Biography of Christine Rossetti, 1830-1894

Biographical Sketch by Wendi Capehart

I was on a vacation at a lake house with one of my daughters and her two young children. It had rained a lot so we had been a bit cooped up. One afternoon as the weather started to clear we took a drive with the windows rolled down. My four-year-old granddaughter breathed in deeply and said, "That smells delicious. I wish I could eat the wind!" Her brother, aged five, rolled his eyes and said, "Well. You can't eat the wind. You can't even see it or touch it, so you can't put it in your mouth and eat it."

My little granddaughter was offended and she argued back, "I can't see it, but I can see the leaves on the trees moving in the wind, and I can feel it on my face, so I know it's there."

Of course, I instantly thought of Christina Rossetti's poem about the wind:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

There's a reason people say that Christina Rossetti still remembered how the world looked to children even after she was grown. Although she lived in the city of London nearly all her life, she had an eye, and an ear, for the beauty and wonder of seemingly common, every day things in the world--wind, trees, flowers, birds, and more.

Christina Rossetti was born near Christmas in 1830, the fourth and youngest of four children born to her parents in four years. She had two brothers and one sister. One of her brothers, Dante Gabriel, grew up to become a well-known artist. He used his sister Christina as a model in some of his paintings. Another brother helped edit a literary magazine and helped his younger sister publish her poems.

The Rossetti household where Christina and her siblings grew up was not very conventional. The did not care very much about fitting in with everybody else. Their clothes were often second hand and might be thirty years old. Other families of their class usually had at least a nurserymaid to watch the children. Most middle class children didn't eat their meals with their parents or spend much time with them. In the Rossetti household, the children and their parents spent most of their time together. Mrs. Rossetti homeschooled her daughters, and the children ate with the family instead of being sent to a separate nursery for meals.

Mr. Rossetti was a writer and a teacher from Italy. He had to leave Italy and move to England because his ideas about government and revolution made important members of the Italian government angry with him. They thought he was dangerous. In England he made friends with poets, writers, and people with some radical ideas for the time. He married a half-Italian, half-English woman who could read in three languages. He only spoke Italian with his children, so they were all fluent in Italian as well as English. He was much admired by political rebels and literary people in his own country, so there was a stream of interesting visitors to the house, and people were always asked to stay for dinner, resulting in fascinating conversations. Christina's brother William later described the "sometimes strange and wild" conversations of the various musicians, writers, statesmen and political conspirators or semi-brigands who visited. The children were never asked to leave the room, no matter how strange the conversations.

Christina lived in London with her parents, and, after the death of her father, with her mother for nearly all of her life. She was shy, but because of the rest of her family, she was able to meet many important people in the literary world.

All of the family was very religious, and perhaps her oldest sister and Christina the most so. Christina was very strict with herself. She gave up chess because she felt she was too competitive and enjoyed winning more than was proper for a good Christian, and she would not go to plays because she felt the actors led immoral lives. When an author she liked included some passages in one of his books that were opposed to religion, Christina pasted strips of paper over all the objectionable passages. She never married, although she was proposed to at least twice, because she did not approve of the religious beliefs of her suitors. However her brother William said she was kind and generous with others. She never was heard gossiping about others and she always assumed the best of their intentions.

As a child she did not read as much as her siblings did, although she did love a children's story book of The Arabian Nights. As a young woman she had some serious health issues which often left her very much an invalid, and so she spent more time reading. Some of her favourite books were the Bible, the Confessions of Augustine, the Imitation of Christ, Pilgrim's Progress, and the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Dickens. She loved the poetry of Dante, which she could, of course, read in the original Italian.

When she was a young woman, her father's health declined drastically and he became partially blind, and could no longer work at teaching and translating. All of the children, now adults, tried to help with the family finances. Christina also helped to take care her father before he died, for her brother Dante until he died, and then for her mother as well, in spite of her own poor health.

She had both a strong sense of duty and a generous, compassionate spirit, and performed many acts of charity. She was particularly generous in her work with a charity house that helped women who had fallen into lives of crime to recover and find better ways to support themselves. She doubted herself often, but never doubted God. When she died in her sixties, she was praying.

She wrote many religious poems and stories, as well as poems especially for children. After her death, her brother William republished many of her poems and letters to her family with a tribute to her. He said that her beautiful and lovable character shone in her poems and letters, and that her soul was "as pure, duteous, concentrated, loving, and devoted, as ever uttered itself in either prose or verse."

We hope that you enjoy these poems and find pleasure in meeting this loving and devoted soul.

AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
Share AO with your group or homeschool fair! Download our printable brochure