Page:Pictures & poems.djvu/13

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most intense in character, his influence over nearly all of those with whom he came in contact was magnetic and almost unbounded. It may be questioned whether, if he had published in 1862, as he had planned to do, the volume of his collected original poems, the public would have appreciated and praised his work as highly as they did when it was issued eight years later; but it is probable that his high rank as a poet, and his influence on the younger writers, would have been sooner and more readily acknowledged. The sad and sudden death of his wife in February 1862, led Rossetti to change the plans he had made for publishing his poems, and caused him, instead, to place in her coffin, on the day of her interment, a volume containing the only complete manuscript of all his original poems. Here they remained for seven years, until Rossetti, yielding to the urgent persuasions of his friends, came to see that such a loss to the world was neither desirable nor necessary. Accordingly, upon the night of October 6th—7th, 1869, the grave was opened and the poems were recovered. "I have often supposed," writes Mr. F. G. Stephens, "that Rossetti might have found an authority, or example, for placing in and afterwards withdrawing his poems from the grave of his wife, in the record that when Francis I. visited Avignon, that monarch caused the tomb of Laura de Sade to be opened, and took from it a small box containing verses which had been written by Petrarch's own hand, and were placed there by him; they were afterwards, by order of the King, returned."

What place future generations will assign to Rossetti amongst the poets cannot positively be asserted. That it will be a high one the passing of each year seems to render more certain; and it is unlikely that the position now held by the "House of Life," as one of the four finest sonnet cycles, or "The Blessed Damozel" as one of the most mystically romantic ballads, in English literature, will be changed. His permanent place as a painter it is less easy to foretell, dependant as it will always be on the comparative valuation placed upon the imaginative and the technical sides of painting; one statement only is unquestionable—no artist of the English-speaking race has ever attained to an equal eminence with Rossetti as poet and as painter combined. A study of the parallel presentation, in the following pages, of poems and pictures (much though the latter have lost through their loss of color) will show far better than words could do his mastery in both arts.


New York, 1899.