Rossetti and his pets

The English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) was an avid keeper of pets. The garden of the house at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea that he shared with Algernon Swinburne, George Meredith and others contained a menagerie including, as well as ‘ordinary domestic creatures’, at least one of each of the following: deer, kangaroo, zebu, armadillo, laughing jackass, chameleon, squirrel, mole, woodchuck, marmot, white mouse, green lizard, Japanese salamander, talking parrot, raven, wood owl, Virginia owl, Chinese horned owl, jackdaw, undulated grass-parakeet, and wombat.

At one point he bought a white bull because it had ‘eyes like Jane Morris’, but had to get rid of it because it ‘kicked everything to pieces’. His friends wrote of various incidents involving the animals: typical was George Boyce’s recollection that ‘Just as we were sitting down to supper Rossetti sent for his marmot which trotted around the floor for the rest of the evening’. His favourites were the wombats (one of which ate a box of fine cigars that he had bought for his friends).

On 10 November 1869 it was recorded that ‘the wombat is dead – a funeral card has been issued by its sorrowing possessor’. The sorrowing possessor wrote:

I never reared the young wombat

To glad me with his pinhole eye

But when he was most sweet and fat

And tailless he was sure to die!

At a happier time, while awaiting delivery of a wombat, he wrote:

O how the family affections combat

Within this heart, and each hour flings a bomb at

My burning soul! Neither from owl nor from bat

Can peace be gained until I clasp my wombat.

This is perhaps the entire body of wombat poetry in existence (I am ready to stand corrected). In any case, Rossetti was an eccentric and lovable character, as well as a mercurial and volatile one.

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12 Comments

Filed under Biography

12 responses to “Rossetti and his pets

  1. claire2

    Strange but lovely!
    Eccentric artists/poets and their animals. I bet the list is endless, although I’ve never heard of wombat poetry either!
    Beautiful lines though.

  2. Thanks, Claire … I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂

    One could write a lot of interesting posts about Rossetti, I think.

  3. I think one of the Stones later lived in that house Brendano.

  4. Interesting, Isobel … thanks.

    I’ve come across mentions of Cheyne Walk from time to time, and could imagine that it’s now the sort of upmarket place where rock stars might live … after all, Mott the Hoople once sang that Chelsea girls are the best in the world for company.

    Lear gets a lot of citations in the index of a Rossetti biography I have … an intriguing connection.

  5. jaimeatdnmyt

    He gets major points for even trying to rhyme with “wombat.”

  6. jaimeatdnmyt

    I just learned that October 22 is Wombat Day in Australia. Make sure you write that in your calendar!

  7. Thanks, Jaime … shame it’s only in Australia. 🙂

  8. Yes, v upmarket. Goodness only knows the price of houses there. Blue Plaques a gogo. Margaret Thatcher lived around the corner at one time.
    Lear had a great interest in natural history. perhaps that was part of the connection?

  9. Perhaps, Isobel … I just looked up all the references to Lear in my book; they’re mostly quotes from letters that Rossetti wrote to Lear, and not very informative on Lear himself, unfortunately.

  10. What of Jimmy Hendrix parakeets?

  11. I remember him, Cymbeline. His surname was ‘Rossetti’. A somewhat callow youth, I think.

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