me so freely in early days, at a time when it is still a mystery to me how he can manage to give at all? To him and to your father I owe more in life than to any other man whatever.” In 1872, when William had done so much and suffered so much because of his brother's illness (and, it may be added, because of Christina's), Dante Gabriel wrote to him: I know well how much you have suffered on my account; indeed perhaps your suffering may have been more acute than my own doll, nerveless state during the past months. Your Love, dear William, is not less returned by me then it is sweet to me, and that is saying all.”
What my grandmother knew about her uncle was necessarily secondhand, but she could call to mind numerous firsthand anecdotes where Aunt Christina was concerned. When she knew her, Christina was usually neatly but never fashionably dressed in black. On one occasion she took her nephew and nieces for a walk in the direction of a London street called the Seven Sisters; the street was not known to her, but the name was poetic, and she was curious to see it. Great was their disappointment when the street turned out to be both commonplace and dingy and altogether unworthy of its name. On another occasion, when my grandmother had been guilty of childish outbursts of temper, Aunt Christina gently reproved her, telling her that she would have to learn to control her temper as Christina had done and recalling how, having been scolded for some fault, she had seized a pair of scissors and ripped open her arm. Then there was the famous time when Christina’s strict observance of truth (veracity, they termed it in the family) gave rise to comedy. She was shown a very plain baby by a proud mama who obviously expected Christina to make some admiring comment. Christina was incapable of telling a lie, but at the same time she was a kind woman and didn't want to hurt the mother’s feelings, so she got out of the difficulty by exclaiming, What a baby!”
This strict, unswerving regard for truth was common to all four Rossetti children, Dante Gabriel included, and had been instilled by their high-minded mother, Frances Polidori, whom they all adored. Another saying that has entered the family lexicon is attributable to William’s almost too literal respect for truth. A mother and daughter of his acquaintance called and him rather earlier than was consonant with the social code of the day and were taken aback to find the master of the house (who was the least sluggish of men) still in his nightshirt. Very much embarrassed, the two ladies started to beat a hasty retreat, murmuring as they went: We fear we have called at rather an awkward moment. Would you oblige us by telling us at what time it would suit your convenience for us to call?” Nothing daunted, William replied, All times are equally inconvenient.” To this day, when one member of the family asks another to do a favor at his or her convenience, the answer is invariably All times are equally inconvenient.”
Dante Gabriel was perhaps too much a man of the world to be quite so literal about the truth, but whatever else has been said of him, he has not been accused of being a liar. When Ernest Chesneau referred to him as the head of the Pre-Raphaelite school, Rossetti wrote a disclaimer and loyally sustained William Holman Hunt’s and the young John Everett Millais’s greater right to the title.
The most famous episode, which had been kept a secret in the family till my grandmother chose to divulge it in her book on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, concerned the scribbled message he had found pinned to his wife's night gown after her death from an overdose of laudanum. The first friend Rossetti rushed off to fetch was Ford Madox Brown, who immediately took the note and burned it. On it Lizzie had written, Take care of Harry.” Harry was her weak-minded brother, and it seems Rossetti did assist one or more of her brothers till his death, and after his death William continued the assistance. The story of the note was told by Brown to his daughter Lucy, and she in turn recounted it to her eldest daughter, Olive, my grandmother's sister...
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Book Description Nabu Press, 2017. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used! This item is printed on demand. Bookseller Inventory # 117242568X
Book Description Nabu Press. Paperback. Book Condition: New. This item is printed on demand. Paperback. 140 pages. Dimensions: 9.3in. x 7.3in. x 0.4in.This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book. This item ships from La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Bookseller Inventory # 9781172425686
Book Description Nabu Press, United States, 2010. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923. This book may have occasional imperfections such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. that were either part of the original artifact, or were introduced by the scanning process. We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book. ***** Print on Demand *****. Bookseller Inventory # AAV9781172425686