Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter, poet and one of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was born on this day (12 May) in 1828. Oscar Wilde, who was determined to become a poet like his mother, admired Rossetti greatly and strove to associate himself with the Pre-Raphaelite poets, Rossetti in particular. As a young man, his credibility among this group was enhanced greatly by the fact that Lady Jane Wilde had translated the English edition of Willhelm Meinhold’s Sidonia the Sorceress, a key Pre-Raphaelite text, in 1849. Rossetti in particular was said to have referred to and quoted from Jane’s translation ‘incessantly’.
In his review of a 1926 edition of Sidonia, reprinted in Leaves and Fruit, Edmund Gosse stated that it was Rossetti who ‘inoculated the whole Preraphaelite circle with something of his own enthusiasm’ for the book. The association of this text with the Pre-raphaelites was strengthened in 1893, when William Morris’s company Kelmscott Press reprinted and published Jane’s translation of Sidonia the Sorceress. Here’s a beautifully illuminated page from that edition:
Wilde was fully aware of this connection of course. In a letter sent from Reading jail to his great friend and literary executor Robert Ross in 1896, he mentioned that:
‘my Great-uncle’s Melmoth and my mother’s Sidonia the Sorceress were among the books which entranced him [Rossetti] in his youth.’