Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1883
by T. Hall Caine
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I am very glad you were welcomed by dear staunch S———, as I felt sure you would be. He holds the honourable position of being almost the only living art-critic who has really himself worked through the art-schools practically, and learnt to draw and paint. He is one of my oldest and best friends, of whom few can be numbered at my age, from causes only too varying.

Go from me, summer friends, and tarry not,— I am no summer friend, but wintry cold, etc.

So be it, as needs must be,—not for all, let us hope, and not with all, as good S——— shews. I have not seen him since his return. I wrote him a line to thank him for his friendly reception of you, and he wrote in return to thank me for your acquaintance, and spoke very pleasantly of you. Your youth seems to have surprised him. I sent a letter of his to your address. I hope you may see more of him. . . . You mention something he said to you of me and my surroundings. They are certainly quiet enough as fax as retirement goes, and I have often thought I should enjoy the presence of a congenial and intellectual housefellow and boardfellow in this big barn of mine, which is actually going to rack and ruin for want of use. But where to find the welcome, the willing, and the able combined in one? . . . I was truly concerned to hear of the attack of ill-health you have suffered from, though you do not tell me its exact nature. I hope it was not accompanied by any such symptoms as you mentioned before. . . . I myself have had similar symptoms (though not so fully as you describe), and have spat blood at intervals for years, but now think nothing of it—nor indeed ever did,—waiting for further alarm signals which never came.

. . . By-the-bye, I have since remembered that Burne Jones, many years ago, had such an experience as you spoke of before—quite as bad certainly. He was weak for some time after, and has frequently been reminded in minor ways of it, but seems now (at about forty-six or forty-seven) to be more settled in health and stronger, perhaps, than ever before.... Your letter holds out the welcome probability of meeting you here ere long.

This friendly solicitude regarding my health was excited by the revelation of what seemed to me at the time a startling occurrence, but has doubtless frequently happened to others, and has certainly since happened to myself without provoking quite so much outcry. The blood-spitting to which Rossetti here alleges he was liable was of a comparatively innocent nature. In later years he was assuredly not altogether a hero as to personal suffering, and I afterwards found that, upon the periodical recurrence of the symptom, he never failed to become convinced that he spat arterial blood, and that on each occasion he had received his death-warrant. Proof enough was adduced that the blood came from the minor vessels of the throat, and this was undoubtedly the case in the majority of instances, but whether the same explanation applied to one alarming occurrence which I shall now recount, seems to me uncertain.

During the two or three weeks preceding our departure for Cumberland, in the autumn of 1881, during the time of our residence there and during the first few weeks after our return to London, Rossetti was afflicted by a violent cough. I noticed that it troubled him almost exclusively in the night-time, and after the taking of chloral; that it was sometimes attended by vomiting; and that it invariably shook his whole system so terribly as to leave him for a while entirely prostrate from sheer physical exhaustion. The spectacle was a painful one, and I watched closely its phenomena, with the result of convincing myself that whatever radical mischief lay at the root of it, the damage done was seriously augmented by a conscious giving way to it, induced, I thought, by hope of the relief it sometimes afforded the stomach to get rid of the nauseous drug at a moment of reduced digestive vitality. Then it became my fear that in these violent and prolonged retchings internal injury might be sustained, and so I begged him to try to restrain the tendency to cough so much and often. He took the remonstrance with great goodnature (observing that he perceived I thought he was putting it on), but I was not conscious that at any moment he acted upon my suggestion. At the time in question I was under the necessity of leaving him for a day or two every week in order to fulfil, a course of lecturing engagements at a distance; and upon my return in each instance I was told much of all that had happened to him in the interval. On one occasion, however, I was conscious that something had occurred of which he desired to make a disclosure, for amongst the gifts that Rossetti had not got was that of concealing from his intimate friends any event, however trifling, or however important, which weighed upon his mind. At length I begged him to say what had happened, whereupon, with great reluctance and many protestations of his intention to observe silence, and constant injunctions as to secrecy, he told me that during the night of my absence, in the midst of one of his bouts of coughing, he had discharged an enormous quantity of blood. "I know this is the final signal," he said, "and I shall die." I did my utmost to compose him by recounting afresh the personal incident hinted at, with many added features of (I trust) justifiable exaggeration, but it is hardly necessary to say that I did not hold the promise I gave him as to secrecy sufficiently sacred, or so exclusive, as to forbid my revealing the whole circumstance to his medical attendant. I may add that from that moment the cough entirely disappeared.

To return from this reminiscence of a later period to the beginnings, three years earlier, of our correspondence, I will bring the present chapter to a close by quoting short passages from three letters written on the eve of my first visit to Rossetti, in 1880:

I will be truly glad to meet you when you come to town. You will recognise the hole-and-cornerest of all existences; but I'll read you a ballad or two, and have Brown's report to back my certainty of liking you.... I would propose that you should dine with me at 8.30 on the Monday of your visit, and spend the evening.... Better come at 5.30 to 6 (if feasible to you), that I may try to show you a picture by daylight... Of course, when I speak of your dining with me, I mean tete- a-tete, and without ceremony of any kind. I usually dine in my studio, and in my painting coat. I judge this will reach you in time for a note to reach me. Telegrams I hate. In hope of the pleasure of a meeting, yours ever.

How that "hole-and-cornerest of all existences" struck an ardent admirer of the poet-painter's genius, and a devoted lover of his personal character, as then revealed to me, I hope to describe in a later section of this book. Meantime I must proceed to cull from the epistolary treasures I possess a number of interesting passages on literary subjects, called forth in the course of an intercourse which, at that stage, had few topics of a private nature to divert it from a channel of impersonal discussion. It is a fact that the letters written to me by Rossetti in the year 1880 deal so largely with literary affairs (chiefly of the past) as to be almost capable of verbatim reproduction, even at the present short interval after his death. If they were to be reproduced, they would be found to cover two hundred pages of the present volume, and to be so easy, fluent, varied, and wholly felicitous as to style, and full of research and reflection as to substance, as probably to earn for the writer a foremost place for epistolary power. Indeed, I am not without hope that this accession of a fresh reputation may result even upon the excerpts I have decided to introduce.


It was very natural that our earliest correspondence should deal chiefly with Rossetti's own works, for those works gave rise to it. He sent me a copy of his translations from early Italian poets (Dante and his Circle), and a copy of his story, entitled Hand and Soul. In posting the latter, he said:

I don't know if you ever saw a sort of story of mine called Hand and Soul. I send you one with this, as printed to go in my poems (though afterwards omitted, being, nevertheless, more poem than story). I printed it since in the Fortnightly—and, I believe, abolished one or two extra sentimentalities. You may have seen it there. In case it's stale, I enclose with this a sonnet which must be new, for I only wrote it the other day.

I have already, in the proper place in this volume, said how the story first struck me. Perhaps I had never before reading it seen quite so clearly the complete mission as well as enforced limitations of true art. All the many subtle gradations in the development of purpose were there beautifully pictured in a little creation that was charming in the full sense of a word that has wellnigh lost its charm. For all such as cried out against pursuits originating in what Keats had christened "the infant chamber of sensation," and for all such as demanded that everything we do should be done to "strengthen God among men," the story provided this answer: "When at any time hath He cried unto thee, saying, 'My son, lend me thy shoulder, for I fall'?"

The sonnet sent, and spoken of as having just been written (the letter bears post-mark February 1880), was the sonnet on the sonnet. It is throughout beautiful and in two of its lines (those depicting the dark wharf and the black Styx) truly magnificent. It appears most to be valued, however, as affording a clue to the attitude of mind adopted towards this form of verse by the greatest master of it in modern poetry. I think it is Mr. Pater who says that a fine poem in manuscript carries an aroma with it, and a sensation of music. I must have enjoyed the pleasure of such a presence somewhat frequently about this period, for many of the poems that afterwards found places in the second volume of ballads and sonnets were sent to me from time to time.

I should like to know what were the three or four vols. on Italian poetry which you mentioned in a former letter, and which my book somewhat recalled to your mind. I was not aware of any such extensive English work on the subject. Or do you perhaps mean Trucchi's Italian Dugento Poesie inedite? I am sincerely delighted at your rare interest in what I have sent you—both the translations, story, etc.—I enclose three printed pieces meant for my volume but omitted:—the ballad, because it deals trivially with a base amour (it was written very early) and is therefore really reprehensible to some extent; the Shakspeare sonnet, because of its incongruity with the rest of the poems, and also because of the insult (however jocose) to the worshipful body of tailors; and the political sonnet for reasons which are plain enough, though the date at which I wrote it (not without feeling) involves now a prophetic value. In a MS. vol. I have a sonnet (1871) After the German Subjugation of France, which enforces the prophecy by its fulfilment. In this MS. vol. are a few pieces which were the only ones I copied in doubt as to their admission when I printed the poems, but none of which did I admit. One day I 'll send it for you to look at. It contains a few sonnets bearing on public matters, but only a few. Tell me what you think on reading my things. All you said in your letter of this morning was very grateful to me. I have a fair amount by me in the way of later MS. which I may shew you some day when we meet. Meanwhile I feel that your energies are already in full swing—work coming on the heels of work—and that your time cannot long be deferred as regards your place as a writer.

The ballad of which Rossetti here speaks as dealing trivially with a base amour is entitled Dennis Shand. Though an early work, it affords perhaps the best evidence extant of the poet's grasp of the old ballad style: it runs easiest of all his ballads, and is in some respects his best. Mr. J. A. Symonds has, in my judgment, made the error of speaking of Rossetti as incapable of reproducing the real note of such ballads as Chevy Chase and Sir Patrick Spens. Mr. Symonds was right in his eloquent comments (Macmillan's Magazine, February 1882), so far as they concern the absence from Rose Mary, The King's Tragedy, and The White Ship of the sinewy simplicity of the old singers. But in those poems Rossetti attempted quite another thing. There is a development of the English ballad that is entirely of modern product, being far more complex than the primitive form, and getting rid to some extent of the out-worn notion of the ballad being actually sung to set music, but retaining enough of the sweep of a free rhythm to carry a sensible effect as of being chanted when read. This is a sort of ballad-romance, such as Christabel and The Lay of the Last Minstrel; and this, and this only, was what Rossetti aimed after, and entirely compassed in his fine works just mentioned. But (as Rossetti himself remarked to me in conversation when I repeated Mr. Symonds's criticism, and urged my own grounds of objection to it), that the poet was capable of the directness and simplicity which characterise the early ballad-writers, he had given proof in The Staff and Scrip and Stratton Water. Dennis Shand is valuable as evidence going in the same direction, but the author's objection to it, on ethical grounds, must here prevail to withhold it from publication.

The Shakspeare sonnet, spoken of in the letter as being withheld on account of its incongruity with the rest of the poems, was published in an early Academy, notwithstanding its jocose allusion to the worshipful body of tailors. As it is little known, and really very powerful in itself, and interesting as showing the author's power over words in a new direction, I print it in this place.


Planted by Wm. Shakspeare; felled by the Rev. F. Gastrell. This tree, here fall'n, no common birth or death Shared with its kind. The world's enfranchised son, Who found the trees of Life and Knowledge one, Here set it, frailer than his laurel-wreath.

Shall not the wretch whose hand it fell beneath Rank also singly—the supreme unhung? Lo! Sheppard, Turpin, pleading with black tongue This viler thief's unsuffocated breath!

We 'U search thy glossary, Shakspeare! whence almost, And whence alone, some name shall be reveal'd For this deaf drudge, to whom no length of ears Sufficed to catch the music of the spheres; Whose soul is carrion now,—too mean to yield Some tailor's ninth allotment of a ghost.


The other sonnets referred to, those, namely, on the French Liberation of Italy, and the German Subjugation of France, display all Rossetti's mastery of craftsmanship. In strength of vision, in fertility of rhythmic resource, in pliant handling, these sonnets are, in my judgment, among the best written by the author; and if I do not quote them here, or altogether regret that they do not appear in the author's works, it is not because I have any sense of their possibly offending against the delicate sensibilities of an age in which it seems necessary to hide out of sight whatever appears to impinge upon the domain of what is called our lower nature.

The circumstance has hardly obtained even so much as a passing mention that Rossetti made certain very important additions to the ballad of Sister Helen, just before passing the old volume through the press afresh for publication, contemporaneously with the new book. The letters I am now to quote show the origin of those additions, and are interesting, as affording a view of the author's estimate of the gain in respect of completeness of conception, and sterner tragic spirit which resulted upon their adoption.

I was very glad to have the three articles together, including the one in which you have written on myself. Looking at this again, it seems to me you must possess the best edition (the Tauchnitz, which has my last emendations). Otherwise I have been meaning all along to offer you a copy of this edition, as I have some. Who was your informant as to dates of the poems, etc.? They are not correct, yet show some inkling. Jenny (in a first form) was written almost as early as The Blessed Damozel, which I wrote (and have altered little since), when I was eighteen. It was first printed when I was twenty-one. Of the first Jenny, perhaps fifty lines survive here and there, but I felt it was quite beyond me then (a world I was then happy enough to be a stranger to), and later I re-wrote it completely. I will give you correct particulars at some time. Sister Helen, I may mention, was written either in 1851 or beginning of 1852, and was printed in something called The Duesseldorf Annual {*} (published in Germany) in 1853; though since much revised in detail—not in the main. You will be horror-struck to hear that the first main addition to this poem was made by me only a few days ago!—eight stanzas (six together, and two scattered ones) involving a new incident!! Your hair is on end, I know, but if you heard the stanzas, they would smooth if not curl it. The gain is immense.

* In The Duesseldorf Annual the poem was signed H. H. H., and in explanation of this signature Rossetti wrote on his own copy the following characteristic note:—"The initials as above were taken from the lead-pencil."

In reply to this I told Rossetti that, as a "jealous honourer" of his, I confessed to some uneasiness when I read that he had been making important additions to Sister Helen. That I could not think of a stage of the story that would bear so to be severed from what goes before or comes after it as to admit of interpolation might not of itself go for much; but the entire ballad was so rounded into unity, one incident so naturally begetting the next, and the combined incidents so properly building up a fabric of interest of which the meaning was all inwoven, that I could not but fear that whatever the gain in certain directions, the additions of any stanzas involving a new incident might, in some measure, cripple the rest. Even though the new stanzas were as beautiful, or yet more beautiful than the old ones, and the incident as impressive as any that goes before it, or comes after it, the gain to the poem as an individual creation was not, I thought, assured because people used to say my style was hard.

Rossetti was mistaken in supposing that I possessed the latest and best edition of his Poems, but I had seen the latest of all English editions, and had noted in it several valuable emendations which, in subsequent quotation, I had been careful to employ. One of these seemed to me to involve an immeasurable gain. A stanza of Sister Helen, in its first form, ran:

Oh, the wind is sad in the iron chill, Sister Helen, And weary sad they look by the hill; But Keith of Ewern 's sadder still, Little brother.—etc. etc.

In the later edition the fourth line of this stanza ran:

But he and I are sadder still.

The change adds enormously to one's estimate of the characterisation. All through the ballad one wants to feel that, despite the bitterness of her speech, the heart of the relentless witch is breaking. Like The Broken Heart of Ford, the ballad with the amended line was a masterly picture of suppressed emotion. I hoped the new incident touched the same chord. Rossetti replied:

Thanks for your present letter, which I will answer with pleasurable care. At present I send you the Tauchnitz edition of my things. The bound copy is hideous, but more convenient—the other pretty. You will find a good many things bettered (I believe) even on the latest English edition. I did not remember that the line you quote from Sister Helen appeared in the new form at all in an English issue. I am greatly pleased at your thinking it, as I do, quite a transfiguring change... The next point I have marked in your letter is that about the additions to Sister Helen. Of course I knew that your hair must arise from your scalp in protest. But what should you say if Keith of Ewern were a three days' bridegroom—if the spell had begun on the wedding-morning—and if the bride herself became the last pleader for mercy? I fancy you will see your way now. The culminating, irresistible provocation helps, I think, to humanize Helen, besides lifting the tragedy to a yet sterner height.

If I had felt (as Rossetti predicted I should) an uneasy sensation about the roots of the hair upon hearing that he was making important additions to the ballad which seemed to me to be the finest of his works, the sensation in that quarter was not less, but more, upon learning the nature of those additions. But I mistook the character of the new incidents. That Sister Helen should be herself the abandoned bride of Ewern (for so I understood the poet's explanation), and, as such, the last pleader for mercy, pointed, I thought, in the direction of the humanizing emendation ("But he and I are sadder still ") which had given me so much pleasure. That Keith of Ewern should be a three-days' bridegroom, and that the spell should begin on the wedding morning, were incidents that seemed to intensify every line of the poem. In this view of Rossetti's account of the additions, there were certainly difficulties out of which I could see no way, but I seemed to realise that Helen's hate, like Macbeth's ambition, had overleaped itself, and fallen on the other side, and that she would undo her work, if to return were not harder than to go on; her initiate sensibility had gained hard use, but even as hate recoils on love, so out of the ashes of hate love had arisen. In this view of the characterisation of Helen, the parallel with Macbeth struck me more and more as I thought of it. When Macbeth kills Duncan, and hears the grooms of the chamber cry in their sleep—"God bless us," he cannot say "Amen,"

I had most need of blessing, and Amen Stuck in my throat.

Helen pleading too late for mercy against the potency of the spell she herself had raised, seemed to me an incident that raised her to the utmost height of tragic creation. But Rossetti's purpose was at once less ambitious and more satisfying.

Your passage as to the changes in Sister Helen could not well (with all its fine suggestiveness) be likely to meet exactly a reality which had not been submitted to your eye in the verses themselves. It is the bride of Keith who is the last pleader—as vainly as the others, and with a yet more exulting development of vengeance in the forsaken witch. The only acknowledgment by her of a mutual misery is still found in the line you spotted as so great a gain before, and in the last line she speaks. I ought to have sent the stanzas to explain them properly, but have some reluctance to ventilate them at present, much as I should like the opportunity of reading them to you. They will meet your eye in due course, and I am sure of your approval also as regards their value to the ballad.... Don't let the changes in Helen get wind overmuch. I want them to be new when published. Answer this when you can. I like getting your epistles.

The fresh stanzas in question, which had already obtained the suffrages of his brother, of Mr. Bell Scott, and other qualified critics, were subsequently sent to me. They are as follows. After Keith of Keith, the father of Sister Helen's sometime lover, has pleaded for his son in vain, the last suppliant to arrive is his son's bride:

A lady here, by a dark steed brought, Sister Helen, So darkly clad I saw her not. "See her now or never see aught, Little brother!" (O Mother, Mary Mother, Whit more to see, between Hell and Heaven?)

"Her hood falls back, and the moon shines fair, Sister Helen, On the Lady of Ewern's golden hair." "Blest hour of my power and her despair, Little brother!" (O Mother, Mary Mother, Hour blest and bann'd, between Hell and Heaven!)

"Pale, pale her cheeks, that in pride did glow, Sister Helen, 'Neath the bridal-wreath three days ago." "One morn for pride and three days for woe, Little brother!" (O Mother, Mary Mother, Three days, three nights, between Hell and Heaven!)

"Her clasp'd hands stretch from her bending head, Sister Helen; With the loud wind's wail her sobs are wed." "What wedding-strains hath her bridal bed, Little brother?" (O Mother, Mary Mother, What strain but death's, between Hell and Heaven?)

"She may not speak, she sinks in a swoon, Sister Helen,— She lifts her lips and gasps on the moon." "Oh! might I but hear her soul's blithe tune, Little brother!" (O Mother, Mary Mother, Her woe's dumb cry, between Hell and Heaven!)

"They've caught her to Westholm's saddle-bow, Sister Helen, And her moonlit hair gleams white in its flow." "Let it turn whiter than winter snow, Little brother!" (O Mother, Mary Mother, Woe-withered gold, between Hell and Heaven!)

Besides these there are two new stanzas, one going before, and the other following after, the six stanzas quoted, but as the scattered passages involve no farther incident, and are rather of interest as explaining and perfecting the idea here expressed, than valuable in themselves, I do not reprint them.

I think it must be allowed, by fit judges, that nothing more subtly conceived than this incident can be met with in English poetry, though something akin to it was projected by Coleridge in an episode of his contemplated Michael Scott. It is—in the full sense of an abused epithet—too weird to be called picturesque. But the crowning merit of the poem still lies, as I have said, in the domain of character. Through all the outbursts of her ignescent hate Sister Helen can never lose the ineradicable relics of her human love:

But he and I are sadder still.

As Rossetti from time to time made changes in his poems, he transcribed the amended verses in a copy of the Tauchnitz edition which he kept constantly by him. Upon reference to this little volume some days after his death, I discovered that he had prefaced Sister Helen with a note written in pencil, of which he had given me the substance in conversation about the time of the publication of the altered version, but which he abandoned while passing the book through the press. The note (evidently designed to precede the ballad) runs:

It is not unlikely that some may be offended at seeing the additions made thus late to the ballad of S. H. My best excuse is that I believe some will wonder with myself that such a climax did not enter into the first conception.

At the foot of the poem this further note is written:

I wrote this ballad either in 1851 or early in 1852. It was printed in a thing called The Duesseldorf Annual in (I think) 1853—published in Germany. {*}

* In the same private copy of the Poems the following explanatory passage was written over the much-discussed sonnet, entitled, The Monochord:—"That sublimated mood of the soul in which a separate essence of itself seems as it were to oversoar and survey it." Neither the style nor the substance is characteristic of Rossetti, and though I do not at the moment remember to have met with the passage elsewhere, I doubt not it is a quotation. That quotation marks are employed is not in itself evidence of much moment, for Rossetti had Coleridge's enjoyment of a literary practical joke, and on one occasion prefixed to a story in manuscript a long passage on noses purporting to be from Tristram Shandy, but which is certainly not discoverable in Sterne's story.

The next letter I shall quote appears to explain itself:

There is a last point in your long letter which I have not noticed, though it interested me much: viz., what you say of your lecture on my poetry; your idea of possibly returning to and enlarging it would, if carried out, be welcome to me. I suppose ere long I must get together such additional work as I have to show—probably a good deal added to the old vol. (which has been for some time out of print) and one longer poem by itself. The House of Life, when next issued, will I trust be doubled in number of sonnets; it is nearly so already. Your writing that essay in one day, and the information as to subsequent additions, I noted, and should like to see the passage on Jenny which you have not yet used, if extant. The time taken in composition reminds me of the fact (so long ago!) that I wrote the tale of Hand and Soul (with the exception of an opening page or two) all in one night in December 1849, beginning I suppose about 2 A.M. and ending about 7. In such a case a landscape and sky all unsurmised open gradually in the mind—a sort of spiritual Turner, among whose hills one ranges and in whose waters one strikes out at unknown liberty; but I have found this only in nightlong work, which I have seldom attempted, for it leaves one entirely broken, and this state was mine when I described the like of it at the close of the story, ah! once again, how long ago! I have thought of including this story in next issue of poems, but am uncertain. What think you?

It seemed certain that Hand and Soul ought not to continue to lie in the back numbers, of a magazine. The story, being more poem than aught else, might properly lay claim to a place in any fresh collection of the author's works. I could see no natural objection on the score of its being written in prose. As Coleridge and Wordsworth both aptly said, prose is not the antithesis of poetry; science and poetry may stand over-against each other, as Keats implied by his famous toast: "Confusion to the man who took the poetry out of the moon," but prose and poetry surely are or may be practically one. We know that in rhythmic flow they sometimes come very close together, and nowhere closer than in the heightened prose and the poetry of Rossetti. Poetic prose may not be the best prose, just as (to use a false antithesis) dull poetry is called prosaic; but there is no natural antagonism between prose and verse as literary mediums, provided always that the spirit that animates them be akin. Rossetti himself constantly urged that in prose the first necessity was that it should be direct, and he knew no reproach of poetry more damning than to say it was written in proseman's diction. This was the key to his depreciation of Wordsworth, and doubtless it was this that ultimately operated with him to exclude the story from his published works. I took another view, and did not see that an accidental difference of outward form ought to prevent his uniting within single book-covers productions that had so much of their essential spirit in common. Unlike the Chinese, we do not read by sight only, and there is in the story such richness, freshness, and variety of cadence, as appeal to the ear also. Prose may be the lowest order of rhythmic composition, but we know it is capable of such purity, sweetness, strength, and elasticity, as entitle it to a place as a sister art with poetry. Milton, however, although he wrote the noblest of English prose, seemed more than half ashamed of it, as of a kind of left-handed performance. Goethe and Wordsworth, on the other hand, not to speak of Coleridge and Shelley (or yet of Keats, whose letters are among the very best examples extant of the English epistolary style), wrote prose of wonderful beauty and were not ashamed of it. In Milton's case the subjects, I imagine, were to blame for his indifference to his achievements in prose, for not even the Westminster Convention, or the divorce topics of Tetrachordon, or yet the liberty of the press, albeit raised to a level of philosophic first principles, were quite up to those fixed stars of sublimity about which it was Milton's pleasure to revolve. Hand and Soul is in faultless harmony with Rossetti's work in verse, because distinguished by the same strength of imagination. That it was written in a single night seems extraordinary when viewed in relation to its sustained beauty; but it is done in a breath, and has all the excellencies of fervour and force that result upon that method of composition only.

A year or two later than the date of the correspondence with which I am now dealing, Rossetti read aloud a fragment of a story written about the period of Hand and Soul. It was to be entitled St. Agnes of Intercession, and it dealt in a mystic way with the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. He constantly expressed his intention of finishing the story, and said that, although in its existing condition it was fully as long as the companion story, it would require twice as much more to complete it. During the time of our stay at Birchington, at the beginning of 1882, he seemed anxious to get to work upon it, and had the manuscript sent down from London for that purpose; but the packet lay unopened until after his death, when I glanced at it again to refresh my memory as to its contents. The fragment is much too inconclusive as to design to admit of any satisfying account of its plot, of which there is more, than in Hand and Soul. As far as it goes, it is the story of a young English painter who becomes the victim of a conviction that his soul has had a prior existence in this world. The hallucination takes entire possession of him, and so unsettles his life that he leaves England in search of relic or evidence of his spiritual "double." Finally, in a picture-gallery abroad, he comes face to face with a portrait which' he instantly recognises as the portrait of himself, both as he is now and as he was in the time of his antecedent existence. Upon inquiry, the portrait proves to be that of a distinguished painter centuries dead, whose work had long been the young Englishman's guiding beacon in methods of art. Startled beyond measure at the singular discovery of a coincidence which, superstition apart, might well astonish the most unsentimental, he sickens to a fever. Here the fragment ends. Late one evening, in August 1881, Rossetti gave me a full account of the remaining incidents, but I find myself without memoranda of what was said (it was never my habit to keep record of his or of any man's conversation), and my recollection of what passed is too indefinite in some salient particulars to make it safe to attempt to complete the outlines of the story. I consider the fragment in all respects finer than Hand and Soul, and the passage descriptive of the artist's identification of his own personality in the portrait on the walls of the gallery among the very finest pieces of picturesque, impassioned, and dramatic writing that Rossetti ever achieved. On one occasion I remarked incidentally upon something he had said of his enjoyment of rivers of morning air {*} in the spring of the year, that it would be an inquiry fraught with a curious interest to find out how many of those who have the greatest love of the Spring were born in it.

* Within the period of my personal knowledge of Rossetti's habits, he certainly never enjoyed any "rivers of morning air" at all, unless they were such as visited him in a darkened bedchamber.

One felt that one could name a goodly number among the English poets living and dead. It would be an inquiry, as Hamlet might say, such as would become a woman. To this Rossetti answered that he was born on old May-day (May 12), 1828; and thereupon he asked the date of my own birth.

The comparative dates of our births are curious.... I myself was born on old May-Day (12th), in the year (1828) after that in which Blake died.... You were born, in fact, just as I was giving up poetry at about 25, on finding that it impeded attention to what constituted another aim and a livelihood into the bargain, i.e. painting. From that date up to the year when I published my poems, I wrote extremely little,—I might almost say nothing, except the renovated Jenny in 1858 or '59. To this again I added a passage or two when publishing in 1870.

Often since Rossetti's death I have reflected upon the fact that in that lengthy correspondence between us which preceded personal intimacy, he never made more than a single passing allusion to those adverse criticisms which did so much at one period to sadden and alter his life. Barely, indeed, in conversation did he touch upon that sore subject, but it was obvious enough to the closer observer, as well from his silence as from his speech, that though the wounds no longer rankled, they did not wholly heal. I take it as evidence of his desire to put by unpleasant reflections (at least whilst health was whole with him, for he too often nourished melancholy retrospects when health was broken or uncertain), that in his correspondence with me, as a young friend who knew nothing at first hand of his gloomier side, he constantly dwelt with radiant satisfaction and hopefulness on the friendly words that had been said of him. And as frequently as he called my attention to such favourable comment, he did so without a particle of vanity, and with only such joy as he may feel who knows in his secret heart he has depreciators, to find that he has ardent upholders too. In one letter he says:

I should say that between the appearance of the poems and your lecture, there was one article on the subject, of a very masterly kind indeed, by some very scholarly hand (unknown to me), in the New York Catholic World (I think in 1874). I retain this article, and will some day send it you to read.

He sent me the article, and I found it, as he had found it, among the best things written on the subject. Naturally, the criticism was best where the subject dealt with impinged most upon the spirit of mediaeval Catholicism. Perhaps Catholicism is itself essentially mediaeval, and perhaps a man cannot possibly be, what the Catholic World article called Rossetti, a "mediaeval artist heart and soul," without partaking of a strong religious feeling that is primarily Catholic—so much were the religion and art of the middle ages knit each to each. Yet, upon reading the article, I doubted one of the writer's inferences, namely, that Rossetti had inherited a Catholic devotion to the Madonna. Not his Ave only seemed to me to live in an atmosphere of tender and sensitive devotion, but I missed altogether in it, as in other poems of Rossetti, that old, continual, and indispensable Catholic note of mystic Divine love lost in love of humanity which, I suppose, Mr. Arnold would call anthropomorphism. Years later, when I came to know Rossetti personally, I perceived that the writer of the article in question had not made a bad shot for the truth. True it was, that he had inherited a strong religious spirit—such as could only be called Catholic—inherited I say, for, though from his immediate parents, he assuredly did not inherit any devotion to the Madonna, his own submission to religious influences was too unreasoning and unquestioning to be anything but intuitive. Despite some worldly-mindedness, and a certain shrewdness in the management of the more important affairs of daily life, Rossetti's attitude towards spiritual things was exactly the reverse of what we call Protestant. During the last months of his life, when the prospect of leaving the world soon, and perhaps suddenly, impressed upon his mind a deep sense of his religious position, he yielded himself up unhesitatingly to the intuitive influences I speak of; and so far from being touched by the interminable controversies which have for ages been upsetting and uprearing creeds, he seemed both naturally incapable of comprehending differences of belief, and unwilling to dwell upon them for an instant. Indeed, he constantly impressed me during the last days of his life with the conviction, that he was by religious bias of nature a monk of the middle ages.

As to the article in The Catholic Magazine I thought I perceived from a curious habit of biblical quotation that it must have been written by an Ecclesiastic. A remark in it to the effect that old age is usually more indulgent than middle life to the work of first manhood, and that, consequently, Rossetti would be a less censorious judge of his early efforts at a later period of life, seemed to show that the writer himself was no longer a young man. Further, I seemed to see that the reviewer was not a professional critic, for his work displayed few of the well-recognised trade-marks with which the articles of the literary market are invariably branded. As a small matter one noticed the somewhat slovenly use of the editorial we, which at the fag-end of passages sometimes dropped into I. [Upon my remarking upon this to Rossetti he remembered incidentally that a similar confounding of the singular and plural number of the pronoun produces marvellously suggestive effects in a very different work, Macbeth, where the kingly we is tripped up by the guilty I in many places.] Rossetti wrote:

I am glad you liked the Catholic World article, which I certainly view as one of rare literary quality. I have not the least idea who is the writer, but am sorry now I never wrote to him under cover of the editor when I received it. I did send the Dante and Circle, but don't know if it was ever received or reviewed. As you have the vols, of Fortnightly, look up a little poem of mine called the Cloud Confines, a few months later, I suppose, than the tale. It is one of my favourites, among my own doings.

I noticed at this early period, as well as later, that in Rossetti's eyes a favourable review was always enhanced in value if the writer happened to be a stranger to him; and I constantly protested that a friend's knowledge of one's work and sympathy with it ought not to be less delightful, as such, than a stranger's, however less surprising, though at the same time the tribute that is true to one's art without auxiliary aids being brought to bear in its formation must be at once the most satisfying assurance of the purity, strength, and completeness of the art itself, and of the safe and enduring quality of the appreciation. It is true that friends who are accustomed to our habit of thought and manner of expression sometimes catch our meaning before we have expressed it Not rarely, before our thought has reached that stage at which it becomes intelligible to a stranger, a word, a look, or a gesture will convey it perfectly and fully to a friend. And what goes on between minds that exist in more or less intimate communion, goes on to a greater degree within the individual mind where the metaphysical equivalents to a word or a look answer to, and are answered by, the half-realised conception. Hence it often happens that even where our touch seems to ourselves delicate and precise, a mind not initiated in our self-chosen method of abbreviation finds only impenetrable obscurity. It is then in the tentative condition of mind just indicated that the spirit of art comes in, and enables a man so to clothe his thought in lucid words and fitting imagery that strangers may know, when they see it, all that it is, and how he came by it. Although, therefore, the praise of friends should not be less delightful, as praise, than that tendered by strangers, there is an added element of surprise and satisfaction in the latter which the former cannot bring. Rossetti certainly never over-valued the applause of his own immediate circle, but still no man was more sensible of the value of the good opinion of one or two of his immediate friends. Returning to the correspondence, he says:

In what I wrote as to critiques on my poems, I meant to express special gratification from those written by strangers to myself and yet showing full knowledge of the subject and full sympathy with it. Such were Formans at the time, the American one since (and far from alone in America, but this the best) and more lately your own. Other known and unknown critics of course wrote on the book when it appeared, some very favourably and others quite sufficiently abusive.

As to Cloud Confines, I told Rossetti that I considered it in philosophic grasp the most powerful of his productions, and interesting as being (unlike the body of his works) more nearly akin to the spirit of music than that of painting.

By the bye, you are right about Cloud Confines, which is my very best thing—only, having been foolishly sent to a magazine, no notice whatever resulted.

Rossetti was not always open to suggestions as to the need of clarifying obscure phrases in his verses, but on one or two occasions, when I was so bold as to hint at changes, I found him in highly tractable moods. I called his attention to what I imagined might prove to be merely a printer's slip in his poem (a great favourite of mine) entitled The Portrait. The second stanza ran:

Yet this, of all love's perfect prize, Remains; save what in mournful guise Takes counsel with my soul alone,— Save what is secret and unknown, Below the earth, above the sky.

The words "yet" and "save" seemed to me (and to another friend) somewhat puzzling, and I asked if "but" in the sense of only had been meant. He wrote:

That is a very just remark of yours about the passage in Portrait beginning yet. I meant to infer yet only, but it certainly is truncated. I shall change the line to

Yet only this, of love's whole prize, Remains, etc.

But would again be dubious though explicable. Thanks for the hint.... I shall be much obliged to you for any such hints of a verbal nature.


The letters printed in the foregoing chapter are valuable as settling at first-hand all question of the chronology of the poems of Rossetti's volume of 1870. The poems of the volume of 1881 (Rose Mary and certain of the sonnets excepted) grew under his hand during the period of my acquaintance with him, and their origin I shall in due course record. The two preceding chapters have been for the most part devoted to such letters (and such explanatory matter as must needs accompany them) as concern principally, perhaps, the poet and his correspondent; but I have thrown into two further chapters a great body of highly interesting letters on subjects of general literary interest (embracing the fullest statement yet published of Rossetti's critical opinions), and have reserved for a more advanced section of the work a body of further letters on sonnet literature which arose out of the discussion of an anthology that I was at the time engaged in compiling.

It was very natural that Coleridge should prove to be one of the first subjects discussed by Rossetti, who admired him greatly, and when it transpired that Coleridge was, perhaps, my own chief idol, and that whilst even yet a child I had perused and reperused not only his poetry but even his mystical philosophy (impalpable or obscure even to his maturer and more enlightened, if no more zealous, admirers), the disposition to write upon him became great upon both sides. "You can never say too much about Coleridge for me," Rossetti would write, "for I worship him on the right side of idolatry, and I perceive you know him well." Upon this one of my first remarks was that there was much in Coleridge's higher descriptive verse equivalent to the landscape art of Turner. The critical parallel Rossetti warmly approved of, adding, however, that Coleridge, at his best as a pictorial artist, was a spiritualised Turner. He instanced his,

We listened and looked sideways up, The moving moon went up the sky And no where did abide, Softly she was going up, And a star or two beside— The charmed water burnt alway A still and awful red.

I remarked that Shelley possessed the same power of impregnating landscape with spiritual feeling, and this Rossetti readily allowed; but when I proceeded to say that Wordsworth sometimes, though rarely, displayed a power akin to it, I found him less warmly responsive. "I grudge Wordsworth every vote he gets," {*} Rossetti frequently said to me, both in writing, and afterwards in conversation. "The three greatest English imaginations," he would sometimes add, "are Shakspeare, Coleridge, and Shelley." I have heard him give a fourth name, Blake.

* There is a story frequently told of how, seeing two camels walking together in the Zoological Gardens, keeping step in a shambling way, and conversing with one another, Rossetti exclaimed: "There's Wordsworth and Ruskin virtuously taking a walk!"

He thought Wordsworth was too much the High Priest of Nature to be her lover: too much concerned to transfigure into poetry his pantheo-Christian philosophy regarding Nature, to drop to his knees in simple love of her to thank God that she was beautiful. It was hard to side with Rossetti in his view of Wordsworth, partly because one feared he did not practise the patience necessary to a full appreciation of that poet, and was consequently apt to judge of him by fugitive lines read at random. In the connection in question, I instanced the lines (much admired by Coleridge) beginning

Suck, little babe, O suck again! It cools my blood, it cools my brain,

and ending—

The breeze I see is in the tree, It comes to cool my babe and me.

But Rossetti would not see that this last couplet denoted the point of artistic vision at which the poet of nature identified himself with her, in setting aside or superseding all proprieties of mere speech. To him Wordsworth's Idealism (which certainly had the German trick of keeping close to the ground) only meant us to understand that the forsaken woman through whose mouth the words are spoken (in The Affliction of Margaret ——— of ———) saw the breeze shake the tree afar off. And this attitude towards Wordsworth Rossetti maintained down to the end. I remember that sometime in March of the year in which he died, Mr. Theodore Watts, who was paying one of his many visits to see him in his last illness at the sea-side, touched, in conversation, upon the power of Wordsworth's style in its higher vein, and instanced a noble passage in the Ode to Duty, which runs:

Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear The Godhead's most benignant grace; Nor know we anything so fair As is the smile upon thy face; Flowers laugh before thee on their beds; And fragrance in thy footing treads; Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong; And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.

Mr. Watts spoke with enthusiasm of the strength and simplicity, the sonorousness and stately march of these lines; and numbered them, I think, among the noblest verses yet written, for every highest quality of style.

But Rossetti was unyielding, and though he admitted the beauty of the passage, and was ungrudging in his tribute to another passage which I had instanced—

O joy that in our embers—

he would not allow that Wordsworth ever possessed a grasp of the great style, or that (despite the Ode on Immortality and the sonnet on Toussaint L'Ouverture, which he placed at the head of the poet's work) vital lyric impulse was ever fully developed in his muse. He said:

As to Wordsworth, no one regards the great Ode with more special and unique homage than I do, as a thing absolutely alone of its kind among all greatest things. I cannot say that anything else of his with which I have ever been familiar (and I suffer from long disuse of all familiarity with him) seems at all on a level with this.

In all humility I regard his depreciatory opinion, not at all as a valuable example of literary judgment, but as indicative of a clear radical difference of poetic bias between the two poets, such as must in the same way have made Wordsworth resist Rossetti if he had appeared before him. I am the more confirmed in this view from the circumstance that Rossetti, throughout the period of my acquaintance with him, seemed to me always peculiarly and, if I may be permitted to say so without offence, strangely liable to Mr. Watts's influence in his critical estimates, and that the case instanced was perhaps the only one in which I knew him to resist Mr. Watts's opinion upon a matter of poetical criticism, which he considered to be almost final, as his letters to me, printed in Chapter VIII. of this volume, will show. I had a striking instance of this, and of the real modesty of the man whom I had heard and still hear spoken of as the most arrogant man of genius of his day, on one of the first occasions of my seeing him. He read out to me an additional stanza to the beautiful poem Cloud Confines: As he read it, I thought it very fine, and he evidently was very fond of it himself. But he surprised me by saying that he should not print it. On my asking him why, he said:

"Watts, though he admits its beauty, thinks the poem would be better without it."

"Well, but you like it yourself," said I.

"Yes," he replied; "but in a question of gain or loss to a poem, I feel that Watts must be right."

And the poem appeared in Ballads and Sonnets without the stanza in question. The same thing occurred with regard to the omission of the sonnet Nuptial Sleep from the new edition of the Poems in 1881. Mr. Watts took the view (to Rossetti's great vexation at first) that this sonnet, howsoever perfect in structure and beautiful from the artistic point of view, was "out of place and altogether incongruous in a group of sonnets so entirely spiritual as The House of Life," and Rossetti gave way: but upon the subject of Wordsworth in his relations to Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley, he was quite inflexible to the last.

In a letter treating of other matters, Rossetti asked me if I thought "Christabel" really existed as a mediaeval name, or existed at all earlier than Coleridge. I replied that I had not met with it earlier than the date of the poem. I thought Coleridge's granddaughter must have been the first person to bear the name. The other names in the poem appear to belong to another family of names,—names with a different origin and range of expression,—Leoline, Geraldine, Roland, and most of all Bracy. It seemed to me very possible that Coleridge invented the name, but it was highly probable that he brought it to England from Germany, where, with Wordsworth, he visited Klopstock in 1798, about the period of the first part of the poem. The Germans have names of a kindred etymology and, even if my guess proved wide of the truth, it might still be a fact that the name had German relations. Another conjecture that seemed to me a reasonable one was that Coleridge evolved the name out of the incidents of the opening passages of the poem. The beautiful thing, not more from its beauty than its suggestiveness, suited his purpose exactly. Rossetti replied:

Resuming the thread of my letter, I come to the question of the name Christabel, viz.:—as to whether it is to be found earlier than Coleridge. I have now realized afresh what I knew long ago, viz.:—that in the grossly garbled ballad of Syr Cauline, in Percy's Reliques, there is a Ladye Chrystabelle, but as every stanza in which her name appears would seem certainly to be Percy's own work, I suspect him to be the inventor of the name, which is assuredly a much better invention than any of the stanzas; and from this wretched source Coleridge probably enriched the sphere of symbolic nomenclature. However, a genuine source may turn up, but the name does not sound to me like a real one. As to a German origin, I do not know that language, but would not the second syllable be there the one accented? This seems to render the name shapeless and improbable.

I mentioned an idea that once possessed me despotically. It was that where Coleridge says

Her silken robe and inner vest Dropt to her feet, and full in view Behold! her bosom and half her side— A sight to dream of and not to tell,. . . Shield the Lady Christabel!

he meant ultimately to show eyes in the bosom of the witch. I fancied that if the poet had worked out this idea in the second part, or in his never-compassed continuation, he must have electrified his readers. The first part of the poem is of course immeasurably superior in witchery to the second, despite two grand things in the latter—the passage on the severance of early friendships, and the conclusion; although the dexterity of hand (not to speak of the essential spirit of enchantment) which is everywhere present in the first part, and nowhere dominant in the second, exhibits itself not a little in the marvellous passage in which Geraldine bewitches Christabel. Touching some jocose allusion by Rossetti to the necessity which lay upon me to startle the world with a continuation of the poem based upon the lines of my conjectural scheme, I asked him if he knew that a continuation was actually published in Coleridge's own paper, The Morning Post. It appeared about 1820, and was satirical of course—hitting off many peculiarities of versification, if no more. With Coleridge's playful love of satirising himself anonymously, the continuation might even be his own. Rossetti said:

I do not understand your early idea of eyes in the bosom of Geraldine. It is described as "that bosom old," "that bosom cold," which seems to show that its withered character as combined with Geraldine's youth, was what shocked and warned Christabel. The first edition says—

A sight to dream of, not to tell:— And she is to sleep with Christabel!

I dare say Coleridge altered this, because an idea arose, which I actually heard to have been reported as Coleridge's real intention by a member of contemporary circles (P. G. Patmore, father of Coventry P. who conveyed the report to me)—viz., that Geraldine was to turn out to be a man!! I believe myself that the conclusion as given by Gillman from Coleridge's account to him is correct enough, only not picturesquely worded. It does not seem a bad conclusion by any means, though it would require fine treatment to make it seem a really good one. Of course the first part is so immeasurably beyond the second, that one feels Chas. Lamb's view was right, and it should have been abandoned at that point. The passage on sundered friendship is one of the masterpieces of the language, but no doubt was written quite separately and then fitted into Christabel. The two lines about Roland and Sir Leoline are simply an intrusion and an outrage. I cannot say that I like the conclusion nearly so well as this. It hints at infinite beauty, but somehow remains a sort of cobweb. The conception, and partly the execution, of the passage in which Christabel repeats by fascination the serpent-glance of Geraldine, is magnificent; but that is the only good narrative passage in part two. The rest seems to have reached a fatal facility of jingling, at the heels whereof followed Scott.

There are, I believe, many continuations of Christabel. Tupper did one! I myself saw a continuation in childhood, long before I saw the original, and was all agog to see it for years. Our household was all of Italian, not English environment, and it was only when I went to school later that I began to ransack bookstalls. The continuation in question was by one Eliza Stewart, and appeared in a shortlived monthly thing called Smallwood's Magazine, to which my father contributed some Italian poetry, and so it came into the house. I thought the continuation spirited then, and perhaps it may have been so. This must have been before 1840 I think.

The other day I saw in a bookseller's catalogue—Christabess, by S. T. Colebritche, translated from the Doggrel by Sir Vinegar Sponge (1816). This seems a parody, not a continuation, in the very year of the poem's first appearance! I did not think it worth two shillings,—which was the price.... Have you seen the continuation of Christabel in European Magazine? of course it might have been Coleridge's, so far as the date of the composition of the original was concerned; but of course it was not his.

I imagine the "Sir Vinegar Sponge" who translated "Christabess from the Doggerel" must belong to the family of Sponges described by Coleridge himself, who give out the liquid they take in much dirtier than they imbibe it. I thought it very possible that Coleridge's epigram to this effect might have been provoked by the lampoon referred to, and Rossetti also thought this probable. Immediately after meeting with the continuation of Christabel already referred to, I came across great numbers of such continuations, as well as satires, parodies, reviews, etc., in old issues of Blackwood, The Quarterly, and The Examiner. They seemed to me, for the most part, poor in quality—the highest reach of comicality to which they attained being concerned with side slaps at Kubla Khan:

Better poetry I make When asleep than when awake. Am I sure, or am I guessing? Are my eyes like those of Lessing?

This latter elegant couplet was expected to serve as a scorching satire on a letter in the Biographia Literaria in which Coleridge says he saw a portrait of Lessing at Klopstock's, in which the eyes seemed singularly like his own. The time has gone by when that flight of egotism on Coleridge's part seemed an unpardonable offence, and to our more modern judgment it scarcely seems necessary that the author of Christabel should be charged with a desire to look radiant in the glory reflected by an accidental personal resemblance to the author of Laokoon. Curiously enough I found evidence of the Patmore version of Coleridge's intentions as to the ultimate disclosure of the sex of Geraldine in a review in the Examiner. The author was perhaps Hazlitt, but more probably the editor himself, but whether Hazlitt or Hunt, he must have been within the circle that found its rallying point at Highgate, and consequently acquainted with the earliest forms of the poem. The review is an unfavourable one, and Coleridge is told in it that he is the dog-in-the-manger of literature, and that his poem is proof of the fact that he can write better nonsense poetry than any man in England. The writer is particularly wroth with what he considers the wilful indefiniteness of the author, and in proof of a charge of a desire not to let the public into the secret of the poem, and of a conscious endeavour to mystify the reader, he deliberately accuses Coleridge of omitting one line of the poem as it was written, which, if printed, would have proved conclusively that Geraldine had seduced Christabel after getting drunk with her,—for such sequel is implied if not openly stated. I told Rossetti of this brutality of criticism, and he replied:

As for the passage in Christabel, I am not sure we quite understand each other. What I heard through the Patmores (a complete mistake I am sure), was that Coleridge meant Geraldine to prove to be a man bent on the seduction of Christabel, and presumably effecting it. What I inferred (if so) was that Coleridge had intended the line as in first ed.: "And she is to sleep with Christabel!" as leading up too nearly to what he meant to keep back for the present. But the whole thing was a figment.

What is assuredly not a figment is, that an idea, such as the elder Patmore referred to, really did exist in the minds of Coleridge's so-called friends, who after praising the poem beyond measure whilst it was in manuscript, abused it beyond reason or decency when it was printed. My settled conviction is that the Examiner criticism, and not the sudden advent of the idea after the first part was written, was the cause of Coleridge's adopting the correction which Rossetti mentions.

Rossetti called my attention to a letter by Lamb, about which he gathered a good deal of interesting conjecture:

There is (given in Cottle) an inconceivably sarcastic, galling, and admirable letter from Lamb to Coleridge, regarding which I never could learn how the deuce their friendship recovered from it. Cottle says the only reason he could ever trace for its being written lay in the three parodied sonnets (one being The House that Jack Built) which Coleridge published as a skit on the joint volume brought out by himself, Lamb, and Lloyd. The whole thing was always a mystery to me. But I have thought that the passage on division between friends was not improbably written by Coleridge on this occasion. Curiously enough (if so) Lamb, who is said to have objected greatly to the idea of a second part of Christabel, thought (on seeing it) that the mistake was redeemed by this very passage. He may have traced its meaning, though, of course, its beauty alone was enough to make him say so.

The three satirical sonnets which Rossetti refers to appear not only in Cottle but in a note to the Biographia Literaria They were published first under a fictitious name in he Monthly Magazine They must be understood as almost wholly satirical of three distinct facets of Coleridge's own manner, for even the sonnet in which occur the words

Eve saddens into night, {*}

has its counterpart in The Songs of the Pixies

Hence! thou lingerer, light! Eve saddens into night,

and nearly all the phrases satirised are borrowed from Coleridge's own poetry, not from that of Lamb or Lloyd. Nevertheless, Cottle was doubtless right as to the fact that Lamb took offence at Coleridge's conduct on this account, and Rossetti almost certainly made a good shot at the truth when he attributed to the rupture thereupon ensuing the passage on severed friendship. The sonnet on The House that Jack Built is the finest of the three as a satire.

* So in the Biographia Literaria; in Cottle, "Eve darkens into night."

Indeed, the figure used therein as an equipoise to "the hindward charms" satirises perfectly the style of writing characterised by inflated thought and imagery. It may be doubted if there exists anything more comical; but each of the companion sonnets is good in its way. The egotism, which was a constant reproach urged by The Edinburgh critics and by the "Cockney Poets" against the poets of the Lake School, is splendidly hit off in the first sonnet; the low and creeping meanness, or say, simpleness, as contrasted with simplicity, of thought and expression, which was stealing into Wordsworth's work at that period, is equally cleverly ridiculed in the second sonnet. In reproducing the sonnets, Coleridge claims only to have satirised types. As to Lamb's letter, it is, indeed, hard to realise the fact that the "gentle-hearted Charles," as Coleridge himself named him, could write a galling letter to the "inspired charity-boy," for whom at an early period, and again at the end, he had so profound a reverence. Every word is an outrage, and every syllable must have hit Coleridge terribly. I called Rossetti's attention to the surprising circumstance that in a letter written immediately after the date of the one in question, Loyd tells Cottle that he has never known Lamb (who is at the moment staying with him) so happy before as just then! There can hardly be a doubt, however, that Rossetti's conjecture is a just one as to the origin of the great passage in the second part of Christabel. Touching that passage I called his attention to an imperfection that I must have perceived, or thought I perceived long before,—an imperfection of craftsmanship that had taken away something of my absolute enjoyment of its many beauties. The passage ends—

They parted, ne'er to meet again! But never either found another To free the hollow heart from paining— They stood aloof, the scars remaining, Like cliffs which had been rent asunder; A dreary sea now flows between, But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder, Shall wholly do away, I ween, The marks of that which once hath been.

This is, it is needless to say, in almost every respect, finely felt, but the words italicised appeared to display some insufficiency of poetic vision. First, nothing but an earthquake would (speaking within limits of human experience) unite the two sides of a ravine; and though frost might bring them together temporarily, heat and thunder must be powerless to make or to unmake the marks that showed the cliffs to have once been one, and to have been violently torn apart. Next, heat (supposing frost to be the root-conception) was obviously used merely as a balancing phrase, and thunder simply as the inevitable rhyme to asunder. I have not seen this matter alluded to, though it may have been mentioned, and it is certainly not important enough to make any serious deduction from the pleasure afforded by a passage that is in other respects so rich in beauty as to be able to endure such modest discounting. Rossetti replied:

Your geological strictures on Coleridge's "friendship" passage are but too just, and I believe quite new. But I would fain think that this is "to consider too nicely." I am certainly willing to bear the obloquy of never having been struck by what is nevertheless obvious enough. {*}... Lamb's letter is a teazer. The three sonnets in The Monthly Magazine were signed "Nehemiah Higginbotham," and were meant to banter good-humouredly the joint vol. issued by Coleridge, Lamb, and Lloyd,—C. himself being, of course, the most obviously ridiculed. I fancy you have really hit the mark as regards Coleridge's epigram and Sir Vinegar Sponge. He might have been worth two shillings after all.... I also remember noting Lloyd's assertion of Lamb's exceptional happiness just after that letter. It is a puzzling affair. However C. and Lamb got over it (for I certainly believe they were friends later in life) no one seems to have recorded. The second vol. of Cottle, after the raciness of the first, is very disappointing.

* In a note on this passage, Canon Dixon writes: What is meant is that in cliffs, actual cliffs, the action of these agents, heat, cold, thunder even, might have an obliterating power; but in the severance of friendship, there is nothing (heat of nature, frost of time, thunder of accident or surprise) that can wholly have the like effect.

On one occasion Rossetti wrote, saying he had written a sonnet on Coleridge, and I was curious to learn what note he struck in dealing with so complex a subject. The keynote of a man's genius or character should be struck in a poetic address to him, just as the expressional individuality of a man's features (freed of the modifying or emphasising effects of passing fashions of dress), should be reproduced in his portrait; but Coleridge's mind had so many sides to it, and his character had such varied aspects—from keen and beautiful sensibility to every form of suffering, to almost utter disregard of the calls of domestic duty—that it seemed difficult to think what kind of idea, consistent with the unity of the sonnet and its simplicity of scheme, would call up a picture of the entire man. It goes against the grain to hint, adoring the man as we must, that Coleridge's personal character was anything less than one of untarnished purity, and certainly the persons chiefly concerned in the alleged neglect, Southey and his own family, have never joined in the strictures commonly levelled against him: but whatever Coleridge's personal ego may have been, his creative ego was assuredly not single in kind or aim. He did some noble things late in life (instance the passage on "Youth and Age," and that on "Work without Hope"), but his poetic genius seemed to desert him when Kant took possession of him as a gigantic windmill to do battle with, and it is now hard to say which was the deeper thing in him: the poetry to which he devoted the sunniest years of his young life, or the philosophy which he firmly believed it to be the main business of his later life to expound. In any discussion of the relative claims of these two to the gratitude of the ages that follow, I found Rossetti frankly took one side, and constantly said that the few unequal poems Coleridge had left us, were a legacy more stimulating, solacing, and enduring, than his philosophy could have been, even if he had perfected that attempt of his to reconcile all learning and revelation, and if, when perfected, the whole effort had not proved to be a work of supererogation. I doubt if Rossetti quite knew what was meant by Coleridge's "system," as it was so frequently called, and I know that he could not be induced by any eulogiums to do so much as look at the Biographia Literaria, though once he listened whilst I read a chapter from it. He had certainly little love of the German elements in Coleridge's later intellectual life, and hence it is small matter for surprise that in his sonnet he chose for treatment the more poetic side of Coleridge's genius. Nevertheless, I think it remains an open question whether the philosophy of the author of The Ancient Mariner was more influenced by his poetry, or his poetry by his philosophy; for the philosophy is always tinged by the mysticism of his poetry, and his poetry is always adumbrated by the disposition, which afterwards become paramount, to dig beneath the surface for problems of life and character, and for "suggestions of the final mystery of existence." I have heard Rossetti say that what came most of all uppermost in Coleridge, was his wonderful intuitive knowledge and love of the sea, whose billowy roll, and break, and sibilation, seemed echoed in the very mechanism of his verse. Sleep, too, Rossetti thought, had given up to Coleridge her utmost secrets; and perhaps it was partly due to his own sad experience of the dread curse of insomnia, as well as to keen susceptibility to poetic beauty, that tears so frequently filled his eyes, and sobs rose to his throat when he recited the lines beginning

O sleep! it is a gentle thing—

affirming, meantime, that nothing so simple and touching had ever been written on the subject. As to the sonnet, he wrote:

About Coleridge (whom I only view as a poet, his other aspects being to my apprehension mere bogies) I conceive the leading point about his work is its human love, and the leading point about his career, the sad fact of how little of it was devoted to that work. These are the points made in my sonnet, and the last is such as I (alas!) can sympathise with, though what has excluded more poetry with me (mountains of it I don't want to heap) has chiefly been livelihood necessity. I 'll copy the sonnet on opposite page, only I 'd rather you kept it to yourself. Five years of good poetry is too long a tether to give his Muse, I know.

His Soul fared forth (as from the deep home-grove The father Songster plies the hour-long quest) To feed his soul-brood hungering in the nest; But his warm Heart, the mother-bird above Their callow fledgling progeny still hove With tented roof of wings and fostering breast Till the Soul fed the soul-brood. Richly blest From Heaven their growth, whose food was Human Love.

Tet ah! Like desert pools that shew the stars Once in long leagues—even such the scarce-snatched hours Which deepening pain left to his lordliest powers:— Heaven lost through spider-trammelled prison-bars! Five years, from seventy saved! yet kindling skies Own them, a beacon to our centuries.

As a minor point I called Rossetti's attention to the fact that Coleridge lived to be scarcely more than sixty, and that his poetic career really extended over six good years; and hence the thirteenth line was amended to

Six years from sixty saved.

I doubted if "deepening pain" could be charged with the whole burden of Coleridge's constitutional procrastination, and to this objection Rossetti replied:

Line eleven in my first reading was "deepening sloth;" but it seemed harsh—and—damn it all! much too like the spirit of Banquo!

Before Coleridge, however, as to warmth of admiration, and before him also as to date of influence, Keats was Rossetti's favourite among modern English poets. Our friend never tired of writing or talking about Keats, and never wearied of the society of any one who could generate a fresh thought concerning him. But his was a robust and masculine admiration, having nothing in common with the effeminate extra-affectionateness that has of late been so much ridiculed. His letters now to be quoted shall speak for themselves as to the qualities in Keats whereon Rossetti's appreciation of him was founded: but I may say in general terms that it was not so much the wealth of expression in the author of Endymion which attracted the author of Rose Mary as the perfect hold of the supernatural which is seen in La Belle Dame Sans Merci and in the fragment of the Eve of St. Mark. At the time of our correspondence, I was engaged upon an essay on Keats, and a propos of this Rossetti wrote:

I shall take pleasure in reading your Keats article when ready. He was, among all his contemporaries who established their names, the one true heir of Shakspeare. Another (unestablished then, but partly revived since) was Charles Wells. Did you ever read his splendid dramatic poem Joseph and his Brethren?

In this connexion, as a better opportunity may not arise, I take occasion to tell briefly the story of the revival of Wells. The facts to be related were communicated to me by Rossetti in conversation years after the date of the letter in which this first allusion to the subject was made. As a boy, Rossetti's chief pleasure was to ransack old book-stalls, and the catalogues of the British Museum, for forgotten works in the bye-ways of English poetry. In this pursuit he became acquainted with nearly every curiosity of modern poetic literature, and many were the amusing stories he used to tell at that time, and in after life, of the titles and contents of the literary oddities he unearthed. If you chanced at any moment to alight upon any obscure book particularly curious from its pretentiousness and pomposity, from the audacity of its claim, or the obscurity and absurdity of its writing, you might be sure that Rossetti would prove familiar with it, and be able to recapitulate with infinite zest its salient features; but if you happened to drop upon ever so interesting an edition of a book (not of verse) which you supposed to be known to many a reader, the chances were at least equal that Rossetti would prove to know nothing of it but its name. In poring over the forgotten pages of the poetry of the beginning of the century, Rossetti, whilst still a boy, met with the scriptural drama of Joseph and his Brethren. He told me the title did not much attract him, but he resolved to glance at the contents, and with that swiftness of insight which throughout life distinguished him, he instantly perceived its great qualities. I think he said he then wrote a letter on the subject to one of the current literary journals, probably The Literary Gazette, and by this means came into correspondence with Charles Wells himself. Rather later a relative of Wells's sought out the young enthusiast in London, intending to solicit his aid in an attempt to induce a publisher to undertake a reprint, but in any endeavours to this end he must have failed. For many years a copy of the poem, left by the author's request at Rossetti's lodgings, lay there untouched, and meantime the growing reputation of the young painter brought about certain removals from Blackfriars Bridge to other chambers, and afterwards to the house in Cheyne Walk. In the course of these changes the copy got hidden away, and it was not until numerous applications for it had been made that it was at length ferreted forth from the chaos of some similar volumes huddled together in a corner of the studio. Full of remorse for having so long abandoned a laudable project, Rossetti then took up afresh the cause of the neglected poem, and enlisted Mr. Swinburne's interest so warmly as to prevail with him to use his influence to secure its publication. This failed however; but in The Athenaeum of April 8, 1876, appeared Mr. Watts's elaborate account of Wells and the poem and its vicissitudes, whereupon Messrs. Chatto and Windus offered to take the risk of publishing it, and the poem went forth with the noble commendatory essay of the young author of Atalanta, whose reputation was already almost at its height, though it lacked (doubtless from a touch of his constitutional procrastination) the appreciative comment of the discerning critic who first discovered it. To return to the Keats correspondence:

I am truly delighted to hear how young you are. In original work, a man does some of his best things by your time of life, though he only finds it out in a rage much later, at some date when he expected to know no longer that he had ever done them. Keats hardly died so much too early—not at all if there had been any danger of his taking to the modern habit eventually—treating material as product, and shooting it all out as it comes. Of course, however, he wouldn't; he was getting always choicer and simpler, and my favourite piece in his works is La Belle Dame Sans Merci—I suppose about his last. As to Shelley, it is really a mercy that he has not been hatching yearly universes till now. He might, I suppose; for his friend Trelawny still walks the earth without great-coat, stockings, or underclothing, this Christmas (1879). In criticism, matters are different, as to seasons of production.... I am writing hurriedly and horribly in every sense. Write on the subject again and I'll try to answer better. All greetings to you.

P.S.—I think your reference to Keats new, and on a high level It calls back to my mind an adaptation of his self- chosen epitaph which I made in my very earliest days of boyish rhyming, when I was rather proud to be as cockney as Keats could be. Here it is,—

Through one, years since damned and forgot Who stabbed backs by the Quarter, Here lieth one who, while Time's stream Still runs, as God hath taught her, Bearing man's fame to men, hath writ His name upon that water.

Well, the rhyme is not so bad as Keats's

Ear Of Goddess of Theraea!—

nor (tell it not in Gath!) as—-

I wove a crown before her For her I love so dearly, A garland for Lenora!

Is it possible the laurel crown should now hide a venerated and impeccable ear which was once the ear of a cockney?

This letter was written in 1879, and the opening clauses of it were no doubt penned under the impression, then strong on Rossetti's mind, that his first volume of poems would prove to be his only one; but when, within two years afterwards he completed Rose Mary, and wrote The King's Tragedy and The White Ship, this accession of material dissipated the notion that a man does much his best work before twenty-five. It can hardly escape the reader that though Rossetti's earlier volume displayed a surprising maturity, the subsequent one exhibited as a whole infinitely more power and feeling, range of sympathy, and knowledge of life. The poet's dramatic instinct developed enormously in the interval between the periods of the two books, and, being conscious of this, Rossetti used to say in his later years that he would never again write poems as from his own person.

You say an excellent thing [he writes] when you ask, "Where can we look for more poetry per page than Keats furnishes?" It is strange that there is not yet one complete edition of him. {*} No doubt the desideratum (so far as care and exhaustiveness go), will be supplied when

Forman's edition appears. He is a good appreciator too, as I have reason to say. You will think it strange that I have not seen the Keats love-letters, but I mean to do so. However, I am told they add nothing to one's idea of his epistolary powers.... I hear sometimes from Buxton Forman, and was sending him the other day an extract (from a book called The Unseen World) which doubtless bears on the superstition which Keats intended to develope in his lovely Eve of St. Mark—a fragment which seems to me to rank with La Belle Dame Sans Merci, as a clear advance in direct simplicity.... You ought to have my recent Keats sonnet, so I send it. Your own plan, for one on the same subject, seems to me most beautiful. Do it at once. You will see that mine is again concerned with the epitaph, and perhaps my reviving the latter in writing you was the cause of the sonnet.

* Rossetti afterwards admitted in conversation that the Aldine Edition seemed complete, though I think he did not approve of the chronological arrangement therein adopted; at least he thought that arrangement had many serious disadvantages.

Rossetti formed a very different opinion of Keats's love-letters, when, a year later, he came to read them. At first he shared the general view that letters so intimes should never have been made public. Afterwards the book had irresistible charms for him, from the first page whereon his old friend, Mr. Bell Scott, has vigorously etched Severn's drawing of the once redundant locks of rich hair, dank and matted over the forehead cold with the death-dew, down to the last line of the letterpress. He thought Mr. Forman's work admirably done, and as for the letters themselves, he believed they placed Keats indisputably among the highest masters of English epistolary style. He considered that all Keats's letters proved him to be no weakling, and that whatever walk he had chosen he must have been a master. He seemed particularly struck with the apparently intuitive perception of Shakspeare's subtlest meanings, which certain of the letters display. In a note he said:

Forman gave me a copy of Keats's letters to Fanny Brawne. The silhouette given of the lady is sadly disenchanting, and may be the strongest proof existing of how much a man may know about abstract Beauty without having an artist's eye for the outside of it.

The Keats sonnet, as first shown to me, ran as follows:

The weltering London ways where children weep,— Where girls whom none call maidens laugh, where gain, Hurrying men's steps, is yet by loss o'erta'en:— The bright Castalian brink and Latinos' steep:— Such were his paths, till deeper and more deep, He trod the sands of Lethe; and long pain, Weary with labour spurned and love found vain, In dead Rome's sheltering shadow wrapped his sleep.

O pang-dowered Poet, whose reverberant lips And heart-strung lyre awoke the moon's eclipse,— Thou whom the daisies glory in growing o'er,— Their fragrance clings around thy name, not writ, But rumour'd in water, while the fame of it Along Time's flood goes echoing evermore.

I need hardly say that this sonnet seemed to me extremely noble in sentiment, and in music a glorious volume of sound. I felt, however, that it would be urged against it that it did not strike the keynote of the genius of Keats; that it would be said that in all the particulars in which Rossetti had truthfully and pathetically described London, Keats was in rather than of it; and that it would be affirmed that Keats lived in a fairy world of his own inventing, caring little for the storm and stress of London life. On the other hand, I knew it could be replied that Keats was not indifferent to the misery of city life; that it bore heavily upon him; that it came out powerfully and very sadly in his Ode to the Nightingale, and that it may have been from sheer torture in the contemplation of it that he fled away to a poetic world of his own creating. Moreover, Rossetti's sonnet touched the life, rather than the genius, of Keats, and of this it struck the keynote in the opening lines. I ventured to think that the second and third lines wanted a little clarifying in the relation in which they stood. They seemed to be a sudden focussing of the laughter and weeping previously mentioned, rather than, what they were meant to be, a natural and necessary equipoise showing the inner life of Keats as contrasted with his outer life. To such an objection as this, Rossetti said:

I am rather aghast for my own lucidity when I read what you say as to the first quatrain of my Keats sonnet. However, I always take these misconceptions as warnings to the Muse, and may probably alter the opening as below:

The weltering London ways where children weep And girls whom none call maidens laugh,—strange road, Miring his outward steps who inly trode The bright Castalian brink and Latinos' steep:— Even such his life's cross-paths: till deathly deep He toiled through sands of Lethe, etc. I 'll say more anent Keats anon.

About the period of this portion of the correspondence (1880) I was engaged reading up old periodicals dating from 1816 to 1822. My purpose was to get at first-hand all available data relative to the life of Keats. I thought I met with a good deal of fresh material, and as the result of my reading I believed myself able to correct a few errors as to facts into which previous writers on the subject had fallen. Two things at least I realised—first, that Keats's poetic gift developed very rapidly, more rapidly perhaps than that of Shelley; and, next, that Keats received vastly more attention and appreciation in his day than is commonly supposed. I found it was quite a blunder to say that the first volume of miscellaneous poems fell flat. Lord Houghton says in error that the book did not so much as seem to signal the advent of a new Cockney poet! It is a fact, however, that this very book, in conjunction with one of Shelley's and one of Hunt's, all published 1816-17, gave rise to the name "The Cockney School of Poets," which was invented by the writer signing "Z." in Blackwood in the early part of 1818. Nor had Keats to wait for the publication of the volume before attaining to some poetic distinction. At the close of 1816, an article, under the head of "Young Poets," appeared in The Examiner, and in this both Shelley and Keats were dealt with. Then The Quarterly contained allusions to him, though not by name, in reviews of Leigh Hunt's work, and Blackwood mentioned him very frequently in all sorts of places as "Johnny Keats"—all this (or much of it) before he published anything except occasional sonnets and other fugitive poems in The Examiner and elsewhere. And then when Endymion appeared it was abundantly reviewed. The Edinburgh reviewers had nothing on it (the book cannot have been sent to them, for in 1820 they say they have only just met with it), and I could not find anything in the way of original criticism in The Examiner; but many provincial papers (in Manchester, Exeter, and elsewhere) and some metropolitan papers retorted on The Quarterly. All this, however, does not disturb the impression which (Lord Houghton and Mr. W. M. Rossetti notwithstanding) I have been from the first compelled to entertain, namely, that "labour spurned" did more than all else to kill Keats in 1821.

Most men who rightly know the workings of their own minds will agree that an adverse criticism rankles longer than a flattering notice soothes; and though it be shown that Keats in 1820 was comparatively indifferent to the praise of The Edinburgh, it cannot follow that in 1818 he must have been superior to the blame of The Quarterly. It is difficult to see why a man may not be keenly sensitive to what the world says about him, and yet retain all proper manliness as a part of his literary character. Surely it was from the mistaken impression that this could not be, and that an admission of extreme sensitiveness to criticism exposed Keats to a charge of effeminacy that Lord Houghton attempted to prove, against the evidence of all immediate friends, against the publisher's note to Hyperion, against the poet's self-chosen epitaph, and against all but one or two of the most self-contained of his letters, that the soul of Keats was so far from being "snuffed out by an article," that it was more than ordinarily impervious to hostile comment, even when it came in the shape of rancorous abuse. In all discussion of the effects produced upon Keats by the reviews in Blackwood and The Quarterly, let it be remembered, first, that having wellnigh exhausted his small patrimony, Keats was to be dependent upon literature for his future subsistence; next, that Leigh Hunt attempted no defence of Keats when the bread was being taken out of his mouth, and that Keats felt this neglect and remarked upon it in a letter in which he further cast some doubt upon the purity of Hunt's friendship. Hunt, after Keats's death, said in reference to this: "Had he but given me the hint!" The hint, forsooth! Moreover, I can find no sort of allusion in The Examiner for 1821, to the death of Keats. I told Rossetti that by the reading of the periodicals of the time, I formed a poor opinion of Hunt. Previously I was willing to believe in his unswerving loyalty to the much greater men who were his friends, but even that poor confidence in him must perforce be shaken when one finds him silent at a moment when Keats most needs his voice, and abusive when Coleridge is a common subject of ridicule. It was all very well for Hunt to glorify himself in the borrowed splendour of Keats's established fame when the poet was twenty years dead, and to make much of his intimacy with Coleridge after the homage of two generations had been offered him, but I know of no instance (unless in the case of Shelley) in which Hunt stood by his friends in the winter of their lives, and gave them that journalistic support which was, poor man, the only thing he ever had to give, whatever he might take. I have, however, heard Mr. H. A. Bright (one of Hawthorne's intimate friends in England) say that no man here impressed the American romancer so much as Hunt for good qualities, both of heart and head. But what I have stated above, I believe to be facts; and I have gathered them at first-hand, and by the light of them I do not hesitate to say that there is no reason to believe that it was Keats's illness alone that caused him to regard Hunt's friendship with suspicion. It is true, however, that when one reads Hunt's letter to Severn at Borne, one feels that he must be forgiven. On this pregnant subject Rossetti wrote:

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