[Venice—Saturday, 20 October 1888]
Talking of Symond’s having just found here the very rare book Songe de Polyphile (French translation with repliques of Mantegna’s cuts) he said he had a copy presented to him by Danté Rossetti, “one of the warmest admirers & one of the most sympathetic appreciators I have ever had.[”] A few years after my marriage I received a letter in Florence from a stranger in London who wrote to ask me if he was right in guessing that a small poem called “Pauline” which he had come across in the British Museum was by me & if so where he cld. get it. I answered it was the first I ever published—unknown even to my father thanks to my dear Aunts £30. Years afterwards when my wife & I visited London, Allingham the poet came to see us & introduced his young friend Mr. Rossetti who recalled to me our correspondence. I was so delighted with his artistic temperament that I asked to go & see his studio. He protested that it was not worth my while, but I replied you must leave that to me to decide. So I went to Blackfriars Bridge where I for the first time was amazed with the modern artistic movement– Much of his work I at once admired and I have always found his conversation wonderfully suggestive & exhilarating. All agreed that seeing Rossetti made one want to rush home & do some work– I there saw begun on his easel a picture of country boy with calf in a cart driving into London at dawn & looking at a woman concealing her face from him who had known her in his village before she had run away to go to the bad in town. He took it up again just before his death but never finished it.
Some time afterwards he painted my portrait. It not being done when we had to go to Paris, he followed to finish it there. He passed every evening at our hotel. On my wife’s asking why we did not see his fiancée he replied ‘She saw you both at the Louvre today while we were looking at those pictures, but having no bonnet she is afraid to come & see you. We protested but could never get him to bring her. After my wifes death I could see no one in London for a long time but the first visit I paid was to see R. whom my wife liked as much as I did. As I got up to go after passing the p.m. in talking he pressed me to stay & dine and finally meet his wife. I pleaded an engagement with my sister in law. The next night he found her dead in bed from overdose of chloral. It had been her idea to collect & publish his poems & so great was his grief & despondency that as they closed her coffin he threw in the MSS of all his writings.
Then his imitators began printing poems cribbed from his and gained great praise for their originality till the new poets friends induced him to get permission, 4 or 5 years after the burial, to open the tomb, & extract the buried poems, which were at once published & received the recognition they amply deserve. He died miserably—his ideas of right & wrong being, as is often the case, quite obliterated by morphine. He mistrusted even his friends, thinking that those who came to see him came to steal his ideas. His brother said to me “it’s best not to go. I myself have not seen him for 8 months,” but I always looked a long time at his house whenever I went to see Carlyle who lived close by. But the sad thing to me is that after his death someone told me that on many occasions he cried “what have I done to Browning that even he cuts me now”! Mr Browning added “I could tell you a great deal more, very interesting & very painful, but” ..... (glancing at Mrs & Miss Bronson present) ..... “his end was very terrible and his letters and sketches and papers were sold in a public house by a miserable woman who made money out of his most private affairs.” R.W.C.
1. Found, unfinished painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Delaware Art Museum).
2. Ralph Wormeley Curtis contributed this entry to his father's diary.