Thursday, April 30, 2009


Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was an English painter and poet, and co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He married Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862), a model for many Pre-Raphaelite paintings, including his own "Beata Beatrix" and "Ophelia" by John Vincent Millais (1829-1896). (A photograph attributed to Rossetti is also shown for comparison.) When Siddal overdosed on laudanum, Rossetti was overcome with grief. When she was buried in London's Highgate Cemetery, he placed a small journal of poems in her red hair. He later regretted the decision - since he had kept no copies of the many poems - and applied to the Home Secretary for permission to exhume the coffin and retrieve them. This was done in the dead of night by his agent Charles Augustus Howell, who reported that Siddal was well-preserved - although some 8 years had passed since her death - and that her coppery hair had grown to fill the coffin. The poems from the journal were published, along with some new poems, and the volume was controversial, but well-received. Nevertheless, Rossetti was haunted by the exhumation for the rest of his life. Here is a stanza:
The idea that hair and fingernails continue to grow after death has been discredited, but the detail makes for a good story!

1 comment:

  1. David Lewis Paget6/09/2010 10:08 PM

    I think you'll find Augustus Howell's first name was Charles, not William.
    Also, the poems recovered from the coffin were extremely well received at the time, sold many thousands and ran to reprints due to the fact that the story of the exhumation got out, and aroused the public's curiosity. Sorry to contradict, but...
    David Lewis Paget
    (Poems Beyond the Grave)
    see: and others.


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