The Book of Sonnet Sequences

By Houston Peterson | Go to book overview

XI -- DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI
[1828-1882]

A MAN of the south, sensual, indolent and richly versatile, exiled in the narrow, scrambling, specialised life of a northern city; a mystic without a creed; a Catholic without the discipline or consolation of the Church; a life between the rocks and the high road, like the scrub of a southern hillside, sombre, aromatic and impenetrable."1 It would seem impossible to characterize more happily the strange, ambiguous figure who was Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Contradictory, extravagant, metaphorical language must be used about him -- and must leave him largely untouched, out of reach. Long before his death he had become a legend and the legends still continue to accumulate.

His father, Gabriele Rossetti, a poet and Dante scholar, was a political exile from Naples, who settled in London in 1824 and married Frances Mary Polidori, the sister of Byron's physician. The Rossetti household was for years a meeting-place of all sorts of eccentric, erudite Italians, involved in mysterious schemes for liberating their country. Of the four children, Maria Francesca ( 1827-1882), the eldest, was the least well known; extremely intelligent and devout, she did some translating from the Italian, wrote a good critical book called a A Shadow of Dante, and spent her last years in an Anglican sisterhood. Dante Gabriel, the second child, was born the year before his brother, William Michael Rossetti, who became a distinguished critic and biographer of the whole Pre-Raphaelite Movement. Christina Georgina deserves almost as high a rank in poetry as her much more famous brother.

To recall briefly the familiar outlines of Rossetti's

____________________
1
Evelyn Waugh: Rossetti, His Life and Work, p. 13.

-235-

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