Monday, March 14, 2022

The funeral of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Remembrances (April 9 & 14, 1882)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet
He is not a prophet, but an artist; yet an artist who, by the very intensity of his artistic vision, and by some inborn bent toward symbol and mysticism, stands on the side of those who see in material things a spiritual significance, and utters words of universal meaning from the fullness of his own heart. (William Morris, Arts & Crafts Movement, describing Dante Gabriel Rossetti)





As Dante Gabriel Rossetti's health was declining, his brother William wanted a death mask made, so he asked a man from Brucciari's to come to Gabriel's bungalow in Birchington-On-Sea.  When William saw such a peaceful expression on his brother's face, he then asked Frederick Shields if he would draw Gabriel's face. He made one for William and one for their sister, Christina Rossetti - the poetess.  It was then time for William's daughter, Lucy, himself, and Christina to visit the Rectory to meet Mr. Alcock. They all walked to the churchyard to choose a spot for the grave.  Mr. Martin then made the funeral arrangements.  

Dear Mr. Scott - I think you will like to hear your dear friend Gabriel Rossetti was buried, so I will tell you- The church at Birchington stands back about three quarters of a mile from the sea on slightly rising ground which looks over the open land and the sea.  I thought simply; it is nicely kept, and to-day was full of Easter flowers. Close to Gabriel's grave there was a laurestinus and a lilac. 

At the gravesite, wonderful to say, was the old mother supported by William on one side and Christina on the other - a most pathetic sight. She was very calm, extraordinarily calm, but whether from self-command, or the passivity of age, I do not know - probably from both; but she followed all the proceedings with close interest.  Then around was a company of about fifteen or twenty, many of them friends of yours, and several of them whom I did not know. The service was well read by the vicar.  Then we all looked into the resting place of our friend, and thought and felt our last farewells - many flowers, azealas, and primrose, were thrown in. I saw William throw in his Lily of the Valley.

This is all I have to tell you.  Sad it was, very sad but simple and full of feeling and the fresh beauty of the day made itself felt with all the rest.  I shook hands with William and came home with Mr. Graham.  Dear Gabriel, I shall not forget him. (Vernon Lushington letter to William Bell Scott, 14 April, 1882)

The church in Birchington was a clifftop setting overlooking the sea.  It was the opposite to what you find at Highgate Cemetery in London which is exactly what Dante Gabriel Rossetti wanted. Separating his burial location from that of his family allowed Rossetti's achievements as a poet, translator, and artist to be commemorated by his dearest friends.  Colleague, Ford Maddox Brown, was asked by William Michael Rossetti if he would design a monument for his brother's grave and the cross was added. Walter Caine and Theodore Watts were the last to leave Birchington. Walter Caine describes his farewell visit to his friends grave, 

We walked one morning to the churchyard and found Gabriel's grave strewn with flowers. It was a quiet spring day, the birds were singing, and the yellow flowers were beginning to show. As we stood by the grave under the shadow of the quaint old church, with the broad sweep of landscape in front, so flat that the great dome of the sea appeared to lie on it, and with the sleepy rumble of the rolling waters borne to us from the shore, we could not but feel that little as we had thought to leave Rossetti there, no other place could be quite so fit. 

Three of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's closest friends wrote In Memoriam poems in his honor : one on the day of his death April 9 1882 and two poems on the day of his funeral April 14, 1882.  

 At the Grave of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Mackenzie Bell

HERE of a truth the world’s extremes are met:
Amid the gray, the moss-grown tombs of those
Who led long lives obscure till came the close
When, their calm days being done, their suns were set—
Here stands a grave, all monumentless yet,        5
Wrapped like the others in a deep repose;
But while yon wakeful ocean ebbs and flows
It is a grave the world shall not forget,
This grave on which meek violets grow and thyme,
Summer’s fair heralds; and a stranger now        10
Pauses to see a poet’s resting-place,
But one of those who will in many a clime
On each return of this sad day avow
Fond love’s regret that ne’er they saw his face.
April 9th, 1882



Yon sightless poet [157] whom thou leav’st behind,
   Sightless and trembling like a storm-struck tree,
   Above the grave he feels but cannot see,
Save with the vision Sorrow lends the mind,
Is he indeed the loneliest of mankind?
   Ah no!—For all his sobs, he seems to me
   Less lonely standing there, and nearer thee,
Than I—less lonely, nearer—standing blind!

Free from the day, and piercing Life’s disguise
   That needs must partly enveil true heart from heart,
   His inner eyes may see thee as thou art
In Memory’s land—see thee beneath the skies
Lit by thy brow—by those beloved eyes,
   While I stand by him in a world apart.


I stand like her who on the glittering Rhine
   Saw that strange swan which drew a faëry boat
   Where shone a knight whose radiant forehead smote
Her soul with light and made her blue eyes shine
p. 158For many a day with sights that seemed divine,
   Till that false swan returned and arched his throat
   In pride, and called him, and she saw him float
Adown the stream: I stand like her and pine.

I stand like her, for she, and only she,
Might know my loneliness for want of thee.
   Light swam into her soul, she asked not whence,
Filled it with joy no clouds of life could smother,
   And then, departing like a vision thence,
Left her more lonely than the blind, my brother.


Last night Death whispered: ‘Death is but the name
   Man gives the Power which lends him life and light,
   And then, returning past the coast of night,
Takes what it lent to shores from whence it came.
What balm in knowing the dark doth but reclaim
   The sun it lent, if day hath taken flight?
   Art thou not vanished—vanished from my sight—
Though somewhere shining, vanished all the same?

With Nature dumb, save for the billows’ moan,
   Engirt by men I love, yet desolate—
Standing with brothers here, yet dazed and lone,
   King’d by my sorrow, made by grief so great
That man’s voice murmurs like an insect’s drone—
   What balm, I ask, in knowing that Death is Fate?


Last night Death whispered: ‘Life’s purblind procession,
   Flickering with blazon of the human story—
   Time’s fen-flame over Death’s dark territory—
Will leave no trail, no sign of Life’s aggression.
Yon moon that strikes the pane, the stars in session,
   Are weak as Man they mock with fleeting glory.
   Since Life is only Death’s frail feudatory,
How shall love hold of Fate in true possession?’

p. 159I answered thus: ‘If Friendship’s isle of palm
   Is but a vision, every loveliest leaf,
Can Knowledge of its mockery soothe and calm
   This soul of mine in this most fiery grief?
   If Love but holds of Life through Death in fief,
What balm in knowing that Love is Death’s—what balm?’


Yea, thus I boldly answered Death—even I
   Who have for boon—who have for deathless dower—
   Thy love, dear friend, which broods, a magic power,
Filling with music earth and sea and sky:
‘O Death,’ I said, ‘not Love, but thou shalt die;
   For, this I know, though thine is now the hour,
   And thine these angry clouds of doom that lour,
Death striking Love but strikes to deify.’

Yet while I spoke I sighed in loneliness,
For strange seemed Man, and Life seemed comfortless,
   And night, whom we two loved, seemed strange and dumb;
And, waiting till the dawn the promised sign,
I watched—I listened for that voice of thine,
   Though Reason said: ‘Nor voice nor face can come.’

         Eastertide, 1882.

In Memoriam by Eugene Lee Hamilton

Marston, mourn not; Rossetti is not dead
Though chill as clay is now his shrouded brow
Nor grudge the grave the flesh it gathers now
The soul remains to live on earth instead.

And though that I was his friend if e'er I said 
A word in harshness, hear me disavow,
While such small wreath as I can wreathe I throw
Upon the stone that covers now his head.

The Wintry Breath of Azrael that swept 
A green leaf to the heap of bygone leaves
Where Alighieri and where Shakespeare lie.
Mourn not.  Each day some brother dies unwept,
But he for whom the distant stranger grieves
Outlives mere life; for men he doth not die. 
April 14, 1882

William Bell Scott; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; John Ruskin
albumen carte-de-visite, 29 June 1863, NPG-UK

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