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Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1883
by T. Hall Caine
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Rossetti had buried the only complete copy of his poems with his wife at Highgate, and for a time he had been able to put by the thought of them; but as one by one his friends, Mr. Morris, Mr. Swinburne, and others, attained to distinction as poets, he began to hanker after poetic reputation, and to reflect with pain and regret upon the hidden fruits of his best effort. Rossetti—in all love of his memory be it spoken—was after all a frail mortal; of unstable character: of variable purpose: a creature of impulse and whim, and with a plentiful lack of the backbone of volition. With less affection he would not have buried his book; with more strength of will he had not done so; or, having done so, he had never wished to undo what he had done; or having undone it, he would never have tormented himself with the memory of it as of a deed of sacrilege. But Rossetti had both affection enough to do it and weakness enough to have it undone. After an infinity of self-communions he determined to have the grave opened, and the book extracted. Endless were the preparations necessary before such a work could be begun. Mr. Home Secretary Bruce had to be consulted. At length preliminaries were complete, and one night, seven and a half years after the burial, a fire was built by the side of the grave, and then the coffin was raised and opened. The body is described as perfect upon coming to light.

Whilst this painful work was being done the unhappy author of it was sitting alone and anxious, and full of self-reproaches at the house of the friend who had charge of it. He was relieved and thankful when told that all was over. The volume was not much the worse for the years it had lain in the grave. Deficiencies were filled in from memory, the manuscript was put in the press, and in 1870 the reclaimed work was issued under the simple title of Poems.

The success of the book was almost without precedent; seven editions were called for in rapid succession. It was reviewed with enthusiasm in many quarters. Yet that was a period in which fresh poetry and new poets arose, even as they now arise, with all the abundance and timeliness of poppies in autumn. It is probable enough that of the circumstances attending the unexampled early success of this first volume only the remarkable fact is still remembered that, from a bookseller's standpoint, it ran a neck-and-neck race with Disraeli's Lothair at a time when political romance was found universally appetising, and poetry, as of old, a drug. But it will not be forgotten that certain subsidiary circumstances were thought to have contributed to the former success. Of these the most material was the reputation Rossetti had already achieved as a painter by methods which awakened curiosity as much as they aroused enthusiasm. The public mind became sensibly affected by the idea that the poems of the new poet were not to be regarded as the emanations of a single individual, but as the result of a movement in which Rossetti had played one of the most prominent parts. Mr. F. Hueffer, in prefacing the Tauchnitz edition of the poems with a pleasant memoir, has comprehensively denominated that movement the renaissance of mediaeval feeling, but at the outset it acquired popularly, for good or ill, the more rememberable name of pre-Raphaelitism. What the shibboleth was of the originators of the school that grew out of it concerned men but little to ascertain; and this was a condition of indifference as to the logic of the movement which was occasioned partly by the known fact that the most popular of its leaders, Mr. Millais, had long been shifting ground. It was enough that the new sect had comprised dissenters from the creed once established, that the catholic spirit of art which lived with the lives of Elmore, Goodall, and Stone was long dead, and that none of the coteries for love of which the old faith, exemplified in the works of men such as these, had been put aside, possessed such an appeal for the imagination as this, now that twenty years of fairly consistent endeavour had cleared away the cloud of obloquy that gathered about it when it began. And so it came to be thought that the poems of Rossetti were to exhibit a new phase of this movement, involving kindred issues, and opening up afresh in the poetic domain the controversies which had been waged and won in the pictorial. Much to this purpose was said at the time to account for the success of a book whose popular qualities were I manifestly inconsiderable; and much to similar purpose will doubtless long be said by those who affect to believe that a concatenation of circumstances did for Rossetti's earlier work a service which could not attend his subsequent one. But the explanation was inadequate, and had for its immediate outcome a charge of narrowed range of poetic sympathy with which Rossetti's admirers had not laid their account.

A renaissance of mediaeval feeling the movement in art assuredly involved, but the essential part of it was another thing, of which mediaevalism was palpably independent. How it came to be considered the fundamental element is not difficult to show. In an eminent degree the originators of the new school in painting were colourists, having, perhaps, in their effects, a certain affinity to the early Florentine masters, and this accident of native gift had probably more to do in determining the precise direction of the intellectual sympathy than any external agency. The art feeling which formed the foundation of the movement existed apart from it, or bore no closer relation to it than kinship of powers induced. When Rossetti's poetry came it was seen to be animated by a choice of subject-matter akin to that which gave individual character to his painting, but this was because coeval efforts in two totally distinct arts must needs bear the family resemblance, each to each, which belong to all the offspring of a thoroughly harmonised mind. The poems and the pictures, however, had not more in common than can be found in the early poems and early dramas of Shakspeare. Nay, not so much; for whereas in his poems Shakspeare was constantly evolving certain shades of feeling and begetting certain movements of thought which were soon to find concrete and final collocation in the dramatic creations, in his pictures Rossetti was first of all a dissenter from all prescribed canons of taste, whilst in his poems he was in harmony with the catholic spirit which was as old as Shakspeare himself, and found revival, after temporary eclipse, in Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Tennyson. Choice of mediaeval theme would not in itself have been enough to secure a reversal of popular feeling against work that contained no germs of the sensational; and hence we must conclude that Mr. Swinburne accounted more satisfactorily for the instant popularity of Rossetti's poetry when he claimed for it those innate utmost qualities of beauty and strength which are always the first and last constituents of poetry that abides. Indeed those qualities and none other, wholly independent of auxiliary aids, must now as then go farthest to determine Rossetti's final place among poets.

Such as is here described was the first reception given to Rossetti's volume of poetry; but at the close of 1871, there arose out of it a long and acrimonious controversy. It seems necessary to allude to this painful matter, because it involved serious issues; but an effort alike after brevity and impartiality of comment shall be observed in what is said of it. In October of the year mentioned, an article entitled The Fleshly School of Poetry, and signed "Thomas Maitland," appeared in The Contemporary Review. {*} It consisted in the main of an impeachment of Rossetti's poetry on the ground of sensuality, though it embraced a broad denunciation of the sensual tendencies of the age in art, music, poetry, the drama, and social life generally. Sensuality was regarded as the phenomenon of the age. "It lies," said the writer, "on the drawing-room table, shamelessly naked and dangerously fair. It is part of the pretty poem which the belle of the season reads, and it breathes away the pureness of her soul like the poisoned breath of the girl in Hawthorne's tale. It covers the shelves of the great Oxford-Street librarian, lurking in the covers of three-volume novels. It is on the French booksellers' counters, authenticated by the signature of the author of the Visite de Noces. It is here, there, and everywhere, in art, literature, life, just as surely as it is in the Fleurs de Mal, the Marquis de Sade's Justine, or the Monk of Lewis. It appeals to all tastes, to all dispositions, to all ages. If the querulous man of letters has his Baudelaire, the pimpled clerk has his Day's Doings, and the dissipated artisan his Day and Night." When the writer set himself to inquire into the source of this social cancer, he refused to believe that English society was honeycombed and rotten. He accounted for the portentous symptoms that appalled him by attributing the evil to a fringe of real English society, chiefly, if not altogether, resident in London: "a sort of demi-monde, not composed, like that other in France, of simple courtesans, but of men and women of indolent habits and aesthetic tastes, artists, literary persons, novel writers, actors, men of genius and men of talent, butterflies and gadflies of the human kind, leading a lazy existence from hand to mouth." It was to this Bohemian fringe of society that the writer attributed the "gross and vulgar conceptions of life which are formulated into certain products of art, literature, and criticism." Dealing with only one form of the social phenomenon, with sensualism so far as it appeared to affect contemporary poetry, the writer proceeded with a literary retrospect intended to show that the fair dawn of our English poetry in Chaucer and the Elizabethan dramatists had been overclouded by a portentous darkness, a darkness "vaporous," "miasmic," coming from a "fever-cloud generated first in Italy and then blown westward," sucking up on its way "all that was most unwholesome from the soil of France."

* In this summary, the pamphlet reprint has been followed in preference to the original article as it appeared in the Review.

Just previously to and contemporaneously with the rise of Dante, there had flourished a legion of poets of greater or less ability, but all more or less characterised by affectation, foolishness, and moral blindness: singers of the falsetto school, with ballads to their mistress's eyebrow, sonnets to their lady's lute, and general songs of a fiddlestick; peevish men for the most part, as is the way of all fleshly and affected beings; men so ignorant of human subjects and materials as to be driven in their sheer bankruptcy of mind to raise Hope, Love, Fear, Rage (everything but Charity) into human entities, and to treat the body and upholstery of a dollish woman as if, in itself, it constituted a whole universe.

After tracing the effect of the "moral poison" here seen in its inception through English poetry from Surrey and Wyat to Cowley, the writer recognised a "tranquil gleam of honest English light" in Cowper, who "spread the seeds of new life" soon to re-appear in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Lamb, and Scott. In his opinion the "Italian disease would now have died out altogether," but for a "fresh importation of the obnoxious matter from France."

At this stage came a denunciation of the representation of "abnormal types of diseased lust and lustful disease" as seen in Charles Baudelaire's Fleurs de Mal, with the conclusion that out of "the hideousness of Femmes Damnees" came certain English poems. "This," said the writer, "is our double misfortune—to have a nuisance, and to have it at second-hand. We might have been more tolerant to an unclean thing if it had been in some sense a product of the soil" All that is here summarised, however, was but preparatory to the real object of the article, which was to assail Rossetti's new volume.

The poems were traversed in detail, with but little (and that the most grudging) admission of their power and beauty, and the very sharpest accentuation of their less spiritual qualities. Since the publication of the article in question, events have taken such a turn that it is no longer either necessary or wise to quote the strictures contained in it, however they might be fenced by juster views. The gravamen of the charge against Rossetti, Mr. Swinburne, and Mr. Morris alike—setting aside all particular accusations, however serious—was that they had "bound themselves into a solemn league and covenant to extol fleshliness as the distinct and supreme end of poetic and pictorial art; to aver that poetic expression is greater than poetic thought, and by inference that the body is greater than the soul, and sound superior to sense."

Such, then, is a synopsis of the hostile article of which the nucleus appeared in The Contemporary Review, and it were little less than childish to say that events so important as the publication of the article and subsequent pamphlet, and the controversy that arose out of them, should, from their unpleasantness and futility, from the bad passions provoked by them, or yet from the regret that followed after them, be passed over in sorrow and silence. For good or ill, what was written on both sides will remain. It has stood and will stand. Sooner or later the story of this literary quarrel will be told in detail and in cold blood, and perhaps with less than sufficient knowledge of either of the parties concerned in it, or sympathy with their aims. No better fate, one might think, could befall it than to be dealt with, however briefly, by a writer whose affections were warmly engaged on one side, while his convictions and bias of nature forced him to recognise the justice of the other—stripped, of course, of the cruelties with which literary error but too obviously enshrouded it.

Whatever the effect produced upon the public mind by the article in question (and there seems little reason to think it was at all material), the effect upon two of the writers attacked was certainly more than commensurate with the assault. Mr. Morris wisely attempted no reply to the few words of adverse criticism in which his name was specifically involved; but Mr. Swinburne retorted upon his adversary with the torrents of invective of which he has a measureless command. Rossetti's course was different. Greatly concerned at the bitterness, as well as startled by the unexpectedness of the attack, he wrote in the first moments of indignation a full and point-for-point rejoinder, and this he printed in the form of a pamphlet, and had a great number struck off; but with constitutional irresolution (wisely restraining him in this case), he destroyed every copy, and contented himself with writing a temperate letter on the subject to The Athenaeum, December 16, 1871. He said:

A sonnet, entitled Nuptial Sleep, is quoted and abused at page 338 of the Review, and is there dwelt upon as a "whole poem," describing "merely animal sensations." It is no more a whole poem in reality than is any single stanza of any poem throughout the book. The poem, written chiefly in sonnets, and of which this is one sonnet-stanza, is entitled The House of Life; and even in my first published instalment of the whole work (as contained in the volume under notice), ample evidence is included that no such passing phase of description as the one headed Nuptial Sleep could possibly be put forward by the author of The House of Life as his own representative view of the subject of love. In proof of this I will direct attention (among the love-sonnets of this poem), to Nos. 2, 8, 11, 17, 28, and more especially 13. [Here Love Sweetness is printed.] Any reader may bring any artistic charge he pleases against the above sonnet; but one charge it would be impossible to maintain against the writer of the series in which it occurs, and that is, the wish on his part to assert that the body is greater than the soul. For here all the passionate and just delights of the body are declared—somewhat figuratively, it is true, but unmistakeably—to be as naught if not ennobled by the concurrence of the soul at all times. Moreover, nearly one half of this series of sonnets has nothing to do with love, but treats of quite other life-influences. I would defy any one to couple with fair quotation of sonnets 29, 30, 31, 39, 40, 43, or others, the slander that their author was not impressed, like all other thinking men, with the responsibilities and higher mysteries of life; while sonnets 35, 36, and 37, entitled The Choice, sum up the general view taken in a manner only to be evaded by conscious insincerity. Thus much for The House of Life, of which the sonnet Nuptial Sleep is one stanza, embodying, for its small constituent share, a beauty of natural universal function, only to be reprobated in art if dwelt on (as I have shown that it is not here), to the exclusion of those other highest things of which it is the harmonious concomitant.

It had become known that the article in the Review was not the work of the unknown Thomas Maitland, whose name it bore, and on this head Rossetti wrote:

Here a critical organ, professedly adopting the principle of open signature, would seem, in reality, to assert (by silent practice, however, not by annunciation) that if the anonymous in criticism was—as itself originally indicated—but an early caterpillar stage, the nominate too is found to be no better than a homely transitional chrysalis, and that the ultimate butterfly form for a critic who likes to sport in sunlight, and yet elude the grasp, is after all the pseudonymous.

It transpired, in subsequent correspondence (of which there was more than enough), that the actual writer was Mr. Robert Buchanan, then a young author who had risen into distinction as a poet, and who was consequently suspected, by the writers and disciples of the Rossetti school, of being actuated much more by feelings of rivalry than by desire for the public good. Mr. Buchanan's reply to the serious accusation of having assailed a brother-poet pseudonymously was that the false signature was affixed to the article without his knowledge, "in order that the criticism might rest upon its own merits, and gain nothing from the name of the real writer."

It was an unpleasant controversy, and what remains as an impartial synopsis of it appears to be this: that there was actually manifest in the poetry of certain writers a tendency to deviate from wholesome reticence, and that this dangerous tendency came to us from France, where deep-seated unhealthy passion so gave shape to the glorification of gross forms of animalism as to excite alarm that what had begun with the hideousness of Femmes Damnees would not even end there; finally, that the unpleasant truth demanded to be spoken—by whomsoever had courage enough to utter it—that to deify mere lust was an offence and an outrage. So much for the justice on Mr. Buchanan's side; with the mistaken criticism linking the writers of Dante's time with French writers of the time of Baudelaire it is hardly necessary to deal. On the other hand, it must be said that the sum-total of all the English poetry written in imitation of the worst forms of this French excess was probably less than one hundred lines; that what was really reprehensible in the English imitation of the poetry of the French School was, therefore, too inconsiderable to justify a wholesale charge against it of an endeavour to raise the banner of a black ambition whose only aim was to ruin society; that Rossetti, who was made to bear the brunt of attack, was a man who never by direct avowal, or yet by inference, displayed the faintest conceivable sympathy with the French excesses in question, and who never wrote a line inspired by unwholesome passion. As the pith of Mr. Buchanan's accusation of 1871 lay here, and as Mr. Buchanan has, since then, very manfully withdrawn it, {*} we need hardly go further; but, as more recent articles in prominent places, The Edinburgh Review, The British Quarterly Review, and again The Contemporary Review, have repeated what was first said by him on the alleged unwholesomeness of Rossetti's poetic impulses, it may be as well to admit frankly, and at once (for the subject will arise in the future as frequently as this poetry is under discussion) that love of bodily beauty did underlie much of the poet's work. But has not the same passion made the back-bone of nine-tenths of the noblest English poetry since Chaucer? If it is objected that Rossetti's love of physical beauty took new forms, the rejoinder is that it would have been equally childish and futile to attempt to prescribe limits for it. All this we grant to those unfriendly critics who refuse to see that spiritual beauty and not sensuality was Rossetti's actual goal.

* Writing to me on this subject since Rossetti's death, Mr. Buchanan says:—"In perfect frankness, let me say a few words concerning our old quarrel. While admitting freely that my article in the C. R. was unjust to Rossetti's claims as a poet, I have ever held, and still hold, that it contained nothing to warrant the manner in which it was received by the poet and his circle. At the time it was written, the newspapers were full of panegyric; mine was a mere drop of gall in an ocean of eau sucree. That it could have had on any man the effect you describe, I can scarcely believe; indeed, I think that no living man had so little to complain of as Rossetti, on the score of criticism. Well, my protest was received in a way which turned irritation into wrath, wrath into violence; and then ensued the paper war which lasted for years. If you compare what I have written of Rossetti with what his admirers have written of myself, I think you will admit that there has been some cause for me to complain, to shun society, to feel bitter against the world; but happily, I have a thick epidermis, and the courage of an approving conscience. I was unjust, as I have said; most unjust when I impugned the purity and misconceived the passion of writings too hurriedly read and reviewed currente calamo; but I was at least honest and fearless, and wrote with no personal malignity. Save for the action of the literary defence, if I may so term it, my article would have been as ephemeral as the mood which induced its composition. I make full admission of Rossetti's claims to the purest kind of literary renown, and if I were to criticise his poems now, I should write very differently. But nothing will shake my conviction that the cruelty, the unfairness, the pusillanimity has been on the other side, not on mine. The amende of my Dedication in God and the Man was a sacred thing; between his spirit and mine; not between my character and the cowards who have attacked it. I thought he would understand,—which would have been, and indeed is, sufficient. I cried, and cry, no truce with the horde of slanderers who hid themselves within his shadow. That is all. But when all is said, there still remains the pity that our quarrel should ever have been. Our little lives are too short for such animosities. Your friend is at peace with God,—that God who will justify and cherish him, who has dried his tears, and who will turn the shadow of his sad life-dream into full sunshine. My only regret now is that we did not meet,—that I did not take him by the hand; but I am old-fashioned enough to believe that this world is only a prelude, and that our meeting may take place—even yet."

To Rossetti, the poet, the accusation of extolling fleshliness as the distinct and supreme end of art was, after all, only an error of critical judgment; but to Rossetti, the man, the charge was something far more serious. It was a cruel and irremediable wound inflicted upon a fine spirit, sensitive to attack beyond all sensitiveness hitherto known among poets. He who had withheld his pictures from exhibition from dread of the distracting influences of popular opinion, he who for fifteen years had withheld his poems from print in obedience first to an extreme modesty of personal estimate and afterwards to the commands of a mastering affection was likely enough at forty-two years of age (after being loaded by the disciples that idolised him with only too much of the "frankincense of praise and myrrh of flattery") to feel deeply the slander that he had unpacked his bosom of unhealthy passions. But to say that Rossetti felt the slander does not express his sense of it. He had replied to his reviewer and had acted unwisely in so doing; but when one after one—in the Quarterly Review, the North American Review, and elsewhere, in articles more or less ignorant, uncritical, and stupid—the accusations he had rebutted were repeated with increased bitterness, he lost all hope of stemming the torrent of hostile criticism. He had, as we have seen, for years lived in partial retirement, enjoying at intervals a garden party behind the house, or going about occasionally to visit relatives and acquaintances, but now he became entirely reclusive, refusing to see any friends except the three or four intimate ones who were constantly with him. Nor did the mischief end there. We have spoken of his habitual use of chloral, which was taken at first in small doses as a remedy for insomnia and afterwards indulged in to excess at moments of physical prostration or nervous excitement. To that false friend he came at this time with only too great assiduity, and the chloral, added to the seclusive habit of life, induced a series of terrible though intermittent illnesses and a morbid condition of mind in which for a little while he was the victim of many painful delusions. It was at this time that the soothing friendship of Dr. Gordon Hake, and his son Mr. George Hake, was of such inestimable service to Rossetti. Having appeared myself on the scene much later I never had the privilege of knowing either of these two gentlemen, for Mr. George Hake was already gone away to Cyprus and Dr. Hake had retired very much into the bosom of his own family where, as is rumoured, he has been engaged upon a literary work which will establish his fame. But I have often heard Mr. Theodore Watts speak with deep emotion and eloquent enthusiasm of the tender kindness and loyal zeal shown to Rossetti during this crisis by Mr. Bell Scott, and by Dr. Hake and his son. As to Mr. Theodore Watts, whose brotherly devotion to him, and beneficial influence over him from that time forward are so well known, this must be considered by those who witnessed it to be almost without precedent or parallel even in the beautiful story of literary friendships, and it does as much honour to the one as to the other. No light matter it must have been to lay aside one's own long-cherished life-work and literary ambitions to be Rossetti's closest friend and brother, at a moment like the present, when he imagined the world to be conspiring against him; but through these evil days, and long after them down to his death, the friend that clung closer than a brother was with him, as he himself said, to protect, to soothe, to comfort, to divert, to interest, and inspire him—asking, meantime, no better reward than the knowledge that a noble mind and nature was by such sacrifice lifted out of sorrow. Among the world's great men the greatest are sometimes those whose names are least on our lips, and this is because selfish aims have been so subordinate in their lives to the welfare of others as to leave no time for the personal achievements that win personal distinction; but when the world comes to the knowledge of the price that has been paid for the devotion that enables others to enjoy their renown, shall it not reward with a double meed of gratitude the fine spirits to whom ambition has been as nothing against fidelity of friendship? Among the latest words I heard from Rossetti was this: "Watts is a hero of friendship;" and indeed he has displayed his capacity for participation in the noblest part of comradeship, that part, namely, which is far above the mere traffic that too often goes by the name, and wherein self-love always counts upon being the gainer. If in the end it should appear that he has in his own person done less than might have been hoped for from one possessed of his splendid gifts, let it not be overlooked that he has influenced in a quite incalculable degree, and influenced for good, several of the foremost among those who in their turn have influenced the age. As Rossetti's faithful friend, and gifted medical adviser, Mr. John Marshall has often declared, there were periods when Rossetti's very life may be said to have hung upon Mr. Watts's power to cheer and soothe.

Efforts were afoot about the year 1872 to induce Rossetti to visit Italy—a journey which, strangely enough, he had never made—but this he could not be prevailed upon to do. In the hope of diverting his mind from the unwholesome matters that too largely engaged it, his brother and friends, prominent among whom at this time were Mr. Bell Scott, Mr. Ford Madox Brown, Mr. W. Graham, and Dr. Gordon Hake, as well as his assistant and friend, Mr. H. T. Dunn, and Mr. George Hake, induced him to seek a change in Scotland, and there he speedily recovered tone.

Immediately upon the publication of his first volume, and incited thereto by the early success of it, he had written the poem Rose Mary, as well as two lyrics published at the time in The Fortnightly Review; but he suffered so seriously from the subsequent assaults of criticism, that he seemed definitely to lay aside all hope of producing further poetry, and, indeed, to become possessed of the delusion that he had for ever lost all power of doing so. It is an interesting fact, well known in his own literary circle, that his taking up poetry afresh was the result of a fortuitous occurrence. After one of his most serious illnesses, and in the hope of drawing off his attention from himself, and from the gloomy forebodings which in an invalid's mind usually gather about his own too absorbing personality, a friend prevailed upon him, with infinite solicitation, to try his hand afresh at a sonnet. The outcome was an effort so feeble as to be all but unrecognisable as the work of the author of the sonnets of The House of Life, but with more shrewdness and friendliness (on this occasion) than frankness, the critic lavished measureless praise upon it, and urged the poet to renewed exertion. One by one, at longer or shorter intervals, sonnets were written, and this exercise did more towards his recovery than any other medicine, with the result besides that Rossetti eventually regained all his old dexterity and mastery of hand. The artifice had succeeded beyond every expectation formed of it, serving, indeed, the twofold end of improving the invalid's health by preventing his brooding over unhealthy matters, and increasing the number of his accomplished works. Encouraged by such results, the friend went on to induce Rossetti to write a ballad, and this purpose he finally achieved by challenging the poet's ability to compose in the simple, direct, and emphatic style, which is the style of the ballad proper, as distinguished from the elaborate, ornate, and condensed diction which he had hitherto worked in. Put upon his mettle, the outcome of this second artifice practised upon him, was that he wrote The White Ship, and afterwards The King's Tragedy.

Thus was Rossetti already immersed in this revived occupation of poetic composition, and had recovered a healthy* tone of body, before he became conscious of what was being done with him. It is a further amusing fact that one day he requested to be shown the first sonnet which, in view of the praise lavished upon it by the friend on whose judgment he reposed, had encouraged him to renewed effort. The sonnet was bad: the critic knew it was bad, and had from the first hour of its production kept it carefully out of sight, and was now more than ever unwilling to show it. Eventually, however, by reason of ceaseless importunity, he returned it to its author, who, upon reading it, cried: "You fraud! you said this sonnet was good, and it's the worst I ever wrote." "The worst ever written would perhaps be a truer criticism," was the reply, as the studio resounded with a hearty laugh, and the poem was committed to the flames. It would appear that to this occurrence we probably owe a large portion of the contents of the volume of 1881.

As we say, Rose Mary was the first to be written of the leading poems that found places in his final volume. This ballad (or ballad romance, for ballad it can hardly be called) is akin to Sister Helen in motif. The superstition involved owes something in this case as in the other to the invention and poetic bias of the poet. It has, however, less of what has been called the Catholic element, and is more purely Pagan. It is, therefore, as entirely undisturbed by animosity against heresy, and is concerned only with an ultimate demoniacal justice visiting the wrongdoer. The main point of divergency lies in the circumstance that Rose Mary, unlike Helen, is the undesigning instrument of evil powers, and that her blind deed is the means by which her own and her lover's sin and his treachery become revealed. A further material point of divergency lies in the fact that unlike Helen, who loses her soul (as the price of revenge, directed against her betrayer), Rose Mary loses her life (as the price of vengeance directed against the evil race), whilst her soul gains rest. The superstition is that associated with the beryl stone, wherein the pure only may read the future, and from which sinful eyes must chase the spirits of grace and leave their realm to be usurped by the spirits of fire, who seal up the truth or reveal it by contraries. Rose Mary, who has sinned with her lover, is bidden to look in the beryl and learn where lurks the ambush that waits to take his life as he rides at break of day. Hiding, but remembering her transgression, she at first shrinks, but at length submits, and the blessed spirits by whom the stone has been tenanted give place to the fiery train. The stone is not sealed to her; and the long spell being ministered, she is satisfied. But she has read the stone by contraries, and her lover falls into the hand of his enemy. By his death is their secret sin made known. And then a newer shame is revealed, not to her eyes, but to her mother's: even the treachery of the murdered man. Ignorant of this to the end, Eose Mary seeks to work a twofold ransoming by banishing from the beryl the evil powers. With the sword of her father (by whom the accursed gift had been brought from Palestine), she cleaves the heart of the stone, and with the broken spell her own life breaks.

It will readily be seen that the scheme of the ballad does not afford opportunity for a memorable incursion in the domain of character. Rose Mary herself as a creation is not comparable with Helen. But the ballad throughout is nevertheless a triumph of the higher imagination. Nowhere else (to take the lowest ground) has Rossetti displayed so great a gift of flashing images upon the mind at once by a single expression.

Closely locked, they clung without speech, And the mirrored souls shook each to each, As the cloud-moon and the water-moon Shake face to face when the dim stars swoon In stormy bowers of the night's mid-noon.

Deep the flood and heavy the shock When sea meets sea in the riven rock: But calm is the pulse that shakes the sea To the prisoned tide of doom set free In the breaking heart of Rose Mary.

She knew she had waded bosom-deep Along death's bank in the sedge of sleep. And now in Eose Mary's lifted eye 'Twas shadow alone that made reply To the set face of the soul's dark shy.

Nor has Rossetti anywhere displayed a more sustained picturesqueness. One episode stands forth vividly even among so many that are conspicuous. The mother has left her daughter in a swoon to seek help of the priest who has knelt unweariedly by the dead body of her daughter's lover, now lying on the ingle-bench in the hall. When the priest has gone and the castle folk have left her alone, the lady sinks to her knees beside the corpse. Great wrong the dead man has done to her and hers, and perhaps God has wrought this doom of his for a sign; but well she knows, or thinks she knows, that if life had remained with him his love would have been security for their honour. She stoops with a sob to kiss the dead, but before her lips touch the cold brow she sees a packet half-hidden in the dead man's breast. It is a folded paper about which the blood from a spear-thrust has grown clotted, and inside is a tress of golden hair. Some pledge of her child's she thinks it, and proceeds to undo the paper's folds, and then learns the treachery of the fallen knight and suffers a bitterer pang than came of the knowledge of her daughter's dishonour. It is a love-missive from the sister of his foe and murderer.

She rose upright with a long low moan, And stared in the dead man's face new-known. Had it lived indeed? she scarce could tell: 'Twas a cloud where fiends had come to dwell,— A mask that hung on the gate of Hell.

She lifted the lock of gleaming hair, And smote the lips and left it there. "Here's gold that Hell shall take for thy toll! Full well hath thy treason found its goal, O thou dead body and damned soul!"

Anything finer than this it would be hard to discover in English narrative poetry. Every word goes to build up the story: every line is quintessential: every flash of thought helps to heighten the emotion. Indeed the closing lines rise entirely above the limits of ballad poetry into the realm of dramatic diction. But perhaps the crowning glory and epic grandeur of the poem comes at the close. Awakened from her swoon, Rose Mary makes her way to the altar-cell and there she sees the beryl-stone lying between the wings of some sculptured beast. Within the fated glass she beholds Death, Sorrow, Sin and Shame marshalled past in the glare of a writhing flame, and thereupon follows a scene scarcely less terrible than Juliet's vision of the tomb of the Capulets. But she has been told within this hour that her weak hand shall send hence the evil race by whom the stone is possessed, and with a stern purpose she reaches her father's dinted sword. Then when the beryl is cleft to the core, and Rose Mary lies in her last gracious sleep—

With a cold brow like the snows ere May, With a cold breast like the earth till spring, With such a smile as the June days bring— A clear voice pronounces her beatitude:

Already thy heart remembereth No more his name thou sought'st in death: For under all deeps, all heights above,— So wide the gulf in the midst thereof,— Are Hell of Treason and Heaven of Love.

Thee, true soul, shall thy truth prefer To blessed Mary's rose-bower: Warmed and lit is thy place afar With guerdon-fires of the sweet love-star, Where hearts of steadfast lovers are.

The White Ship was written in 1880; The King's Tragedy in the spring of 1881. These historical ballads we must briefly consider together. The memorable events of which Rossetti has made poetic record are, in The White Ship, those associated with the wreck of the ship in which the son and daughter of Henry I. of England set sail from France, and in The King's Tragedy, with the death of James the First of Scots. The story of the one is told by the sole survivor, Herold, the butcher of Rouen; and of the other by Catherine Douglas, the maid of honour who received popularly the name of Kate Barlass, in recognition of her heroic act when she barred the door with her arm against the murderers of the King. It is scarcely possible to conceive in either case a diction more perfectly adapted to the person by whom it is employed. If we compare the language of these ballads with that of the sonnets or other poems spoken in the author's own person, we find it is not first of all gorgeous, condensed, emphatic. It is direct, simple, pure and musical; heightened, it is true, by imagery acquired in its passage through the medium of the poet's mind, but in other respects essentially the language of the historical personages who are made to speak. The diction belongs in each case to the period of the ballad in which it is employed, and yet there is no wanton use of archaisms, or any disposition manifested to resort to meretricious artifices by which to impart an appearance of probability to the story other than that which comes legitimately of sheer narrative excellence. The characterisation is that of history with the features softened that constituted the prose of real life, and with the salient, moral, and intellectual lineaments brought into relief. Herein the ballad may do that final justice which history itself withholds. Thus the King Henry of The White Ship is governed by lust of dominion more than by parental affection; and the Prince, his son, is a lawless, shameless youth; intolerant, tyrannical, luxurious, voluptuous, yet capable of self-sacrifice even amidst peril of death.

When he should be King, he oft would vow, He 'd yoke the peasant to his own plough. O'er him the ships score their furrows now. God only knows where his soul did wake, But I saw him die for his sister's sake.

The King James of The King's Tragedy is of a righteous and fearless nature, strong yet sensitive, unbending before the pride and hate of powerful men, resolute, and ready even where fate itself declares that death lurks where his road must lie; his beautiful Queen Jane is sweet, tender, loving, devoted—meet spouse for a poet and king. The incidents too are those of history: the choice and final collocation of them, and the closing scene in which the queen mourns her husband, being the sum of the author's contribution. And those incidents are in the highest degree varied and picturesque. The author has not achieved a more vivid pictorial presentment than is displayed in these latest ballads from his pen. It would be hard to find in his earlier work anything bearing more clearly the stamp of reality than the descriptions of the wreck in The White Ship, of the two drowning men together on the mainyard, of the morning dawning over the dim sea-sky—

At last the morning rose on the sea Like an angel's wing that beat towards me—

and of the little golden-haired boy in black whose foot patters down the court of the king. Certainly Rossetti has never attained a higher pictorial level than he reaches in the descriptions of the summoned Parliament in The King's Tragedy, of the journey to the Charterhouse of Perth, of the woman on the rock of the black beach of the Scottish sea, of the king singing to the queen the song he made while immured by Bolingbroke at Windsor, of the knock of the woman at the outer gate, of her voice at night beneath the window, of the death in The Pit of Fortune's Wheel. But all lesser excellencies must make way in our regard before a distinguishing spiritualising element which exists in these ballads only, or mainly amongst the author's works. Natural portents are here first employed as factors of poetic creation. Presentiment, foreboding, omen become the essential tissue of works that are lifted by them into the higher realm of imagination. These supernatural constituents penetrate and pervade The White Ship; and The King's Tragedy is saturated in the spirit of them. We do not speak of the incidents associated with the wraith that haunts the isles, but of the less palpable touches which convey the scarce explicable sense of a change of voice when the king sings of the pit that is under fortune's wheel:

And under the wheel, beheld I there An ugly Pit as deep as hell, That to behold I quaked for fear: And this I heard, that who therein fell Came no more up, tidings to tell: Whereat, astound of the fearful sight, I wot not what to do for fright. (The King's Quair.)

It is the shadow of the supernatural that hangs over the king, and very soon it must enshroud him. One of the most subtle and impressive of the natural portents is that which presents itself to the eyes of Catherine when the leaguers have first left the chamber, and the moon goes out and leaves black the royal armorial shield on the painted window-pane:

And the rain had ceased, and the moonbeams lit The window high in the wall,— Bright beams that on the plank that I knew Through the painted pane did fall And gleamed with the splendour of Scotland's crown And shield armorial.

But then a great wind swept up the skies, And the climbing moon fell back; And the royal blazon fled from the floor, And nought remained on its track; And high in the darkened window-pane The shield and the crown were black.

It has been said that Sister Helen strikes the keynote of Rossetti's creative gift; it ought to be added that The King's Tragedy touches his highest reach of imagination.

Having in the early part of 1881 brought together a sufficient quantity of fresh poetry to fill a volume, Rossetti began negotiations for publishing it. Anticipatory announcements were at that time constantly appearing in many quarters, not rarely accompanied by an outspoken disbelief in the poet's ability to achieve a second success equal to his first. In this way it often happens to an author, that, having achieved a single conspicuous triumph, the public mind, which has spontaneously offered him the tribute of a generous recognition, forthwith gravitates towards a disposition to become silently but unmistakeably sceptical of his power to repeat it. Subsequent effort in such a case is rarely regarded with that confidence which might be looked for as the reward of achievement, and which goes far to prepare the mind for the ready acceptance of any genuine triumph. Indeed, a jealous attitude is often unconsciously adopted, involving a demand for special qualities, for which, perchance, the peculiar character of the past success has created an appetite, or obedience to certain arbitrary tests, which, though passively present in the recognised work, have grown mainly out of critical analysis of it, and are neither radical nor essential. Where, moreover, such conspicuous success has been followed by an interval of years distinguished by no signal effort, the sceptical bias of the public mind sometimes complacently settles into a conviction (grateful alike to its pride and envy, whilst consciously hurtful to its more generous impulses), that the man who made it lived once indeed upon the mountains, but has at length come down to dwell finally upon the plain. Literary biography furnishes abundant examples of this imperfection of character, a foible, indeed, which in its multiform manifestations, probably goes as far as anything else to interfere with the formation of a just and final judgment of an author's merit within his own lifetime. When it goes the length of affirming that even a great writer's creative activity usually finds not merely central realisation, but absolute exhaustion within the limits of some single work, to reason against it is futile, and length of time affords it the only satisfying refutation. One would think that it could scarcely require to be urged that creative impulse, once existent within a mind, can never wholly depart from it, but must remain to the end, dependent, perhaps, for its expression in some measure on external promptings, variable with the variations of physical environments, but always gathering innate strength for the hour (silent perchance, or audible only within other spheres), when the inventive faculty shall be harmonised, animated, and lubricated to its utmost height. Nevertheless, Coleridge encountered the implied doubtfulness of his contemporaries, that the gift remained with him to carry to its completion the execution of that most subtle mid-day witchery, which, as begun in Christabel, is probably the most difficult and elusive thing ever attempted in the field of romance. Goethe, too, found himself face to face with outspoken distrust of his continuation of Faust; and even Cervantes had perforce to challenge the popular judgment which long refused to allow that the second part of Don Quixote, with all its added significance, was adequate to his original simple conception. Indeed that author must be considered fortunate who effects a reversal of the public judgment against the completion of a fragment, and the repetition of a complete and conspicuous success.

When Rossetti published his first volume of poems in 1870, he left only his House of Life incomplete; but amongst the readers who then offered spontaneous tribute to that series of sonnets, and still treasured it as a work of all but faultless symmetry, built up by aid of a blended inspiration caught equally from Shakspeare and from Dante, with a superadded psychical quality peculiar to its author, there were many, even amongst the friendliest in sympathy, who heard of the completed sequence with a sense of doubt. Such is the silent and unreasoning and all but irrevocable edict of all popular criticism against continuations of works which have in fragmentary form once made conquest of the popular imagination. Moreover, Rossetti's first volume achieved a success so signal and unexpected as to subject this second and maturer book to the preliminary ordeal of such a questioning attitude of mind as we speak of, as the unfailing and ungracious reward of a conspicuous triumph. In the interval of eleven years, Rossetti had essayed no notable achievement, and his name had been found attached only to such fugitive efforts as may have lived from time to time a brief life in the pages of the Athenaeum and Fortnightly. Of the works in question two only come now within our province to mention. The first and most memorable was the poem Cloud Confines. Inadequate as the critical attention necessarily was which this remarkable lyric obtained, indications were not wanting that it had laid unconquerable siege to the sympathies of that section of the public in whose enthusiasm the life of every creative work is seen chiefly to abide. There was in it a lyrical sweetness scarcely ever previously compassed by its author, a cadent undertoned symphony that first gave testimony that the poet held the power of conveying by words a sensible eflfect of great music, even as former works of his had given testimony to his power of conveying a sensible eflfect by great painting. But to these metrical excellencies was added an element new to Rossetti's poetry, or seen here for the first time conspicuously. Insight and imagination of a high order, together with a poetic instinct whose promptings were sure, had already found expression in more than one creation moulded into an innate chasteness of perfected parts and wedded to nature with an unerring fidelity. But the range of nature was circumscribed, save only in the one exception of a work throbbing with the sufferings and sorrows of a shadowed side of modern life. To this lyric, however, there came as basis a fundamental conception that made aim to grapple with the pro-foundest problems compassed by the mysteries of life and death, and a temper to yield only where human perception fails. Abstract indeed in theme the lyric is, but few are the products of thought out of which imagination has delved a more concrete and varied picturesqueness:

What of the heart of hate That beats in thy breast, O Time?— Bed strife from the furthest prime, And anguish of fierce debate; that shatters her slain, And peace that grinds them as grain, And eyes fixed ever in vain On the pitiless eyes of Fate.

The second of the fugitive efforts alluded to was a prose work entitled Hand and Soul. More poem than story, this beautiful idyl may be briefly described as mainly illustrative of the struggles of the transition period through which, as through a slough, all true artists must pass who have been led to reflect deeply upon the aims and ends of their calling before they attain that goal of settled purpose in which they see it to be best to work from their own heart simply, without regard for the spectres that would draw them apart into quagmires of moral aspiration. These two works and an occasional sonnet, such as that on the greatly gifted and untimely lost Oliver Madox Brown, made the sum of all {*} that was done, in the interval of eleven years between the dates of the first volume and of that which was now to be published, to keep before the public a name which rose at once into distinction, and had since, without feverish periodical bolstering, grown not less but more in the ardent upholding of sincere men who, in number and influence, comprised a following as considerable perhaps as owned allegiance to any contemporary.

* A ballad appeared in The Dark Blue.

Having brought these biographical and critical notes to the point at which they overlap the personal recollections that form the body of this volume, it only remains to say that during the years in which the poems just reviewed were being written Rossetti was living at his house in Chelsea a life of unbroken retirement. At this time, however (1877-81), his seclusion was not so complete as it had been when he used to see scarcely any one but Mr. Watts and his own family, with an occasional visit from Lord and Lady Mount Temple, Mrs. Sumner, etc. Once weekly he was now visited by his brother William, twice weekly by his attached and gifted friend Frederick J. Shields, occasionally by his old friends William Bell Scott and Ford Madox Brown. For the rest, he rarely if ever left the precincts of his home. It was a placid and undisturbed existence such as he loved. Health too (except for one serious attack in 1877), was good with him, and his energies were, as we have seen, at their best.

His personal amiability was, perhaps, never more conspicuous than in these tranquil years; yet this was the very time when paragraphs injurious to his character found their way into certain journals. Among the numerous stories illustrative of his alleged barbarity of manners was the one which has often been repeated both in conversation and in print to the effect that H.E.H. the Princess Louise was rudely repulsed from his door. Rossetti was certainly not easy to approach, but the geniality of his personal bearing towards those who had commands upon his esteem was always unfailing, and knowledge of this fact must have been enough to give the lie to the injurious calumny just named. Nevertheless, Rossetti, who was deeply moved by the imputation, thought it necessary to contradict it emphatically, and as the letter in which he did this is a thoroughly outspoken and manly one, and touches an important point in his character, I reprint it in this place:

16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, S.W., December 28, 1878.

My attention has been directed to the following paragraph which has appeared in the newspapers:—"A very disagreeable story is told about a neighbour of Mr. Whistler's, whose works are not exhibited to the vulgar herd; the Princess Louise in her zeal, therefore, graciously sought them at the artist's studio, but was rebuffed by a 'Not at home' and an intimation that he was not at the beck and call of princesses. I trust it is not true," continues the writer of the paragraph, "that so medievally minded a gentleman is really a stranger to that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that dignified obedience," etc.

The story is certainly "disagreeable" enough; but if I am pointed at as the "near neighbour of Mr. Whistler's" who rebuffed, in this rude fashion, the Princess Louise, I can only say that it is a canard devoid of the smallest nucleus of truth. Her Royal Highness has never called upon me; and I know of only two occasions when she has expressed a wish to do so. Some years ago Mr. Theodore Martin spoke to me upon the subject; but I was at that time engaged upon an important work, and the delays thence arising caused the matter to slip through. And I heard no more upon the subject till last summer, when Mr. Theodore Watts told me that the Princess, in conversation, had mentioned my name to him, and that he had then assured her that I should "feel honoured and charmed to see her," and suggested her making an appointment. Her Royal Highness knew that Mr. Watts, as one of my most intimate friends, would not have thus expressed himself without feeling fully warranted in so doing; and had she called she would not, I trust, have found me wanting in that "generous loyalty" which is due not more to her exalted position than to her well-known charm of character and artistic gifts. It is true enough that I do not run after great people on account of their mere social position, but I am, I hope, never rude to them; and the man who could rebuff the Princess Louise must be a curmudgeon indeed.

D. G. Rossetti.

At the very juncture in question Lord Lome was suddenly and unexpectedly appointed Governor-General of Canada, and, leaving England, Her Royal Highness did not return until Rossetti's health had somewhat suddenly broken down, and it was impossible for him to see any but his most intimate friends.



CHAPTER III.

My intercourse with Rossetti, epistolary and personal, extended over a period of between three and four years. During the first two of these years I was, as this volume must show, his constant correspondent, during the third year his attached friend, and during the portion of the fourth year of our acquaintance terminating with his life, his daily companion and housemate. It is a part of my purpose to help towards the elucidation of Rossetti's personal character by a simple, and I trust, unaffected statement of my relations to him, and so I begin by explaining that my knowledge of the man was the sequel to my admiration of the poet. Not accident (the agency that usually operates in such cases), but his genius and my love of it, began the friendship between us. Of Rossetti's pictorial art I knew little, until very recent years, beyond what could be gathered from a few illustrations to books. My acquaintance with his poetry must have been made at the time of the publication of the first volume in 1870, but as I did not then possess a copy of the book, and do not remember to have seen one, my knowledge of the work must have been merely such as could be gleaned from the reading of reviews. The unlucky controversy, that subsequently arose out of it, directed afresh my attention, in common with that of others, to Rossetti and his school of poetry, with the result of impressing my mind with qualities of the work that were certainly quite outside the issues involved in the discussion. Some two or three years after that acrimonious controversy had subsided, an accident, sufficiently curious to warrant my describing it, produced the effect of converting me from a temperate believer in the charm of music and colour in Rossetti's lyric verse, to an ardent admirer of his imaginative genius as displayed in the higher walks of his art.

I had set out with a knapsack to make one of my many periodical walking tours of the beautiful lake country of Westmoreland and Cumberland. Beginning the journey at Bowness—as tourists, if they will accept the advice of one who knows perhaps the whole of the country, ought always to do—I walked through Dungeon Ghyll, climbed the Stake Pass, descended into Borrowdale, and traced the course of the winding Derwent to that point at which it meets the estuary of the lake, and where stands the Derwentwater Hotel. A rain and thunder storm was gathering over the Black Sail and Great Gable as I reached the summit of the Pass, and travelling slowly northwards it had overtaken me. Before I reached the hotel, my resting-place for the night, I was certainly as thoroughly saturated as any one in reasonable moments could wish to be. I remember that as I passed into the shelter of the porch an elderly gentleman, who was standing there, remarked upon the severity of the storm, inquired what distance I had travelled, and expressed amazement that on such a day, when mists were floating, any one could have ventured to cover so much dangerous mountain-country,—which he estimated as nearly thirty miles in extent. Beyond observing that my interlocutor was friendly in manner and knew the country intimately, I do not remember to have reflected either then or afterwards upon his personality except perhaps that he might have answered to Wordsworth's scarcely definite description of his illustrious friend as "a noticeable man," with the further parallel, I think, of possessing "large grey eyes." After attending to the obvious necessity of dry garments in exchange for wet ones, and otherwise comforting myself after a fatiguing day's march, I descended to the drawing-room of the hotel, where a company of persons were trying, with that too formal cordiality peculiar to English people, who are accidentally thrown together in the course of a holiday, to get rid of the depression which results upon dishearteningly unpropitious weather. Music, as usual, was the gracious angel employed to banish the fiend of ennui, but among those who took no part either in the singing or playing, other than that of an enforced auditor, was the elderly gentleman, my quondam acquaintance of the porch, who stood apart in an alcove looking through a window. I stepped up to him and renewed our talk. The storm had rather increased than abated since my arrival; the thunder which before had rumbled over the distant Langdale Pikes was breaking in sharp peals over our heads, and flashes of sheeted lightning lit up the gathering darkness that lay between us and Castle Crag. A playful allusion to "poor Tom" and to King Lear's undisputed sole enjoyment of such a scene (except as viewed from the ambush of a comfortable hotel) led to the discovery, very welcome to both at a moment when we were at bay for an evening's occupation, that besides knowledge and love of the country round about us, we had in common some knowledge and much love of the far wider realm of books. Thereupon ensued a talk chiefly on authors and their works which lasted until long after the music had ceased, until the elemental as well as instrumental storm had passed, and the guests had slipped away one after one, and the last remaining servant of the house had, by the introduction of a couple of candles, given us a palpable hint that in the opinion of that guardian of a country inn the hour was come and gone when well-regulated persons should betake themselves to bed. To my delight my friend knew nearly every prominent living author, could give me personal descriptions of them, as well as scholarly and well-digested criticisms of their works. He was certainly no ordinary man, but who he was I have never learned with certainty, though I cherish the agreeable impression that I could give a shrewd guess. At one moment the talk turned on Festus, and then I heard the most lucid and philosophical account of that work I have ever listened to or read. I was told that the author of Festus had never (in all the years that had elapsed since its publication, when he was in his earliest manhood, though now he is grown elderly) ceased to emend it, notwithstanding the protestations of critics; and that an improved and enlarged edition of the poem might probably appear after his death. Struck with the especial knowledge displayed of the author in question, I asked if he happened to be a friend. Then, with a scarcely perceptible smile playing about the corners of the mouth (a circumstance without significance for me at the time and only remembered afterwards), my new acquaintance answered: "He is my oldest and dearest friend." Next morning I saw my night-long conversationalist in company with a clergyman get on to the Buttermere coach and wave his hand to me as they vanished under the trees that overhung the Buttermere road, but in answer to many inquiries the utmost I could learn of my interesting acquaintance was that he was somehow understood to be a great author, and a friend of Charles Kingsley, who, I think they said, was or had been with him there or elsewhere that year. Whether besides being the "oldest and dearest friend" of the author of Festus, my delightful companion was Philip James Bailey himself I have never learned to this day, and can only cherish a pleasant trust; but what remains as really important in this connexion is that whosoever he was he originated my first real love of Rossetti's poetry, and gave me my first realisable idea of the man. Taking up from the table some popular Garland, Casket, Treasury, or other anthology of English poetry, he pointed out a sonnet entitled Lost Days (to which, indeed, a friend at home had directed my attention), and dwelt upon its marvellous strength of spiritual insight, and power of symbolic phrase. Of course the sonnet was Rossetti's. It is impossible for me to describe the effect produced upon me by sonnet and exposition. I resolved not to live many days longer without acquiring a knowledge of the body of Rossetti's work. Perceiving that the gentleman knew something of the poet, I put questions to him which elicited the fact that he had met him many years earlier at, I think he said, Mrs. Gaskell's, when Rossetti was a rather young man, known only as a painter and the leader of an eccentric school in art. He described him as a little dark man, with fine eyes under a broad brow, with a deep voice, and Bohemian habits—"a little Italian, in short." [Little, by the way, Rossetti could not properly be said to be, but opinions as to physical proportions being so liable to vary, I may at once mention that he was exactly five feet eight inches in height, and except in early manhood, when he was somewhat attenuated, well built in proportion.] He further described Rossetti's manners as those of a man in deliberate revolt against society; delighting in an opportunity to startle well-ordered persons out of their propriety, and to silence by sheer vehemence of denunciation the seemly protests of very good and very gentle folk. The portraiture seems to me now to bear the impress of truth, unlike as it is in some particulars to the man as I knew him. When once, however, years after the event recorded, I bantered Rossetti on the amiable picture of him I had received from a stranger, he admitted that it was in the main true to his character early in life, and recounted an instance in which, from sheer perversity, or at best for amusement, he had made the late Dean Stanley aghast with horror at the spectacle of a young man, born in a Christian country, and in the nineteenth century, defending (in sport) the vices of Neronian Home.

The outcome of this first serious and sufficient introduction to Rossetti's poetry was that I forthwith devoted time to reading and meditating upon it. Ultimately I lectured twice or thrice on the subject in Liverpool, first at the Royal Institution, and afterwards at the Free Library. The text of that lecture I still preserve, and as in all probability it did more than anything else to originate the friendship I afterwards enjoyed with the poet, I shall try to convey very briefly an idea of its purpose.

Against both friendly and unfriendly critics of Rossetti I held that to place him among the "aesthetic" poets was an error of classification. It seemed to me that, unlike the poets properly so described, he had nothing in common with the Caliban of Mr. Browning, who worked "for work's sole sake;" and, unlike them yet further, the topmost thing in him was indeed love of beauty, but the deepest thing was love of uncomely right. The fusion of these elements in Rossetti softened the mythological Italian Catholicism that I recognised as a leading thing in him, and subjugated his sensuous passion. I thought it wrong to say that Rossetti had part or lot with those false artists, or no artists, who assert, without fear or shame, that the manner of doing a thing should be abrogated or superseded by the moral purpose of its being done. On the other hand, Rossetti appeared to make no conscious compromise with the Puritan principle of doing good; and to demand first of his work the lesson or message it had for us were wilfully to miss of pleasure while we vainly strove for profit. He was too true an artist to follow art into its byeways of moral significance, and thereby cripple its broader arms; but at the same time all this absorption of the artist in his art seemed to me to live and work together with the personal instincts of the man. An artist's nature cannot escape the colouring it gets from the human side of his nature, because it is of the essence of art to appeal to its own highest faculties largely through the channel of moral instincts: that music is exquisite and colour splendid, first, because they have an indescribable significance, and next because they respond to mere sense. But it appeared to me to be one thing to work for "work's sole sake," with an overruling moral instinct that gravitates, as Mr. Arnold would say, towards conduct, and quite another thing to absorb art in moral purposes. I thought that Rossetti's poetry showed how possible it is, without making conscious compromise with that puritan principle of doing good of which Keats at one period became enamoured, to be unconsciously making for moral ends. There was for me a passive puritanism in Jenny which lived and worked together with the poet's purely artistic passion for doing his work supremely well. Every thought in Dante at Verona and The Last Confession seemed mixed with and coloured by a personal moral instinct that was safe and right.

This was perhaps the only noticeable feature of my lecture, and knowing Rossetti's nature, as since the lecture I have learned to know it, I feel no great surprise that such pleading for the moral impulses animating his work should have been of all things the most likely to engage his affections. Just as Coleridge always resented the imputation that he had ever been concerned with Wordsworth and Southey in the establishment of a school of poetry, and contended that, in common with his colleagues, he had been inspired by no desire save that of imitating the best examples of Greece and Home, so Rossetti (at least throughout the period of my acquaintance with him) invariably shrank from classification with the poetry of aestheticism, and aspired to the fame of a poet who had been prompted primarily by the highest of spiritual emotions, and to whom the sensations of the body were as naught, unless they were sanctified by the concurrence of the soul. My lecture was printed, but quite a year elapsed after its preparation before it occurred to me that Rossetti himself might derive a moment's gratification from knowledge of the fact that he had one ardent upholder and sincere well-wisher hitherto unknown to him. At length I sent him a copy of the magazine containing my lecture on his poetry. A post or two later brought me the following reply:

Dear Mr. Caine,—

I am much struck by the generous enthusiasm displayed in your Lecture, and by the ability with which it is written. Your estimate of the impulses influencing my poetry is such as I should wish it to suggest, and this suggestion, I believe, it will have always for a true-hearted nature. You say that you are grateful to me: my response is, that I am grateful to you: for you have spoken up heartily and unfalteringly for the work you love.

I daresay you sometimes come to London. I should be very glad to know you, and would ask you, if you thought of calling, to give me a day's notice when to expect you, as I am not always able to see visitors without appointment. The afternoon, about 5, might suit me, or else the evening about 9.30. With all best wishes, yours sincerely,

D. G. Rossetti.

This was the first of nearly two hundred letters in all received from Rossetti in the course of our acquaintance. A day or two later the following supplementary note reached me:

I return your article. In reading it, I feel it a distinction that my minute plot in the poetic field should have attracted the gaze of one who is able to traverse its widest ranges with so much command. I shall be much pleased if the plan of calling on me is carried out soon—at any rate I trust it will be so eventually.... Have you got, or do you know, my book of translations called Dante and his Circle? If not, I 'll send you one....

I have been reading again your article on The Supernatural in Poetry. It is truly admirable—such work must soon make you a place. The dramatic paper I thought suffered from some immaturity.

It is hardly necessary to say that I was equally delighted with the warmth of the reception accorded to my essay, and with the revelation the letters appeared to contain of a sincere and unselfish nature. My purpose, however, which was a modest one, had been served, and I made no further attempt to continue the correspondence, least of all did I expect or desire to originate anything of the nature of a friendship. In my reply to his note, however, I had asked him to accept the dedication of a little work of mine, and when, with abundant courtesy, he had declined to do so on very sufficient grounds, I felt satisfied that matters between us should rest where they were. It is a pleasing recollection, nevertheless, that Rossetti himself had taken a different view of the relation that had grown up between us, and by many generous appeals induced me to put by all further thoughts of abandoning the correspondence out of regard for him. There had ensued an interval in which I did not write to him, whereupon he addressed to me a hurried note, saying:

Let me have a line from you. I am haunted by the idea, that in declining the dedication, I may have hurt you. I assure you I should be proud to be associated in any way with your work, but gave you my very reasons.

I shall be pleased if you do not think them sufficient, and still carry out your original intention.... At least write to me.

I replied to this letter (containing, as it did, the expression of so much more than the necessary solicitude), by saying that I too had been haunted, but it had been by the fear that I had been asking too much of his attention. As to the dedication, so far from feeling hurt, by Rossetti's declining it, I had grown to see that such was the only course that remained to him to take. The terms in which he had replied to my offer of it (so far from being of a kind to annoy or hurt me), had, to my thinking, been only generous, sympathetic, and beautiful. Again he wrote:

My dear Caine,—

Let me assure you at once that correspondence with yourself is one of my best pleasures, and that you cannot write too much or too often for me; though after what you have told me as to the apportioning of your time, I should be unwilling to encroach unduly upon it. Neither should I on my side prove very tardy in reply, as you are one to whom I find there is something to say when I sit down with a pen and paper. I have a good deal of enforced evening leisure, as it is seldom I can paint or draw by gaslight. It would not be right in me to refrain from saying that to meet with one so "leal and true" to myself as you are has been a consolation amid much discouragement.... I perceive you have had a complete poetic career which you have left behind to strike out into wider waters.... The passage on Night, which you say was written under the planet Shelley, seems to me (and to my brother, to whom I read it) to savour more of the "mortal moon"—that is, of a weird and sombre Elizabethanism, of which Beddoes may be considered the modern representative. But we both think it has an unmistakeable force and value; and if you can write better poetry than this, let your angel say unto you, Write.

I take it that it would be wholly unwise of me in selecting excerpts from Rossetti's letters entirely to withhold the passages that concern exclusively (so far as their substance goes) my own early doings or try-ings-to-do; for it ought to be a part of my purpose to lay bare the beginnings of that friendship by virtue of which such letters exist. I can only ask the readers of these pages to accept my assurance, that whatever the number and extent of the passages which I publish that are necessarily in themselves of more interest to myself personally than to the public generally, they are altogether disproportionate to the number and extent of those I withhold. I cannot, however, resist the conclusion that such picture as they afford of a man beyond the period of middle life capable of bending to a new and young friend, and of thinking with and for him, is not without an exceptional literary interest as being so contrary to every-day experience. Hence, I am not without hope that the occasional references to myself which in the course of these extracts I shall feel it necessary to introduce, may be understood to be employed by me as much for their illustrative value (being indicative of Rossetti's character), as for any purpose less purely impersonal.

The passage of verse referred to was copied out for Rossetti in reply to an inquiry as to whether I had written poetry. Prompted no doubt by the encouragement derived in this instance, I submitted from time to time other verses to Rossetti, as subsequent letters show, but it says something for the value of his praise that whatever the measure of it when his sympathies were fairly aroused, and whatever his natural tendency to look for the characteristic merits rather than defects of compositions referred to his judgment, his candour was always prominent among his good qualities when censure alone required to be forthcoming. Among many frank utterances of an opinion early formed, that whatever my potentialities as a writer of prose, I had but small vocation as a writer of poetry, I preserve one such utterance, which will, I trust, be found not less interesting to other readers from affording a glimpse of the writer's attitude towards the old controversy touching the several and distinguishing elements that contribute to make good prose on the one hand and good verse on the other.

On one occasion he had sent me his fine sonnet on Keats, then just written, and, in acknowledging the receipt of it with many expressions of admiration, I remarked that for some days I had been struggling desperately, in all senses, to incubate a sonnet on the same somewhat hackneyed subject. I had not written a line or put pen to paper for the purpose, but I could tell him, in general terms, what my unaccomplished marvel of sonnet-craft was to be about.

Rossetti replied saying that the scheme for a sonnet was "extremely beautiful," and urging me to "do it at once." Alas for my intrepidity, "do it" I did, with the result of awakening my correspondent to the certainty that, whatever embowerings I had in my mind, that shy bird the sonnet would seek in vain for a nest to hide in there. It asked so much special courage to send a first attempt at sonneteering to the greatest living master of the sonnet that moral daring alone ought to have got me off lightly, but here is Rossetti's reply, valuable now, as well for the view it affords of the poet's attitude towards the sonnet as a medium of expression, as for other reasons already assigned. The opening passage alludes to a lyric of humble life.

You may be sure I do not mean essential discouragement when I say that, full as Nell is of reality and pathos, your swing of arm seems to me firmer and freer in prose than in verse. I do think I see your field to lie chiefly in the achievements of fervid and impassioned prose.... I am sure that, when sending me your first sonnet, you wished me to say quite frankly what I think of it. Well, I do not think it shows a special vocation for this condensed and emphatic form. The prose version you sent me seems to say much more distinctly what this says with some want of force. The octave does not seem to me very clearly put, and the sestet does not emphasize in a sufficiently striking way the idea which the prose sketch conveyed to me,—that of Keats's special privilege in early death: viz., the lovely monumentalized image he bequeathed to us of the young poet. Also I must say that more special originality and even newness (though this might be called a vulgarizing word), of thought and picture in individual lines—more of this than I find here—seems to me the very first qualification of a sonnet—otherwise it puts forward no right to be so short, but might seem a severed passage from a longer poem depending on development. I would almost counsel you to try the same theme again—or else some other theme in sonnet-form. I thought the passage on Night you sent showed an aptitude for choice imagery. I should much like to see something which you view as your best poetic effort hitherto. After all, there is no need that every gifted writer should take the path of poetry—still less of sonneteering. I am confident in your preference for frankness on my part.

I tried the theme again before I abandoned it, and was so fortunate as to get him to admit a degree of improvement such as led to his desiring to recall his conjectural judgment on my possibilities as a sonnet-writer, but as the letters in which he characterises the advance are neither so terse in criticism, nor so interesting from the exposition of principles, as the one quoted, I pass them by. With more confidence in my ultimate comparative success than I had ever entertained, Rossetti was only anxious that I should engage in that work to which I. could address myself with a sense of command; and I think it will be agreed that, where temperate confidence in what the future may legitimately hold for one is united to earnest and rightly directed endeavour in the present, it is often a good thing for the man who stands on the threshold of life (to whom, nevertheless, the path passed seems ever to stretch out of sight backwards) to be told the extent to which, little enough at the most, his clasp (to use a phrase of Mr. Browning) may be equal to his grasp.

My residing, as I did, at a distance from London, was at once the difficulty which for a time prevented our coming together and the necessity for correspondence by virtue of which these letters exist. As I failed, however, from hampering circumstance, to meet at once with himself, Rossetti invariably displayed a good deal of friendly anxiety to bring me into contact with his friends as frequently as occasion rendered it feasible to do so. In this way I met with Mr. Madox Brown, who was at the moment engaged on his admirable frescoes in the Manchester Town Hall, and in this way also I met with other friends of his resident in my neighbourhood. When I came to know him more intimately I perceived that besides the kindliness of intention which had prompted him to bring me into what he believed to be agreeable associations, he had adopted this course from the other motive of desiring to be reassured as to the comparative harmlessness of my personality, for he usually followed the introduction to a friend by a private letter of thanks for the reception accorded me, and a number of dexterously manipulated allusions, which always, I found, produced the desired result of eliciting the required information (to be gleaned only from personal intercourse) as to my manner and habits. Later in our acquaintance, I found that he, like all meditative men, had the greatest conceivable dread of being taken unawares, and that there was no safer way for any fresh acquaintance to insure his taking violently against him, than to take the step of coming down upon him suddenly, and without appointment, or before a sufficient time had elapsed between the beginning of the friendship and the actual personal encounter, to admit of his forming preconceived ideas of the manner of man to expect. The agony he suffered upon the unexpected visit of even the most ardent of well-wishers could scarcely be realised at the moment, from the apparent ease, and assumed indifference of his outward bearing, and could only be known to those who were with him after the trying ordeal had been passed, or immediately before the threatened intrusion had been consummated.

Early in our correspondence a friend of his, an art critic of distinction, visited Liverpool with the purpose of lecturing on the valuable examples of Byzantine art in the Eoyal Institution of that city. The lecture was, I fear, almost too good and quite too technical for some of the hearers, many of whom claim (and with reason) to be lovers of art, and cover the walls of their houses with beautiful representations of lovely landscape, but at the same time erect huge furnaces which emit vast volumes of black smoke such as prevent the sky of any Liverpool landscape being for an instant lovely. I doubt if the lecture could have been treated more popularly, but there was manifestly a lack of merited appreciation. The archaisms of some of the pictures chosen for illustration (early Byzantine examples exclusively) appeared to cause certain of the audience to smile at much of the lecturer's enthusiasm. Fortunately the man chiefly concerned seemed unconscious of all this. And indeed, however he fared in public, in private he was only too "dreadfully attended." After the lecture a good many folks gave him the benefit of their invaluable opinions on various art questions, and some, as was natural, made pitiful slips. I observed with secret and scarcely concealed satisfaction his courageous loyalty in defence of his friends, and his hitting out in their defence when he believed them to be assailed. One superlative intelligence, eager to do honour to the guest, yet ignorant of his claim to such honour, gave him a wonderfully facile and racy comment on the pre-Raphaelite painters, and, in particular, made the ridiculous blunder of a deliberate attack upon Rossetti, and then paused for breath and for the lecturer's appreciative response; of course, Rossetti's friend was not to be drawn into such disloyalty for an instant, even to avoid the risk of ruffling the plumage of the mightiest of the corporate cacklers. Rossetti had permitted me in his name to meet his friend, and in writing subsequently I alluded to the affection with which he had been mentioned, also to something that had been said of his immediate surroundings, and to that frank championing of his claims which I have just described. Rossetti's reply to this is interesting as affording a pathetic view of his isolation of life and of the natural affectionateness of his nature:

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