Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: The New Monthly Belle Assemblee, Volume 29: Rossetti Archive Document
Author: Joseph Rogerson (publisher)
Date of publication: 1848 September
Publisher: Joseph Rogerson
Volume: 29

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

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page: 140
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  • “Youth, with pale cheek and slender frame,
  • And dreams of greatness in thine eye!
  • Goest thou to build an early name—
  • Or early in thy tasks to die?”
W.C. Bryant

Many beautiful little poems appear from

time to time in our literary journals, bearing the

unmistakeable impress of genius, and abso-

lutely startling us by their freshness and

originality; while many more of equal, if not

superior merit, are—
  • “——born to blush unseen,
  • And waste their sweetness on the desert air.”

The youthful poet pours out his soul in music;

and a pleasant thing it is to sit singing to one

self; but the world is neither wiser nor better for

such harmony. Many are the pearls of high

and precious imaginings which are lost for want

of being gathered together and strung, and

which require only to be set in order that men

may behold and wonder at their costliness. Un-

published, unknown out of their own narrow

sphere, bright thoughts are born, and die, and

are forgotten! Frequently this is the author's

own fault, who, with a strange mingling of

pride and humility—for true genius is ever

humble—underrates his own performance, feel-

ing how very far it falls short of his conception,

and the impossibility of realizing his own beau-

tiful ideal! Aspiring, rather than dispairing,

with the full consciousness of his powers, he

presses on towards the goal of perfection, fling-

ing aside the bright blossoms which he may

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have gathered by the way, and reaching ever

upward, to the laurel crown of Fame! And yet

many have made a rich bouquet of flowers far

less worthy.
“Oh, it is nothing to what I can do, if I

am spared!” was the exclamation of a young

poetess, in answer to the praises bestowed upon

some early and very exquisite performances;

and such is the heart's language of every child

of genius.
The following little poem is one of those scat-

tered gems of thought to which we have before

alluded, and to which our gentle readers will,

we think, thanks us for directing their attention.

The author is very young—one of a gifted

family—humble, yet ambitious; and preferring,

perhaps wisely, to withhold his name until years

of study and deep thought shall have brought

the dawning of that genius, of which he could

not but be conscious, to maturity. It would be

well for many, whom we could name, if they had

followed his example, or made use at least of

some such desk as that of the celebrated Bembo,

which is said to have had forty divisions,

through which each of his sonnets was passed

in due succession, and at fixed intervals of time

receiving a fresh revisal at every change of

page: 141
The poem of which we sit down to write, and

linger over, pointing out its beauties, and dwell-

ing upon its occesional touches of simple and

exquisite pathos, is entitled by the author, “ My

Sister's Sleep.
” It opens with a picture:—
  • “She fell asleep on Christmas Eve,
  • Upon her eyes' most patient calms
  • The lids were shut: her uplaid arms
  • Covered her bosom, I believe.
  • “Our mother, who had leaned all day
  • Over the bed from chime to chime,
  • Then raised herself for the first time,
  • And, as she sat her down, did pray.”
How beautiful this is!*—the invalid, with her

closed lids and “uplaid arms;” and the mother

—“ our mother,” as she is touchingly called—

bending over her with a watchful and untiring

devotion, “all day from chime to chime;”

marking every change upon that beloved face;

anticipating the wishes which she was too weak

to express; wiping the damp brow, moistening

the parched lip, and meeting the longing glance

of those sunken eyes with a fond and cheerful

smile; sheeding no tear, feeling no weariness,

forgetful of self—for such is a mother's love!

and now, when a sweet, refreshing sleep fell at

length upon her suffering child, sitting down

with a heart full of quiet thankfullness to

The next two verses fill up, as it were, and

give the finishing touches to this exquisite pic-

ture; and although the colouring (to continue

our simile) is not altogether faultless, it is won-

derfully true to nature, with here and there a

master-stroke of great power:
  • “Outside there was a good moon up,
  • 10Whose trailing shadow fell within;
  • The depth of clouds that it was in
  • Seemed hollow, like an altar cup.
  • “I watched it through the lattice-work;
  • We had some plants of evergreen
  • Standing upon the sill: just then
  • It passed behind, and made them dark.”
The italics in the next verse are our own:—
  • Silence was speaking at my side,
  • With an exceedingly clear voice;
  • But my thoughts kept a shifted poise,
  • 20And going not, would not abide.”
Who has not heard the silence speaking? and

experienced those shifting, wandering thoughts,

coming and going like white-winged birds, now

skimming along the earth, and now darting

upwards to heaven? The following is equally

graphic and truthful, and explains what had

gone before:—
Transcribed Footnote (page 141):

* Query the first verse, with its vague expression

and faulty rhyme?—ED. N.M.B.A.

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  • “I had been sitting up some nights,
  • And my tired mind felt weak and blank:
  • Like a sharp strengthening wine, it drank
  • The silence and the broken lights.”
In such a state the following train of thought

seems to be as natural as it is beautiful:—
  • “I said, ‘There is a sleep like death;
  • There also is a death like sleep:
  • Things it is difficult to keep
  • Apart, when one considereth.’
  • “I feel as if I might not grieve:
  • 30This sadness on my heart that dwells
  • Perhaps would have been sorrow else:
  • But I am glad 'tis Christman Eve.”
The first verse reminds us of Sir Thomas

Brown, who calls sleep Death's younger brother.

“And so like him,” as he somewhere says,

“that I never trust him without my prayers.”

The earthly woe chastened and gilded by the

heavenly love, as described in the next verse, is

very touching. There is a volume of hope and

faith in that one line—
  • But I am glad 'tis Christmas Eve!
The succeeding verse is not faultless, although

more than redeemed by that which immediately

follows it, and which we have placed in italics,

in order to draw attention to its singular power

and truthfulness.
  • “While I was thinking, it struck twelve.
  • I said, ‘As swift as came and went
  • Those strokes, so swift is the descent
  • Of life that once begins to shelve.”
  • That sound—a sound which all the years
  • Have heard each hour—crept off; and then
  • The ruffled silence spread again,
  • 40 Like water that a pebble stirs.”
Gentle Reader, have you ever found yourself

a lone watcher by the bed of sickness, when

the busy household was hushed and still, and

you only awake? Do you not recognize this

description? Have you never started when the

clock struck twelve, and shuddered as the sound
  • ——“crept off, and
  • The ruffled silence spread again;”

Yea, even—
  • “Like water that a pebble stirs”?

Happy are ye, if ye have no such memories!
The poem continues thus:—
  • “Our mother rose up where she sat:
  • Her needles, as she laid them down,
  • Met harshly; and her silken gown
  • Rustled: no other noise than that.”
“Our mother,” like all mothers, with busy

fingers and loving heart! The sound of her

needles clashing together as she laid them down,

and the “rustling of her silken gown,” are

among those exquisite little touches of nature

with which the poem abounds.
page: 142
  • “‘Give praise unto the Newly Born!’
  • So, as said angels, she did say;
  • Because we were in Christmas Day,
  • Though it would still be long till dawn.”
We close our eyes and hear afar off, in

imagination, the old Christmas Hymn, with

which all must be familiar, and, we think, that

all must love: it begins thus—
  • “Hark! the herald angels sing,
  • ‘Glory to the new-born King;
  • Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
  • God and sinners reconciled!’”
  • Joyful all ye nations, rise,
  • Join the triumph of the skies;
  • With th' angelic host proclaim,
  • ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’”
But to our task; and truly it is no task, but

a labour of love! We are told of that meek and

Christian mother, in the next verse, that—
  • “She stood a moment, with her hands
  • 50Pressed in each other, praying much:
  • A moment that the mind may touch,
  • But the heart only understands.”
We venture no remark on the above beau-

tifully expressed truth; but pass on to the suc-

ceeding verse, which seems to throw a new light

over the little history before us:—
  • “Just then in the room over us
  • There was a pushing back of chairs,
  • As some who had sat unawares
  • So late, heard the clock strike, and rose.”
It would appear from this that there were

other dwellers in the house; and we are forcibly

reminded of the eloquent language of an Ame-

rican author: “In times of the most general

gaiety,” writes the Rev. F.W.P. Greenwood,

“there are always contemporaneous sorrows;

some hearts breaking while others are bounding.

While we look on gaily thronging crowds, in-

tent on the business, the pleasure, or the wonder

of the day, we cannot forget that some houses

have their windows darkened, and their doors

closed, because within them are the sorrowful,

the sick, the dead. Thus are our passions mo-

dulated; thus does the low note of sadness run

through the music of life, heard in its loudest

swells, present in all its variations, uttering its

warning accompaniment throughout, and mode-

rating the harmony of the whole.”
Those in the room overhead were, most pro-

bably, unaware of their near neighborhood to

the chamber of sickness, and had been sitting

talking together, heedless of the flight of time,

until startled by its warning voice. Their rising

up, and the “pushing back of chairs,” is very

naturally told; while we are left to imagine the

clasping hands, and the mutual good wishes

usually exchanged at that particular season:—
  • “Anxious, with softly-stepping haste,
  • Our mother went where Margaret lay,
  • Fearing the sound o'erhead, that they
  • 60Had broken her long-hoped-for rest.
  • “Lightly she stooped, and smiling turned;
  • But suddenly turned back again;
  • And all her features seemed in pain
  • With woe, and her eyes gazed and yearned.”
We can almost see “our mother,” fearing

lest the rest of her darling Margaret—the rest

from which she had hoped so much—should be

broken, gliding to the bedside with her quiet,

noiseless step; bending over it a moment, and

then turning round her smiling face, as much

as to say to the companion of all her cares and

sorrows, “She is still asleep!” But there was

something probably in the expression of that

pale face which started her all of a sudden.

Sleep and Death, as it was before said, are so

much alike! Again she looked, and her agony

is powerfully depicted:—
  • All her features seemed in pain
  • With woe, and her eyes gazed and yearned.
Not less touching is the silent grief of the

  • “For my part, I but hid my face,
  • And held my breath, and spoke no word:
  • And there was nought spoken; but I heard
  • The silence for a little space.”
In that audible silence all hope passed from

the heart of the bereaved parent, and she

turned away the long gaze of those “yearning

eyes” and “wept.” The spell was broken!—
  • “Our mother bowed herself and wept,
  • 70And both my arms fell; and I said,
  • ‘God knows, I knew that she was dead!’
  • And there, all white, my sister slept.
  • “Then kneeling, upon Christmas morn,
  • A little after twelve o'clock,
  • We said, as when the last chime struck,
  • ‘Christ's blessing on the newly born!’”
So ends the poem; and thus we would have

it end. Another verse might have let in the

world again, and now all is Faith and Peace

and Joy—as it should be upon this Blessed Eve

—and again we hear in imagination the sweet

Christmas Hymn, of which mention has before

been made:—
  • “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
  • Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
  • Light and life to all he brings,
  • Risen with healing on his wings.
  • Mild, he lays his glory by,
  • Born that man no more may die;
  • Born to raise the sons of earth;
  • Born to give them second birth.
  • Hark! the herald angels sing! &c.”
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