Post by John Washington (’10), former student worker in Special Collections.
While frantically scouring (actually just casually reading) through the names of letter writers in the Charles Roberts Collection, I found an artist/poet that I came to admire, Dante Bariel Rossetti, who I first came to know because of his sister, poet Christina Rossetti. I was excited to write a blog post about Dante Gabriel Rossetti who was famous for poems and paintings like “Song and Music” and “Girl in a Green Dress,” respectively. When I started looking through the physical collection, I came upon a folder not listed in the inventory. it was labeled Christina Rossetti! I put Dante Gabriel Rossetti aside for his more “interesting” younger sister.
Christina Rossetti is best known for her poem “Goblin Market.” She is British by birth with an Italian background. Christina Rossetti’s was devoted to her religion. For Christina Rossetti, her Anglican religion greatly augmented her sickly life. She denied two marriage offers based on the religion, or lack of religion, of the persons asking her—using her writing as a way to talk about her rejections (see poem “Remember“).
The letter I found by her in the Charles Roberts Collection is addressed to a Mr. Bryant, possibly William Cullen Bryant—the American poet famous for writing the poem “Thanatopsis.” Christina’s words are to the point but gentle; just as situations would deem her throughout her life. First letting Mr. Bryant know what was wrong with what he did then letting him off of the hook and accepting him.
Since it is not a long letter, allow me to post it for reading:
Dear Mr. Bryant,
Please do not feel hurt at what I am about to say. More than once I have been applied to by letter from some or other person unknown to me who alleges that you have named me, more or less, as a reference. One such letter reached me this afternoon. In every case I have replied in your favour. But I cannot approve of perfect strangers being thus referred to me. It was a different thing when you told me Mr. Caine knew and could vouch for you, he and I being acquainted; to him there was no difficulty in my writing, and as you know I did write and act on what he told me. I must ask you not to use my name thus to strangers. All the same I remain.
After studying Christina Rossetti for a number of years, I have learned to understand her sense of self (I wouldn’t say humor) that she portrays in her writing. This letter excited me because it encompassed her views on life in a few short lines.
Check out the list of other amazing people who have letters in the Charles Roberts Collection! There are American and British poets, scientists, and signers of the Declaration of Independence—just to name a few. This is the perfect place to get an insight into the lives of historical figures that interest you!