New Year met me somewhat sad:
Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had
Baulked of much desired:
Yet farther on my road to-day
God willing, farther on my way.
New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.
~ from Old and New Year Ditties by Christina Rossetti
To begin the new decade on this blog, I’m sharing a little excerpt set at the start of another — in the mid 19th century. It’s from my work-in-progress novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch, about the Victorian poet, Christina Rossetti, youngest sister of the painter, poet, and Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founder, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was 19 at the time, a few of her poems having just been published in the new PRB magazine initially named The Germ: Thoughts Towards Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art.
Ellen Alleyn appeared and disappeared through her words, warbling melodically and melancholically, a songbird heard but never seen except perched on a page, and then by so few. Her engagement in life was meant to be sweet and safe, a natural movement from branch to branch towards the inclination of nesting. Instead, she was senselessly shot down by naïve expectations, which the afterlife would relentlessly look back on as bad judgment.
It is an empty name I long for; to a name why should I give the peace of all the days I have to live.
It was a name Gabriel invented after the first printing of The Germ, so, when it was decided not to risk presenting further issues as the work of one, Christina, unlike the other six contributors, could continue to conceal her identity. She should have argued she wasn’t afraid of owning her poems, that it might be what she needed to do to grow stronger as a writer. From far away in wintry Wiltshire, where she was visiting Aunt Charlotte, a disagreement with Gabriel via letters he was unlikely to answer was unwinnable.
Christina was at home for the New Year’s Eve delivery of fifty copies of the first issue to Charlotte Street by the printer, George Tupper. Throughout that last day of 1849, its contributors arrived to celebrate. Papa was delighted with the complicated company, while Mama panicked at the lingering of so many hungry, thirsty men eager for a new decade and the wild ride of rebellion. She sent Betsey to the shops with the week’s allowance for food, Gabriel convincing her—or not—that the success of the magazine would repay her hospitality and “make a little starvation worth it.”
Copyright © 2020 by DM Denton
The Germ was a magazine established in 1850 at the beginning of the Pre-Raphaelite movement by its founding members Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and, editor and ‘historian’ of the movement, William Michael Rossetti. Born out of an idea of D G Rossetti’s, the magazine sought to circulate the creative work and radical ideas of the Pre-Raphaelites as expressed in poetry, literature and art. In their own words, printed at the end of each issue, their mission was:
With a view to obtain the thoughts of Artists, upon Nature as evolved in Art […] this Periodical has been established. Thus, then, it is not open to the conflicting opinions of all who handle the brush and palette, nor is it restricted to actual practitioners; but is intended to enunciate the principles of those who, in the true spirit of Art, enforce a rigid adherence to the simplicity of Nature either in Art or Poetry […].
Each issue included an engraving, poetry and historical or critical essays (on subjects, for example, such as early Italian artists, whom the group emulated). After two numbers, the magazine’s title was changed to the more literal Art and Poetry: Being Thoughts towards Nature Conducted Principally by Artists. In spite of D G Rossetti’s ambitions and enthusiasm, however, the magazine sold poorly. It was forced to close down after four numbers (January, February, March and April 1850), although the Pre-Raphaelite circle continued to develop.
Christina Rossetti’s involvement
The Germ provides us with an insight into Christina Rossetti’s early poetic career during her late teens. The magazine published seven of Rossetti’s poems across three numbers, including ‘Dream Land’ and ‘An End’. Although published under the pseudonym ‘Ellen Alleyn’, Rossetti’s identity was undoubtedly known among her fellow all-male contributors.
To few chords and sad and low
Sing we so:
Be our eyes fixed on the grass
Shadow-veiled as the years pass
While we think of all that was
In the long ago.
~ from The End by Christina Rossetti (published in the first issue of The Germ, 1850)
©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.