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.

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

Christina Rossetti: The Birthday of Her Life

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)

Christina is the subject of my work-in-progress next novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch.

From left to right: Christina, Dante Gabriel, Frances (mother), William, and Maria Rossetti
Photograph by Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll
1863

She was part of a remarkable family of English-Italian scholars, artists, and poets, her older brother being Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I wrote a brief bio of her for The Literary Ladies Guide.

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today is the 190th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830

A Birthday
By Christina Rossetti


My heart is like a singing bird
                  Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
                  Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
                  Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
                  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
                  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
                  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
                  Is come, my love is come to me.

from Ecce Ancilla Domini, or The Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch

Christina and William Rossetti posing
for the painting of Ecce Ancilla Domini
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
in November 1849

     Another painting to pose for offered an alternative, productive engagement, being the handmaiden of the Lord a worthy occupation. William’s participation, not only as someone to accompany Christina to and from where their brother now worked on Newman Street above a hop-shop, but also to portray the Angel Gabriel, made for a happy distraction of camaraderie and creation.
     “Why is the painting tall and narrow?” Christina wondered with her first glance at the work in progress.
     “It is one-half of a diptych. Its companion will depict the Virgin’s death.”
     “Will you have both finished by spring for the RA?” William slapped his arms around himself in an attempt to warm his sleeveless, sheeted body. “Any more coal for the grate?”
     “Doubt it.” Gabriel urgently picked through the pile of brushes on the small pedestal table next to his easel.
     Christina noticed they were all thin-handled and fine-bristled.
     “No wonder it will take so long.” She also looked at his pallet, noticing he wasn’t mixing colors but using fresh daubs of unadulterated white, blue, and red paint.
     “I hope you won’t get bronchitis again.” William repositioned the woolen shawl that had slipped off her shoulders.
     “I haven’t even caught a cold.” Christina had resigned herself to shivering in her flimsy nightgown for the sake of Gabriel’s vision and to prove as enduring as any of the other models who sat for him.
     “Interesting.” As he leaned forward, William put a hand on his brother’s back. “Even with as little as you’ve done, I see the perspective of Giotto. Yet, I also see Flemish primitive, what you and Hunt were so taken with in Bruges. Before you started, I noticed you had followed Van Eyck’s practice of preparing the canvas with white ground.”
     Gabriel smiled, probably more because of his own thoughts than William’s. “I’m sure it will all seem a confused mess to those, like Ruskin, who think their opinions matter.”
     “A risk worth taking. But you must enter both panels together.”
     “I don’t paint to exhibit.”
     “You have to make a name for yourself, Gabe, a living. Your work has to be seen. And critiqued.”
     “Says the would-be critic.”
     “Now I see why you want me contorted on a corner of that saggy cot.” Christina though it wise to change the subject. “And all crinkly and looking about to jump up and run away.”
     “I thank Collinson for your disquiet.”
     They had spoken of many things during the hours of posing and painting, breaking to eat and drink, and for Christina and William to wrap themselves in blankets long enough to feel their fingers and toes again. Not once, until that moment, considering Gabriel was still brooding over Mr. Hunt falling into arrears with the rent at the Cleveland Street studio and defecting to James’ in Brompton, had anyone mentioned the man Christina had, without good reason, agreed to marry. She was almost convinced the last year of his waxing and waning hadn’t happened; that somewhere out there was the face not seen, the voice not heard, the heart that had not yet—
      Or, maybe they had been and it would if only it could.
Copyright © DM Denton 2020

Ecce Ancilla Domini, or The Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Brief was the day of its power,
The day of its grace how brief:
As the fading of a flower,
As the falling of a leaf,
So brief its day and its hour …

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

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

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

from Maud by Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell Scott

Happy Birthday, 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.