Rossetti finally arranged to buy a wombat, again through Jamrach, when at length a suitable specimen became available. This wombat arrived in September 1869, when he was away in Scotland. Rossetti was recovering from a kind of breakdown, largely precipitated by failing eyesight, insomnia, drugs and above all his growing infatuation with Jane Morris, the wife of his old friend and protégé [William Morris] from the Oxford Union days.
A remarkable drawing of Jane Morris and the wombat in the British Museum illustrates the degree to which lover and pet merged in Rossetti’s mind as objects of sanctification. Each of them wears a halo. But Jane has the wombat on a leash, and it seems clear that Rossetti also used his pet wombat as a cruelly comical emblem for Jane’s long-suffering, cuckolded husband. Since university days Morris was known to his friends as ‘Topsy’; the name Rossetti chose for his Wombat was ‘Top’.
Still shaky, Rossetti could not wait to get back to Chelsea from freezing Scotland. He wrote to Janethe following mock-heroic lines:
Oh! 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!