My life is but a working-day,
Whose tasks are set aright:
A while to work, a while to pray,
And then a quiet night.
And then, please God, a quiet night
Where Saints and Angels walk in white.
One dreamless sleep from work and sorrow,
But reawakening on the morrow.
As a study in heredity, the Rossetti family is most interesting. Genius seems so sporadic a stuff that when we find an outcrop along the line of a whole family we are wont to mark it on memory’s chart in red. We talk of the Herschels, of Renan and his sister, of the Beechers, and the Fields, in a sort of awe, mindful that Nature is parsimonious in giving out transcendent talent, and may never do the like again. So who can forget the Rossettis–two brothers, Dante Gabriel and William Michael, and two sisters, Maria and Christina–each of whom stands forth as far above the ordinary, yet all strangely dependent upon one another?
The girls sing songs to the brothers, and to each other, inscribing poems to “my loving sister”; when Dante Gabriel, budding forth as artist, wishes a model for a Madonna, he chooses his sister Christina, and in his sketch mantles the plain features with a divine gentleness and heavenly splendor such as only the loving heart can conjure forth. In the last illness of Maria, Christina watches away the long, lagging hours of night, almost striving with her brothers for the right of serving; and at Birchington-on-the-Sea, Dante Gabriel waits for death, wearing out his friends by insane suspicions, and only the sister seems equal to ministering to this mind diseased, plucking from memory its rooted sorrow.
In a few years Christina passes out, and of the four, only William is left; and the task of his remaining years is to put properly before the world the deathless lives of his brother and sisters gone.
Gabriel Rossetti, father of the illustrious four, was an Italian poet who wrote patriotic hymns, and wrote them so well that he was asked to sing them elsewhere than in Italy. This edict of banishment was followed by an order that the poet be arrested and executed.
The orders of banishment and execution appear quite Milesian viewed across the years, but to Rossetti it was no joke. To keep his head in its proper place and to preserve his soul alive, he departed one dark night for England. He arrived penniless, with no luggage save his lyre, but with muse intact. Yet it was an Italian lyre, and therefore of small avail for amusing Britons. Very naturally, Rossetti made the acquaintance of other refugees, and exile makes fast friends. It is only in prosperity that we throw our friends overboard.
He came to know the Polidori family–Tuscan refugees–proud, intellectual and rich. He loved one of the daughters of Seignior Polidori, and she loved him. He was forty and she was twenty-three–but what of that! A position as Professor of Languages was secured for him in King’s College. He rented the house at Thirty-eight Charlotte Street, off Portland Place, and there, on February Seventeenth, Eighteen Hundred Twenty-seven, was born their first child, Maria Francesca; on May Twelfth, Eighteen Hundred Twenty-eight, was born Dante Gabriel; on September Twenty-fifth, Eighteen Hundred Twenty-nine, William Michael; on December Fifth, Eighteen Hundred Thirty, Christina Georgiana. The mother of this quartette was a sturdy little woman with sparkling wit and rare good sense. She used to remark that her children were all of a size, and that it was no more trouble to bring up four than one, a suggestion thrown in here gratis for the benefit of young married folks, in the hope that they will mark and inwardly digest. In point of well-ballasted, all-round character, fit for Earth or Heaven, none of the four Rossetti children was equal to his parents. They all seem to have had nerves outside of their clothes. Perhaps this was because they were brought up in London. A city is no place for children–nor grown people either, I often think. Birds and children belong in the country. Paved streets, stone sidewalks, smoke-begrimed houses, signs reading, “Keep Off the Grass”, prying policemen, and zealous ash-box inspectors are insulting things to greet the gaze of the little immigrants fresh from God. Small wonder is it, as they grow up, that they take to drink and drugs, seeking in these a respite from the rattle of wheels and the never-ending cramp of unkind condition. But Nature understands herself: the second generation, city-bred, is impotent.