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23 T His Brother’s Keeper: William Michael     and Dante Gabriel Rossetti: 1828–1919 A t nineteen, bored by the rigidity of his art studies and absent from classes as usual, Dante Gabriel Rossetti encountered a curious notebook at his free university, te British Museum, during a time when he should have been copying plaster casts in the Royal Academy’s Sculpture Room. In April 1847, a museum attendant named Palmer, noticing that the young man with the neglected hair and clothes was interested in poetry, offered to sell him a manuscript book he had apparently acquired legitimately, crammed with prose, verse, and drawings by a little-regarded eccentric of a generation before, William Blake. The price asked was ten shillings, which Gabriel thought a bargain, considering that Blake, although no darling of the orthodox literati, had written Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. A glance through the notebook showed, his brother William remembered, “outspoken epigrams and jeers against such painters as Correggio ,Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Reynolds, and Gainsborough—all men whom Blake regarded as fulsomely florid, or lax, or swamping ideas in mere manipulation.These were balsam to [Gabriel’s] soul, and grist to his mill.”1 Gabriel had no money, but applied to William, and the manuscript changed hands. Although Gabriel held it in reverence all his life, it was not for him a mere curiosity for display. Since the pages were a tangle of abandoned starts, alternative lines, and cancellations, the brothers decided to copy out what they could, Gabriel taking the poetry andWilliam the prose. The choice as well as the means of purchase would be symbolic of their coordinate lives. Born in London in 1828, Gabriel was one year older thanWilliam.When they were in their teens, Gabriel was already thought of by his father as a literary and artistic prodigy, and sent to the Royal Academy’s school to study art.William was literary minded, but no genius. And he was dutiful. At fifteen he had been packed off, unprotesting, to a clerkship in the Excise Office in Somerset House, where he would work until his retirement ­ forty-nine Farewell,Victoria! 24 and a half years later. Gabriel, exempted by his genius, would never hold a paying job.2 William could afford the purchase. He had just been raised to £90 a year and “put on the establishment”—the permanent staff of the Excise Office, at a desk where he wrote letters to Excise functionaries and to English traders paying duties.The work was dull, and attracted dull types in whom he had no interest. He made no friends there, adopting Gabriel’s circle of acquaintances as his own. Gabriel had a way of attracting followers as well as friends, andWilliam’s entry into the constantly enlarging group established another feature of the brotherly relationship that would never change.William would work steadily, and Gabriel would count on tapping that source of funds when he needed to.William’s literary and artistic interests would largely be reflections of Gabriel’s activities and interests. And Gabriel would open his friendships willingly to his younger brother. Determined that William learn something about art, Gabriel even took him to a session of the Cyclographic Club, where members—young student artists like Holman Hunt and John Millais—according to the rules had to produce a drawing a month as well as critiques of the drawings of the others .William never returned—drawing was not his forte.Yet when Hunt, Millais , and Gabriel Rossetti gave a label to their vague aesthetics about art and nature, and founded their pretentiously named Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , Gabriel proposedWilliam as a member. No artist,William had begun attending, at his brother’s behest, an evening drawing class, but he would prove of more use to the group as a compliant model. The means of all but Millais were limited, and the young men took at least one advantage of their Brotherhood by utilizing each other, whenever possible, to sit for pictures,William soon sitting for the head of Lorenzo in a Millais Lorenzo and Isabella. They also began using “P.R.B.” on their letters to each other, instead of the gentlemanly “Esquire,” and began holding monthly meetings at each other’s homes, which meant keeping some form of minutes. Inevitably,William, who could not be expected to do much else, was named secretary, a job he took very seriously, as he valued the entrée that had been made for him...


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