Come back, dear Liz

John Everett Millais
Ophelia (1851–52)
Model, Elizabeth Siddal

On February 11, 1862, the model, muse, and wife of Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal, an artist and poet in her own right, died at the age of 32 from an overdose of laudanum the night before.

Regina Cordium
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1860 marriage portrait of Siddal

With Valentine’s Day nearly here, I’ve decided to mark this sad anniversary with a poem Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote years earlier, possibly in 1855, in a much lighter spirit than he doubtlessly had on those fateful, sad days in February 160 years ago.

It was posthumously published in Ruskin, Rossetti, and Pre-Raphaelitism by Dante Gabriel’s younger brother, William Michael Rossetti (London, George Allen 1899).

I do not know which year this belongs to. It speaks of Miss Siddal as being absent, but (seemingly) as if she could enter any moment. This would exclude from count the year 1856, when she was away in Nice. The verses are amusing, and though they were not suited for Collected Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, they may come here.
[William Michael Rossetti 1899]

YESTERDAY was St. Valentine.

Thought you at all, dear dove divine,

Upon the beard in sorry trim

And rueful countenance of him,

That Orson who’s your Valentine?

He daubed, you know, as usual.

The stick would slip, the brush would fall:

Yet daubed he till the lamplighter

Set those two seedy flames astir;

But growled all day at slow St. Paul.

The bore was heard ere noon; the dun

Was at the door by half—past one:

At least ’tis thought so, but the clock—

No Lizzy there to help its stroke—

Struck work before the day begun.

At length he saw St. Paul’s bright orb

Flash back—the serried tide absorb

That burning West which it sucked up,

Like wine poured in a water cup;—

And one more twilight toned his daub.

Some time over the fire he sat,

So lonely that he missed his cat;

Then wildly rushed to dine on tick,—

Nine minutes swearing for his stick,

And thirteen minutes for his hat.

And now another day is gone:

Once more that intellectual one

Desists from high—minded pursuits,

And hungry, staring at his boots,

Has not the strength to pull them on.

Come back, dear Liz, and looking wise

In that arm—chair which suits your size

Through some fresh drawing scrape a hole.

Your Valentine & Orson’s soul

Is sad for those two friendly eyes.

Here is an excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, my upcoming novel portrait of the Victorian poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti, sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Christina did and didn’t want to meet Gabriel’s first true love “radiant with the tresses of Aurora”, his obsession with women’s hair often overlooking the unreliability of their virtue and intellect. Christina hoped Miss Siddall was a woman of moral repute, steady faith and, despite William’s assessment, interesting thoughts. She anticipated feeling dark and dumpy around her but was determined not to mind as long as Miss Siddall urged Gabriel into serious work and a settled life. Christina also expected to like her, not spontaneously or securely like with Amelia or Henrietta, but, protectively, forgivingly, sometimes resentfully.

     Years would go by before Christina and Miss Siddall met, despite Gabriel’s often expressed intention of introducing her to his mother and sisters. William explained it by Miss Siddall’s talent for coyly refusing invitations and avoiding introductions, disappearing at the announcement of an intrusion, or, if caught off-guard, escaping eye contact, a word, a nod, a smile at a kind greeting, even a compliment. That other William whose opinion Christina always welcomed confirmed Miss Siddall’s behavior with first-hand experience, when “in the romantic dusk of an apartment” he found Gabriel and a lady he didn’t know and could hardly see.

     “I waited for Gabriel to introduce her. He didn’t. She rose. I made a little bow. Without acknowledging my presence, let alone courtesy, she went into another room and never returned for the duration of my visit.”

     “How did you know who she was?”

     “I guessed. But, according to Gabriel’s silence, I might’ve imagined her. Later, William assured me I hadn’t.”

© 2022 DM Denton

Lizzie Siddal
at Chatham Place, Blackfriars London
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In the Artist’s Studio
by Christina Rossetti

One face looks out from all his canvases,

One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:

We found her hidden just behind those screens,

That mirror gave back all her loveliness.

A queen in opal or in ruby dress,

A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,

A saint, an angel — every canvas means

The same one meaning, neither more or less.

He feeds upon her face by day and night,

And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,

Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:

Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;

Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;

Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Photograph of Lizzie Siddal

©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.

Not the Birthday Planned

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring

from To My Mother by Christina Rossetti

Today, December 5th, marks the 191st anniversary of the birth of Christina Rossetti, poet and subject of my upcoming novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch.

In 1853, just before Christina’s 23rd birthday, beloved Nonno, her 89 year old maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, suffered a stroke at his home in London. At the time, Christina was living in Frome, Somerset with her parents, helping her mother run a girls day school and take care of her ailing father. Needless to say, it was not one of her happiest birthdays.

Poetry stone in Frome, Somerset to note Christina Rossetti’s connection to the area.

The inscription reads:

Love lights the sun: love through the dark

Lights the moon’s evanescent arc:

Same Love lights up the glow-worms spark …

from What Good Shall my Life Do me?

by Christina Rossetti

Fromefield’s peaking autumnal colors offered some consolation after Maria returned to London. November was dreary but, also, restorative, an adjustment and relief after months of visitors and daytrips. Once a week or every other Christina shopped in town, nature walks few and far between because of damp, chilly weather. As winter approached and came before it officially did, Christina morphed into an interior creature, knowing it was time to hide away and exist on what was stored within. School was winding down for the Christmas holiday, which promised four weeks of aristocratic leisure. Teaching was almost rewarding at times, as she had never expected it would be, the few girls still at the school quite comfortable with each other and their teacher, Mama, relinquishing that role more and more to her youngest.

     Christina finally had the opportunity to try out the new paint brushes William had sent along with Maria. Out of regret for complaining that two had split quills, she was determined to make good use of them—so far an inadequate portrait of Mama. Such a forgiving, if not forgetful, creature, William had given her a five-pound note for her birthday. She considered spending a few pounds on replacing worn items in her wardrobe, the remainder saved. When Mama returned, a trip to London might be considered good use of it; if after Boxing Day, at least to celebrate the New Year with her siblings. Another incentive was to show appreciation for Amelia’s gift of a pretty collar and sleeves by wearing them in her friend’s presence.

     Christina intended them to complement a frock other than black or gray, her azure-blue conservatively contrasting the crisp white of the butterfly-themed guipure lace.

     “I won’t stay until the twenty-fifth. Papa doesn’t want me to go at all, but there are things to be taken care of. Once they are, I’ll be back, and you can be on your way. ” Mama said wearily while they waited on the platform for her train.

     “I wish we could all live in London again.”

     “We will, dearest,” Mama squeezed Christina’s hand, “before too long.”

      How comforting it was to make plans in one’s head; in one’s heart, more foolish. A few days later Amelia’s present had gone from being impatiently draped over Christina’s vanity table mirror to storage in a deep drawer with a few other frivolous accessories.

from The Dove Upon Her Branch © 2021 by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti, sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The sun nor loiters nor speeds,
The rivers run as they ran,
Through clouds or through windy reeds
All run as when all began.

from
Time Flies, A Reading Diary
by Christina Rossetti
December 5th entry
(First published 1885)

Sing, that in thy song I may
Dream myself once more a child

from Maud by Christina Rossetti

©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.