This is an early draft for the layout of an unpublished book on the works of Melinda Pryce, an early 16th century painter in Wales. It is ostensibly by Elizabeth Siddall (1829-1862), a model for a number of artists of the time and wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti for a few years prior to her death.
Melinda Pryce was the sister-in-law of a Sir Edward Black, a landed noble living in Oakwood near modern-day Helmsdon. Widowed young, she returned to live with her brother-in-law and evidently painted many works there. Unfortunately, most of these were destroyed in a fire which consumed the manor years later. Of her surviving works, the most notable are her "Morgan", "Arthur", and "St. Michael's Chapel of the Wood". The book was set to include a number of smaller works attributed to her. However, this draft is missing many of the illustrations to be included in the final version.
This draft includes a biographical sketch, commentary on the pictures, scattered bits of original poetry, and marginalia.
"Notice the pomegranate by Morgan's hand, symbolizing the choice sometimes offered to those in her position. I, too, have tasted the goblin's fruit from fair hands only to discover that it was not what I desired."
"The trees around the chapel shows the Egyptian Cross, a peculiar marking to indicate the holiness of the place. That this is the resting place of some great king is symbolized by the faint face with a crown visible in the clouds above the chapel, looking down. "
About The Author
Eilizabeth Siddal was working as a milliner in 1848, nineteen years old, when she was noticed by Walter Deverell, who employed her as a model for his paintings. She had a minor career as an artist, subsidized from 1855 by art critic John Ruskin. She was evidently engaged to Rossetti for many years before their marriage in 1860. She had travelled in Paris and Nice for health reasons. In 1861, Siddal became pregnant. She was overjoyed about this, but the pregnancy ended in a stillborn daughter. Siddal overdosed on laudanum shortly after becoming pregnant for a second time.
Rossetti discovered her unconscious and dying in bed. Although her death was ruled accidental by the coroner, there are suggestions that Rossetti found a suicide note. Consumed with grief and guilt Rossetti went to see Ford Madox Brown who is supposed to have instructed him to burn the note -- under the law at the time suicide was both illegal and immoral and would have brought a scandal on the family as well as barred Siddal from a Christian burial.
Death, however, was not her last adventure. Overcome with grief, Rossetti enclosed in Elizabeth's coffin a small journal containing the only copies he had of his many poems. He slid the book into Elizabeth's flowing red hair. In 1869, Rossetti was chronically addicted to drugs and alcohol. He convinced himself that he was going blind and couldn't paint. He began to write poetry again. Before publishing his newer poems he became obsessed with retrieving the poems he had slipped into Elizabeth's hair. Rossetti and his agent, the notorious Charles Augustus Howell, applied to the Home Secretary for an order to have her coffin exhumed to retrieve the manuscript. This was done in the dead of night so as to avoid public curiosity and attention, and Rossetti was not present. Howell, a notorious liar, reported to Rossetti that her corpse was remarkably well preserved and her delicate beauty intact. Her hair was said to have continued to grow after death so that the Coffin was filled with her coppery hair. The manuscript was retrieved although a worm had burrowed through the book so that it was difficult to read some of the poems.
Rossetti published the old poems with his newer ones; they were not well received by some critics because of their eroticism, and he was haunted by the exhumation through the rest of his life.