Friends of Hastings Cemetery

Charles Bagot Cayley, p.3

A small volume of his poems, Psyche’s Interludes, was published in 1857 but did not attract great attention. He was most successful as a translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy: although his version (published in 1852) was eclipsed by those of Longfellow and Cary, it was the only one of the three to retain the metre and verse-form of the original, and he used a relatively simple English which reflected Dante’s use of everyday Italian. He translated other works from Italian, and also produced a metrical version of the Psalms. His other main works were translations of Aeschylus’ play Prometheus Bound and Homer’s Iliad: these again used the original metre, but the result was rather stilted and laboured.

He (and other members of his family) was close friends with the Rossetti family throughout his adult life.  A rather scholarly and unworldly man, with little care for appearance, he was sometimes nicknamed by them the “wombat”.

The painter Ford Madox Brown used him as the model for an eighteenth-century astronomer abstracted by his concentration of the planet Venus.[Downloaded and reproduced here from "Ford Madox Brown Murals"  by kind permission of Manchester City Council.]  (We don’t have a picture to compare, but photos of his brother Arthur show a resemblance to the painting.)

William Rossetti described him as having “a very large cerebral development, dark hair and eyes, ruddy cheeks, and fairly regular

features - which, with the advance of age, became rather pinched.  He smiled much, in

a furtive sort of way. To laugh was not his style.  Cayley's costume was always shabby and out of date, yet with a kind of prim decorum in it too. His manner was absent-minded in the extreme.  In truth one viewed his advent with some apprehension, only too conscious that some degree of embarrassment was sure to ensue.”

In the early 1860’s he and the poetess Christina Rossetti, Gabriele Rossetti’s daughter, fell in love.  There were two impediments to their marriage: one was financial, but Christina’s brother William Michael Rossetti (a successful civil servant and art critic) offered to give them an allowance.

The bigger obstacle was Charles Bagot Cayley’s agnosticism: Christina Rossetti was a devout high Anglican and felt she could not marry someone who did not share her religious sympathies.  Nonetheless they remained devoted to each other till his death.  Several of Christina’s poems were about their love, and one - The Wombat - was inspired by the Rossettis' nickname for him.