- The Pre-Raphaelites
Among the year's more significant publications are two new volumes of Dante Rossetti's and Christina Rossetti's collected letters. The Chelsea Years, 1863-1872, Prelude to Crisis, Volume IV, 1868-1870 is the fourth of nine projected volumes in William E. Fredeman's The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, edited after his death by Roger C. Lewis, Jane Cowan, Roger W. Peattie, Allan Life, and Page Life. This physically attractive volume offers clear summaries and chronologies and a color frontispiece of Rossetti's flame-toned "Sybilla Palmifera," as well as many letters unavailable in the 1965 Doughty-Wahl edition. Scholars acquainted with Jan Marsh's recent biography and John Bryson's edition of Rossetti's correspondence with Jane Morris will find few surprises, but the volume's notes elucidate many obscure references, and its temporal collocation throws Rossetti's activities and growing obsessions into sharper relief. Deferral of the current volume's index to volume five is a somewhat unfortunate inevitability, for its many allusions cry out for a more extensive network of references.
Admirers of Rossetti's poetry may find this the series' most important volume, for it includes many observations about the verse he gathered, rewrote, and recomposed for his Poems (1870), as well as a critical obligato of commentary—often generous and perceptive—on the work of Tennyson, Morris, Browning, Swinburne, Philip Marston, Thomas Hake, and others. He also penned a number of intense letters to Jane Morris, as well as more reflective accounts of his views and activities to William Bell Scott, Alice Boyd, Ford Madox Brown, Swinburne, and others. Rossetti's circle clearly contracted during this period, but it remained broad enough to reflect a wide range of artistic and literary contacts as well as his mature intellectual life.
Biographers have given us considered accounts of Rossetti at his unfortunate worst, and the readers of the current volume will encounter the latter in force: Rossetti the rationalizer, for example, who arranged for others to extract his manuscript poems from Elizabeth Siddal Rossetti's grave, and wrote his friend Swinburne that "the truth is, that no one so much as herself would have approved of my doing this. . . . Had it been possible to her, I should have found the book on my pillow the night she was buried; and could she have opened the grave, no other hand would have been needed" (p. 190). And the unctuous figure of Rossetti in Love, who hastened to assure Jane Morris that "all that concerns you is the all absorbing question with me, as dear Top will not mind my telling you at this anxious time. The more he loves you, the more he knows that you are too lovely and noble not to be [End Page 371] loved: and, dear Janey, there are too few things that seem worth expressing as life goes on, for one friend to deny another the poor expression of what is most at his heart. But he is before me in granting this, and there is no need for me to say it" (pp. 216-217).
More mundanely, readers will encounter Rossetti's willingness to abuse his friends' patience and hospitality; his readiness to resent someone else who may or may not have used a design or phrase he considered his own; his requests for large cash advances for work he failed to complete; efforts to renegotiate contracts with buyers disappointed when he failed to keep his word; and willingness to spend large sums extracted in some cases from people poorer than he was. In 1868, for example, Rossetti borrowed at least five hundred pounds from Alicia Margaret Losh, an elderly aunt of Alice Boyd, who instructed her aunt's executor to destroy the IOUs after Losh died in 1872. Even Rossetti's loyal brother William Michael remarked at one point that "it would be a waste of faith to suppose Gabriel will ever deny himself any expenditure he feels disposed for" (p. 346).
Artists' and composers' conflicts with their patrons will presumably endure as long as there are artists, composers, and patrons. Patronage, after all, is a somewhat unstable mixture of friendship and...