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This article is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

Maundering Medievalism Clive Wilmer

William Morris's first book of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems, was published in 1858. It was dedicated

TO MY FRIEND
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI
PAINTER


Some biographical facts should be noticed here. First, Rossetti is not described as 'painter and poet', so there is a suggestion of the two men working in different, if complementary, fields. This is probably because in 1858 Rossetti's verse was still unknown to the public. His translations, The Early Italian Poets, were not to appear till 1861, and his own poems not till 1870. Though Morris already knew and admired much of this work, he was, in publishing his own book of poetry, establishing his primacy in that art. It was a primacy that Rossetti was from the outset engagingly keen to acknowledge. Looking back in a letter of 1869, he writes of the 'estimate of [Morris] which I have long entertained, as being - all things considered - the greatest literary identity of our time'. So Rossetti was no doubt happy to be described - in 1858 - as simply a painter.

Secondly, Morris describes him as 'my friend'. This was indeed the case, but we should remember that Morris was only 24 at the time and Rossetti six years his senior - a significant difference at that stage in their lives. In 1856 when they first met, moreover, Rossetti was already known as an artist, while Morris had only just graduated. ...


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