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Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti   By: (1853-1931)

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By T. Hall Caine

Roberts Brothers 1883


One day towards the close of 1881 Rossetti, who was then very ill, said to me:

"How well I remember the beginning of our correspondence, and how little did I think it would lead to such relations between us as have ensued! I was at the time very solitary and depressed from various causes, and the letters of so young and ardent a well wisher, though unknown to me personally, brought solace."

"Yours," I said, "were very valuable to me."

"Mine to you were among the largest bodies of literary letters I ever wrote, others being often letters of personal interest."

"And so admirable in themselves," I added, "and so free from the discussion of any but literary subjects that many of them would bear to be printed exactly as you penned them."

"That," he said, "will be for you some day to decide."

This was the first hint of any intention upon my part of publishing the letters he had written to me; indeed, this was the first moment at which I had conceived the idea of doing so. Nothing further on the subject was said down to the morning of the Thursday preceding the Sunday on which he died, when we talked together for the last time on subjects of general interest, subsequent interviews being concerned wholly with solicitous inquiries upon my part, in common with other anxious friends, as to the nature of his sufferings, and the briefest answers from him.

"How long have we been friends?" he said.

I replied, between three and four years from my first corresponding with him.

"And how long did we correspond?"

"Three years, nearly."

"What numbers of my letters you must possess! They may perhaps even yet be useful to you."

From this moment I regarded the publication of his letters as in some sort a trust; and though I must have withheld them for some years if I had consulted my own wishes simply, I yielded to the necessity that they should be published at once, rather than run any risk of their not been published at all.

What I have just said will account for the circumstance that I, the youngest and latest of Rossetti's friends, should be the first to seem to stand towards him in the relation of a biographer. I say seem to stand, for this is not a biography. It was always known to be Rossetti's wish that if at any moment after his death it should appear that the story of his life required to be written, the one friend who during many of his later years knew him most intimately, and to whom he unlocked the most sacred secrets of his heart, Mr. Theodore Watts, should write it, unless indeed it were undertaken by his brother William. But though I know that whenever Mr. Watts sets pen to paper in pursuance of such purpose, and in fulfilment of such charge, he will afford us a recognisable portrait of the man, vivified by picturesque illustration, the like of which few other writers could compass, I also know from what Rossetti often told me of his friend's immersion in all kinds and varieties of life, that years (perhaps many years) may elapse before such a biography is given to the world. My own book is, I trust, exactly what it purports to be: a volume of Recollections, interwoven with letters and criticism, and preceded by such a summary of the leading facts in Rossetti's life as seems necessary for the elucidation of subsequent records. I have drawn Rossetti precisely as I found him in each stage of our friendship, exhibiting his many contradictions of character, extenuating nothing, and, I need hardly add, setting down naught in malice. Up to this moment I have never inquired of myself whether to those who have known little or nothing of Rossetti hitherto, mine will seem to be on the whole favourable or unfavourable portraiture; but I have trusted my admiration of the poet and affection for the friend to penetrate with kindly and appreciative feeling every comment I have had to offer. I was attracted to Rossetti in the first case by ardent love of his genius, and retained to him ultimately by love of the man... Continue reading book >>

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