Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: Letter to William Michael Rossetti, 8 October 1849
Author: DGR
Date of Composition: 1849 October 8
Type of Manuscript: letter
Scribe: DGR

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

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Paris, Rue Geoffroy Marie 4

Faubourg Montmartre

Dear William,
The arrival of your poem yesterday was about the best thing that has happened since my arrival here. I read it at once twice through, to the very great satisfaction of Hunt & myself. The points that we noted in any way especially I will now proceed to communicate. But first of all we both think that a better title might be found. I dare say you will manage to think of one.
I do not know if you remember that at the beginning of the Eve of St. Mark there are the lines “The city streets were cool and fair,/From wholesome drench of April rains.” This is like the beginning of your poem; and though of course the statement of a fact from observation cannot even be a reminiscence of what has been done before, still I think it is perhaps as well not to have at the very outset a line which some people might manage to draw conclusions from. The expression “fish flapping about” might I think be altered to something newer, and even more strikingly truthful.
The second paragraph is excellent; the third is good. In the speech of Harling (4th p.) I think some little bright detail might still be introduced to increase the force. The 5th is admirable last line especially so. In the 6th the word rustling is rather old, and the last line a trifle common and awkward. In the 7th I see no necessity for second line, which I think makes too much of a trifling point in so serious a poem. Would not “loosed itself and touched along his forehead” &c. be quite sufficient? Both Hunt and I thought you might alter “Something at a window.” It is rather melodramatic perhaps. ”What was at a window” suggested itself to me, but I believe this is too Tennysonian. In the 8th I do not like the position of the man altogether; it seems a little violent. One can fancy some of the Adelphi people doing it. The 9th and llth will do very well; the 10th is first rate. In the 12th, I think (as they had been always in correspondence) that Harling might in some way allude to their letters quite slightly of course, by a word. At present it seems rather abrupt, and at first looks as if they had known nothing whatever of each other for years. In the 13th the “Sir” belongs, as of course you must be aware, to the French school of ultra metaphysics. 14th to 21st all capital. The last line of the 22nd appears to me scarcely in character with Grey. I have something of the same sort in my “Bride Chamber Talk,” but I will have the cheek to say that I think it is there more appropriate to the personage. 23rd excellent. The line composing 24th seems rather common. What do you think of “that his laugh troubled him,” or “It seemed to
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Harling the laugh was not his.” 25th admirable: perhaps at the end, “I am one” would be more absolutely conversational than “I am such.” 26th capital; 27th first rate; 28th excellent; 29th & 30th very good, except that the lady would be employed in a more feminine and I believe equally natural manner, were she helping the wounded instead of fighting. 31st & 32nd very good; perhaps the last two lines in a little crackjaw. In the 33rd the “divided into oblongs” business reads as trivial. The last line of 34th a little common. 35th very good. Something newer, I think, might be done at the end of 36th. There might be, especially in Grey, a kind of shaking of the jaw and pressing into the clavicle which could be made very fine. 37th excellent 38th remarkably fine. 39th not quite so good. 40th and on as far as the Inquest exceedingly powerful. I think certainly that the piece about the lilac dress and the hair is rather Gallically introduced, and Hunt remarked that the “worn plain” is an expression more likely to be used by a woman than a man.
Now for the Inquest. I do not think that “Disclosures extraordinary” is the newspaper phrase, but “extraordinary disclosures.” If so, I would be careful to alter this, as it may be taken for a poetical inversion. “The worthy Coroner” is a little strong; but I shall not argue this, as no doubt you consider it the hinge of the poem. At “accommodated with a chair,” Hunt suggested “a seat” instead, as being a trifle less comic. “A something trembled at her lips” appears to me, on the other hand, too poetical for evidence. In my copy the line “So she assured that should come to pass” has had some syllable omitted by mistake, I suppose. There is one man in England who will understand the phrase “the living up of her old love”: his name is Alfred Tennyson: if you write for any other Englishman, this must be cut out. “That in the first letter you sent deceased” is rather a harsh line. All the passage about the familiarities looks rather ambiguous. I do not know whether you mean it to be so. In the woman's letter, the “looking strange,” Hunt suggested, might be altered to some impression which she could more clearly realize to herself. I, however, do not feel certain as to this. The Christ business is very good as it is, and the line about the stone has also something appropriate in it. The following adaptation suggested itself to me, as uniting the qualities of both:
  • “And prayed of Christ (he knowing how it was) That, if this thing were sinful unto death, He would himself be first to throw the stone. So then I entered, &c.”
Your Inquest is, on the whole I think, a very clever and finished piece of writing wonderfully well managed in parts and possessing some strong points of character. The woman's letter is exceedingly truthful and fine. The rest of the poem is very first rate indeed some passages really stunning. Hunt suggested that “Who ever heard of Dr. Luton yet” would more thoroughly
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explain Grey's intention, and I fancy he is right. True, Luton is a surgeon, but surgeons are constantly called Doctors by courtesy. I am not certain whether a few additional lines after the last one would not finish the poem more soberly. I will now sum up, with “the worthy Coroner.” I think your poem is very remarkable, and altogether certainly the best thing you have done. It is a painful story, told without compromise, and with very little moral, I believe, beyond commonplaces. Perhaps it is more like Crabbe than any other poet I know of; not lacking no small share of his harsh reality, less healthy, and at times more poetical. I would advise you, if practicable, to show it to any medical man at hand, Dr. Hare for instance. He might discover some absurdity which escapes us, or suggest something of value to the story.

Now for myself. I am ashamed to declare I have nothing yet to offer you in return for your 900 lines but “ quelques mechants sonnets”—real humbugs, which it is almost absurd to send, lest they should be taken for a compensation. Moreover one or two of them are sloshy in the rhymes of the first half: I think however I could find authorities among the early Italians.
Here is the one which came into my head on the staircase of Notre Dame, and which I have since remembered, though I fancy with some deterioration.
  • As one who, groping in a narrow stair,
  • Hath a strong sound of bells upon his ears,
  • Which (being at a distance off) appears
  • Quite close to him because of the pent air:
  • So with this France. She [?] stumbles file and square
  • Darkling and without space for breath: each one
  • Who hears the thunder says: “It shall anon
  • Be in among her ranks to scatter her.”
  • This may be; and it may be that the storm
  • 10 Is spent in rain upon the unscathed seas,
  • Or wasteth other countries ere it die:
  • Till she,—having climbed always thro the storm swarm
  • Of darkness and of hurtling sound,—from these
  • Shall step forth on the light in a clostill sky.
I forget whether I told you that it was the ringing of the bells as we climbed the staircase which gave me this valuable inspiration.
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The other day we walked to the Place de la Bastille. Hunt & Broadie smoked their cigars, while I, in a fine frenzy conjured up by association and historical knowledge, leaned against the Column of July and composed the following sonnet:
  • How dear the sky has been above this place!
  • Small treasures of this sky that we see here
  • Seen weak through prison-bars from year to year;
  • Eyed with a painful prayer upon God's grace
  • To save, and tears which stayed along the face
  • Lifted till the sun set. How passing dear
  • At night, when through the bars a wind left clear
  • The skies, and moonlight made a mournful space.
  • This was until one night, the secret kept
  • 10 Safe in low vault and stealthy corridor
  • Was blown abroad on a swift wind of flame.
  • Above God's sky and God are still the same:
  • It may be that as many tears are shed
  • Beneath, and that man is but as of yore.

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I find I must adopt the plan of writing only on one [?] side; for it is candlelight now, and I cannot see distinctly.
The other day, pondering on the rate of locomotion which the style of the old masters induces in us at the Louvre, I scribbled as follows:
  • Woolner and Stephens,—Collinson, Millais,
  • And my first brother,—each and every one,
  • What portion is theirs now beneath the sun
  • Which, even as here, in England makes To-day?
  • For most of them, life runs not the same way
  • Always, but leaves the thought at loss: [I know
  • Merely that Woolner keeps not even the show
  • Of work, nor is enough awake for play ].
  • Meanwhile, Hunt and myself race at full speed
  • 10 Along the Louvre, and yawn from school to school,
  • Wishing worn-out those masters known as old.
  • And no man asks of Browning: though indeed
  • (As the book travels with me) any fool
  • Who would, might hear Sordello's story told.
There are very few good things at the Louvre, besides what I mentioned in my last. There is a wonderful head by Rafael, however; another wonderful head by I know not whom; and a pastoral—at least a kind of pastoral—by Giorgione, which is so intensely fine that I condescended to sit down before it and write a sonnet. You must have heard me rave about the engraving before, and I fancy have seen it yourself. There is a woman, naked, at one side, who is dipping a glass vessel into a well; and in the centre two men and another naked woman who seem to have paused for a moment in playing on the musical instruments which they hold. Here is my sonnet:
  • Water, for anguish of the solstice,—yea,
  • Over the vessel's mouth still widening
  • Listlessly dipt to let the water in
  • With low vague gurgle. Blue, and deep away
  • The heat lies silent at the brink of day:
  • The hand trails weak upon the viol-string
  • That sobs; and the brown faces cease to sing,
  • Mournful with complete pleasure. Her eyes stray
  • In distance; through her lips the pipe doth creep
  • 10 And leaves them pouting; the green shadowed grass
  • Is cool against her naked flesh. Let be:
  • Do not now speak unto her lest she weep,—
  • Nor name this ever. Be it as it was:—
  • Silence of heat, and solemn poetry.
Last night, we went to Valentino's, to see the cancan. As these groups whirled past us, one after another, in an ecstasy of sound and motion, I became possessed with a tender rapture
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and recorded it in rhyme as follows. (N.B. The numerical characteristics refer to the danseuses.)
  • The first, a mare; the second, 'twixt bow-wow
  • And pussy-cat, a cross; the third, a beast
  • To baffle Buffon; the fourth, not the least
  • In hideousness, nor last; the fifth, a cow;
  • The sixth, Chimera; the seventh, Sphinx; . . . Come now,
  • One woman, France, ere this frog-hop have ceased,
  • And it shall be enough. A toothsome feast
  • Of blackguardism [and whoresflesh ] and bald row,
  • No doubt, for such as love those same. For me,
  • 10I confess, William, and avow to thee,
  • (Soft in thine ear!) that such sweet female whims
  • [As nasty backside out and wriggled limbs ]
  • Are not a passion of mine naturally.
  • [Nor bitch-squeaks, nor the smell of heated quims. ]
Now another word in your ear, in prose:—do not let anyone see this letter but yourself, I mean the family of course; or else scratch out this sonnet first. It is rather emphatic, I know; but, I assure you, excusable under the circumstances. My dear Sir, we have not seen six pretty faces since we have been at Paris; and those, such as would not be in the least remarkable in London. As for the ball last night, it was matter for spewing: there is a slang idiocy about the habitués, viler than gentism. And the females, the whores, the bitches my God!! As for Gavarni, he is a liar and the father of it.
I bought some more of his things the other day, and have got a great number now more than I care to count. I wish, if you have leisure, you would go to Brown's study, and look up, among our portfolios there, all such Gavarnis as they may contain; since on my arrival in London I will get them bound into a volume with those I have bought here; and it is as well they should not go knocking about among all the [?] jumble of those same portfolios any longer, as the paper of them is somewhat frail.
Hunt and I have likewise bought 3 stunning etchings by Albert Dürer, and one or two other little things.
The other night we went to the Gaité, to see a piece called “La Sonnette du Diable” which is an adaptation of Soulié's “Mémoires.” It was most execrably played, and so stupefied us that we lost ourselves in coming home.
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P.S. The other night we were inexpressibly astounded by Rachel, in a piece by Scribe called Adrienne Lecouvreur.
I am indeed rejoiced to hear that Papa is so much better. I shall write to him immediately almost. Also to Cottingham, with whom I ought by rights to have communicated before leaving London.
Stephens must have forgotten that he himself and Hunt, as well as I, were at first all agog for the title of PRB Journal, though we afterwards all abandoned it. As for the Sonnets on Keats, I cannot see any call for their appearance in No. 1. As for our title, I think “towards” is much the better,—“toward” being altogether between you, me, & Tennyson; and it is well to seem as little affected as possible. I suppose you have by this time got over the insane exultation incident on finding “Joseph and his Brethren,” which Williams brought, together with the “Stories,” the night before we left. The latter I have taken with me, as they might possibly be wanted somehow in case we see Wells. Love to our family, the PRB & all. We have not yet delivered the letters of Messrs. Brown & Morrison, nor the one from Papa to Ronna; but shall do so as soon as possible. I hope Brown is well, & trust to write to him very shortly.
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