Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: Letter to William Michael Rossetti, 18 October 1849
Author: DGR
Date of Composition: 1849 October 18
Type of Manuscript: letter
Scribe: DGR

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

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Note: The text shifts to a second column after line 2 of the third poem.
Last visit to the Louvre

The Cry of the P.R.B.

after a careful examination of the canvasses

of Rubens, Correggio, et hoc genus omne.
  • Non noi pittori! God of Nature's truth,
  • If these, not we! Be it not said, when one
  • Of us goes hence: “As these did, he hath done;
  • His feet sought out their footprints from his youth.”
  • Because, dear God! the flesh Thou madest smooth
  • These carked and fretted, that it seemed to run
  • With ulcers; and the daylight of thy sun
  • They parcelled into blots and glares, uncouth
  • With [?] stagnant grouts of paint. Men say that these
  • 10 Had further sight than Man's, but that God saw
  • Their works were good. God that didst know them foul!
  • In such a blindness, blinder than the owl
  • Leave us! Our sight can reach unto thy seas
  • And hills: and 'tis enough for tears of awe.

Last visit to the Luxembourg.

“Roger Rescuing Angelica”; by Ingres.

  • A remote sky, prolonged to the sea's brim:
  • One rock-point standing buffeted alone,
  • Vexed at its base with a foul beast unknown,
  • Hell-birth of geomaunt and teraphim:
  • A knight, and a winged creature bearing him,
  • Reared at the rock: a woman fettered there,
  • Leaning into the hollow with loose hair
  • And throat let back and heartsick trail of limb.
  • The sky is harsh, and the sea shrewd and salt.
  • 10 Under his lord the griffin-horse ramps blind
  • With rigid wings and tail. The spear's lithe stem
  • Thrills in the roaring of those jaws: behind,
  • That evil length of body chafes at fault.
  • She does not hear nor see—she knows of them.
  • Clench thine eyes now,—'tis the last instant, girl:
  • Draw in thy senses, loose thy knees, and shake.

  • Column Break

  • Set thy breath fast: thy life is keen awake,—
  • Thou may'st not swoon. Was that the scattered whirl
  • Of its foam drenched thee?—or the waves that curl
  • And split—bleak spray wherein thy temples ache?
  • Or was it his the champion's blood, to flake
  • That flesh which has the colour of fine pearl.
  • Now, silence: for the sea's is such a sound
  • 10 As irks not silence: and except the sea,
  • All now is still. Now the dead thing doth cease
  • To writhe, and drifts. He turns to her: and she,
  • Cast from the jaws of Death, remains there, bound,
  • Again a woman in her nakedness.

Last Sonnets at Paris.

  • Chins that might serve the new Jerusalem:
  • Streets footsore: minute whisking milliners,
  • Dubbed graceful, but at whom one's eye demurs,
  • Knowing of England: ladies, much the same;
  • Bland smiling dogs with manes,—a few of them
  • At pains to look like sporting characters;
  • Vast humming tabbies, smothered in their furs;
  • Groseille, Orgeat, Meringues à la crême—
  • Good things to study: ditto bad—the maps
  • 10 Of sloshy colour in the Louvre: Cinq-francs
  • The largest coin; and at the restaurants
  • Large Ibrahim pachas [?] in Turkish caps
  • To pocket them. Un million d'habitants:
  • Cast up, they'll make an Englishman—perhaps.
  • Tiled floors in bedrooms: Trees (now run to seed—
  • Such seed as the wind takes) of Liberty:
  • Squares with new names that no one seems to see;
  • Scrambling Briarean passages, which lead
  • To the first place you came from: urgent need
  • Of unperturbed nasal philosophy:
  • Through Paris (what with Church and Gallery)
  • Some forty first-rate paintings,—or indeed
  • Fifty mayhap: fine churches, splendid inns;
  • 10 Fierce sentinels (toy-size without the stands)
  • Who spit their oaths at you and grind their r's
  • If at a fountain you would wash your hands;
  • One Frenchman (this is fact) who thinks he spars:—
  • Can even good dinners cover all these sins?
  • Yet in the mighty French metropolis,
  • Our time has not gone from us utterly
  • In waste. The wise man saith, An ample fee
  • For toil, to work thine end. [?] Aye, that it is!
  • Whe[?] Should God sh[?] England ask: “Was narrow prejudice
  • Stretched to its utmost point unflinchingly,
  • Even unto lying, at all times, by ye?”
  • We can say firmly: “Lord, thou knowest this,
  • England Our soil may own us.” Having but small French,
  • 10 Hunt passed for a stern Spartan [?]all the while,
  • Uncompromising, of few words: for me—
  • I think I was accounted generally
  • A [?], only fool, and just a little cracked. Thy smile
  • May light on us, Britannia, sturdy healthy wench.
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Note: The text shifts to a second column after line 11 of the second poem.
Note: The leaf is slightly torn. The gaps at the beginning of lines 19-20 of “From Paris to Brussels”, and lines 7-11 of “On the Road”, have been editorially supplied (in square brackets).
From Paris to Brussels.

(11 p.m. 16 th 15 Oct. to 1/2 past 1 p.m. 17 16 th)

Proem at the Paris Station.
  • In France, (to baffle thieves and murderers)
  • A journey takes two days of passport-work
  • At least. The plan's sometimes a tedious one,
  • But bears its fruit. Because, the other day,
  • In passing by the Morgue, I we saw a man
  • (The thing is common, and we never should
  • Have known of it, only we passed that way)
  • Who had been stabbed and tumbled in the Seine
  • Where he had stayed some days. The face was black
  • 10And, like a negro's, swollen; all the flesh
  • Had furred, and broken into a green mould.
  • Now very likely, he who did the job
  • Was standing among those who stood with us
  • To look upon the corpse. You fancy him—
  • Smoking an early pipe, and watching, as
  • An artist, the effect of his last work.
  • This always if it had not struck him that
  • 'Twere best to leave while yet the body took
  • [Its] crust of rot beneath the Seine. It may:
  • 20[But] if it did not, he can now remain
  • [W]ithout much fear. Only, if he should want
  • To travel, and have not his passport yet,
  • (Deep dogs these French police!) he may be caught.
  • Therefore you see, (lest, being murderers,
  • We should not have the sense to go before
  • The thing were known, or to stay afterwards)
  • There is good reason why—having resolved
  • To start for Belgium—we were kept three days
  • To learn about the passports first, then do
  • 30As we had learned. This notwithstanding, in
  • The fullness of the time, 'tis come to pass.

On the Road.

  • October, and eleven after dark:
  • Both mist and night. Among us in the coach
  • Packed heat on which the windows have been shut:
  • Our backs unto the motion—Hunt's and mine.
  • The last lamps of the Paris station move
  • Slow with wide haloes past the clouded pane;
  • [The] road in secret empty darkness. One
  • [W]ho sits beside me, now I turn, has pulled
  • [A] nightcap to his eyes. A woman here,
  • 10[Kne]es to my knees—a twenty-nine-year-old—
  • [Smiles] at the mouth I open, seeing him:

  • Column Break

  • I look her gravely in the jaws, and write.
  • Already while I write, heads have been leaned
  • Upon the wall,—the lamp that's overhead
  • Dropping its shadow to the waist and hands.
  • Some time 'twixt sleep and wake. A dead pause then,
  • With giddy humming silence in the ears.
  • It is a station. Eyes are opening now
  • And mouths collecting their propriety.
  • 20From one of our two windows, now drawn up,
  • A lady leans, hawks a clear throat, and spits.
Note: Several lines in this stanza and the following are indented around what appears to have been a stain or wet spot on the paper.
  • Hunt lifts his head from my cramped shoulder where
  • It has been lying—long stray hairs from it
  • Crawling upon my face and teazing me.
  • Ten minutes' law. Our feet are in the road.
  • A weak thin dimness at the sky, whose chill
  • Lies vague and hard. The mist of crimson heat
  • Hangs, a spread glare, about our engine's bulk.
  • I shall get in again, and sleep this time.
  • 30A heavy clamour that fills up the brain
  • Like thought grown burdensome; and in the ears
  • Speed that seems striving to o'ertake itself;
  • And in the pulses torpid life, which shakes
  • As water to a stir of wind beneath.
  • Poor Hunt, who has the toothache and can't smoke,
  • Has asked me twice for brandy. I would sleep;
  • But man proposes, and no more. I sit
  • With open eyes, and a head quite awake
  • But which keeps catching itself lolled aside
  • 40And looking sentimental. In the coach,
  • If any one tries talking, the sound voice jolts,
  • And stuns the ear that stoops for it.
  • Half-an-hour's rest. Another shivering walk
  • Along the station, waiting for the bell.
  • Ding-dong. Now this time, by the Lord, I'll sleep.

  • I must have slept some time while. Now that I wake,
  • Day is beginning in a kind of haze
  • White with grey trees. The hours have had their lapse.
  • A sky too dull for cloud. A country lain
  • 50In fields, where teams drag up the furrow yet;
  • Or else a level of trees, the furthest ones
  • Seen like faint clouds at the horizon's point.
  • Quite a clear distance, though in vapour. Mills
  • That turn with the dry wind. Large stacks of hay
  • Made to look bleak. Dead Autumn, and no sun.
  • The smoke upon our course is borne so near
  • Along the earth, the earth appears to steam.
  • Blanc-Misseron, the last French station, passed.
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    Note: The text shifts to a second column after line 10 of “4 hours”.
  • We are in Belgium. It is just the same;—
  • 60Nothing to write of, and no good in verse.
  • Curse the big mounds of sand-weed! curse the miles
  • Of barren chill,—the twentyfold relays!
  • Curse every beastly Station on the road.
  • As well to write as swear. Hunt was just now
  • Making great eyes because outside the pane
  • One of the stokers passed whom he declared
  • A stunner. A vile mummy with a bag
  • Is squatted next me: a disgusting girl
  • Broad opposite. We have a poet, though,
  • 70Who is a gentleman, and looks like one;
  • Only he seems ashamed of writing verse,
  • And heads each new page with “ Mon cher Ami.”
  • Hunt's stunner has just come into the coach
  • And set us hard agrin from ear to ear.
  • Another station. There's a stupid horn
  • Set wheezing. Now I should just like to know
  • —Just merely for the whim—what good that is.
  • These Stations for the most part are a kind
  • Of London coal-merchant's back premises;
  • 80Whitewashed, but as by hands of coalheavers;
  • Grimy themselves, and always circled in
  • With foul coke-loads that make the nose aroint.
  • Here is a Belgian village,—no, a town
  • Moated and buttressed. Next, a water-track
  • Lying with draggled reeds in a flat slime.
  • Next, the old country, always all the same.
  • Now by Hans Hemmling and by John Van Eyck,
  • You'll find, till something's new, I write no more.

4 hours

  • There is small change of country; but the sun
  • 90Is out, and it were seems shame this were not said.
  • For upon all the grass the warmth has caught;
  • And betwixt distant whitened poplar-stems
  • Makes greener darkness; and in dells of trees
  • Shows spaces of a verdure that lay was hid;
  • And the sky has its blue floated with white
  • And crossed with falls of the sun's glory aslant
  • To lay upon the waters of the world;
  • And from the road men stand with shaded eyes

  • Column Break

  • To look; and flowers in gardens have grown strong,
  • 100And our own shadows here within the coach
  • Are brighter; and all colour has more bloom.
  • So, after all the sore torments of the route:—
  • Toothache, and headache, and the ache of wind,
  • And huddled sleep, and smarting wakefulness,
  • And night, and day, and hunger sick at food,
  • And twentyfold relays, and packages
  • To be unlocked, and passports to be found,
  • And heavy well-kept landscape;—we were glad
  • Because we entered Brussels in the sun.

L'Envoi: Brussels. Hotel du Midi.

18 th Oct.

  • It's copied out at last: very poor stuff
  • Writ in the cold, with pauses of the cramp.
  • Direct, dear William, to the Poste Restante
  • At Ghent—here written Gand (Gong, Hunticè.
  • We go to Antwerp first, but shall not stay;
  • After, to Ghent and Bruges; and after that
  • To Ostend, and thence home. To Waterloo
  • Was yesterday. Thither, and there, and back,
  • I managed to scrawl something,—most of it
  • 10Bad, and the sonnet at the close mere slosh.
  • 'Twas only made because I was knocked up,
  • And it helped yawning. Take it, and the rest.

On the road to Waterloo. 17 th Oct.

( en vigilante, 2 hours.)

  • It is grey tingling azure overhead
  • With silver drift. Beneath, the ground is where from the green
  • Where the trees are reared, the distance stands between
  • At peace: [?] and on one that side [?] the land whole is spread
  • For sowing and for harvest, subjected
  • Clear to the sky and wind. The sun's slow height
  • Holds it through noon; and at the furthest night
  • It lies to the moist starshine and is fed.
  • Sometimes there is no distance country seen, (for miles
  • 10 You think) because of the near roadside path
  • Dense with long forest. Where the waters run
  • They have the sky sunk into them—a bath
  • Of still blue heat; and in their flow, at whiles,
  • There is a blinding vortex of the sun.

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Note: The text breaks into a second column between the poems and DGR's prose letter.
A half-way Pause.

  • The turn of noontide has begun.
  • In the weak breeze the sunshine yields.
  • There is a bell upon the fields.
  • On the long hedgerow's tangled run
  • A low white cottage intervenes:
  • Against the wall a blind man leans
  • And sways his face to have the sun.
  • Our horses' hoofs stir in the road
  • Sudden Quiet and sharp. Light hath a song
  • 10 Whose silence, being heard, seems long.
  • The point of noon maketh abode
  • And will not be at once gone thro.
  • The sky's deep colour saddens you,
  • And the heat weighs a dreamy load.

On the Field of Waterloo.

  • So then, the name which travels side by side
  • With English life from childhood—Waterloo,
  • Means this. The sun is setting. “Their strife grew
  • Till the sunset, and ended,” says our guide.
  • It lacked the “chord” by stage-use sanctified,
  • Yet I believe one should have thrilled. For me,
  • I grinned not, and 'twas something:—certainly
  • These held their point, and did not turn but died:
  • So much is very well. “Under each span
  • 10 Of these ploughed fields” ('tis the guide still) “there rot
  • Three nations' slain, a thousand-thousandfold.”
  • Am I to weep? Good sirs, the earth is old:
  • Of the whole earth there is no single spot
  • But hath among its dust the dust of man.

Returning to Brussels.

  • Upon a Flemish road, when noon was deep,
  • I passed a little consecrated shrine,
  • Where, among simple pictures ranged in line,
  • The blessed Mary holds her child asleep.
  • To kneel here, shepherd-maidens leave their sheep
  • When they feel grave because of the sunshine,
  • And again kneel here in the day's decline;
  • And here, when their life ails them, come to weep.
  • Night being full, I passed on the same road
  • 10 By the same shrine: within, a lamp was lit
  • Which through the silence of clear darkness glowed.
  • Thus, when life's heat is past and doubts arise
  • Darkling,—the lamp of Faith must strengthen it,
  • Which sometimes will not light and sometimes dies.

Column Break

Dear William,
I have been thinking whether Brussels offers materials for a sonnet, but have come to the conclusion that not even thus much is to be got out of its utter muffishness. I will therefore fill this last column with as much prose as I can afford you. However, the verse must stand for a letter this time: though, with the exception of two or three of the sonnets, I fear it is not even so good as what I have already sent you. The fact is a journey in fair & foul weather are two very different things, and the verse gets its measure of estro accordingly. But I will not grunt about past evils, for the weather, these days in Brussels, has been like the finest summer.
There is a most servile aping of the French here, notwithstanding that they seem to be held in hatred. The English are victimized to a beastly extent everywhere. One of the great nuisances of this place, as also at Waterloo, is the plague of guides from which there is no escape. The one we had at Waterloo completely baulked me of all the sonnets I had promised myself; so that all I accomplished was the embryo bottled up in the preceding column. Between you and me, William, Waterloo is simply a bore.
I believe we saw all the town to day, except a lot of scientific and industrial silliness, and one room at the Museum which we perceived was full of Rubenses and so held aloof. There are a few very fine early German pictures, among them a wonderful Van Eyck. I believe we shall see no end of these stunning things at Antwerp, Ghent, &c. and as I am convinced they will drag me into rhyme, I almost fear that I shall not do much, if anything, to Bride Chamber Talk, till my return. Before leaving Paris, we went to the Hotel de Cluny, a first-rate place, which will be of great use to me in finishing this poem. Could I do it on the spot, I fancy I should be a made man. I fear there is no chance now of going to Brittany.
All further matters concerning your poem we can discuss on my return, which will be much shorter work. I will only mention one thing which I forgot to include in my last. I think the penultimate line of the poem would perhaps be more forcible if it stood thus: “I can wait, John, but is not the whole due?”
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Note: It seems WMR added square brackets around a reference to Nussey that he wished later to exclude.
You can have no conception of the intense sweating exasperation incident on passport-hunting. We had three days of it before leaving Paris.
You talk about printing my blessed journal. I fear this would never do: there is too much of a kind of exclusive matter belonging only to ourselves; and moreover, among the things I have written since leaving London, there are only 3 sonnets which have received any consideration: viz: the 2 on Ingres' picture & the one on the road to Waterloo—all in the present letter.
I believe it is very probable that you will receive before my return a large volume of old Charivaris containing Gavarni's sketches, which I left with Broadie at Paris, to be bound and forwarded to you, in order to escape paying double duty both in Belgium & England. They will be bound anyhow, provisorily, merely that they may go in the book form, and not have to pay 1 d apiece, as prints, at the Custom House.
Of the 2 prospectuses you sent me, I gave one to Broadie, and the other has somehow got all covered with ink. I must therefore let the sending to Lyell & Cottingham stand over for the present. We can discuss advertising at length when we are all together. I quite agree with you about the inadvisability of getting any more proprietors as yet. [Nussey is certainly a man I should not wish to include, as I suspect he is rather fidgetty & obstinate, & also that his genius as a writer is not overpowering ]. It appears to me quite unnecessary to begin sending about prospectuses at present in any great quantity.
You speak of the uncertainty of Haynes' estimate coinciding with Tupper's. If Tupper is more moderate, let us print by all means with him.
Will you tell Papa that while in Paris I called with his letter for Ronna at the address which it bears, and saw a crusty old woman who said he had been gone some time and she did not know whither, but that if I called next day perhaps someone would be there who knew. The quarter of Paris, however, was one we never had occasion to be in, & which is infamously paved. The consequence was that we put off calling again till it was too late. Owing to the number of things we were obliged to run after, several other letters with which we had been entrusted shared the same fate.
To Papa, Mamma, & Collinson, I intend to write as soon as possible. I hope they have made allowances hitherto. A letter is also due to Christina which still lies unattempted. I have likewise to answer Woolner, and to redeem my promise to Hancock.
Write at once, and if you have done anything send it: if not, something of Christina's. Remember me warmly to all friends, who, by my good fortune, are too numerous to particularize. I trust Papa's health holds good. By the bye, I hear nothing of the Bermondsey murder.
D. G. R.
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Source File: dgr.ltr.0556.rad.xml