Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: St. Agnes of Intercession (Virginia Fair Copy MS)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of Composition: 1870
Type of Manuscript: Fair copy manuscript, with corrections

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

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Note: Marbled inside front cover. Sticker from vendor in the top left.
Sold by


192 Fleet Street.
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Note: Marbled inside cover.
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Note: Library accession numbers written in pencil.
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Manuscript Addition: 1 St Agnes of Intercession—Recopy to end of poem—also loose / pp of original copy going much farther
Editorial Description: Description of manuscript written by William Michael Rossetti.
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St Agnes of Intercession

“In all my life,” said my uncle in his cus-

-tomary voice made up of goodness and

trusting simplicity, and a spice of piety

withal, which, an't please your worship,

made it sound the sweeter,—“In all my

life,” quoth my uncle Toby, “I have

never heard a stranger story than one which

was told me by a sergeant in Maclure's

regiment, and which, with your permission,

Doctor, I now will relate.”

“No stranger, brother Toby,” said my father

testily, “than a certain tale to be found

in Slawkenbergius, (being the eighth

of his third D[?] Decad,) and called

by him the History of an Icelandish


“Nor than the golden legend of Saint

Anschankus of Lithuania,” added Dr.

Slop, “who, being troubled digestively

while delivering his discourse “de Sanctis

Sanctorum,” was tempted by the Devil

in imagine vasis in contumeliam,—

which is to say,—in the form of a vessel

unto dishonour.”

Now Excentrio, as one mocking, sayeth”—&c. &c.

Tristram Shandy

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Saint Agnes of Compunction Recompense Intercession.

Among my earliest recollections, none is

stronger than that of my father standing

before the fire when he came home in

the London winter evenings, and singing

to us in his sweet generous tones: sometimes

ancient ditties of English ditties,—such

songs as one might translate from the birds

and the brooks might set to music;

sometimes those with which foreign

travel had familiarized his youth,—

among them the great tunes which have

rung the world's changes since '89.

I used to sit on the hearth-rug,

listening to him, and look between

his knees into the fire till it burned

my face, while the sights swarming

up in it seemed changed and changed

with the music: till the music and the

fire and my heart burned together, and
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I would take paper and pencil, and

try in some childish way to fix the shapes

that rose within me. For my hope even

then was to be a painter.
The first book I remember to have read

of my own accord was an old-fashioned

work on Art which my mother had,—

“Hamilton's English Conoscente.” It was

a kind of continental tour,—suffi-

-ciently Della-Cruscan, from what I

can recall of it,—and contained notices

of pictures which the author had

seen abroad, with engravings after some

of them. These were in the English fashion

of that day, executed in dots stipple and

printed with red ink; tasteless enough,

no doubt, but I yearned towards them

and would toil over them for days.

One of them especially possessed for me

a strong and indefinable charm: it

was a Saint Agnes in glory, by
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Bucciolo d'Orli Davanzati. This plate

I could copy from the first with much

more success than I could any of the

others: and indeed, it was mainly my

love of the figure, and a desire to obtain

some knowledge regarding it, which

impelled me, by one magnanimous

effort upon the “Conoscente,” to master

in a few days more of the difficult

art of reading than my mother's

laborious inculcations had accomplished

during till then. However, what I

managed to spell and puzzle out

related chiefly to the mechanical executive

qualities of the picture, which could

be little understood by a mere child:

of the artist himself, or the meaning

of his work, the author of the book

appeared to know scarcely anything.
As I became older, my boyish impulse

towards art grew into a vital passion;
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till at last my father took me from school

and permitted me my own bent of study.

There is no need that I should dwell

much upon the next few years of my

life. The beginnings of Art, entered

on at all seriously, present an alter-

-nation of extremes:—on the one hand,

the most bewildering phases of mental

endeavour,—on the other, a toil

rigidly exact and dealing often with

trifles. What was then the precise

shape of the cloud within my tabernacle,

I could scarcely say now; or whether,

through so thick a veil, I could

be sure of its presence there at all.

And as to which statue at the Museum

I drew most or learned least from,

—or which professor at the Academy

“set” the model in the worst taste,—

these are things which no one need care

to know. I may say briefly that I

was wayward enough in the pursuit,
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if not in the purpose; that I cared even

too little for what could be taught me

by others; and that my original designs

greatly outnumbered my school-drawings.
In most cases where study (such study,

at least, as involves any practical

elements, ) has benumbed that subtle

transition which brings youth out of

boyhood,—there comes a point, after

some time, when the mind loses its

suppleness and is riveted merely

by the continuance of the mechanical

effort. At such It is then that the

constrained senses gradually assume

their utmost tension, and any urgent

impression from without will suffice to

scatter the charm. The student looks

up: the film of their own fixedness drops

at once from before his eyes, and for

the first time he sees his life in the

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In my nineteenth year, I might say

that, between one path of Art and

another, I worked hard. One afternoon

I was returning, after an unprofitable

morning, from a class which I attended.

The day was one of those oppressive

lulls in autumn, when application,

unless under sustained excitement,

is all but impossible,—when the

perceptions seem curdled and the

brain full of sand. On ascending

the stairs to my room, I heard voices

there; and when I entered, found my

sister Catharine, with another young

lady, busily turning over my sketches

and papers, as if in search of something.

Catharine laughed, and introduced

her companion as Miss Mary Arden.

There might have been a little malice

in the laugh; for I remembered to have

heard the lady's name before, and to

have then made in fun some teasing
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inquiries about her, as one will of one's

sisters' friends. I bowed for the introduction,

and stood rebuked. She had her back

to the window, and I could not well

see her features at the moment; but

I made sure she was very beautiful,

from her tranquil body and the way

that she held her hands. Catharine

told me they had been looking together

for a book of hers which I had had

by me for some time and which she

had promised to Miss Arden. I joined

in the search; the book was found,

and soon after they left my room.

I had come in utterly spiritless; but

now I fell to and worked well for

several hours. In the evening, Miss

Arden remained with our family circle

till rather late: till she left, I did

not return to my room, nor, when

there was my work resumed that

night. I had thought her more
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Note: Two significant additions are written here for inclusion on the next page [9]. Lines across the binding indicate their placement. For this electronic version, the text of the additions is transcribed on the next page, where they appear in the story.
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beautiful than at first.
Deleted TextFor about a year after this my studies

rather lost their hold upon me; and

at the close of that year Mary

Arden and I were promised in

Added Text After that, every time I saw her, her beauty

seemed to grow on my sight by gazing,

as the stars do in water. It was some

time before I ceased to think of her

beauty alone; and even then it was

still of her that I thought. For about

a year I neglect my studies somewhat

lost their hold upon me; and when

that year was upon its close, she & I

were promised in marriage.
Her Miss Arden's station in life, though

not lofty, was one of more ease than

my own; but the earnestness of her

attachment to me had deterred her

parents from placing any obstacles

in the way of our union. All the

more therefore did I now long to

obtain at once such a position as

should secure me from reproaching

myself with any sacrifice made by

her for my sake: and I now set

to work, with all the energy of which

I was capable, upon a picture of

some labour, involving various aspects

of study. The subject was one of our own day,
Added Text a modern one: and indeed

it has often seemed to me that

all work, to be worthy truly

worthy, should be wrought out of the

age itself, as well as out of the soul

of its producer which must needs be a

soul of the age. At this picture I laboured

constantly and unweariedly, my days and

my nights;
and Mary sat to me for
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the principal female figure. The exhibition

to which I sent it opened a few weeks

before the completion of my twenty-first

Naturally enough, I was there on the

opening day. My picture, I knew, had

been accepted; but I was ignorant of

a matter perhaps still more important,—

its situation on the walls. On that

now depended its success; on its success

the fulfilment of my most cherished

hopes might almost be said to depend.

That is not the least curious feature

of life as evolved in society,—which,

where the average strength and the

average mind are equal, as in this

world, becomes to each life another

name for destiny,—when a man,

having endured labour, gives its fruit

into the hands of other men, that they

may do their work between him and

mankind: confiding it to them,
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unknown, without seeking knowledge of

them; to them, who have probably done in

likewise before him, without appeal to

the sympathy of kindred experience: sub-

-mitting to them his naked soul, himself

blind and unseen: and with no thought

of retaliation, when, it may be, by

their judgment, more than one year

from his dubious threescore and ten

drops alongside, unprofitable, leaving

its baffled labour for its successors to

recommence. There is perhaps no

proof more complete, how sluggish

and little arrogant, in aggregate life,

is the sense of individuality.
I dare say something like this may

have been passing in my mind as I

entered the lobby of the exhibition:

though the principle, with me as with

others, was subservient to its appli-

-cation: my thoughts, in fact, starting
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from and tending towards myself &

my own picture. The kind of uncertainty

in which I then was is rather a nervous

affair; and when, as I shouldered

my way through the press, I heard my

name spoken close behind me, I believe

that I could have wished the speaker

further off without being particular

as to distance. I could not well,

however, do otherwise than look

round; and on doing so, recognized

in him who had addressed me, a

gentleman to whom I had been

introduced overnight at the house of

a friend, and to whose remarks

on the Corn question and the National

debt I had listened to a with a

wish for deliverance somewhat

akin to that which I now felt; the

more so, perhaps, that my distaste

was coupled with surprize; his name

having been for some time familiar
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to me as that of a writer of poetry.
As soon as we were rid of the crush,

we spoke and shook hands; and I said,

to conceal my chagrin, some plati-

-tudes as to Poetry being present to

support her sister Art in the hour of

“Oh just so, thank you,” said he; “have

you anything here?”
While he spoke, it suddenly struck me

that my friend, the night before, had

informed me this gentleman was a

critic as well as a poet. And indeed,

for the hippopotamus- visaged fronted man, with

his splay limbs and wading gait,

it seemed the more congenial vocation

of the two. In a moment, the instinct-

-ive antagonism wedged itself between

the artist and the reviewer; and I
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evaded his question.
He had taken my arm, and we were

now in the gallery together. My compa-

-nion's scrutiny was limited almost

entirely to the “line;” but my own

glance wandered furtively among the

suburbs and outskirts of the ceiling;

as a misgiving possessed me that I

might have a personal interest in those

unenviable “high places” of art. Works

which at another time would have

absorbed my whole attention could

now obtain from me but a restless

and hurried examination: still,

I dared not institute an open search

for my own, lest thereby I should

reveal to my companion its presence

in some dismal condemned corner

which might otherwise escape his

notice. Had I procured my catalogue,

I might at least have known in
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which room to look; but I had omitted

to do so, thinking thereby to know my

fate the sooner, and never anticipating

so vexatious an obstacle to my search.

Meanwhile I must answer his ques-

-tions, listen to his criticism, observe

and discuss. After nearly an hour

of this work, we were not through

the first room: my thoughts were

already bewildered, and my face

burning with excitement.
By the time we reached the second room,

the crowd was more dense than ever,

and the heat more and more oppressive.

A glance round the walls could

reveal but little of the consecrated

“line,” before all parts of which the

backs were clustered more or less

thickly; except perhaps where at

intervals hung the work of some

venerable Member, whose glory was
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departed from him. The seats in the

middle of the room were for the most part

empty as yet: here and there only

an unenthusiastic lady had been left

by her party, and sat, in stately un-

-ruffled toilet, her eye ranging apa-

-thetically over the upper portion of

the walls, where the gilt frames

were packed together in desolate parade.

Over these my gaze also passed uneasily,

but without encountering the object

of its solicitude.
In this room my friend the critic came

upon a picture, conspicuously hung,

which interested him prodigiously,

and on which he seemed determined

to have my opinion. It was one of

those tender and tearful works,

those “labours of love”, since familiar

to all print-shop flâneurs,—in which

the wax doll is made to occupy a
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position in Art which it can never have

contemplated in the days of its humble

origin. The silks heaved and swayed

in front of this picture the whole day

All that we could do was to stand

behind, and catch a glimpse of it

now and then through the whispering

bonnets, whose “curtains” brushed

our faces continually. I hardly kn[?]

knew what to say; but my compa-

-nion was lavish of his admiration,

and began to give symptoms of the

gushings of the poet-soul. It ap-

-peared that he had already seen

the picture in the studio, and being

but little satisfied with my mono-

-syllables, was at great pains to

convince me. While he chattered,

I trembled with rage and impatience.
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“You must be tired,” said he at last;

“So am I; let us rest a little.” He led

the way to a seat. I was his slave,

bound hand and foot: I followed him.
The crisis now proceeded rapidly. When

seated, he took from his pocket some

papers, one of which he handed to

me. Who does not know the dainty

action of a poet fingering M.S.? The

knowledge forms a portion of those won-

-drous instincts implanted in us for

self-preservation. I was past resis-

-tance however, and took the paper

submissively. “They are some verses,”

he said, “suggested by the picture you

have just seen. I mean to print

them in our next number, as being

the only species of criticism adequate

to such a work.”
I read the poem twice over, for
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after the first reading I found I had not

attended to a word of it, and was

ashamed to give it him back. The

repetition was not however much more

successful as regarded comprehension,—

a fact which I have since believed

(having seen it again) may have been

dependent upon other causes besides

my distracted thoughts. The poem,

now included among the works of its

author, runs as follows:—
  • “O thou who art not as I am
  • Yet knowest all that I must be,—
  • O thou who livest certainly
  • Full of deep meekness like a lamb
  • Closelaid for warmth under its dam
  • On pastures bare towards the sea:—
  • Look on me, for my soul is bleak,
  • Nor owns its labour in the years,
  • Because of the deaf pain of tears:
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  • 10 It hath not found and will not seek,
  • Lest that indeed remain to speak
  • Which, passing, it believes it hears.
  • Like ranks in calm unipotence
  • Swayed past, compact & regular,
  • Time's purposes and portents are:
  • Yet the soul sleeps, while in the sense
  • The graven brows of Consequence
  • Lie sunk, as in blind wells the star.
  • O gaze along the wind-strewn path
  • 20 That curves distinct upon the road
  • To the dim purplehushed abode.
  • Lo! autumntide and aftermath!
  • Remember that the year has wrath
  • If the ungarnered wheat corrode,
  • It is not that the fears are sore
  • Or that the evil pride repels:
  • But there where the heart's knowledge dwells
  • The heart is gnawed within the core,
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Note: The final prose sentence fragment is in the hand of WMR.
  • Nor loves the perfume from that shore
  • 30 Faint with bloompulvered asphodels.”
Having atoned for non-attention by a second peru-

sal, whose only result was non-comprehension, I thought

I had done my
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Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Copyright: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge