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A New Rossetti Letter

I recently had the good fortune to buy an unpublished holograph letter by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. As it concerns Blake and Mrs. Anne Gilchrist, it may be of interest to the readers of the Blake Newsletter. On a folded sheet of mourning notepaper Rossetti wrote:

59 Lincoln’s Inn Fields

My dear W. Ireland

I am very sorry I cannot manage to be with you so early as 7, either today or tomorrow, so must decline your kind invitation to dinner, but shall be very glad to come a little later tomorrow evening, and will take the liberty of bringing my brother if he can come—say at half past 8. He, as well as I, wrote the other day to Mrs. Gilchrist, but the letters, being directed to Earl’s Colne, have not perhaps yet reached her. We shall both be very glad to see her again & go over Blake business by word of mouth. I am very sorry to have delayed answering but was not sure till now which evening I could come. With kind remembrances to Mrs. Gilchrist

I am yours very truly

D G Rossetti
The paper is watermarked “1860”; the envelope is lost.

Although the note is undated, the address implies that it was written between the end of April, 1862, and 24 October of the same year, the only time when Rossetti lived at 59 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. 1 He had moved there when, after Lizzie’s death in February, Chatham Place became unbearable and when a few weeks1 1 So Oswald Doughty in A Victorian Romantic: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1960), pp. 307, 310. But Oswald Doughty and John Robert Wahl, eds., give 22 October as the date Rossetti left; see Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), II, 458. stay on Newman Street proved unsatisfactory. These several months in 1862 were filled with projects and excursions which helped to distract Rossetti from his grief. The completion of Alexander Gilchrist’s Life of Blake (1863) was one such project and is certainly the “Blake business” to which the letter alludes.

After Alexander’s death from scarlet fever, Mrs. Gilchrist moved her children to Earl’s Colne, sometimes called “the garden of Essex,” her mother’s home, her own home for most of her early and middle life, and the home of her ancestors since the Norman Conquest.2 2 Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, ed., Anne Gilchrist: Her Life and Writings, 2nd ed. (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1887), pp. 2-9. But like Rossetti the recent widow had her periods of depression, and they also made her restless; in late August, for example, she wrote to her sister-in-law, “ . . . Colne is intolerably painful to me, and I quite pine to get back to my quiet cottage among the dear Surrey hills . . . .”3 3 The cottage was Brookbank, at Shottermill near Haslemere. This is the home Anne Gilchrist let to George Henry Lewes and George Eliot in 1871 where they read her husband’s life of Blake and where, in a study lined with Blake drawings and engravings, George Eliot wrote the second part of Middlemarch. Gilchrist, pp. 155-56, 215-19.

Apparently Rossetti had written to Earl’s Colne, then learned, probably through a dinner invitation from Mr. Ireland who lived in Chelsea, that Mrs. Gilchrist had moved for a while. I suspect she was visiting the Irelands who had been her neighbors on Great Cheyne Row. (She and Alexander lived at no. 6; Thomas Carlyle and his wife lived at no. 5, next door; and later in 1862 Rossetti himself moved to nearby 16 Cheyne Walk.) Mrs. Isabella Ireland had offered help tending the children who were also sick with “Scarlatina” when their father died.4 4 Gilchrist, pp. 101, 107, 114. “Mr. Ireland” appears in several of Rossetti’s letters from this period, usually as a source of materials for Rossetti’s projected memoir of Alexander Gilchrist.5 5 Doughty and Wahl, II, 441, 452, 454, 455. But Rossetti names him “W. Ireland” while Herbert H. Gilchrist, writing his mother’s memoir, calls him “Edwin.”6 6 Gilchrist, p. 107. Perhaps he had a familiar name (“Winny”?). Perhaps Rossetti’s pen or memory slipped. Or perhaps Herbert Gilchrist, the only source for “Edwin,” misremembered: he was five years old and seriously ill when his family left Chelsea.

A final word. This note is one of several written to arrange a meeting between Anne Gilchrist, Dante Rossetti and, occasionally, William Michael Rossetti. There are almost as many letters postponing meetings or apologizing for missed ones. In fact, the direct evidence that the Rossettis saw much of Mrs. Gilchrist in the process of bringing the Life of Blake to publication is slight. What William Rossetti wrote of Alexander Gilchrist characterizes the relationship, in 1862, between Dante and Anne: “. . . I cannot remember that I saw him more than once or twice again. We were both busy men, and one casualty or another kept us apart.”7 7 “Prefatory Notice” in Gilchrist, pp. ix-x. I wish to express my appreciation to Mrs. Imogen Dennis, of Oxford, England, for her kind permission to publish this Rossetti letter.

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